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Beer geeks unite at festivals

Beer enthusiasts have a tendency to migrate together. And when enough gather in the same place, well, we call it a festival. Even though these events serve the commercial purpose of connecting the breweries and/or distributors with their targeted market, they really just boil down to an excuse to get together and drink beer with a lot of other people with similar tastes. Let’s take a look at a few, starting locally.

Urbana’s Annual International Beer Tasting and Chili Cook-Off
This event has been running for quite a few years now and is orchestrated by a local event promoter and a regional beer distributor sometime during September. The beer and chili fest offers a chance for festival-goers to sample the things they’re likely to find on the shelves in town. The event really lacks brewery presence, but has the bonus of being coupled with a chili competition where you can try samples and vote for your favorite. Generally the cost is around $5 to get in and 50 cents for each 3-4 oz. beer sample. Illinois law requires alcohol sales to be metered, hence paying by the sample. The first so-many people through the gate typically get a glass sampling cup. The lines are usually pretty long and you’ll need to camp out a couple hours before the event if you want a glass. All in all, it’s a good event where you’ll be certain to run into friends or make new ones.

Peoria International Beer Festival
This April event is pretty much the big brother of the one in Urbana, but organized by the Jaycees. It features a slightly larger number of beers, a larger venue, and some limited brewery participation. Like in Urbana, the first so-many people through the gate get glass sampling cups and one has to get there pretty early to get one. A difference between Peoria’s fest and Urbana’s is that there’s more swag to purchase, including logo-ed glasswear and clothing items from many of your favorite beverage brands. The Friday night session also includes a “Black and Tan” homebrew competition that features only two categories, black beer and tan beer. And speaking of homebrew, some of the area clubs will have tables set up for you to sample their brews. This, too, is a well-run event.

Chicago Beer Society Events
The Chicago Beer Society (CBS) organizes and hosts many events throughout the year and generally in conjunction with a number of the breweries in the Chicago area. In January, they hold the Chicagoland Brewpub and Microbrewery Shootout, where beer and food pairings compete for top honors. In March, there is the Day and Night of the Living Ales where you can sample around 40 different cask conditioned beers. During the summer, they host the Brews & Blues Cruise and the Belgian beer and cheese focused Curds & Ale. With the popularity of these events, CBS membership is highly recommended and affordable at $25/year. 

Great Taste of the Midwest
This is the premier beer event in the Midwest. Held in Madison, Wisconsin, during August, it hosts 100-plus breweries serving more than 500 different beers. Tickets are limited to 6,000 total and run $35 each. They generally sell out in just hours. Admission guarantees you a glass souvenir sampling cup and all the beer samples your heart desires, your liver can process, and your bladder can hold. While you are in Madison, be sure to check out the farmer’s market around the capital building and don’t miss the worthwhile microbreweries. The Great Dane almost always has multiple cask conditioned beers available and Capital Brewing serves some fantastic German-style lagers in their biergarten.

Dark Lord Day
Sometimes a beer, through marketing, quality, or rarity, gains a cult-like following. The “Dark Lord” is one such example. In late April, Three Floyd’s releases their Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout, and people converge on Muenster, Indiana, from all over the country. The parking lot is converted into a concert venue and people crack open rare-vintage beers and various foods to share with fellow beer enthusiasts. This event is quickly becoming the Sturgis for craft beer aficionados.

Great American Beer Festival
One of the largest gatherings of craft beers anywhere, ever, the Great American Beer Festival is held every September in Denver, Colorado. It welcomes hundreds of breweries purveying nearly 2,000 different beers over the course of three days. Ticket prices for the each of the different sessions are around $50. The GABF also includes commercial competitions where Bud, Miller, and Pabst slug it out with even the smallest microbrewery for gold medals. The event can be quite hectic and crowded.

The beer festival. Not often does a beer party garner enough notoriety to have an entire beer style named after it. Oktoberfest is the celebration of the wedding of King Ludwig I in 1810. This party traditionally runs from the last week in September through the first two weeks of October in Munich, Germany. It sees over six million participants downing around seven million liters of beer. The variety of beers may not be what you’ll find at the other festivals, but that should hardly be a deterrent.

These are but a few of the major festivals one could attend. More events can be found online at the BeerAdvocate’s site. Those who are in the mood for sampling and discussing a beer with others on a random weekend should check out the regular tastings around town. On Saturday afternoons, Friar Tuck’s in Savoy offers beer and wine samplings and The Corkscrew in Urbana has a beer tasting on Sunday afternoons. Check with those stores for exact times and details.

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