This year, unlike its inaugural year, featured perfect weather for the 2nd Annual Mahomet Craft Beer Festival. The sun was out the majority of the day and warmer spring weather finally seemed to be gracing Central Illinois with its presence. From 2 to 6 p.m. last Saturday, Downtown Mahomet was bustling with what festival organizers said was some 1,300 people! Presented by JT Walker’s Restaurant and Brewery and the Mahomet Area Chamber of Commerce, this year’s festival seemed to be a huge success.
I first arrived just after 2 p.m. and there was already a line of people down the block waiting to get tickets. I found my friends and jumped in line with them (sorry everyone) but the line seemed to move fairly quickly. That was one of two main complaints I heard from other patrons at the festival: Organizers only had one ticket table set up and there wasn’t a single porta potty to be found.I did appreciate that JT Walker’s addressed these concerns on their event page stating that, firstly, they didn’t have enough volunteers and secondly, they simply overlooked the idea of providing a privy. Lessons learned for next year.
Naturally, the second year brought more breweries into the mix — about 30 this year compared to 24 last year, and all based in Illinois. This also included a couple of cideries (2 Fools, Virtue Cider) and wine from Alto Vineyards. Homer Soda Company joined the mix as well.
Here’s the breakdown in pricing:
- Limited edition glass (only 500) + 20 tickets for $25 (I went with this option)
- $1 per ticket
- 2 tickets for 3oz pour, 5 tickets for 9oz pour (specialty beers will be 3 tickets for 3oz, 6 tickets for 9oz)
- 2 tickets for 3 oz pour, 4 tickets for regular pour
- 1 ticket for 3 oz pour, 3 tickets for 9 oz pour
I must have missed any signage for specialty beers because I didn’t see that option listed on any of the brewers' menu boards. I wanted to try as many as I could, so I just went with 3oz pours the entire time. I know that size is pretty standard for beer tastings but I could have done with even half of that. In my group someone would get a 3oz pour and then we’d split that up by pouring a little into each of our glasses. It was enough to get a taste for whether or not you liked it without feeling like you had to chug the 3oz to jump to the next table.
There were quite a few breweries in attendance that I hadn’t heard of before so I was pretty excited about the line-up. Even early on, it was pretty crowded down beer tent lane. I wish the vendors could have been spread out just a little bit more down the street. I’m not sure what was going on with the BBQ (there was supposed to be a competition) but it was strangely desolate at their end of the street. Chester’s BBQ truck was there as well. Perhaps there will be more food trucks next year? JT Walkers has good food, and there were a lot of people in the restaurant. Maybe in the future they could set up a table outside with a few fast/finger food type items from their menu so people can grab and go while still tasting.
There was a lot of beer (and I myself had a lot of beer), but I’m going to at least highlight the winners and a few of my other favorites from the day and do so in a simple, concise way. Last year there were 1st, 2nd, 3rd place categories with Big Thorn Farm and Brewery, Triptych and White Oak Brewing winning, respectively. This year there were 9 categories! I know there was an online poll on Facebook for voting but I didn’t see if there were any other means of voting actually on-site. I know some people had a hard time finding it and many others don’t even have Facebook on their phones, so I’m not sure it’s the most effective or straightforward way to collect votes. All that aside, here are the chosen winners.
Best Sour | Big Thorn Farm & Brewery (Georgetown, IL)
The Chinook Sour (5%, 0 IBU) log-aged sour ale was definitely a crowd favorite. A winner again this year, Big Thorn brews ales and lagers on their solar-powered farm in Georgetown Illinois. Named for it’s chinook hops it’s dry, tart, fruity and a bit woody (log-aged on toasted hickory logs in the area). My personal favorite in the sour section was Blue Nose Brewery’s Raspberry Sour (kettle sour, 7% ABV). Very fruity but still very tart, it was bursting with flavor.
Best Fruit Beer | White Oak Brewing (Normal, IL)
Normally, I hate fruit beers. But this time, I finally met one I liked and it had me coming back for more throughout the day. The Schnozberries Taste Like Schnozberries (6% ABV) is a Saison with blueberries and blackberries. It drew me in with the name and did not disappoint in flavor.
Best Wheat Beer | JT Walker's Restaurant and Brewery (Mahomet, IL)
Twice a winner this year JT Walker’s Orange and Blue American Wheat Ale (5% ABV, 10 IBUs) was ahead of the pack from the beginning in the Facebook poll (Along with Triptych’s ‘These Aren’t The Blueberries You’re Looking For’). They add a citrus note with orange peel and blueberries (hence the name). I myself am not a fan of wheat beer so this category was lost on me.
Best Stout | Lil Beaver Brewery (Bloomington, IL)
New to the festival this year, Lil Beaver took home two wins as well. It was hard to miss with it’s colorful tent and cheeky name. ‘Lil Bit of Wonderful’ was a chocolate coconut milk stout and oh so good. My friends’ favorite beer of the day was Lil Beaver’s cream ale with peaches.
Best IPA | Penrose Brewing (Geneva, IL)
A Belgian-inspired brewery hailing from Geneva won best IPA. Pebbles (7% ABV, 30 IBU) is classified as a triple dry-hopped, Midwest IPA. Golden yellow, slightly hazy, a bit fruity and a mildly bitter hoppiness. IPA’s are usually hit or miss with me, but I agree, this one was pretty tasty.
Another beer that I thoroughly enjoyed was ‘Oscar’s Pardon’ from Haymarket Pub and Brewery (Chicago). This Belgian pale ale (4.5% ABV) was light/refreshing and well balanced. I could definitely kick back with a few of these in hand on a hot summer day.
Pollyanna Pils (Bohemian Pilsner, 5.3% ABV, 40 IBU) was another favorite. Straightforward and crisp. A very drinkable lager from Pollyanna Brewing Company (Lemont/Roselle, IL).
Rounding out the rest of the awards are as follows:
- 3rd Best Brewery - JT Walker's Restaurant and Brewery
- 2nd Best Brewery - Lil Beaver Brewery
- Best Brewery - Triptych Brewing (Savoy, IL)
- Best in Show and a key to the city provided by the Mayor - Triptych Brewing
Overall, I think the event organizers should be pretty proud of the turnout. For anything that was a negative, they already know how they’re going to fix it for next year. The brewers/servers were friendly and knowledgeable and the crowd seemed to be having a great time. And the weather was fantastic! I can’t wait to see what next year brings.
What were your favorites this year?
All photos by Bobbie Bonebrake