Dining With Denise Neil

Craft-beer fans ignore rain to sip and sample at Saturday festival

Russell and Carissa Coleman sample beer Saturday during the Wichita Craft Beer & Food Fest in the Delano neighborhood.
Russell and Carissa Coleman sample beer Saturday during the Wichita Craft Beer & Food Fest in the Delano neighborhood. The Wichita Eagle

A little rain does not deter those who love craft beer.

On Saturday afternoon, around 500 people ignored a light rain to attend the Wichita Craft Beer & Food Fest, a new event put on by the Wichita Craft Beer Guild. It was set up in the parking lot behind The Monarch, the craft-beer-forward bar at 579 W. Douglas, and it offered attendees samples of more than 140 craft beers brewed in Wichita, in Kansas and in states bordering it. Attendees also had access to several local food trucks set up in the parking lot.

The line of people waiting to get in wrapped around the building before the doors opened at 1 p.m., and when it started to sprinkle, attendees kept sampling, many standing beneath umbrellas or huddling under tents set up by the brewers.

Craft-beer fan Matt Flesher was one of the first people through the gate and made his first stop at the booth run by Hank Is Wiser, a brewery from Cheney that was passing out samples of mango pale ale and Linger IPA.

Flesher travels for work, he said, and became a craft-beer fan on the road. Most cities he visits have brewers making unique and interesting products, he said, and it’s been exciting to watch Wichita become one of those cities, too.

“It’s just fun,” he said. “It’s something I can do easily no matter where I am.”

Hank Sanford, who owns Hank Is Wiser, has been in business for 10 years. Craft beer wasn’t as trendy when he started as it is now, and he’s been recruiting new customers at every beer festival he attends.

“People are drinking more for taste now,” he said. “In the old days, they were happy just pounding Bud Light.”

Saturday’s event was designed as a companion, not a competitor, to the big Midwest Beerfest, a 15-year-old tasting that happens each fall at Century II, said Steven Haines, the manager of the craft and import beer department at House of Schwan who also was one of the organizers of Saturday’s festival. (This year’s Midwest Beerfest will happen on Oct. 3.)

His goal is to educate people about craft beer, and the more beer festivals Wichita has, the closer he gets to that goal, he said. He planned to meet with his fellow members of the Wichita Craft Beer Guild after Saturday’s event to discuss what went right, what went wrong and what could be improved or changed for next year.

“It’s obvious people want this,” he said, surveying Saturday’s crowd. “There’s room for a lot of beer festivals in this city.”