This past Saturday marked the 4th annual Toast of Champaign event at the Blind Pig Brewery in Downtown Champaign. Toast of Champaign is a craft beer fest that celebrates the tastiest seasonal local brews Central IL has to offer (and no, this event is not in conjunction with/related to Champaign’s all-female singing group of the same name, but how great would that collaboration have been?) Anyway, I took a trip over to Blind Pig’s beer garden on a brew-tiful fall day to check it out (don’t let that pun deter you, please keep reading).
Breweries on hand to Toast were Big Thorn Farm & Brewery, Blind Pig (obviously), Destihl, JT Walker’s, Monarch Brewing Co., Riggs Beer Co., and Triptych Brewing. Each vendor was set up in the beer garden with a couple or so beers on tap. In order to imbibe, all you had to do was purchase a designated glass inside at the bar for just $5 (you gotta keep it! What can I say, I’m sucker for commemorative drinkware) plus some drink tickets to trade in for a brewski. Drink tickets were a buck a piece, with drinks averaging about 4 tickets per beer. So in the name of research, I grabbed a Peach Sour from JT Walker’s. Man, was it tasty.
I’ll admit something to you, dear Smile Politely reader: I have an...amicable relationship with beer; I don’t hate it, but I feel like it is my duty as a Midwesterner to make myself at least tolerate it. It’s...fine. It’s fine! I’m just more of an admirer of the fun cans and clever names. But I love just about anything peach flavored, so I figured the Peach Sour was my best bet. You guys. If you don’t love beer, especially craft beer, which can taste just as similarly to the next if you ask me (DON’T HATE ME, C-U HIPSTERS AND CRAFT BEER LOVERS), this is a beer for you. It was super crisp and refreshing and didn’t taste like weird wheat water.
Besides that delish Peach Sour, JT Walker’s was offering a craft called “Flavortown.” I didn’t manage to try it, but I assume it would have Guy Fieri’s stamp of approval. Other breweries were gravitating towards some fruit-based beers, such as the Green Grape IPA and Blackberry Milk Stout at Big Thorn. The latter was particularly seasonal and sounded especially delicious to enjoy this time of year. Triptych highlighted IPAs for their crafts of choice, aptly named Fleeting Cashmere and #dammitJosh (what did you do, Josh?).
But as the sun was shining and the wind was blowing obnoxiously ferociously because it’s Champaign, it was a delightful drink to enjoy outside on an October Saturday afternoon. The beer garden was full of people relaxing, pints soaked in the suds of different craft brews. Plus, TK's Cheesesteaks food truck was on hand just outside the gate to provide sustenance. What more could you ask for? Well, let me just answer that for you: there were dogs there, too.
Another benefit of an event like Toast of Champaign is that it’s a chance to raise a pint in the afternoon without battling hoards of people or shouting over chatter and loud music. It’s a relaxed event that has a semblance of class without being uninviting or snobby. It might have been a craft beer fest, but you needn’t have to be the person brewing your beer in your kitchen to be welcomed. Take me for example, a person relatively novice when it comes to crafts. I didn’t by any means feel as if I was over my head or that I should have been swirling my glass and sniffing and swishing my drink. Wait, I think that’s wine? All jokes aside, the ambience was friendly and welcoming and the vendors were happy to tell you about what they were offering. While some patrons were enjoying their brews outside in the beer garden, others were cozied up inside Blind Pig chatting or playing darts. Fall was in the air and it didn’t smell nauseatingly of stale beer, so it was the perfect atmosphere to kick back and enjoy what was on tap.
If you didn’t manage to make it out to Toast of Champaign this year, mark your calendars for next year’s. In the meantime, check out the various breweries in the area, there are plenty. You can visit the Blind Pig beer garden any time or take a trip out to the expanding Triptych, but there are many bars and breweries in the area to check out what C-U and our surrounding towns have to offer.
Photos by Remington Rock