Leavenworth Ale Festival – Gateway to the Cascades

Last weekend I attended the Leavenworth Ale Festival. It takes very little arm twisting to convince me to hit a new brew fest and it takes very little arm twisting to convince Kim and I to go to Leavenworth. What’s more, Icicle Brewing is now open. We will tell you more about Leavenworth’s brand new brewery in the coming days, but this story is about the Leavenworth Ale Festival.

Gateway to the Cascades (hops, that is)

So, how do you define a great beer festival? Do things like location, audience, and entertainment fit into the equation or is it all about the beer? The Washington Cask Beer Festival, held on April 9th, offered more imaginative beer choices than the palate could bear. It is one of the things I cherish about Cask Fest—the vast array of creative beers, many of which you cannot taste anywhere else. That said, I would be lying through my teeth if I said the ambiance at the Seattle Center Fisher Pavilion was anything beyond adequate. The venue is void of any personality. Still, Cask Fest is awesome. So how do you define a great beer fest?

I won’t try to fool you. The beer selection at the Leavenworth Ale Festival pales in comparison to some of our geeky westside beer events, but there were plenty of great beers available. Twenty-four breweries poured beer at the event, held in Leavenworth’s Festhalle, including three breweries we rarely see over here on the raining side of the mountains: Old Schoolhouse Brewing from Winthrop, Methow Valley Brewing from Twist, and Laughing Dog Brewing from Sand Point, ID. Alpine Brewing and Iron Horse Brewing also represented the 509. Westside representatives included Pike Brewing and Big Al Brewing, among others. Firestone Walker, Stone, Ninkasi and a few others comprised the non-Washington contingent.

Once again, I won’t try to fool you. There were two very bored and lonely people at the A-B Specialty booth infrequently pouring two different versions of Shock Top.


Here are some beer highlights. Both of the beers from Old Schoolhouse Brewing were fantastic—Hooligan Stout and Ruud Awakening IPA. Laughing Dog Brewing’s Huckleberry Cream Ale was the first keg to go dry (before we tried it, alas). Deschutes was pouring Hop Henge and the Abyss. There were more than a few of us in the crowd that recognized the value of getting four ounces of the Abyss for one dollar. Newly hatched Icicle Brewing poured Glen Hay IPA – a collaborative beer brewed with Walking Man Brewing since the new Icicle Brewing facility in Leavenworth was not quite ready. And who can complain about a palate cleanser like Lindemans Apple Lambic. Good stuff.

Here are some non-beer highlights: The weather was fantastic. Outside in the large smoking area, the smokers found themselves vastly outnumbered by sun worshippers. The crowd was young and enthusiastic, but not out of control and obnoxious. Obviously, the event organizers did not skimp when it came to entertainment. The bands were awesome. We saw Handful of Luvin’ and Cody Beebe and the Crooks. Sadly, we ran out of gas and missed Chumstick Liberation Front (great band name).

The Verdict

When I judge a beer festival, I keep an open mind. I remember when I was still new at this craft beer thing and the things I loved about beer festival were hanging out with my friends, scoping out chicks, catching some rays, and just plain-old partying. The beer used to be less important to me than it is now, but some of those things still matter. Beer festivals should be fun and entertaining, if not because of the beer then above and beyond the beer.

Leavenworth Ale Festival is a very worthy beer festival. If someone found it “beneath them,” I feel sorry for them. Those people are too old to have fun. I might categorize Leavenworth Ale Fest as a gateway festival. No doubt, there were many people in attendance who think Widmere Hefeweizen and Deschutes Mirror Pond are very interesting and uncommon beers, but at some point those people need to be introduced to the bigger world of craft beer. This is a great event for doing that.

Perhaps the best thing of all, this was a charity fundraiser. Proceeds from the event benefited the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum and Operation Ward 57. Even if you think nutcrackers are silly, you cannot complain about the Operation Ward 57 mission of helping wounded soldiers, their families and those who aid in their recovery.

Here are some pictures from the event.

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