There’s nothing better than a cold brew on a hot summer’s day. Just ask some of the 800 people who attended last year’s Steinley Cup Brewfest, or those who composed the massive crowd at this year’s festivities. The Brewfest, in its 20th year, is limited to Wyoming brewers and is the oldest in the state. This year’s event took place on Aug. 15th, at Saratoga’s Veterans Island.
At Veterans Island along the North Platte River, the festival saw a brief downpour of rain at the onset before the clouds cleared for a beautiful afternoon. A bevy of microbrews to simply try or liberally imbibe and a sizeable crowd of regional residents and visitors sharing in Wyoming’s brewery creations were on-hand, with folk originals and renditions played by Golden, Colo., -based band Thunder and Rain.
In past years brews like Irish Red Ale have been highlighted. A bit sweet, with a lightly hopped tea-like flavor, Irish Red combines well-rounded and balanced flavors with a pleasant toasted malt character in many examples. This year’s competition brew was “Fruit and Field” — using either fruits or ingredients such as green peas or squash.
Jane Pratte was one of the locals Nowicki was referring to as one desiring alternative beers. Hailing from about three miles north of Saratoga, Pratte said she was enjoying her first time at the festival and her first Jalapeno beer. She and her husband, Henry, both said they enjoyed the brew creation and the large crowd.
“It’s interesting to see so many people here,” said Pratte, who also said she “likes the music.”
Fort Collins, Colo., resident Jeffrey Culotta was also at the festival for the first time, but said he was familiar with the area, sometimes hopping on his motorcycle and heading north with a friend or his wife to enjoy Wyoming beer when he gets the chance.
In Saratoga with a friend this time, Culotta said that he “wanted to support Wyoming brewing,” and that he has always been impressed with the quality of beer from brewers in the state and their experimentation.
With more brew and chili competitors than last year, the dancing to Thunder and Rain and overall revelry, Saratoga/Platte Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO Stacy Crimmins said the event “went really well, it was very smooth.”
Crimmins said that she and the community enjoyed seeing the return of brewers that had taken a bit of a hiatus and the new brewers. She also said crafters and vendors both had a good day.
As for the smoothness, Crimmins said that the “big event for the community” underwent “a lot of planning,” which helped the event run smoother. Attendance was over 600 people, Crimmins said, which is up from last year, and featured 15 vendors and 35 volunteers.
Crimmins emphasized the importance of the volunteers, saying the event couldn’t be held without them and that their cooperation and planning, even in small details like where they should be stationed and how many should be there, made a big difference in how smoothly the event ran
“All and all, it was really nice,” said Crimmins, who also noted that planning was already underway for Steinley 2016.
Steve Simpson, brewmaster at the Snowy Mountain Brewery in Saratoga, is the driving force behind the event as well as forming a team of Wyoming brewmasters to create a collaboration brew that is presented during Craft Beer Week each May. Simpson said in a previous interview the collaboration brew usually starts with an Internet conference in January.
“We start the first or second Wednesday in January. We throw styles around until something sticks against the wall that everyone likes,” Simpson said.
The year’s collaboration brew was a dry hop double pilsner. It was described as an in-your-face beer where the hops come across a bit sharp with a thick herbal flavor, and the alcohol brings a vivid peppery and spicy herbal smack to the taste buds. The alcohol is clean throughout with some warmth in the semisweet finish. Each year, the brewers who combine forces for the collaboration brew take home a limited supply for sales on their home turf.
But in keeping with this year’s theme, the Snowy Mountain Brewery exhibited on tap Saratoga Witbier, a light wheat beer with a hint of bitter orange peel spices, giving this beer a slightly fruity flavor. Along with tasting handcrafted beers, attendees paired their pints with green and red chili and salsa from the chili cook-off, which runs concurrently with the Brewfest. Non-drinkers enjoyed a variety of root beers.