A little-known fact about Rotary International Clubs: Many of them have committees dedicated to planning and hosting brewfests.
But the Kalispell Rotary Club didn’t — not until Mark Rohweder, a three-year member of the Noon Club, pitched the idea of an annual summer brewfest to Kalispell’s Noon and Daybreak clubs in September of last year.
A six-person coalition immediately got onboard, and in January 2017, Rotary clubs from Bigfork, Evergreen, Whitefish, and Columbia Falls started joining the project. Innumerable meetings and permit requests later, Rohweder’s vision has become reality in the form of the first annual Great Bear Festival, which will take place on Aug. 5 from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. in Kalispell’s Depot Park.
For Rohweder, the brewfest has four goals.
“The first is that it’s a fundraiser for Rotary projects,” he says. “Second, it’s a way for us to get our name out there and for people to understand what we do. Third, it allows us to intermix with other [Rotary] Clubs in the valley. And fourth, we’re hosting this so that the entire community can have fun.”
Lucy Smith, president of the Kalispell Noon Rotary Club, adds that the event will be especially fun because of its charitable component. All of the profits will be divided among the six local clubs, according to the amount of hours worked, and each club will then use the funds for their selected projects, which range from supporting the Flathead Youth Home to providing clean water and irrigation infrastructure in Guatemala.
“Knowing this truly makes the beer and wine taste better,” Smith says.
The brewfest will feature 30 breweries, 10 of which are supplying their beer free of charge; 20 to 40 types of wine; 10 food trucks; and three bands — the Mike Murray Band, the Kenny James Miller Band and the Bel Aires — who will play live music throughout the night.
“We want this to be a signature regional event,” Rohweder says. “We want this to be something that people put on their calendars, something that people from Missoula would drive down for.”
Rohweder and Smith describe the Great Bear Festival as a brewfest with a twist.
“Part of what makes this event special is that it’s not just a brewfest,” Rohweder says. “We’re also serving wine and hard cider. And we’re going to have beer from all over Montana, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and even from a brewery in Massachusetts.”
“It’s a pretty impressive list,” he continues. “A lot of breweries are going to be serving beer that’s really limited in production, that they don’t serve in many other places. People will be able to taste beer they can’t anywhere else.”
Other unique features include a VIP tent, in which guests will be able to enjoy exclusive beer and wine tastings as well as a roasted pig courtesy of Desoto Grill. Furthermore, all guests 21 years and older will receive a commemorative Belgian glass, which is better suited to the festival’s wide variety of drinks than the standard brewfest pint glass.
“We decided to name this the Great Bear Festival because we wanted to speak to the uniqueness of our region, to places like the Great Bear Wilderness, while also leaving things open for future possibilities,” Smith says. “We didn’t want to limit ourselves by calling it a brewfest.”
“It’s really about raising a glass to raise a community,” Rohweder adds.
“It shows the community what we can accomplish as a group,” says Sandy Carlson, a Kalispell city councilor and member of the Daybreak Rotary Club. “I can’t stress enough how much of a team effort this has been.”