Smile Politely

A Pretty Nice Little Saturday: The inaugural Champaign Craft Beer Festival

Call it the Salon des Refusés of C-U beer. The Blind Pig, Triptych, and Destihl worked with local establishments to launch the first-ever Champaign Craft Beer Festival last Saturday. A progressive drinking event, of sorts, in which patrons could stop by Cowboy Monkey, The Blind Pig, and Quality Beer in Downtown Champaign for special beer releases and discounts, the Champaign Craft Beer Festival was undoubtedly a success. As it turns out, young-ish people, both professional and un-, mostly hipster-y, were interested in drinking beer. Craft beer, specifically.

The Craft Beer Festival took place concurrently with the Champaign Park District’s Taste of Champaign-Urbana. All three breweries were participants at Taste last year — Triptych was even crowned the People’s Choice Best Brewery. Fancy stuff. But this year, changes/choices made related to the beer distributor meant that those three breweries were out. “C’est la vie,” they said. And thus, the Champaign Craft Beer Festival was born. (Actually, you can hear more about the birth of the festival by listening to this SPodcast from last week. I may be taking some artistic liberties in my telling of this story.)

Also participating in the Craft Beer Festival was JT Walker’s, but Walker’s was also the only local craft beer available at Taste of C-U. (There were also a few Chicago-area breweries represented including Two Brothers, 5 Rabbit, Metropolitan, and Flossmoor.)

Saturday’s weather was unseasonably amazing. In fact, it was quite the anomaly that it didn’t rain, as rain is par for the course with any food and drink fests in the area. Tickets weren’t required; you could drink the special beers at any of the venues. Fancy glass steins were available for $5, and by purchasing this you received a dollar off the specials. Timed releases (Replicales at noon, Firkins at 2 p.m., Randalls at 6 p.m., specialty beers at 8 p.m.) ensured that there was something interesting and new happening in just a little bit and encouraged patrons to linger for hours, or return at a specific time.

The Festival kicked off at noon, and when I arrived shortly after 1 p.m., there was a solid and steady crowd at Cowboy Monkey and on the patio at The Blind Pig. Triptych set up a table between the Cowboy Monkey and Blind Pig patios, which was where you could get their beer (Pretty Nice Little Saturday, These aren’t the blueberries you’re looking for, Dirty Hippy, Project: IPA 2.0, along with some special releases). That was my first stop. I purchased my mug ($5) and ordered the Triptych Replicale (saison-style, white/green/black peppercorn blend and citrus zest, $3). It was delicious. Super lemony and bright, with a bit of sweetness, it was the perfect way to kick of an afternoon of heavy eating/drinking/indulging. I also tried JT Walker’s Replicale (saison-style, wet cascade hops, Thai chili pepper, lemon thyme, $3), which was bitter from the hops, with the heat of chili at the end of the sip lingering in the back of the throat. Later on that afternoon I tried Destihl’s Here Gose Nothing (sour gose, $3). It was indeed very sour, with a lot of citrus notes.

My only real complaint is one that cannot be addressed easily, and is, admittedly, a little entitled. I wanted to be able to go to any of the places to get any of the beers, but obviously that isn’t feasible. Or, I wanted to be able to take my beer I ordered at Quality, and walk to the Triptych table positioned between Cowboy Monkey and the Blind Pig. But city ordinances say “no, thank you,” to that sort of thing. So my complaint is thus null and moot.

The beer was good and all, but the real treat was the debut of Shady Dawgs, a hot dog cart run by Mark “Shades” Hartstein.

Shades does his cooking with integrity and respect for the ingredients, and it’s evident when you eat the food. This humble hot dog was no different. For $5, you were able to get this Chicago-style dog:

And it was totally delicious. Vienna beef. Pickle. Sport peppers. Tomatoes. Nuclear peppers. So, so good. This cart needs to be everywhere. Oh, and there were whole pickles, too, for $1. They were delicious.

Also in the area with snacks were the Cracked Truck (always a solidly delicious option) and the Bento Bus, which was loaded up with snacks with tasty Asian snacks: Pocky, Shrimp crackers, Hello Panda sweet treats.

I think that festival organizers and brewery head honchos should be pleased with the turn out. By the late afternoon, there was nary a free seat inside or out, and everyone I saw looked to be having a genuinely good time. I’m looking forward to seeing how this event develops in the future, because if Saturday’s was any indication, it’s bound to be a good one. 

For more information about the Champaign Craft Beer Festival, visit its Facebook page.

All photos by Jessica Hammie.

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