Now in its 10th year, the Winter BrewFest, 2-6 p.m. Saturday – Leap Day – began in 2011 as a one-time event to raise money for Caras Park in Missoula.
According to Lincoln Mansch, marketing and events director for the Missoula Downtown Association, gathering mid-winter to drink cold brews turned out to be so popular, “the MDA decided to keep it going, and it’s been going strong ever since!”
The inaugural event was held on the first floor of the old Missoula Mercantile; a year later, it was housed in the old Safeway Building. Boldly, the MDA moved it outdoors to the pavilion in Caras Park in 2013, where it’s been held ever since.
“Although the weather is looking to be in the mid-40s for this year’s event, we will have a few burn barrels, as well as heaters spread throughout the park to help keep folks warm,” says Mansch. Organizers also close a few of the pavilion walls to keep the cold out, but Montanans are a hearty lot. “If it’s sunny, most will be outside.”
Not only have the venues changed over the years, the number of breweries in Montana has exploded from around 40 in 2012 to more than 80 now, with around a dozen in Missoula alone. In 2019, the Big Sky state ranked second nationwide for the number of breweries per capita at 9.6.
“It’s amazing how breweries have grown, not only in Missoula, but throughout Montana,” says Mansch. “Unfortunately we can’t get everyone in because there are just too many!”
Still, it’s bountiful. Beer drinkers can sample around 35 brews from across the state Feb. 29, while getting in shape for its sister event, the Garden City BrewFest on May 2, which adds beer from Colorado, Washington and California to the line-up.
Winter BrewFest also offers plenty of cider options – “how could we not?” asks Mansch, given the city’s plethora of cideries. A wine/mimosa tent, water, soda, coffee, hot chocolate and food vendors are also available.
Trevor Pressler serves as DJ and free Carousel rides and s’more-making are on tap from 2-4 p.m. for families.
Admission is free; beer sampling is $20 (includes one seven-ounce commemorative glass and five beer tokens; additional tokens are 2 for $3).
MDA provides handsome scarves for volunteers, with a few available for purchase.
Learn more at www.missouladowntown.com/winter-brewfest/ or call 406-543-4238.