Beer Fest marks 20th anniversary Saturday

Thousands of people gather to take part in the 16th annual Mountain Brewers Beer Fest Jun. 5, 2010. This year, event organizers are expecting over 7,000 people to attend. Post Register File / Monte LaOrange

For Bryan Wells, the nearly five-hour drive from Elko, Nev., to Idaho Falls is an adventure he wouldn’t dare miss — not when the destination is the 2oth annual Mountain Brewers Beer Fest.

The day-long event opens at noon Saturday at Sandy Downs Rodeo Grounds, 1860 E. 65th South.

Earlier this week, Wells told the Post Register that he plans on hitting town today, with his father, Robert, and other friends in tow.

“It’s kind of a right of passage in our family,” Wells said. “My dad used to live in Idaho and he’s been going (to Beer Fest) with some friends for years. When I turned 21, he started taking me. My brother turns 21 next year, so it’ll be fun to have him come along.”

Once the gates open, the 25-year-old Wells and thousands of other beer fans will sample the latest creations of more than 100 breweries. Organizers are expecting a crowd of 7,000.

North American Brewers Association Vice President Lisa Smith advises patrons to bring an open mind and a desire to expand their beer-drinking horizons.

“I would recommend trying beers you’ve never had before,” Smith said. “Don’t just stick to your favorite breweries. We have breweries from all over the country that are going to be here, it’s a great chance to try something new.”

Among the breweries this year are Alaskan Brewing Co. from Juneau, Alaska, and Minnesota-based Steel Toe Brewing.

“This is a really big event,” Smith said. “There are a few multi-day events that are larger around the country (but) we have people travel from out of state just to attend the Beer Fest. Breweries know they can reach a wide range of people. This really is a great way for breweries to expand their product.”

The judging for this year’s competition got underway Tuesday. The winners will be announced at 6 p.m. today at the Hotel on the Falls.

At least a sampling of the award-winning beers should be available for tasting Saturday.

“It’s hard to say that all of the winning beers will be there,” Smith said. “In the past, sometimes a brewery will bring a different beer to the Beer Fest (event) than what they entered in the contest. I’d guess a lot of the winning beers will be available, though, so I’d keep my eyes peeled for those.”

Organizers are trying a different layout this year, putting all of the beer booths under one tent.

The idea is to make it easier for patrons to navigate Beer Fest.

Organizers also hope to improve parking by encouraging more patrons to ride free shuttle buses to and from the festival site. Ten shuttle routes are scattered throughout Idaho Falls and Ammon.

Parking will be available on 15th East and along York Road. There also is a parking area on the east side of the race track, Smith said. But the parking area directly behind the track is reserved for brewers.

Live music and a variety of food vendors also will be on hand throughout the day.

The Opskamatrists will perform at 1 p.m. Saturday. The group plays ska and features trumpet, trombone, guitar and drums. Following its performance, Galaxy Forrest, a reggae and funk band, will take the stage.

For Wells, however, Beer Fest is more than sampling food and the latest brews.

“It’s a chance to do something with my dad and get a out of town for a few days,” he said. “Now that I’m getting older, those chances don’t come along as often as I’d like.”