This past Saturday was the 2nd Annual Toast of Champaign (formerly known as the Champaign Craft Beer Festival) located in downtown Champaign. The event was from noon to 8 p.m. and was spread out between the Blind Pig Brewery, Cowboy Monkey and Quality bars. Each location had a small beer cask, also known as a firkin, that would be tapped at 1, 3:30, and 6 p.m. There were also multiple beers available on draft.

My boyfriend and I came from the Dump & Run Community Garage Sale that morning and after moving a "new" couch into our home, and we were in desperate need of some good beer. We decided we should get some food before we began our beer drinking journey, so Cowboy Monkey was the obvious place to begin. We arrived around 4 p.m., just in time for the kitchen to open. I am not sure if it was because of the cloudy weather or the fact that Taste of Champaign-Urbana was going on at the same time, but the patio was not nearly as packed as I thought it would be for this event. I figured that since we were arriving at the halfway point of the event, that the first beers would be unavailable and we probably wouldn't be able to snag a commemorative mug. Lucky for me, I was wrong. There were still plenty of mugs, beer, and outdoor patio seating to go around.

We met up with some friends that were also at the event and went to the Cowboy Monkey tent to buy our mugs and our first beers. There were no beer tickets for this event, so every drink had to be purchased with cash or card. If you bought a mug, the drinks were about a dollar less. All drinks ranged from $3 to $5. My first beer was the Metropolitan Dynamo with Black Pepper. I am always interested in beers that feature a distinct ingredient to see if I can taste it. With the Metropolitan Dynamo, I could taste the black pepper immediately after the first sip. It left a little bit of a sharp burn in my throat after a few more sips, which I didn't mind. My boyfriend chose the second beer that was available to order from Triptych called Here Be Dragons Extra Dry-Hopped. Like the name states, it did have a strong hops flavor to it, but my boyfriend and our friend who had it thoroughly enjoyed it. Then, our food arrived and my braised pork and avocado cantina crisp was the perfect pairing to my cold beer.

After we finished our food at Cowboy Monkey, we walked over to Blind Pig. This patio seemed to be more full, but still not as many people as I would have predicted. We were able to get a table in the corner and ordered our second round of beer. I tried the Blind Pig Grapefruit IPA with Pomelostripe and Dried Lime. I liked this beer but the grapefruit flavor was not as strong as I would have hoped. My boyfriend ordered the Big Thorn Pig Thorn Gose with grapes, ginger, and black salt. I tried his beer and immediately wished I had ordered this instead. It had a distinct salty flavor that I enjoyed and the ginger was strong enough to taste but not overpowering. I bought one for myself as soon as I was finished with my grapefruit IPA.

After we finished our drinks and missed a close encounter with a quick Illinois rain, we headed to our last destination at Quality just in time for the 6 p.m. tapping. This seemed to be the busiest time, probably because the new beer had just become available. We waited in line for our last round of beers to close our evening of beer tasting. I chose to finish with the last featured beer that was tapped, the Two Brothers Ebel's Weiss with Blueberry and Hibiscus. This was one of the lighter beers that I had and the refreshing flavor was a great way to end my evening of beer tasting. My boyfriend decided to go a completely different route and end with the JT Walkers Barrel-Aged Daniel T Porter that was available on draft. Pekara Bakery was also outside selling delicious and fresh brownies and soft pretzels that included both cheese and mustard. Of course, we couldn't resist and had to purchase one of each.

I enjoyed my Saturday evening of beer tasting at the Toast of Champaign event this year. I wonder how busy it would have been if the weather had been nicer and it wasn't on the same weekend as the Taste of Champaign-Urbana. But for those of us who made it out to this event, the less crowded atmosphere of downtown Champaign and the large variety of beers that were available was a welcomed way of toasting to the end of summer. Cheers until next year!

All photos by Brittany Busboom.