‘April Brews Day’: Bellingham celebrates beer culture for a cause

By Tyler Howard

It was raining beer at Bellingham’s Depot Market Square on Saturday, April 30, as they celebrated the 15th anniversary for the April Brews Day beer festival.

April Brews Day is one of the first beer festivals in the Pacific Northwest. Its proceeds benefit the Max Higbee Center, a recreation center that provides community-based recreation programs for youth and adults with developmental disabilities. There were over 400 volunteers, including board members and staff from the Max Higbee Center, who helped organize the event.

Kait Whiteside, executive director at Max Higbee Center, said the money they raise every year at April Brews Day accounts for half of its annual budget. This year they raised more than $120,000, compared to last year’s $97,000, over a 20 percent increase in revenue.

“[April Brews Day] is so crucial for the Max Higbee Center,” said Whiteside. “We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without it.”

The Max Higbee Center, formally known as the Drop-In Center, was founded in 1984 when it gained its status as a non-profit organization. It was then renamed after its founder, Max Higbee, a former professor at Western Washington University. The center was created by educators and families of people with developmental disabilities who wanted improved recreational opportunities in Whatcom County.

The crowd gathered at the event. Over $120,000 was raised at this year's April Brews Day. Photo by Tyler Howard.
The crowd gathered at the event. Over $120,000 was raised at this year’s April Brews Day. Photo by Tyler Howard.

This year’s April Brews Day, there were 53 microbreweries stretching from Bellingham to San Diego, each offering samples of some of their best brews. Upon admission to the event, each person was handed a sampling glass, which they could take home with them, as well as five tokens to exchange for samples of any beer from any brewery at the event. More tokens could be purchased once they were inside the event.

Food was provided by local food trucks including StrEAT Food, Kurly Fries, Barebones BBQ, El Capitan, Goat Mountain Pizza, and Food Haus. Every dollar spent inside the event on food or tokens for beer was donated to the Max Higbee Center.

“It’s a wonderful community event,” said Whiteside, “where people gather to taste beers and support a good cause.”

Besides the fundraising itself, there was also a 12-member judging panel that tested the beers prior to the event. First place was awarded to Melvin Brewing for its 2×4 Double IPA, second place went to Ninkasi Brewing Company for its Munich Helles Lager, and third place went to Aslan Brewing for its Disco Lemonade.

Throughout the night, patrons could vote on their favorite beers for the People’s Choice Awards. The top three winners were: first place to Boundary Bay Brewery for its Ginger Peach Blonde Ale; second place to Birdsview Brewing Company for its Holy F—ing Grail Stout; and third place to Gruff Brewing for its East Coast IPA.

“People are really excited about beer in our community,” said Whiteside.

Melvin Brewing from Jackson Hole, Wyo., was very popular during the event. Their award winning 2×4 Double IPA was the first beer that ran dry for the night. This same brew has won the Alpha King Championship, awarded by hops supplier HopUnion, two years in a row.

“[April Brews Day] is awesome,” said Ben Christensen, Melvin’s representative. “This is our first event in Washington and this one in particular is really great.”

Several Bellingham local breweries were in attendance including Aslan, Boundary Bay, Chuckanut, Gruff, Kulshan, Stones Throw, and Wander.

Gruff Brewing celebrated its first year at April Brews Day, said Eric Wright, Gruff representative. Last year they couldn’t make it, because their brewery was still under construction. Alongside their East Coast IPA, Gruff tested four other brews including a Peanut Butter Stout, which they ran out of only two hours into the event.

“It’s a blast here,” said Wright, “it’s just great to be a part of it this year.”

Among the crowd was Preston Ehrlich, a 22-year-old Western student from Kent, Wash., Ehrlich expressed his level of intoxication after saying he drank, at least, 10 samples at the event thus far.

“It’s all good here,” said Ehrlich, “we all deserve to drink beer, so it’s all good.”

The people at the event were primarily Bellingham locals. Throughout the night they were dancing, drinking, eating and enjoying the sunset over Bellingham Bay. Occasionally, an intoxicated patron would accidentally drop their sample glass, causing it to shatter on the ground. The whole event would turn and rally in a cheer of disheartenment for their fallen comrade. As was custom, the casualty would throw their arms in the air and accept their fate as a formal party foul.

Whiteside said next year they plan to make changes involving the glassware to prevent further “shattering.” She said next year’s April Brews Day will also be looking to expand in size and overall capacity for the event. “More space means more beer,” said Whiteside.

Whiteside said that the main goal of this event is, “to get folks engaged in the community.”

Those interested in volunteering at next year’s April Brews Day or contributing to the Max Higbee Center can go to www.maxhigbee.org and click on either the “contribute” tab or the “April Brews Day” tab to reach the volunteer page, she said.

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