The beer festival is a lot of things to a lot of people.
For one, it's a place to drink beer with other people who really enjoy beer. It's also a chance to discover new brews, especially from far-off breweries whose taproom door you're not likely to darken any time soon. And it's a chance for a city or a region to come together and celebrate the fact that they're doing good things in the brewing world.
As the Inland Northwest's brewing scene has continued to grow, the Spokane Arena has tossed around the idea of using its sprawling parking lot — one of the bigger open spaces in downtown Spokane — to showcase our beer.
"Wouldn't it be cool if we had the Ale Trail in our parking lot?" says Matt Gibson, the arena's general manager, referring to the self-guided tour of the region's breweries.
The idea for the Spokane Brewers Festival was simply to give Inland Northwest breweries a chance to come together — maybe 20 booths, Gibson guessed. But after word got around, there are now 33 breweries and two cideries slated to pour at the two-day event. For Gibson's crew, the philosophy has been one of inclusion, and they didn't turn down breweries from central Washington who wanted in on the action.
"There are a lot of folks in this town that are brewing some incredible stuff that aren't getting the spotlight on them like they should be," he says.
The Spokane Brewers Festival features free admission, but you do have to pay $7 for a tasting mug and $1 per tasting token. There's a root beer garden sponsored by River City Brewing for the under-21 crowd, as well as a local music showcase that we here at the Inlander put together (see facing page). Adding to the festival atmosphere are a number of food trucks.
"One of these breweries might really hit it off with the people here, and that's what we're aiming for," says Gibson.
Before you get those tokens burning a hole in your pocket, though, let us share our extensive research of the brewery and beer lists so you can efficiently navigate this first-ever festival. Here are some of our tips.
A POOR MAN'S TOUR OF CENTRAL WASHINGTON
Unless you head to a specialty beer store, or happen to catch them on a guest tap at one of our nearby breweries, chances are you're going to miss trying most of the following breweries' creations. If you're looking to try some new-to-you brews this weekend, check out the goods from these beermakers, all based in Washington towns between here and the Cascades.
From the heart of hop country, the folks at Yakima Craft Brewing Co. are bringing their 1982 Amber Ale, a "homage to the brewing history of Yakima," along with their take on the classic Pacific Northwest-style IPA, the Vern NW IPA. From farther east, we'll also be treated to brews from Washougal's 54°40' Brewing Co., located on the north side of the Columbia River Gorge not far from Portland and Vancouver.
Heading back to the heart of central Washington, Moses Lake, St. Brigid's Brewery and Ten Pin Brewing are keeping residents' thirst satisfied. Ten Pin's moniker pays tribute to a 1967 state law that made drinking beer while you bowl legal. They'll be bringing their signature Ten Pin IPA, a session IPA and a pineapple wheat.
From the same general region of the state, we'll also get three brews from Ellensburg's Iron Horse Brewery, whose cans you can find at many Spokane grocers, and Icicle Brewing Co. of Leavenworth. A bit closer to Spokane, the fest also features Waitsburg's Laht Neppur Brewing Co., whose unusual-sounding name is owner and head brewer Court Ruppenthal's last name spelled backward. (CHEY SCOTT)
FRUIT BEERS IN THE SUMMER TIME — IT'S A GOOD THING
On a recent visit to San Diego, I dropped by Ballast Point Brewing to sample the beer that convinced Constellation Brands to buy the company for $1 billion. Bellying up, I asked for what best represented the brewery's style — three pours, all fruit-flavored. Having largely and loudly disavowed fruity beer after one particularly syrupy-sweet Raspberry Wheat years ago, I was skeptical.
Their Grapefruit Sculpin, though, encouraged me to be more fruit-inclusive. One of my favorite local beers is Iron Goat Brewing Company's (Spokane) Blackberry Apricot Sour, one of the featured brews (and few sours) at the Spokane Brewers Festival.
The lineup is fruit-heavy, and given the heat, this is an ideal time to expand your palate to include some stone fruits or berries in your brew. Among the locals, I'm particularly interested in Young Buck Brewing's (Spokane) Raspberry Berliner Weisse, Big Barn Brewing Company's (Mead) Apricot Wit, and a couple of Steam Plant (Spokane) offerings: the Blood Orange Ale and Wild Strawberry Sour.
As for long-distance travelers, the Grapefruit Explosion from St. Brigid's Brewery (Moses Lake) and Groove Pineapple Wheat from Ten Pin Brewing (Moses Lake) are both intriguing, as is the Huckleberry Pucker Shandy from Paradise Creek Brewery (Pullman) because I love me some huckleberries. Ordnance Brewing (Boardman, Oregon) is packing Bloops Blueberry Wheat as well. (DAN NAILEN)
GO AHEAD, DIVE INTO THE HOP BOMBS
You're a Northwest craft beer fan, which means you were raised on big ol' burly IPAs brewed with hops grown a few hours drive from your home. Over the years, you've likely expanded your horizons with maltier porters and stouts, then sours and now German-style stuff, but you can't forget your roots. So if you want to spend most of the Spokane Brewers Festival indulging in the hoppiest stuff out there — even if fresh hop season is mere weeks away — go for it.
Start with the Dunn Day IPA from Big Barn Brewing Co., a very full-flavored ale brewed on a rolling berry farm in Green Bluff. It will save you a drive to the in-town brewery that feels very out-of-town. Then there's Black Label Brewing, the little brewery that could, with their Main Ave. IPA, a tribute to their location on the east side of downtown Spokane.
To cool your hop-strained tongue for a spell, try the Session IPL from Perry Street Brewing, a lager brewed in a hoppy style that maintains a smooth finish. The Seltice Smash IPA from Post Falls' Downdraft Brewing Co. features strictly Chinook hops and one malt style and is equally crisp. If you want another fresh-feeling brew, try Paradise Creek Brewery's citrusy Over the Hop IPA, or the very sessionable Shin Splints IPA from Orlison Brewing Company, which is no longer lager-only and is making adventurous ales like this one. For some fruit in your IPA, try No-Li Brewhouse's Cherry Bomb IPA.
For something you're not going to find too often, there's the Adrenaline Seeker IPA from Badass Backyard Brewing. And if you want to taste a big beer that's not actually an IPA, go with River City Brewing's Inconceivable Imperial Pilsner, or keep it classic with their Riverkeeper IPA. (MIKE BOOKEY)
JUDGING A BEER BY ITS NAME? TRY THESE
With so many breweries popping up around the country, it's getting even more challenging to stand out in a sea of suds. These days brewers aren't just designing enticing labels and logos, they're also hatching creative monikers for each new brew. Of all the beers being poured at this weekend's Spokane Brewers Festival, here are some of the most eye-catching names.
Going with their froggy theme, Top Frog Brewery out of Newport introduces Poison Dart Porter to the masses this weekend. Don't worry — while the poison dart frog is brightly colored and toxic, the porter is luscious brown with a smooth finish. English Setter Brewing Company also sticks with animal subject matter with Who's A Good Boy Amber and Clifford the Big Red, a clear reference to man's best friend.
The Snozzberry Belgian Wit, made by 238 Brewing Company in Green Bluff and named by the owner's daughter, employs the fictional fruit invented by Roald Dahl for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (raspberry stands in for snozzberry here). Speaking of chocolate, Leavenworth's Icicle Brewing Company offers up a Dark Persuasion German Chocolate Cake ale, which judging by its name alone shouldn't have to work hard to persuade many.
For those looking for a beverage off the beaten path, try Steam Plant's strong and intense barleywine (18 percent ABV) and Rants & Raves Brewing's Ægir's Grog, a braggot ale named after the Norse gods' own brewer. (LAURA JOHNSON)
Spokane Brewers Festival • Fri, Aug. 12, from 3 to 9 pm; Sat, Aug. 13, from noon to 9 pm • Free entry, $7 mug, $1 tasting tokens • Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena • 720 W. Mallon • spokanearena.com
THE SOUNDS OF SIPPING
While tasting all of the beers this weekend, you'll also get a taste of some of the most talented local musicians around, with everything from indie rock to reggae. (Full disclosure: The Inlander, along with Volume producers Patrick Kendrick and Shea Walser, assembled the lineup.)
CARLI OSIKA, 3-4:30 pm
An up-and-coming North Idaho singer-songwriter, Osika is a constant presence at regional community festivals and events, playing everything from an uber-slow version of "Ring of Fire" to some of her own sweet pop-country tunes.
Most of the members of this seven-piece ska/soul/R&B band live together in the same South Hill house; you can tell that just listening to the tightness of their party-infused sound.
RIVER CITY ROOTS BAND,
River City Roots Band often plays as a backing band for local roots-reggae performer Jus Wright. On their own, the band is every bit as uplifting and peace-filled.
TYLER AKER, noon-1:15 pm
This local singer-songwriter can usually be found out and about with his indie-rock act Pine League, but for this solo performance, expect Aker's wily sadness on full blast.
LUCAS BROOKBANK BROWN, 2-3:15 pm
A member of myriad local acts past and present, Brown's acoustic solo work is his most finely crafted yet.
FAT LADY, 4-5 pm
A newer 1960s-inspired rock act in Spokane, Fat Lady isn't one of those bands afraid to go against the grain — their band includes a flute player, after all.
WORKING SPLIFFS, 5:30-7 pm
Around since 1999, Working Spliffs have evolved over the years from a classic reggae act to one infused with punk, psychedelic rock and jazz. Their horn section will blow you away.
SILVER TREASON, 7:30-9 pm
Don't be fooled by their country classification; Silver Treason is a band full of musicians who previously played in punk groups. When they play, even those most country-music-averse will want to dance around.
— LAURA JOHNSON