What to do on a gloomy, cold, windy Saturday in March? I headed over to the Grossinger Motors Arena in Bloomington for everything bacon and beer — and I mean everything. From bacon infused beers and drinks, to cookies topped with savory bacon, the Bacon & Beer Fest was a dream come true for the bacon and beer lovers in attendance.
The cost of the event was $30 for general admission and $70 for VIP admission. Both admission prices provided a beer glass for unlimited beer tasting, and bacon samples, beer and bacon was while supplies lasted though I don’t think there was a shortage of either. The VIP price also included the VIP lounge with a Bloody Mary bar, BLT bar, access to a cash bar and VIP restrooms.
At first glance the arena floor seemed very open with fewer vendors than expected; we did arrive at 11 a.m. which was before general admission opened at noon. By the end of the day this place was packed. After referencing the event map we found more beer and bacon located on the access level of the arena. Scattered throughout the event were wash stations (to rinse your tasting glass) and small table tops to chat, sip beer, and enjoy tasty snacks. We had wished there were more of both available for use since the areas tended to fill up quickly. Live music folk music by Stone & Snow provided a great backdrop for the event, adding to the overall liveness in the arena.
In all, 31 breweries and 11 local restaurants were in attendance competing for the People’s Choice Award for best beer and the “Squeeler Award” for best bacon dish. Attendees were each given 2 tokens to vote on their favorite brewery or eatery as they made their way from booth to booth while sipping and sampling. The majority of the vendors have locations within the state of Illinois. As expected, some C-U favorites were present providing samples.
Riggs Beer Company brought along most of their current beers that are available at their Urbana location. The staff in attendance was very friendly and knowledgeable. The Hefeweizen is a golden beer with a light, rich flavor. Dunkelwiezen is a dark, smooth lager that tends to be more robust on flavor.
Triptych provided a selection of three beers for the event: Not Giants But Windmills, Our Pilsner Project, and Dank Meme. I selected the Not Giants But Windmills, not only is the name intriguing, but the beer is a tangerine creamsicle IPA, making me wish for warmer weather. The Not Giants But Windmills was orange in color with a crisp, light but slightly citrusy flavor.
A tried and true staple in downtown Champaign, The Blind Pig Brewery provided a few samples including the U of IPA and the Schwarzbier. Both were delicious and went well with all of the bacon samples.
A few of the food favorites included Baxter’s American Grille. Baxter’s presented a braised pork belly, bacon infused, cream cheese and poblano peppers wrapped in prosciutto snack bite that was finished with IPA honey-sriracha glaze. For a bite size snack it provided a lot of flavor with nice crispiness on the outside; no single flavor was overbearing and it worked well together.
While I had never heard of Epiphany Farms until this event, I can say after trying their bacon wrapped pork tamale, I need to find time to visit their Bloomington location. The tamale was just as beautiful and full of color as it was flavorful. The chef wrapped a pork filled corn tortilla with bacon then topped it with onion, tomato, and cilantro for a very flavorful bite.
Nightshop Cookies was one of my most favorite stops, so much so I had to have 2 cookies. Nightshop took the concept of an ordinary chewy chocolate chip cookie, covered it in Lill Beaver Sweet Milk Stout beer glaze and topped it with gnache and candied bacon. Oh My! This is not for the faint at heart. While the cookie was sweet, the beer glaze help to provide overall balance of the flavors.
I really enjoyed my day and hope this event takes place again next year for another dream day of bacon and beer.
Photos by Heidi Warren