By Emily Stifler

In its fifth year, the Montana Beer Festival at the Gallatin Valley Fairgrounds has gained a loyal following.

“We love beer,” says festival organizer, Todd Clemens. “Montanans
love beer.” Clemens, who’s organized Beer Fest the past two years with Jared Byerly and Tate Chamberlin, has also attended or been involved with all five past festivals.

The 2011 Festival will feature many craft breweries from Montana and other Western states, as well as one from the East Coast. Each brewer
brings multiple craft brews so there’s a variety available to sample.

With 1700 festival-goers last year and growing interest, entrees will be capped at 2200 this year. People have come from Idaho, Wyoming and
Alberta for the Fest in the past, and Clemens says he’s even received an
email from someone flying in from New Jersey to attend this year.

The brewers are positioned throughout the four fairground buildings, so beer lovers can search out the beers they want to try. The brewers, Byerly says, have almost rock star status. During the 4 p.m. VIP tasting, Clemens says the crowd tends to be “people who want to know how something was made, or to talk to the brewer of their favorite beer.” Bands play the entire evening, and “people are enjoying what beer has been about for centuries: socialization.”

Over 50 volunteers help the evening flow smoothly, and the Streamline Bus line has extended the free late night route to help facilitate
safe rides from the Festival.

To grow energy, the Montana Beer Festival partnered with Old
Chicago. Starting in late March, the restaurant, which rotates its on-tap
local brews, offered a $5 “Montana beer flight”—try four craft beverages and keep the Beer Fest embossed tasting glasses. A portion of proceeds
from those sales will be donated to the Montana Brewers Association.

Also in that vein, the breweries that win the people’s choice awards will choose a Montana-based non-profit for the Festival to donate on that brewery’s behalf. This, says Clemens, gets the breweries and the public involved, and is a fun way to give back. “A beer festival without a purpose
is nothing but an overrated night at the bar.”