Last year’s Midwest Beerfest Grand Tasting might have been a little too successful.
Century II’s Exhibition Hall was packed, shoulder-to-shoulder, with 2,200 beer samplers carrying glass mugs. As the afternoon went on, the room got more packed, the samplers got more jubilant, and the sound of shattering, dropped glasses (followed by cheering) filled the air.
This year, Beerfest organizers have made changes to help protect enthusiastic festival-goers from themselves, said Guy Bower, a local wine and beer expert who founded the event.
They’ve moved it next door to the much larger Expo Hall, and they’re replacing the glass tasting mugs with more practical plastic ones.
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The event, a beer sampling and fundraiser put on by the local chapter of the American Institute of Wine and Food now in its 12th year, will feature more than 350 beers to sample, from basic bar brews to complex and hoppy microbrews. It also will offer samples from many Kansas-based breweries, including Wichita’s River City Brewery and Wichita Brewing Co. and Cheney’s Hank is Wiser Brewery.
The bigger venue should allow the event to grow this year, and organizers are prepared for a crowd of 2,600 at the festival, which is happening several weeks earlier than normal because of scheduling conflicts at Century II.
“All the distributors have done a great job, as they do every year, bringing in great products,” Bower said. “Not only are there more imports and American-made beers, but there’s also a pretty good selection of newer craft beers that you can buy at your local store.”
Ticketholders travel from table to table, sampling 1.5-ounce pours from brewers showing off their IPAs, pale ales, stouts, lagers, pilsners and porters. In between, they can purchase inexpensive food items from local restaurants Fox and Hound, T.G.I. Friday’s, Larry Bud’s and Old Chicago.
For the third consecutive year, the beer fest also will include the Midwest Chickenfest, an event-within-an-event that offers a sampling of chicken wings prepared by local restaurants. For an extra $5, attendees can get a plate of chicken wings made by cooks from Buffalo Wild Wings, Neighbors, Larry Bud’s, The Anchor and more.
A panel of judges will pick a winning wing, but festival attendees select a people’s choice winner. The field is wide open this year, too, since two-year reigning judges’ champion Bubba’s Nekked BBQ is no longer in business.
Bower stressed that the event’s purpose is beer education, not beer indulgence. Attendees should sample the beer, not drink it, and if they’re poured one they don’t like, they should move on to the next.
“It’s not a chugging contest,” he said. “And it’s OK to dump. If you taste a beer and think, ‘I like it, but I want to try another one,’ dump it. It’s okay to exhibit moderation.”
It’s easy to become overwhelmed at the festival, especially for those who are beer novices.
Bower recommends that patrons start at a table stocked by one brewer who offers a wide variety of styles. Once they find the style of beer that suits their taste — a pale ale, for example — they should search out other brewers serving pale ales and compare and contrast. That method eliminates palate confusion as well, he said.
“Then you can’t get overwhelmed,” he said. “If you go from one to the other and taste a big, strong, hoppy beer followed by a lighter pale lager, the lager will taste watery, and you won’t have much fun.”
Other tips Bower offers: Review the list of beers at midwestbeerfest.com to see what will be offered and make a tasting plan in advance. Also, he said, resist the temptation to start at the table just inside the entrance where the crowd is gathered. Walk to the back of the event and work your way forward, and the crowds should be thinner.
Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals at Via Christi Health will receive all the proceeds from the Chickenfest and a silent auction. Other money raised goes toward a local American Institute of Wine and Food culinary scholarship.