Bigfork Brewfest returns to its roots

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    THE MUG above will be included with this year’s admission. (Courtesy of Dax VanFossen)

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    THE MUG above will be included with this year’s admission. (Courtesy of Dax VanFossen)

By MACKENZIE REISS

Daily Inter Lake

Brewers across the state will descend on downtown Bigfork on Saturday, March 3 for the Bigfork Brewfest — an afternoon celebration of local and regional brews, complete with live music, food vendors and waterfront views.

This year’s festival will feature representatives from 24 craft breweries from Montana and neighboring states who will be serving up free beer samples to attendees. In recent years, vendors have assembled near the local eatery, Brookside Yard, but this year the event is under new leadership and organizers opted to return the brewfest to its original site on Electric Avenue.

The Bigfork Innovations Group (BIG), comprised of local business owners and community leaders, is heading up the festival, spokesman Dax VanFossen said. Profits from the event will be donated to the Bigfork Chamber of Commerce, he added.

“The money will go back into the community to benefit the local businesses,” VanFossen said. “We are benefiting a small Montana community and really, the credit goes to these 24 breweries that have ponied up to help raise money for Bigfork.”

Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the gate. Included with admission is a steel mug with the festival logo and carabiner handle that visitors can use to sample various brews. But VanFossen noted that members of BIG will be circulating to ensure that participants imbibe responsibly. Tickets can be purchased at Kalispell Brewing Company, Bonsai Brewing Project, Great Northern Brewing Company, Backslope Brewing or online at www.bigforkbrewfest.com.

In addition to the brews and bites, the festival will kick off with a free 5k race that will take runners along the Swan River Nature Trail beginning at 12:30 p.m., with signups downtown in advance of the event. Adding a unique flair to the Bigfork Brewfest is the Spam-O-Rama — a carving contest where participants carve sculptures out of the famously everlasting meat, Spam.

Mark “Mister” Langlois, who started the contest “about 20 years ago,” said the Spam-O-Rama is free and open to all ages, but participants are required to bring their own supplies, including two cans of Spam and carving tools. Many folks use pumpkin carving kits, he noted. Langlois introduced Spam carving to the brew fest repertoire because of his personal love for Spam, and has enjoyed seeing the creativity of participants over the years.

For those who can’t make the contest which starts at noon, don’t fret — there are relics of past Spam-O-Ramas still on display in Bigfork.

“It’s miracle meat in a can,” Langlois said. “There’s still some sitting on the shelf at the [Garden Bar] from like 10 years ago. And I’m not kidding — they still look the same.”

To ensure the safety of festival-goers, buses will run from Kalispell and Whitefish beginning at 1 p.m. and return visitors safely to those locations when the brewfest wraps up at 6 p.m.

VanFossen anticipates at least a couple hundred to turn out for the event and noted that in years when the weather has been less than cooperative, the festival has soldiered on. Four years ago, temps dipped to minus-5, he said, but that didn’t keep hundreds of attendees from turning up.

“A lot of these craft festivals are cool, but not all of them sit on the shore of Flathead Lake,” VanFossen said, “and that’s why we wanted get it back on Electric Ave. It really is that small-town Montana feel.”

VanFossen said the brewfest is a local extension of the national trend toward locally-made products. Farm to table restaurants and craft breweries and distilleries are popping up all over the country. As of June 2017, there were over 5,500 breweries in the U.S. — up 900 from the year prior — with another 2,700 in the works, according to Fortune Magazine.

Montana ranks 23rd in the nation for number of craft breweries, with 68 in operation, according to the Brewers Association, up from fewer than 40 in 2011. The brew fest has seen growth too: the event started with between 10 and 12 breweries and will double that number this year.

“It’s a giant growing movement, I guess really across the county, but Montana’s really grabbed this thing by the horns,” VanFossen said. “I don’t know many Montanans that don’t love the phrase, ‘Made in Montana.’ It’s that pride in ownership.”

Reporter Mackenzie Reiss may be reached at 758-4433 or mreiss@dailyinterlake.com.

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