MORRIS – Aren Hansen of Morris had a vision to bring Illinois breweries together for a beer festival to celebrate what Illinois has to offer in the fast-growing market of craft beers.
Three years ago, he launched this endeavor with a variety of local and national breweries, but this year, for the first time, the Illinois Beer Festival will feature an Illinois-only brewery event Aug. 18.
“We wanted to create a beer festival for Illinois to give breweries a place to showcase themselves within their home state. In the last five years, the number has grown to nearly 200 breweries in Illinois and we have a broad group of breweries in every corner of the state,” Hansen said. “Two hundred years ago, there was a brewery in every town; I think people are trying to get back to that.”
On top of the excitement of the festival fulfilling its vision, the 2018 Illinois Beer Festival also was named an official Illinois Bicentennial event by the Bicentennial Commission. Hansen said the commission has a mission to celebrate, inspire, invest and promote all things Illinois, and he is proud this event in Morris was chosen to be on the list.
“This honor plays along nicely with our ability to make the beer festival an all Illinois brewery event this year,” Hansen said.
Also new this year will be the addition of the first Illinois Craft Brew Competition. Hansen said the world of craft beer is a competitive industry with the World Beer Cup in Tennessee and the Great American Beer Festival in Denver being two major competitions. He wanted to bring that level of competition to Illinois and allow brewers to go head-to-head with those in their home state.
Hansen reached out to the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild, which will spearhead the organization of the judges. Breweries can submit up to four samples from Aug. 5 to 15 and, on Aug. 17, judges will taste the beers with only festival staff and media in attendance; that portion will not be open to the public.
“After the judging, the beers will achieve a score, gold, silver or bronze, if it places at all. We will announce the winners at the beer festival on Aug. 18,” Hansen said.
Nestled in the center of the population for the state of Illinois, the Grundy County Fairgrounds boasts wide-open spaces for the Illinois brewers to set up their tents and beers. On Aug, 18, with admission, revelers will receive a commemorative tasting glass and a score card to keep track and score favorite beers. Hansen asks participants to vote for their favorite and people’s choice awards will be given. Beers will range from a hoppy India Pale Ale, a smooth wheat, hearty stouts, make-you-pucker sours, crisp pilsners and more from the 50 to 75 breweries on-site.
“There are so many good beers out there in Illinois. We just want to bring neat events to our home area, as I am a lifelong resident and business owner (Honest Abe’s Tap and Grill),” Hansen said. “I’m glad we took the leap this year and went all Illinois breweries. I hope this festival sticks around, whether I’m in charge of it or someone else in years to come. I hope when there is a tricentennial event that the Illinois Beer Festival is still around.”
Along with the various beers available to taste, food and live entertainment will complete the package at the festival. It becomes a great place to sip on libations, have a snack and chat with old or new friends on a Saturday night. Hansen also wants this event to bring to light the many breweries in our area people can visit anytime and to frequent those small-business owners.
The day of the event, the gates at the Grundy County Fairgrounds open at 3 p.m. and tickets are on sale at illinoisbeerfestival.com. Tickets cost $35 and pre-sale ends at 6 p.m. July 25. Tickets at the door cost $40 and for $5 for nondrinkers. Hansen said a limited number of tickets are on sale, so buy sooner rather than later.
Hansen encourages safe travel, so participants may want to arrange transportation beforehand to ensure safety of themselves and others on the roadways. Free on-site parking will be available.
The Grundy County Fairgrounds are located a mile north of Interstate 80 on Route 47 and approximately 12 miles west of the I-55 and I-80 interchange.