Photo by Connor Jalbert
The smell of beer and fresh barbecue took over downtown as thousands of people filled up the Depot Market Square on Saturday, April 27. Attendees enjoyed sunshine, games, music local food, and most importantly, copious amounts of beer for Bellingham’s annual April Brews Day.
The Max Higbee Center, which sponsors and puts on the annual fundraiser event in downtown Bellingham every year, also celebrated its 18th anniversary as part of the festivities.
The Max Higbee Center is a recreational center that provides services for teens and adults with developmental disabilities. Western professor Max Higbee was the original leader of the organization and helped them become an official nonprofit organization in 1984.
April Brews Day was created in 2001 when the Max Higbee Center needed funding to continue according to Bellingham.org. April Brews Day has grown from a handful of breweries and just a few hundred people to one of the largest beer festivals in the Pacific Northwest.
April Brews Day helps to bring in almost 50% of the center’s funds for the year to help with activities including cooking classes, Bellingham YMCA workouts, sports, music events and more according to aprilbrewsday.org.
The venue for April Brews Day in 2017 almost doubled in size to allow room for more attendees and activities. With some planning, the event this year featured shorter lines, more room for games and a much better sound system according to the event’s website.
April Brews Day is the conclusion of Bellingham Beer Week, which highlights Bellingham’s beer scene.
“We are thrilled to be a part of Bellingham Beer Week because our local breweries are such incredible supporters of April Brews Day. We really couldn’t do this event without them,” Kari Whiteside, executive director of the Max Higbee Center, said.
The event, which lasted from 5:30 p.m. until 10:30 p.m., featured two types of tickets. VIP tickets let attendees in at 5:30 p.m. and included extra tickets for beer samples and a glass drinking cup. General admission ticket holders were let in at 6:30 p.m. and received tickets for beer samples and a metal drinking cup. Extra tickets could be purchased at the event.
The festival featured over 65 Pacific Northwest craft breweries and brought in more than 130 different types of beers, including ciders, hoppy IPAs, stouts and gluten-free options.
The festival included local breweries such Boundary Bay Brewery, Aslan Brewing Co., Bellingham Cider Company, Bright & Sunny Wild Ginger Beer, Chuckanut Brewery & Kitchen, Gruff Brewing Co., Herb’s Cider, Honey Moon Mead & Cider, Illuminati Brewing Co., Kombucha Town, Lost Giants Cider Company., Menace Brewing, Stemma Brewing Co., Stones Throw Brewery, Twin Sisters Brewing Company, and Wander Brewing.
“The great thing about this festival is that it’s a local festival that brings in a lot of people and a lot of different kind of beer from all over the state, and gives the event a true Bellingham vibe,” Aslan Brewing Co. employee Bobby Bruce said. “People come to relax and enjoy the beer and music and have a good night.”
The event was sold out and hosted over 4,000 attendees playing games, drinking, eating food from local food trucks and listening to live music from bands Out of the Ashes, Black Water and GrooveBot.
Local food trucks this year included The Mobile Mouth Hole, JT’s BBQ, Tacos El Tule, Kebab Casual, Kurly’s Gourmet Deep Fry, Boundary Bay Brewery & Bistro, Street Dogz, Chow Gourmet Hot Dogs, Sage Against The Machine 360, StrEAT Food, Crabby’s Crab Cakes and Seafood Delights and Gusto Woodfired Pizza.
“I really love the food that the event has this year,” event attendee Robert Mann said. “There is a variety of everything, the mac & cheese from JT’s BBQ is a must try.”
Among the breweries at the event was Boundary Bay Brewery which has been a main sponsor of April Brews Day since the very first event 18 years ago. The title-sponsor for the event this year was WECU Credit Union.
“Brews Day is the best beer event in the area every year,” Jeff Jones, a fourth-generation Bellingham resident and festival attendee, said. “I love how fun it is and I love getting to try different beers. Urban [Family] Brewer [Co.] out of Seattle is one of my favorites.”
“Seeing the people smiling and having a good time is such a good thing to see,” Boundary Bay Brewery employee JD Hill said. “Watching the festival getting bigger and bigger is really cool, plus getting to give out good beer helps.”
Awards were also woven into the activities. Coming in first place for the judges’ awards was the Black Francis beer from The North Fork Brewery, Pizzeria and Beer Shrine. In first place for the people’s choice award was the Holy F&cking GrAle Stout by Birdsview Brewing Co.
The event concluded with fireworks over the Bellingham Herald building, giving the audience a vibrant show.
Beer week events are held every year in April, welcoming spring. With the 15 breweries in Whatcom County alone, the area is one of the premier spots in the Pacific Northwest to visit for craft beer.