Small craft brewing is big business in Washington state, and 30 respected names in the field will set up shop at the Port of Anacortes warehouse this weekend for the Chamber of Commerce’s Third Annual Oktoberfest Bier on the Pier.
Each brewery will have two styles of beer available for tasting. Our own Anacortes Brewery will feature a hefeweizen and an oktoberfest variety.
Organizers expect more than 1,200 guests to attend, tasting brews that run the gamut in terms of style and appeal — light and dark, bitter and smooth — and of course the seasonal oktoberfest varieties.
“There’ll be a lot of seasonal beers there — a lot of harvest beers,” said Rick Star, general manager of The Rockfish Grill and Anacortes Brewery.
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Harvest beers are those brewed with the current year’s crop of grains and hops. Beer brewed the rest of the year uses dried and malted ingredients.
Anacortes’ two-day event has filled to capacity the last two years. Star said a second outdoor tent on the pier will accommodate even more guests.
The 21-and-older event will run 5-9 p.m. Friday and 12-6 p.m. Saturday. An advance two-day pass is $35 and an advance one-day pass is $20 — orderonline by midnight Thursday at http://anacortesoktoberbest.eventbrite.com.
A two-day pass costs $45 at the door and includes 12 tasting tickets and a festival glass.
A one-day pass will get you six tickets and the glass for $25.
Spoonshine Duo and the Pickled Herrings will play accordion music and traditional oompah tunes. Festival-style seating and food vendors will round out the atmosphere.
Microbrewing, or making beer on a small scale for local or regional sale, has ripened across the country into an $8.7 billion business in 2011.
That’s up from $7.6 billion in 2010, according to the national Brewers Association.
The Washington Beer Commission listed microbrewing as a $1.2 billion business in Washington state, after revenue from distributors and retailers was factored in.
In the booming microbrew business, more sellers are in the market than ever before, but demand still seems to grow along with it, said Allen Rhoades, president and brewer at Anacortes Brewery.
There’s still much room to be filled, and local breweries all want a piece of the ever-growing pie.
“You rarely speak to a brewery that isn’t looking to brew more beer,” Rhoades said.
Craft beers have an individual flavor, and the variety is what keeps consumers picking up the tab.
Anacortes Brewery Head Brewer Kevin Pierce said most large cities in Washington have at least one respectable microbrewery, and in larger cities, there’s often more than one.
“They even become neighborhoodized,” he said.
Two business models prevail among microbrewers, Star said.
A traditional microbrewery might only have a few food items. They sell half-gallon growlers of beer to go.
Brew-pubs are microbreweries attached to a restaurant, as Anacortes Brewery caters to The Rockfish and H2O.
A brew-pub can rely on food sales as a main source of income and restaurant sales as a base for beer sales. Traditional microbreweries are less diversified.
Pierce said innovation in beer recipes is the name of the game. Brewers are trending toward specialty and experimental beers. They add chocolate, fruit and yeast varieties or age the beer in barrels that once held whiskey, wine or brandy. Brewers capitalize on whatever nuance they can to capture the attention of thirsty connoisseurs.
“People are looking for different flavor profiles,” Rhoades said.
In terms of putting their product on the market, many small craft brewers don’t market their product for bottles and cans. Instead they stick to kegs and market their beer on the wholesale market to ale houses.
The chamber is buying the beer from the brewers for Bier on the Pier, Star said, but other festivals require a donation of the product and their time.
“It’s a marketing expense,” Star said.
For breweries that sell only kegs, Rhoades said they’re counting on Bier of the Pier customers who enjoy a beer to order it at a pub in, say, Everett or Seattle. If the pub’s owner doesn’t carry the brand but hears enough interest, he could order a keg or two of the brewer’s product.
Star said another attraction for brewery owners is the chance to mingle, trade brewing advice and get a taste of the competition.
“It’s a lot of fun, not just for the people, but for the brewers that come,” he said. “They like the atmosphere. They like the location.”
Oktoberfest celebrations date back to the early 1800s in Bavaria.
Now they are found around the world in late summer and early fall.
In Washington there are annual festivals in communities across the state including Everett, Leavenworth, Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Spokane and Bremerton.
Breweries will be arranged alphabetically, but with 60 beers on tap, Rick Star and Kevin Pierce recommend coming in with a game plan to make the most of your beer-tasting experience.
• Start with lighter beers: Lighter beers have a more delicate, nuanced flavor. A more robust brew early on could overwhelm your palette. So start with your lagers and pilsners and work your way toward the India pale ales, porters and stouts.
• Choose one style: Pierce said it’s possible to focus your beer tasting on one style of beer only. If you love IPAs or harvest ales, there will be plenty of variety this weekend. Make a goal of comparing a few new ones.
• Keep track on your program: Pierce said that after a dozen tastes of beer, you may not recall the finer details of your first sip. Make notes as you go along. That will make things much clearer later on.
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