Dining With Denise Neil

Midwest Beerfest attendees get to pick who brews it best

The annual Midwest Beerfest’s Grand Tasting is Saturday at Century II’s Expo Hall.
The annual Midwest Beerfest’s Grand Tasting is Saturday at Century II’s Expo Hall. Courtesy photo

Midwest Beerfest returns this weekend, and, as always, the craft beer will be flowing.

But this year, it’ll be easier to find out which of the breweries at the festival were the crowd favorites. Rather than judging by the length of the lines at each booth, attendees can get actual results thanks to a high-tech new toy the festival is testing out.

It’s called BamText, and it will allow attendees at Saturday’s Grand Tasting, which lasts from 1 to 4 p.m. at Century II’s Expo Hall, to vote for both their favorite overall brewery and their favorite Kansas brewery. From 1 to 3:15 p.m. the day of the tasting, people can text their overall craft brewery vote to 316-218-9550 and the name of their favorite Kansas craft brewery to 316-218-9551. The winners will be awarded plaques.

This is the second year that the beer tasting has happened in May after previously becoming established as a fall event. After this year, said Guy Bower, who founded the festival, organizers will decide whether it stays in May. Numbers were down a bit last year, and if they don’t rebound at this festival, that could be a sign that May is just too busy.

Here’s a list of everything you need to know to enjoy Saturday’s grand tasting properly.

Beer: Attendees will get to sample from more than 400 craft beers from around the United States, and the beers will once again be set up by geographical areas. There will be a Colorado section (New Belgium, Odell, Oskar Blues), a West Coast section (Ballast Point, Sierra Nevada, Gordon Biersch), a Northwest section (Deschutes, Big Sky, Red Hook) and a Midwest section (Abita, Goose Island, Boulevard).

But the most popular geographic area at recent festivals has been the Wichita/Kansas section. This year, it will feature 16 local and state breweries, including Central Standard, Wichita Brewing Company, River City Brewing Co., Hopping Gnome, Hank Is Wiser, Walnut River and new additions Aero Plains from Wichita and Three Rings Brewing out of McPherson.

Chicken wings: It’s the eighth consecutive year for the Midwest Chickenfest, a festival within a festival that invites local restaurants to compete with their best chicken wings. For $8, attendees can sample wings from Buffalo Wild Wings, Dempsey’s Burger Pub, Emerson Biggin’s, The Hyatt, Louis’ Rose Hill Cafe, Chef Larry Walker, Texas Roadhouse, The Anchor, The Monarch, Wing Stop, Wings & Things and Twin Peaks.

I’ll be one of the judges that will choose a winning wing, and there will be a People’s Choice award, too.

Food for free and to purchase: Other than chicken wings, people also can purchase food from food trucks that will be set up at the south end of the building. This year’s lineup is Brickhouse BBQ, Charlie’s Pizza Taco, Funky Monkey Munchies, Hopperoni Express, Twisted Joe’s and the U-Hungry Truck.

Also new this year: The Wichita Wagonmasters will be at the beerfest passing out free bowls of chili, and the Kansas Star Casino’s culinary team will be providing some snacks as well.

Dance-off: Once everyone’s good and loose, disc jockey Ronnie Choy will provide the soundtrack to a dance-off. It starts at 3 p.m., and people interested need only follow the music and start dancing. Judges will choose a winner, and the winner will earn prizes.

The cause: The beerfest is raising money this year for Prairie Travelers/Andover Augusta Rail Trail Initiative, a group that’s working to expand the Redbud Trail between the two cities. Beerfest attendees can help support the charity by bidding on silent-auction items, which will include gift cards, jewelry, bicycles and more.

Free ride home: Ride service Uber has partnered with the event to offer free rides up to $20 to first-time users. Uber will designate a pick-up and drop-off zone outside Century II, said Charity Jackson, a public affairs associate for the California-based company. People who want to take advantage of the offer must download the Uber app, and to redeem the offer, they must enter promo code MIDWESTBEER. The code will work only for people who haven’t used Uber before.

Midwest Beerfest Grand Tasting

What: A sampling of more than 400 craft beers

When: 1-4 p.m. Saturday

Where: Century II Expo Hall, 225 W. Douglas

How much: $45

Tickets: Available at the door, at www.wichitatix.com or by calling 316-303-8100. Designated-driver tickets are $15.

Information: www.midwestbeerfest.com