In between summer rain showers on Saturday, July 14th there were a few hours of sun for people to enjoy the Midwest Beer Fest. With 15 breweries participating, there was sure to be some exciting brews to try. When I showed up to the fest at 4:15 p.m., there was already a line to have ID’s checked. After getting a wristband, there was another stand where tickets could be purchased. One ticket was one dollar, and the koozies were free if you purchased ten or more tickets. Then, I was free to explore the fest and taste the offerings.

Twelve of the fifteen breweries could be found in tents at the PNC parking lot, the other three were at off-site locations. I took my time browsing the parking lot to see what the breweries had to offer. Most beers were 5-6 tickets for a 16oz pour. I was surprised that smaller pours weren’t being advertised; because the fun of a beer festival like this is the opportunity to try several beers in smaller volume. When asked, most stands would do 2oz tasters for 1 ticket.

I decided to try some Champaign-Urbana beers first. Riggs Citra-Weizen was an easy choice. Their regular hefeweizen is one of my favorite all-time beers, and the Citra-Weizen is like its lemony little brother. Riggs has just released this seasonal in their taproom and I hadn’t made it out to try it yet. I was happy to find that this beer was still full of the banana and clove flavor that I love about the hefeweizen, but also had a light citrus aroma and taste that brightened it up nicely.

My next choice was another hyper-local brew from Triptych. They had brought along Memesicle, a take on their popular East Coast style IPA, Dank Meme. Memesicle added orange and vanilla for a perfect creamsicle flavor. It also had a gorgeous hazy orange color. This one was my favorite beer that I tried at the fest.

There were several breweries in attendance that I had never heard of before that really surprised me. 4202 Main St. Brewery (Belleville, Illinois) had a blueberry blonde ale with lots of blueberry flavor that wasn’t too tart. Heavy Riff Brewery from St. Louis brought along their Squeeze Box witbier. This was another citrusy beer that was very refreshing. A standout was Lil Beaver Brewery from Bloomington. They had a coconut cream ale that smelled like a decadent coconut cake and had tons of toasted coconut flavor. I also tried Strawberry Wainbows, which was a nicely balanced strawberry IPA.

Most of the breweries in attendance did a good job of bringing along a selection of their beers that were perfect for summertime sipping. Nothing is more disappointing than a summer beer fest with a bunch of heavy beers that aren’t really made for enjoying on the patio (or the parking lot, in this case).

The people at the festival genuinely seemed to be enjoying themselves while the weather held up. Unfortunately, it began to rain again around 7 p.m., and then people began to huddle under the few tree branches for a break from the rain. While the people pouring the beer had plenty of shelter, it almost seemed like an oversight that there were no tables under tents for festival-goers at all. Weather in Illinois can be unpredictable, especially in the summer, and some sort of shelter would have been welcome.

There were several other things absent from this festival. Whenever there is drinking, people inevitably need food, but the only food offerings within sight were Dave’s Dogs and the tacos that Cowboy Monkey was serving up. More food options would have been a great addition to the day. It would really add to the festival atmosphere to have a wider variety of food stands or some of the great local food trucks nearby.

I’m not sure why three of the breweries could only be found at other locations, but I didn’t seek them out. I couldn’t even find a list of what beers they were serving at the other establishments and if it would be worthwhile to leave the convenience of the fest. Also, Destihl Brewing was glaringly missing from the lineup. As Destihl is one of downstate Illinois’ biggest breweries, I would’ve thought they would be there for sure. I’ve seen them at other beer festivals, and they have some great beers out right now.

Overall, the Midwest Beer Fest did a great job showcasing the creativity in the craft beer that Illinois and the surrounding areas have to offer. I look forward to attending this event each year and seeing it improve and expand.

Photos by Katie Simpson