Rails and Ales Brewfest to host new beer’s local debut

Local craft beer enthusiasts will have the chance to sample a new brew for the first time when it debuts at the Rails and Ales Brewfest this weekend.

The beer tasting event, in its fourth year, is a fundraiser for Altoona Community Theatre. Nearly 40 breweries will be in attendance.

“It’s a great way to get out and socialize over something that a lot of us think is a great thing, and that’s beer,” said Rich McGarvey, owner of McGarvey’s Bar and Grill and a member of ACT’s board of directors.

New Belgium Brewing’s Fat Tire Amber Ale will make its first appearance in Blair County at the event, McGarvey said, but for those who don’t have a taste for hoppier beers, plenty of lighter wheat beers and other flavors will be available.

The brewfest begins at 2 p.m. Saturday and will run until 5 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance of the event and can be purchased online at www.railstoalesaltoona

.com or in person at McGarvey’s, Bootleggers Brew Shop, Cassidy’s Brew Zoo and the ACT offices. Tickets will also be available at the door for $30, and no one under the age of 21 will be admitted.

Each person will get a 4-ounce tasting glass as a

souvenir, too.

Steve Helsel, operations manager for ACT, said Rails and Ales is a significant fundraiser for the group, and this year, they’re hoping to expand that even more.

“It’s been growing slowly,” Helsel said. “We think that this year is going to be the one that we jump further ahead.”

In addition to the plethora of beers available, free hot dogs and pretzels will be available to those in attendance.

Helsel said that’s something he thinks sets Rails and Ales apart from other similar events in the area.

Two different local bands will also be on hand over the course of the event. Nobody’s Heroes performed at Rails and Ales last year, and was a hit, Helsel said, and The Overtones are newcomers.

Another new addition to Rails and Ales in the homebrew contest, in which area residents entered their homemade beers to be judged by a panel of local beer experts. Helsel said ACT received about 50 entries.

The beers will be judged in three categories: hoppy (includes pale ales, India pale ales); dark (porters, stouts); and summers/seasonal/wheats (pilsners, ciders, hefeweizen).

Each competitor will have the chance to qualify for one of two awards per category: “Brewmaster,” which will be judged by the experts, and “Sponsor’s Choice,” which will be determined by those sponsors at the brewfest’s VIP reception.

The homebrews will not be available for public consumption, however.

Helsel said ACT is “thrilled” with the response to the homebrewing competition.

“I think it shows how much homebrewing is happening in the area,” he said.

Rails and Ales has also moved back a few weeks, as it was originally intended as a fall event. But some bad luck with rainy weather and busy football season schedules kept some people away, so the change was logical and beneficial to the fest, Helsel said.

Visitors will still get the chance to try some fall beers, including pumpkin flavors and Oktoberfest brews, McGarvey said, while some summer seasonal beers will also be on tap.

Fans of ciders will also be pleased with the selection, he said.

“There’s a lot of that new, fruity stuff people are into,” McGarvey said.

McGarvey said that the brewfest is a great opportunity for people to meet fellow beer fans and also for them to get to know ACT’s members a bit better.

“This is just a great way for us to show the community that we’re a fun group of people,” he said.

Helsel echoed the sentiment.

“Theater people like to drink as much as anyone,” he joked.

Mirror Staff Writer Paige Minemyer is at 946-7466.