When I was in my early twenties I was living in Germany with my older brother, soaking up all that I could about the culture, food, and, of course, the beer. My time there influenced and grew my love for quality beer and all it’s complexities. When I was asked to cover the Midwest Beer Fest last year I was so honored and excited to taste what we have to offer here in the Midwest. I'm thrilled that I was able to go back again this year and share more about this fun event, which was last Saturday in Downtown Champaign.
When I walked up to the PNC parking lot where the event was being held, I saw colorful Midwest Beer signs and happy crowds of people already enjoying their drinks. The sun was shining bright and there was just enough summer breeze to keep cool. To ensure I wouldn’t over do it and pass out early, I brought along my husband as a fellow taste tester. Needless to say, he was happy to help out. The first task was to have our IDs checked and get our cool looking wristbands. Once this was accomplished we moved to the next tent to purchase tickets and merchandise. It was $1 per ticket and beers ran 1 ticket for a sample and 4 to 5 tickets for a full 16 oz. beer. There were navy blue t-shirts ($15 each) and light blue beer can holders that you got with the purchase of ten tickets; both were emblazoned with the Midwest Beer Fest Logo. Once we had our tickets in hand we scanned the rows of white tents draped with white lights, for a place to start.
I decided I would keep it to samples and save some cash for tacos later in the evening. I started with a sample of Founders Pils from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Pils is a short for a Pilsner and this one was golden yellow in color and tasted light and crisp. It was a perfectly refreshing way to start things off. We walked around and did some people watching while I enjoyed my first cold drink. I saw groups of guys deep in discussion about the beer and its flavors, children running around and enjoying the crowds and summer weather, loves walking arm-in-arm, and those who wished to sit alone and relish the breeze and sun as their companions.
I finished up my first sample and it was the hubby’s turn to start drinking. He chose a 424 American Pale Ale from Mainstream Brewery located in Alton and Belleville, Illinois. I also had a sip and it was a little more bitter than a Pils and brighter yellow in color, it smelled hoppy and left a citrus flavor on my palate. It ended up being one of my favorites, which surprised me.
The next booth I visited was the J.T. Walker’s from Mahomet, Illinois and the sample I selected was a Belgian style Wit Bier. It was deliciously ice cold and tasted of citrus and a spice I couldn’t quite put my finger on. (After Googling it I found out it was actually coriander.) I'm sure if I would have asked the representitive from J.T. Walker's he could have told me, as all of the vendors' reps were incredibly knowlegeble.
I was starting to get hungry and it was the perfect time to find a taco and a table. The newly opened Smoked Food Truck was right across the street and since I didn't see the Cowboy Monkey servers with tacos like the previous year, I headed across the street for sustenance. I got three brisket tacos and headed back to the fest for a beer to wash them down, but as I tried to walk through the entrance I was stopped by security and told that only food from Cowboy Monkey was allowed on the premises, as they sponsored the event. I was forced to eat my scrumptious tacos on a bench by the street with no drink. Not a huge deal — the tacos were worth it — but I saw security let others with food right in, so it was very confusing. Upon reflection maybe I should have gotten a hot dog and chips from Dave’s Dogs located inside the beer fest; they smelled so good. Once I’d gotten some food in my belly I headed back. I didn't let the taco debacle stop me from returning to have fun and use up the rest of my tickets.
We were lucky enough to meet a visiting couple from Chicago who had come down for the weekend to relax and enjoy the local festivals. They saw that my hubby and I were searching for a table and generously offered us the two empty spots at their table. We spent the rest of time chatting about the different beers and how much they admire the friendliness of our town. Time flies, when I glanced down at my watch it was time to go, but with new friends and new memories to take along with me.
The Midwest Beer Fest is a family friendly event and I recommend it to anyone who wants to celebrate our local and regional craft beers. For the complete list of the beer vendors (and their special timed taps), be sure to read SP's Guide to the Midwest Beer Fest 2017.
All photos by Rebecca Wells.