Once a year, a very special occasion happens in the lives of Idaho beer lovers: The North American Brewers Association (NABA) pitch their big tents and lure barley addicts from all over the Northwest to Sandy Downs Race Tracks in Idaho Falls. With over 80 brewers and 300 beers on tap, the festival is, on the surface, a beer-drinking extravaganza. At its heart the festival is an annual reunion for brewers and a chance for colleagues and friends to catch up, compare recipes, get feedback and basically just have a good time. But at its core, the NABA brewfest is an event to aid the Idaho Falls community. One-hundred percent of the profits from the fest are donated to local charities like Crime Stoppers, Knights of Columbus, the Special Olympics and Breaking Boundaries, an AIDS awareness organization.
In years past, attendance from Boiseans has been low. However, dedicated beer lovers (such as myself), find the four-hour trip a small price to pay for the six hours of beer drinking nirvana that awaits. The NABA brewfest is a small festival, which means shorter lines and less crowded tents. Tickets are a measly 15 bucks in advance or $20 at the festival gates. The ticket price includes unlimited beer tasting, so you won't have to run to the ATM because you ran out of tokens. There aren't any tokens, tickets or skimpy pours from the vendors in the NABA tents. There are microbrews, domestics and imports on tap, in all their hoppy goodness. Your cup can literally runneth over.
Boise's Ram Pub is one of the few local brewers who have been dedicated to the festival. Sockeye Brewery is usually in attendance as well. Kevin Bolen, head brewer at the Ram, was kind enough to offer me a preview of the beers the Ram will have in the competition portion of the event, while he answered a few questions about the festival.
Boise Weekly: The Ram shows up at the festival year after year. What keeps bringing you back?
Kevin Bolen: Just seeing people I haven't seen in a while. The festival itself is very well run--they do an awesome job there. And it's obviously for a good cause, a lot of money goes to charity. After this year [NABA] said, after this event, it'll be $250,000 they've donated to charity. So that's an awesome thing. Also, it gets us out of here, because we're always here, and we get to actually interact with a lot of other people that we don't normally see as well--give them a taste of what we're doing in Boise.
How many beers are you entering in the competition this year?
We have seven. The Clearwater Kolsch, Taildragger IPA, Old St. Micks Irish Dry Stout, Bannock Street Bock, Snake Bumper, Irish Red and a pilsner that really doesn't have a name yet.
How do you come up with your beer names?
Sometimes I try to find inspiration in maybe the origin of the style, or sometimes other people name them for me. I try to go regional, like the Clearwater Kolsch, Clearwater River. I love that area of the state.
Now for a very important question: How many kegs are you taking over with you?
I think we're taking four kegs. Typically we took two. Two kegs used to run us six hours. It's getting a little bigger now. I've got a mix of stuff. We'll have some quarter barrels of things, some five gallons of things. We'll just keep shifting it up. It's nice to actually have a mix of beers, a variety.
Book a cheap hotel room, hop in the car with your buddies and split the gas. Free buses run between the festival and all the major hotels in Idaho Falls to ensure safe experiences for folks on the road. Two words: Drink up!
June 2, noon-6 p.m., $15 advance, $20 at the gates, Sandy Downs Racetracks, Idaho Falls. For more information about the festival or to purchase tickets, visit www.northamericanbrewers.org or the Ram at 709 E. Park Blvd., Boise, 208-345-2929. :