More than 1,000 beer connoisseurs Saturday celebrated Illinois breweries during the Illinois Beer Festival, a vision of founder Aren Hansen.
This year marks the first time since the event began three years ago that beers, wines and ciders were exclusive to Illinois. It was named an official Illinois Bicentennial event by the Bicentennial Commission earlier in the summer and included a beer competition.
In the past two years, Hansen, of Honest Abe’s Tap and Grill in Morris, used his distributor connections to find festival participants, but with the event honing its focus on Illinois-brewed beer, more work was involved.
“Because it was Illinois only, we had to make a lot of new relationships. There were many new breweries that I had never heard of and many first year participants,” Hansen said. “There were a lot of new faces, and the neat thing is, most are local within driving distance to visit.”
Hansen said Morris happened to be the center of population of the state. Proximity to interstates and the open space at the Grundy County Fairgrounds created the perfect environment to celebrate the resurgence in craft breweries.
The icing on the cake was the appearance of Abraham Lincoln, who announced the beer competition winners from Friday’s private competition in Channahon and took hundreds of selfies and photos with revelers throughout the afternoon.
“I was excited to have Abe here for the bicentennial event, more so because this year we featured beers only from Illinois. We celebrated this bicentennial event with Illinois’ most famous person and we were proud to have him here,” Hansen said of the impersonator.
On Friday 14 judges met at River Hawk Brewing in Channahon for the first Illinois Craft Brew Competition, affiliated with the Illinois Beer Festival. All Illinois breweries were invited to either mail in or drop off samples to the brewery the week before the competition. The morning of the event, stewards poured samples of the 113 entries from 35 breweries for a blind taste test.
Judges used the Beer Judge Certification Program 2015 Style Guidelines book, which allowed them to judge their specific beer samples on overall impression, aroma, appearances, flavor, mouth feel and vital statistics.
“There were several here that were not in the festival and several that were in the festival — the two were not mutually exclusive,” Hansen said.
The Saturday of the festival, more than 500 tickets were sold pre-sale and approximately 500 were sold at the door of the event.
He said Revolution Brewing out of Chicago became an event partner this year, which helped offset the costs of the $18,000 spent on the beer and $1.80 per tasting glass.
Each drinker was given a bicentennial glass and 24 tastings from the 40 breweries on site. Each brewery provided unique spins on beers such as a hop-filled IPA, smooth-to-drink pilsner, a hefeweizen with hints of banana and clove, robust stouts, fruit wines and ciders, and one significant to the Morris area — the Seggebruch German Style Pilsner by Evil Horse Brewing Co. in Crete.
“Aren told us to bring our Seggebruch beer because there were families in Morris with the last name of Seggebruch. The building we are in was built by William Seggebruch and there is a masonry sign that says Seggebruch,” Amy Kamp, of Evil Horse Brewing Co., said.
Rob Schwiesow, of Morris, said he has attended the brew festival since the beginning, even though he classified himself as a domestic light beer drinker.
“It’s fun to try different stuff, and this event has grown each year. It’s a social event, everybody is light and loose and it’s fun to try beers not in a bar and support local businesses,” Schwiesow said. “It’s awesome to see places pop up not only here, but close enough to go and visit.”