Here are a few of my observations from the event along with a list of winners from the beer competition.
- A great day and a great crowd. Weather forecasts a week before the event had us salivating over a predicted 69 degrees and sunshine. Day by day the forecast tanked toward cold rain, but in the end it rebounded to a cool mix of sun and clouds that didn't get in the way. The crowd of approximately 2,400 was just about perfect. Lines were short and the beer was plentiful. While I'm sure the MBA will always prefer to sell more tickets, the size of the crowd fit the venue very well. The annual Garden City Brewfest in May regularly pulls in 4,000 or more, but that number makes the space difficult to manage. Plus, the nature of the crowds at the two events are significantly different. Yesterday's Fall Festival's crowd boasted a high number of educated craft beer fans eager to experience the variety of Montana beers on display.
- I didn't take pictures. For the vast majority of beer related things, I've practiced honing my photography skills to provide those who could not attend a window into the event and let those who did attend relive the good times. Unfortunately, that means I'm picking subjects, watching the action, and framing the shots 90% of the time, leaving little opportunity to experience the events the way you do. I chose to leave the camera at home. I wanted to have more time to experience the beer and visit with brewers, industry folks and fellow craft beer fans. Not to worry. The pictures are not going away.
- Speaking of visiting with brewers, I had an opportunity to spend a couple of minutes talking with Chris Neill, owner and brewer of Montana's newest brewery, Homestead Ales. It opened on August 2, 2013. Homestead Ales operates a 3 bbl system that Chris says is already close to being maxed out with their current supporting equipment. And despite being roughly seven miles south of Eureka and a couple of miles off the main highway, Chris said the taproom space remains busy with a steady stream of both local and traveling craft beer fans. It is not hard to see why. I tried both Homestead Ales beers pouring at the festival, the Big Creek Porter and Grave Creek IPA. The Big Creek Porter is a very pleasant porter with roasted charcoal notes. The Grave Creek IPA managed to win best IPA (out of 26 IPAs, I believe) in the Festival's blind judging.
- My continuing crusade for smaller glasses. Yeah, yeah, I know. It is indeed silly to complain about receiving a 9 ounce glass for use at the Festival. So put this in the category of nit picking (though there is also the issues of encouraging responsible drinking). I heeded my own tip and repeatedly asked for less than half a glass, even pointing with my finger to my requested mark. About 3/4 of the time I received about 8 ounces in return. That's a lot of beer I poured out over the course of my stay.
- Personal Favorites. I certainly did not try all 87 beers, but it wasn't even possible to try all of the beers I'd not had before. Of those I did try, I only disliked one, found most to be quite good, some were excellent, and at least one was world class. Here are some which stood out for me: Black Hops Tactical IPA (Uberbrew), Blood Orange IPA (Philipsburg), Harvest Howl Oktoberfest (Bowser), and Imperial Stout (Blackfoot).
- Finally, we have the winners from the blind judging conducted by the Zoo City Zymurgists, Missoula's home brew club:
Bozeman Brewing Co: Bozone Co-Op Kolsch won Best Light Ale
Blacksmith Brewing Co: Schwarzbier Lager won Best Lager
Lewis and Clark Brewing Co: Miners Gold Hefeweizen won Best American Wheat
Wildwood Brewing: Wildwood White Bark Wheat Ale won Best German Style Wheat
Tamarack Brewing Co.: Yard Sale Amber Ale won Best Amber/Red,
Tamarack Brewing Co.: Oktoberfest won Best Oktoberfest
Bridger Brewing: Lee Metcalf Summer Ale won Best Pale Ale
Bitter Root Brewery: Nut Brown Ale won Best Dark Ale
Homestead Ales: Grave Creek IPA won Best IPA
Flathead Lake Brewing Co.: The Imperial IPA won Best Imperial
Blackfoot River Brewing: Barleywine won Best Barleywine