This weekend was the Third Annual Toast of Champaign at the Blind Pig Brewery, and I had the most excellent privilege of attending. Saturday was the perfect day for the event mostly because it was a gorgeous day, so what could be more appropriate than drinking a boat load of beer? Probably being one of the last truly warm days of fall, I was happy to be spending it outside in the beautiful beer garden surrounded by fellow beer lovers. With food from the new Smoked food truck and pleasant company, it was sure to be a fun day.
I will never pretend that I am a beer expert, but I have had my fair share of lagers, pale ales, stouts, porters, IPAs...the list could go on forever, really. With the knowledge that I gained over the years in tow, I was hoping to try every last beer and see what I could get out of the beer flavor wise. I did indeed try every beer, and I was happy to find that each beer was quite different from the next.
There were six breweries there in total: Monarch, Triptych, Destihl, Rigg's, JT Walker's, and Big Thorn Farm & Brewery. I have been to about half of them, so I was looking forward to become more acquainted with their product.
In order to participate in the event you had to purchase a glass mug for three dollars, and then purchase tickets ($1 each) to obtain the beverages themselves. One full glass was five tickets, a half glass was three tickets, and tastings were free. I was not aware that we could taste, so I ordered a whole glass at my first stop, Monarch Brewing.
Monarch Brewing Company is located in Monticello and is set up in a 100 year old beautifully renovated church, and offers 28 beers on tap. For this occassion, there were just two at the booth: the Allerton’s Ale Dry Hopped and the False Alarm Pale Ale. I tried the Allerton’s Ale first, and got a full glass of it. It was an amber ale with an almost creamy taste, containing malty notes of caramel with enough body to leave you satisfied. The description that was given to me was that it had an “unexpected hop finish.” It was strange because it really was unexpected. While drinking the beer, the hop flavor was not there; it was only in the finish. Overall it was a very pleasant beer with a subtle flavor.
The False Alarm was anything but subtle. This pale ale used citra hops, and it was definitely very citrusy. There was a bite to this beer, it was both very bright and also flavorful. All in all, I was impressed with this brewery and would love to visit the actual location sometime soon.
My next stop was Riggs. Riggs Beer Company is located in Urbana, and was founded in 2016. I have been to Riggs before and knew that they had some good quality brews. The Hefeweizen was what really stuck out to me at the booth, and it was extremely crisp and tasted (oddly enough) of banana. It is a Bavarian styled brew that is both tart and refreshing, possessing a beautiful golden color that is common among Hefeweizen. As has been my past experience, I left the booth feeling very happy with my beer choice.
The next booth I stopped by was Destihl. Desthil was founded in 2007 in Normal, Illinois, and then proceeded to open a second location in Champaign in 2011. I'm glad they did; I went to school in Normal and really loved their beer. Now that I moved to Champaign, I get to encounter their delicious options whenever I want. Both beers that they had at the tent were really good, especially the Sour Ale which was fruity and packed a punch. I like sours when they are done well, and this one was really good.
I next went to JT Walker’s, which is based in Mahomet. Mahomet was once a dry town, meaning that they did not allow the selling of alcohol. In 2007, the town passed a new liquor license law that allowed businesses to sell alcohol. Just a year later, JT Walker’s opened its doors and has been providing Mahomet (and neighbouring towns) with beer ever since. This was my first experience with their beer, and it was extremely good, but the best beer was one that was not offered at the booth. It was an Imperial Stout by the name of Daniel T. Walker, in honor of the first official landowner of Mahomet. It was incredible. It was full bodied with a distinctive taste of caramelized brown sugar. It was so rich that, if I had a full glass, would have been like a meal. It was enough that it justifies a trip to Mahomet to experience it again.
The next place I went to was Triptych, located in Savoy. They have been open since 2013, and I have had the immense pleasure of drinking many of their tap options. They also served two beers at their booth, and the one that really stuck out for me was the Who Lives in a Pineapple Under the Meme. It was extremely good — I don't think I have ever had a beer that tasted so strongly of pineapple. It was so refreshing and so vibrant, and just so different from everything else.
The last booth was Big Thorn Farm and Brewery. They got their start in 2009 when the owners of the farm started homebrewing, and their love of brewing grew ever since. They offered a Farm Pale Ale with citra and a Toasted Oak Brown Ale. I always enjoyed brown ales, and this one did not disappoint. It was chocolatey in flavor (I later learned that cacao was added to give it that extra-chocolatey taste) and was very toasty. With its beautiful chocolate color and its amazing taste, I would definitely recommend this to brown ale lover.
The Toast of Champaign was a blast. It was my first time going there, but it certainly will not be my last. The atmosphere was so lively, and people genuinely enjoyed their time there. I’m looking forward to seeing what is in store for next year!
All photos by Merry Thomas.