If I was a better planner, I would have made my way down to Skagway at the end of April for the annual Craft Brew Festival, but sometimes my father’s genes kick in and I end up a little scattered.

Luckily, I have friends who need to geek-out over conical fermenters, brewing efficiency, yeast viability, etc.

The Skagway beerfest is unique. It is entirely a homebrew competition. Regular homebrewers dispense their beer to attendees and then everybody votes on their favourite.

Only in America — I’m not sure the self-dispensing format would fly in Canada.

The event was held at the Skagway Recreation Centre for a few hours on a Saturday evening. There were about 350 thirsty patrons, although getting there from Whitehorse was dodgy.

An avalanche on the South Klondike highway held back the Yukon throng on the Friday night, so Saint Arnold (Patron saint of brewers) was appeased through sessions at the T&M Lounge and the Dirty Northern instead. The roads miraculously cleared by the next day (or something like that).

The Skagway festival is only a few years old. There were some undrinkable entries, but I am assured by Matt Waugh and Stu Van Bibber that there were also some quality beers. They should know; their beer won the People’s Choice award this year.

They scored a handy beer cozy and a sweet $500 voucher from Wings of Alaska. Not bad, considering they only decided to brew their beer three weeks before the event.

I have never attempted to go from malt to finished beer in three weeks, but they took a calculated risk. Their Rye Cooder Black Rye Double IPA made it into the keg and was quickly forced carbonation before stealing the show in Skagway. I didn’t get to taste it because winning beers don’t hang around, but I got the low-down on ingredients.

The dark colour came from the use of midnight wheat, which is roasted to a high temperature so that it turns black. Barley malt was a prominent ingredient, but the use of some rye malt gave the beer a slight spiciness. The India Pale Ale character was achieved through the use of four different hops at various stages of the boil and fermentation process.

If you beg, maybe they will brew another batch.

Whitehorse residents dominated the number of drinkers, but Matt counted about 30 homebrewers, with only 10 representing Whitehorse. Clearly, we need to step it up.

For a couple of hundred dollars worth of equipment you can brew on your kitchen stove and enjoy the fruits of your labour year-round — and maybe, at some point, win the respect of your brewing peers in Skagway.