Early spring in Montana is a tumultuous time, with winter occasionally ceding its icy grip for a few days, allowing the warming sun to shine before the sky clouds up and the temperatures fall again.
Any given year will put its own mark on the spring, with the first week of March known to be host to freezing temperatures and flying snow as well as the first sunburn of the season.
Regardless of the weather, people will still show up to drink beer in the streets for the seventh annual Bigfork Brewfest, taking place March 5.
“We’ve done this event in negative temperatures. It’s been crazy. People still pile up for it,” brewfest founder Hilary Shepard said. “People have asked, ‘Why do you do it in the winter?’ and it’s like, ‘Well? Why not?’”
Knowing the weather is always going to be on your side is key when hosting an outdoor event, Shepard said, but there are many factors that bring people to the festival.
First of all, there’s the beer. Seven years ago, when craft breweries weren’t even as plentiful as they are now, Shepard said the growing amount of brewers in the state made it difficult to try out all the new beers.
“The fact is that there were all these craft brewers, but you’d go to the bar and have the same beer and you’d never taste any of the other ones,” she said.
So it was decided: a brewfest in downtown Bigfork, to test out all the new beers. This year, brewers include many of the local craft shops, as well as Iron Horse Brewery from Ellensburg, Washington. Other in-state brewers include Cabinet Mountain Brewing Co. of Libby and Madison River Brewing Company of Belgrade.
But what else could a brewfest be? Shepard said getting the beer requirement filled was the first priority, and then came the realization the event could benefit the community.
This year, proceeds from the brewfest will benefit the ACES After School Program in Bigfork, the North Shore Nordic Club, the Bigfork Food Bank, and the Crown of the Continent Guitar Foundation.
“It’s good for everyone. Let’s try some beer and let’s do something good for the town and bring people to Bigfork,” Shepard said.
Another draw is the annual Spam-O-Rama, which presumably enters its 20th year this year but no one is actually 100 percent sure, Shepard said. During this distinguished event, participants take the canned meat and turn it into sculptures, using tools they brought from home.
The carving competition takes place at 2 p.m. at the Garden Bar, and is family friendly.
“It’s the annual Spam-O-Rama, so bring your carving tools, it’s pretty entertaining,” Shepard said.
Bigfork Brewfest also offers a safe way to and from the event, with buses running routes from Whitefish and Columbia Falls, with stops at the White Oak on U.S. Highway 93, the Silver Bullet on Highway 206, and Many Lakes.
“We do want to make sure people use that,” Shepard said. “We’ve run it before, but we certainly try to promote it and put it out there.”
Tickets for the event are $25 for those 21 and older who are going to taste the beers on tap, and $5 for non-beer drinkers. There will be food trucks inside the festival, and free soda and coffee for designated drivers. Aaron Fetveit and Tommy Edwards, otherwise known as Man & The Box, will provide live music.
The theme this year, “Party in Plaid,” will dictate the suggested fashion for the event, and the team entry that wins for Best Dressed will be rewarded with a free team entry into the next Craft Beer Relay Race.
For more information on Bigfork Brewfest, including the bus schedule, visit www.BigforkBrewfest.com.
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