On a nose-hair-freezing afternoon in early February, I stood outside Whitefish, Montana’s Great Northern Brewing Company amidst a crowd of rowdy beer-swilling locals. Considering my toes were the temperature of creamsicles, I wondered what the hell I was doing. Then contestant #22—a tall, tanned, eminently good-looking man named Troy Nooroa—walked onto the stage. He unzipped his jacket, lit a couple of batons on fire, and, juggled them to the delight of every lady in the crowd. Cold toes be damned.
Nooroa was competing in a new tradition of snow-blessed Whitefish: the second annual Black Star Barter. The premise is simple—what would you do or trade for a year’s worth (52 cases) of Black Star Beer? The answers, as it turns out, are notably entertaining. Contestants offered a year’s supply of homemade macaroni and cheese, line dancing lessons, on-call magic-trick performances, dogsled trips, deer butchering services, and two Volkswagen Transporter vans in a multi-hour beer-soaked spectacle. The Black Star Barter isn’t the only inventive new event-slash-excuse-to-drink-a-profuse-amount-of-beer. Festivals are cropping up across the U.S.
"Thanks to the U.S. craft beer revolution, there are 2,000 U.S. craft breweries open now, and 1,000 planned to open in every part the country in the next year or so," says Christian DeBenedetti, author of The Great American Ale Trail and editorial director of Weekly Pint. “There's been a historic mushrooming of beer fests, public tastings, and other beer-centric gatherings.”
Which means the time is ripe for travelers to set forth and imbibe.