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OktoBEERfest set for Saturday

These beers are among the roughly 50 craft brews that will be featured at the 4-7 p.m. OktoBEERfest Saturday at the Highland Conference Center in Mitchell. (Chris Huber/Republic)

When County Fair remodeled and expanded its Mitchell grocery store this year, it tripled the size of its craft beer offerings.

There's a good reason for that. Craft beer -- typically more flavorful and made by smaller, independent brewers -- has enjoyed surging local popularity in the past few years.

It should come as no surprise, then, that beer lovers now have an event to call their own.

OktoBEERfest, organized by Time at the Table and The Network, will provide an opportunity to sample a wide variety of craft beers while emulating some parts of the German tradition of Oktoberfest. Porter Distributing Co. is providing the beer for the event, which runs from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday at the Highland Conference Center in Mitchell.

With a $25 ticket price, event-goers will be able to sample more than 50 beers, eat from a brat bar and listen to live music from Chris Miller.

Tickets are available at County Fair, the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce and online at They may also be purchased the day of the event at the door.

Organizer Billy Mawhiney, of Time at the Table, said the event is the first of its kind locally.

"This is kind of a unique event for everyone in Mitchell and something that is new to the area and should be very exciting," he said. "I think it is going to be a great time for everyone."

Mark McHahon, liquor department manager at Coborn's in Mitchell, started to see a rise in popularity among craft beers two years ago. Now the store carries more than 100 varieties of beer.

One of the popular options at Coborn's is the pick-your-own six-pack, which allows customers to assemble a six-pack of various craft beers. County Fair also has a pick-your-own six-pack option.

"I think you kind of half to commit when you buy a six pack, so the pick-your-own six pack works well if you want to try a lot of new beers and see which ones you like the best," McHahon said.

County Fair Food Store Vice President of Operations Jim Stewart said curiosity among beer enthusiasts has driven the craft-beer craze.

"There is so much variety, it's not like you are going to sell a lot of one kind," Stewart said. "But if you have that selection, you are going to attract customers who want to have choices and maybe try new things."

He also noted that craft beer popularity is somewhat generational. He is seeing younger people buying different types of beers because they may be more willing to try something new.

"We really see people drinking different beers as the seasons change," McHahon said. "People's beer tastes change with the temperature outside, so we see a lot of people who like to buy the seasonal beers."

According to the national Brewers Association, growth of the craft brewing industry in 2011 was 13 percent by volume and 15 percent by dollars, compared to growth in 2010 of 12 percent by volume and 15 percent by dollars. The number of beers being brewed in South Dakota is also rising. Not long ago, no South Dakota-brewed beer was being commercially distributed. But in recent years, the Crow Peak Brewing Co. in Spearfish and the Heist Brewing Co. in Brookings have opened. Crow Peak can now be found in cans or on tap across South Dakota, while Heist can be found on tap at various bars in Brookings and Sioux Falls.

It was no coincidence that an event promoting craft beers popped up soon after the breweries opened.

"Porter Distributing came to us with the idea of featuring some craft beers that people may not always have on a regular basis, and we thought it was a great idea," Mawhiney said.

Some of the unique brews offered Saturday will include Sam Adams' Cherry Wheat Ale, Odell's Myrcenary Double IPA and Lakefront's Fuel Café Coffee Stout. A variety of hard ciders from Kiss, Fox Barrel, Crispin and Angry Orchard will also be available.

There will be a silent auction and live raffle with many beer-related items, and the evening wraps up with a stein-holding contest.

Upon entering, patrons will receive a beer sampling glass after identification is checked and will be able to stroll to stations set up from 12 breweries to try the more than 50 beers. An assortment of porters, lagers, ales and stouts will be available. Mawhiney said dressing in traditional German garb isn't required but is welcomed. A shuttle will run from the event to The Depot, the Moonlight and Dr. Lucky's in downtown Mitchell every 30 minutes. "There are several events going on in Mitchell that night, and we wanted to give people the opportunity to head downtown to maybe go out for dinner, continue their celebrating, or go to the indoor bull riding event at the Corn Palace," Mawhiney said.

The organizing groups for the event are relatively new to Mitchell. Time at the Table is a nonprofit focused on reconnecting families around the dinner table. The Network is a collection of young professionals focused on delivering social and professional development opportunities in the Mitchell area.