For Matt Younts, one of the three co-founders of Seattle Beer Week, now in its ninth year, the event has come to resemble a family reunion. Featuring some 250 events in bars and restaurants all over the Seattle area, Seattle Beer Week has become a force in the state, one of the biggest beer celebrations in the country. And while it’s a chance to see familiar faces, it’s also a chance to meet new brew lovers.
“One of our favorite things about the festival,” says Younts, who also works as a beer distributor, “is that during Beer Week, it’s 90 percent people we’ve never seen before. Lots of pubs and bars say during the festival that they have their busiest night and yet they didn’t know anyone—in a small town like Seattle, that’s a pretty big deal.”
Yet as the nights go by and he finds himself at the Stout Fest or Sour Fest or at the mini-golf tournament, Younts says there are familiar faces—brewers, distributors, pub owners—whom he relishes seeing again and again. This year the festival runs May 4–14, kicking off at Flatstick Pub and concluding at The Pine Box. “You get to see your friends,” he says, “which really is what this business is all about. There’s such a camaraderie in the brewing world. You want to have a couple of beers and a hamburger with certain people. It’s a really tightknit community.”
In the sixth year of the festival, Younts and his co-founders, Ian Roberts and Mike Baker, wanted to celebrate this sense of closeness, so they asked six breweries to come together and brew a special beer called Six Degrees of Separation. “I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it,” he says. And every year the festival has a beer brewed especially for it—this year from the highly respected Yakima brewery Bale Breaker. Others that have brewed a special concoction for the festival include Pike Brewing, Hale’s Ales, Maritime, Silver City, Reuben’s Brews, and Elysian. “The beer this year is an American IPA,” Younts explains. “It’s 6.2 percent ABV and very drinkable. Bale Breaker is in the center of the hops world in Yakima, and hops are the number-one or -two crop in Washington behind marijuana. We decided it’d be a great marriage.”
Other events during this year’s Seattle Beer Week include a “Brew Grass” music show at Hale’s Palladium, a Battle of the Beer Bands at the Sunset Tavern (four groups whose members all work in the beer industry), and a Women in Beer celebration at Pike Brewing showcasing women in the brewing world from hops-pickers to brewery-owners.
Younts expects thousands of people to trickle in and out of pubs, bars, and restaurants for the festival, each bringing their own specific sense of what beer means to them, growing the event yet again. “On our website, some 30 percent of the communication comes from people outside of the country,” he says. “Everyone has a good time.”