Last Saturday was finally the day I’d been waiting for: Midwest Beer Fest Day. I drove around Downtown Champaign in search of parking. I was fortune enough to find a coveted spot close to the event. As I made my way down Walnut street, I spotted a huge outdoor stage and in front a massive crowd of excited drinkers and music-goers. As I scanned the area for beer tents I was surprised none, only beer carts, and I’ll tell you why.
After I found a table and got my first brew I realized that I was at the completely wrong event. After having a good chuckle at my mix up, I gathered up my things and hurried down the alley by Radio Maria to the parking lot by Cowboy Monkey and PNC Bank. Now I could see all of the white beer tents lined up in a row and the live music had already begun. I got into the quickly moving ticket line right away and purchased my tickets for $1 each. The beers ranged from 4-5 tickets a piece for full beers and 1 ticket for samples. They also had t-shirts and beer huggies for sale, I picked up a huggie to take home. Now it was time to begin sampling the numerous brews available.
The festival featured local and regional breweries: Triptych Brewing, Riggs Beer Co., Destihl Brew Works, BrickStone Brewery, JT Walker's Brewery, Revolution Brewing, Two Brothers Brewing Co., Founders Brewing Co., The Old Bakery Beer Co., Main Street Brewing Co., Great Lakes Brewing, and Half Acre Beer Co. I started out at the Main Street Brewing Co. tent and chose a Strawberry Juele. It was so refreshing. It had a pleasant strawberry flavor without being too sweet. This beer was hand down one of my favorites. After I’d had my first beer it was time to get another and go on a hunt for a table. I chose the Revolution Brewing Pils which is a pale lager. It had a crisp, bright flavor mixed with flowery tones. I was pleasantly surprised how much seating was available. I found some friends who were leaving for dinner and they were kind enough to offer me their table. I really lucked out, it was located right next to the stage and right in front of all of the beer tents. I proceed to lean back in my chair, sip from my frosty cold beer and check out the scene.
The atmosphere was full of jovial energy while still feeling relaxed. The way the bright white tents strung with lights shone against the fading golden light of dusk was a beautiful sight. The weather could not have been any more exquisite. The delicately gentle breeze flowed all around us, through the alleys, around the buildings and against our faces in cool generous gusts. The place was filled with lively music courtesy of singer and guitarist Brandon Washington (Los Guapos also played an earlier set). Once the light began to disappear the place became packed and the dancing began. As I sat there enjoying the beer and atmosphere, a feeling of pride swelled inside of me. Here in C-U I have always felt this strong sense of community togetherness. All around me I saw couples in love, friends laughing and proposing cheers, children looking around with wondrous smiles on their faces. I could have just sat there all night watching the crowd.
I finished up my second beer and realized that I was famished. It was time to find the Cowboy Monkey tacos. I found the friendly taco vendors and purchased two tacos for $6. I unwrapped the foil paper and wafted the sweet smells of cilantro and pork up to my nose. The pork was tender and well seasoned, it packed a punch of heat and aromatic cilantro flavor. The raw diced onions added a nice crunch. The corn tortillas had become floppy from condensation, so the tacos were a bit of a mess. The spicy filling delivered on flavor big time, so it made up a little for the soggy tortillas. When I visit Cowboy Monkey next I will definitely need to try them again.
When the music ended and the last of the light had faded I decided it was time to wrap up the evening. All of the beer I had sampled was delicious. (I don’t say that lightly. I lived in Germany in 2006 and I was constantly spoiled with delectable beers everywhere I turned.) I have to admit I’m not a big fan of the darker lagers so I didn’t try many of them, but what I sampled was very full-bodied and flavorful. The vendors and staff at the fest were knowledgeable and very friendly. The whole fetival had an air of jubilation and fellowship. I can’t wait to go back next year and I hope to see you there.
All photos by Rebecca Wells.