The Great Alaska Craft Beer and Home Brew Festival, “Beerfest,” has been cancelled for the second year in a row due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Basically, with the border closing, we just thought it would be really difficult for us to have a successful Beerfest financially,” fair executive director Kari Johnson said, adding that the Southeast Alaska State Fair board was also motivated by a desire to protect the community’s health. She said in a normal year, roughly 70% of the event’s ticket sales come from Canadians.

“We discussed doing a smaller (Beerfest), but it would be really hard. We have a lot of ticket holders from all over,” Johnson said.

The U.S.-Canada border has been closed to nonessential travel since March 2020, and is scheduled to remain closed until at least Feb. 21. On Feb. 4, Canada extended a ban on cruise ships carrying more than 100 passengers into 2022, causing many in the tourism industry to speculate that the land border closure is also likely to remain in effect through the summer.

“I think (the cruise ship ban) is a strong indicator of the direction Canada is leaning,” Haines Borough tourism director Steven Auch said in an interview last week. A task force formed by the Wilson Center, a non-partisan policy forum that tackles global issues, is studying how and when to lift the U.S.-Canada closure, and expects to publish findings in March.

Regular Beerfest vendors expressed disappointment at the event’s cancellation, but said they understood the board’s decision.

“For us, it’s the community piece that we really look forward to. All of the employees get excited about going down as a unit to Haines and trying all the beers from other breweries. A lot of our friends and family and people in the Yukon in general go down,” Yukon Brewing Company marketing manager Heather Gallespie said. “We look forward to when it comes back.”

Haines Brewing Company owners Jeanne Kitayama and Paul Wheeler also cited the festival’s communal aspect as the greatest loss.

“We miss the brewfest first and foremost because it brings the other Alaska brewery folks here, and they love this festival,” Kitayama said.

She said the cancellation will also result in a loss of revenue for the brewery.

“The biggest financial loss for us is in wholesale with the local bars and restaurants, as that is a busy time for them. Last year we only did five percent of what we usually do during that month,” Kitayama said.

Beerfest, which normally attracts hundreds of independent travelers to town during a weekend in late May, is a busy time for not just breweries but also for many other local businesses. For chef Travis Kukull, it’s the single biggest event of the year.

“It’s the biggest event I’ve ever done in my life. Nothing has paid me that much in the span of two days… and it’s fun,” Kukull said. Four out of the past eight years, Kukull has catered the gourmet brewers’ dinner, as well as running a food stand at the festival the following day. He estimates between the two events, he makes roughly $15,000.

Without bigger events like Beerfest, Kukull has pivoted to selling family-style meals he prepares at home.

“It doesn’t pay much. It just sort of keeps me afloat. We all laid low last summer and hoped this summer would be normal,” Kukull said. He said he hopes it will still be possible to safely hold some smaller events this year.

Johnson said instead of holding Beerfest this year, the board will focus its efforts on getting organized for the Southeast Alaska State Fair. In late January, the board voted to hold some version of the fair, along with smaller events including Winterfest, Spring Fling, the Haines Fishermen’s Community Salmon Barbecue and Backcountry Games.