Bellingham’s largest beer festival, April Brews Day, brings over 4,000 people to the area to enjoy brews from the Pacific Northwest. This year, the one-day festival is being held on April 29. This is the first time the festival has taken place since 2019.
Throughout the years, April Brews Day has continued to grow. Katie Gray, the event planner, said they are expecting around 5,000 attendees, 50 breweries and food vendors this year.
There will be gluten-free, vegan and non-alcoholic options available. The event is for ages 21 and over and dogs are not allowed.
However, it’s not all about the beer. April Brews Day donates all of its proceeds to the Max Higbee Center. The center was founded to provide more recreation opportunities in Whatcom County for people with developmental disabilities.
Professor Max Higbee founded the Special Education Department at Western Washington University and worked with the community to help form the center. It was renamed in honor of Higbee after he passed away and became a certified nonprofit in 1984.
Currently, there are around 150 active members at the center who regularly participate in programs, which offer planned group activities such as music and art classes.
Alyssa Jones, the program director at the Max Higbee Center, said recreation can be anything that brings joy, pleasure and value into our lives. Recreational activities are often very limited to people with developmental disabilities due to access barriers.
“Our soft tagline is that it’s a place for friends and that’s truly what it is,” Jones said.
In 2001, the center was running out of funds to keep itself open. A board member knew some friends in the brewery business and they started the first April Brews Day.
For the first few years, April Brews Day was their only source of funding. Since then, the center has been able to diversify its funding, but April Brews Day still provides around 40% of its annual budget.
“It definitely takes a village to put on,” Gray said. “I’m really hoping folks are excited to have this event back. We’re all certainly excited.”
In prior years, April Brews Day was held at the Depot Market Square and space was limited. This year, it will be held at the Downtown Waterfront on Granary Avenue.
“We’re in a new venue this year that has a lot more space for attendees,” Gray said. “There will also be two stages for music, and members of the Bellingham Circus Guild will be throughout the event space performing.”
Aslan Brewing Company will be one of the breweries at April Brews Day this year. Aslan server Soren Brotherton said he is looking forward to the event.
“It’s a good way to bring the community together, to have fun and support the Max Higbee Center,” Brotherton said.
Beer festivals have remained popular over the years nationwide. Anderson Valley Beer Company puts on the Boonville Beer Festival in Boonville, California, and uses it as a way to donate to local charities in the area. After 25 annual events, the company has managed to donate over $1.7 million throughout the years.
Kevin McGee is the current president and CEO of Anderson Valley Beer Company. He said the festival started as a way to get people together and raise money but also give networking opportunities to breweries and those interested in the business.
“We try and promote regional breweries or up-and-coming brewers to give them the chance to promote themselves and build connections,” McGee said.
It is heavily recommended people don’t drive to April Brews Day as there will be limited parking. Gray said Let’s Bike Bellingham will be providing a bike valet if people choose to ride to the event. Bike locks will be provided and bikes will be watched by volunteers throughout.
Tickets for April Brews Day can be bought online for $60 and Gray said they will have a very limited amount available at the door. General admission starts at 6 p.m. with a strict end time of 10 p.m.
The Max Higbee Center relies on volunteers to help run programs, and Jones said the center values authentic acceptance and a warm welcome to anyone who walks through the doors.
“The whole community of Whatcom County would be so different if we didn’t have the Max Higbee Center,” Jones said. “We’re building inclusion and giving folks an opportunity to recognize biases. There’s such a wide range of humanity at the center and being able to elevate and support our community is a big thing.”
Ciarra Shaffer (she/her) is a city life reporter for The Front. She is a junior majoring in the public relations track of the journalism department. In her free time, Ciarra enjoys being outside and going to concerts. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org