About two years ago, Dean Lawrence first thought of hosting a beer festival to benefit his charitable foundation.

His dream — and likely that of any Louisiana beer lover — came to life Saturday at the inaugural Baton Rouge Beer Fest downtown at the Baton Rouge River Center.

The event, sponsored by Abita Beer, offered more than 300 beer samples, and patrons could drink as many samples as they wanted.

All proceeds went to Dreams Come True of Louisiana, of which Lawrence is a board member.

The nonprofit organization gives “dreams” to children and youth ages 3 to 18 with life-threatening illnesses. Dreams include Disney World trips and shopping sprees.

“People are really enjoying it,” Lawrence said of Saturday’s event. “We’re looking forward to coming back with our second event.”

The beer varieties were spread out at tables all across the exhibition hall of the River Center, and people moved from table to table to taste the selections.

Samples ranged from national brews such as Sam Adams to local favorites including Abita.

Mike Cavell, of Baton Rouge, said he tried to taste as many new beers as possible.

“It’s nice to have the array of samples,” Cavell said.

However, Cavell said he is partial to Louisiana beers because he is a casual home-brewer.

“I’ve been an Abita fan for a long time,” Cavell said.

Twelve beer samples competed in Beer Fest’s home brew competition Friday night at The Londoner Pub and Grill.

Ron Dunham, of Central, won the contest with his “Suntan Strawberry” brew, an amber beer with a hint of strawberry.

“It was something I did not expect,” Dunham said of the win.

Dunham said he has brewed his own beer for about four years and grows hops in a garden at his home.

He said he makes a variety of beers, but prefers to make Belgian ales and stouts.

“We’ve made many, many gallons of beer,” Dunham said.

Dunham’s beer sat in the back corner of the exhibition hall in a section roped off and called the “VIP Lounge.”

Dunham handed out samples of his beer to customers as they passed by, explaining its flavor and origin.

“This is the only keg in the world that exists,” Dunham told one person.

Becky Prejean, executive director of Dreams Come True of Louisiana, sat in the VIP Lounge with Dunham.

She spent most of her day serving food to people and thanking them for attending.

“I thank them for supporting and helping our children,” Prejean said.

Sean Basile, Abita regional sales manager, said Lawrence first approached Abita around Mardi Gras about sponsoring the event.

Basile said Abita was “very receptive” to the idea because of its charitable nature.