The Midwest Beerfest will celebrate its 15th birthday this weekend with one big change: It’ll be an evening rather than an afternoon event.
The Wichita Chapter of the American Institute of Wine and Food, which puts on the city’s biggest and longest-running beer sampling event, has made other adjustments since last year, including bringing back a few food vendors and adding some food trucks to the proceedings.
An even bigger change is coming next year, when the festival will move to May to avoid conflicting with the dozens of other events that fill the September and October calendars.
On Saturday, an expected 1,200 to 1,600 people will gather at the Beerfest’s grand tasting to sample from more than 400 different craft beers. Ticket sales are up, organizers say, and several new events are on the schedule.
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Here are seven things you need to know about this year’s event.
1. It’s in the evening: A few conflicts and a desire to experiment prompted organizers to decide to push the grand tasting’s usual hours back. It usually lasts from 1 to 4 p.m., but Saturday’s will run from 4 to 7 p.m. The Midwest Winefest made the same change in 2008, moving its grand tasting from early afternoon to early evening, where it remains today. Ticket sales are up, said Guy Bower, a local beer and wine expert who originally started the Beerfest, so people must like the change.
“We’ve sold more presale tickets thus far than any year prior,” Bower said. “It’s been interesting.”
2. Last year’s setup worked: The festival orchestrated a major overhaul of its setup last year, shifting the focus to craft beers made in the United States. They eliminated lighter domestic beers (Bud Light, Landshark), imports (Guinness) and “malternatives” (Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Smirnoff Ice). The beer list instead was made up of craft beers and ciders from across the country – the India Pale Ales, stouts and wheats that are the focus of popular events like Denver’s Great American Beerfest.
Attendees said they liked the change, and they also liked that the beers were organized by regions. Beer samplers could peruse selections from the East Coast, Midwest, Colorado, West Coast and Northwest, all bunched together. Kansas and Wichita beers also were grouped together. That setup was a hit and will return on Saturday, organizers said.
3. The food is back: Last year, organizers broke from the tradition of inviting local restaurants to sell beer-friendly food on-site, and instead Century II opened its in-house concession stand. But on Saturday, the food will be back. A small outdoor food court at the south end of the building will feature three local food trucks – Funky Monkey Munchies, Hopperoni Express and Brickhouse BBQ.
A couple of restaurants will be set up inside, too. Schane Gross will have a booth representing her restaurants The Anchor and Douglas Avenue Chop Shop that will offer sausage bites with beer mustard, soft pretzels, an Oktoberfest grinder and mac and cheese. Mexican restaurant Molino’s will serve tacos made with cochinita pibil or pork carnitas plus corn elote and salad. Indoor items are $2 to $7. The Doubletree by Hilton will be handing out its signature cookies for free.
4. The wings are back, too: Six years ago, organizers introduced the Midwest Chickenfest as part of the Beerfest and invited local restaurants to compete with their best chicken wings. The Chickenfest will be back again on Saturday, and for $6 attendees can sample wings from Buffalo Wild Wings, Wingstop, DoubleTree by Hilton, Louie’s Rose Hill Cafe, Joe’s Old Town Bar & Grill, The Anchor, Douglas Avenue Chop Shop and Fork and Fennel.
I’ll be one of the judges that will choose a winning wing, and there will also be a People’s Choice award.
5. The beer will be hoisted: A beer hoisting contest is being added to this year’s festivities, and the winner could earn a trip to Germany. Those who want to compete in the Sam Adams Beer Stein Hoisting contest should register between 4 and 5 p.m. Sam Adams is putting the contests on across the country and is looking for the man and woman who can hold a 40-ounce stein of beer up in the air the longest. The two who do will win a trip to the 2016 Oktoberfest celebration in Munich, Germany.
6. Next year, we drink in the spring: This is the last year for a fall Midwest Beerfest, organizers say. They recently voted to move the 2016 event to May and have already agreed on dates: May 20 and 21. The reason for the change: Too many other events, from Woofstock to the Great Plains Renaissance Festival to the Wagonmasters Downtown Chili Cookoff, clog the calendar in the fall. Also, the Great American Beerfest in Denver is frequently in the fall and pulls many key beer people away from Wichita, organizers say.
7. It’s a beerfest, not a drunkfest: Attendees will be given plastic tasting cups and are free to sample as many beers as they want. But Guy Bower said people should remember that the Beerfest is intended as a chance to get educated – not a chance to get sloppy.
“Obviously, we want to emphasize that this is an educational opportunity to taste beers,” he said. “Some of them are fairly expensive, so instead of having to buy a six-pack, you can taste it and take notes.”
If you go
Midwest Beerfest Grand Tasting
What: A sampling of more than 400 craft beers
When: 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Century II Expo Hall, 225 W. Douglas
How much: $40
Tickets: Available at the door, at www.wichitatix.com or by calling 316-303-8100. Designated driver tickets are $15.