Dining With Denise Neil

Cheers! It’s time for Midwest Beerfest again

Central Standard Brewing co-founder Andy Boyd serves beer at last year’s Midwest Beerfest. The Wichita/Kansas section of the beerfest was the most crowded last year.
Central Standard Brewing co-founder Andy Boyd serves beer at last year’s Midwest Beerfest. The Wichita/Kansas section of the beerfest was the most crowded last year. File photo

If you feel as if you just went to Midwest Beerfest, that’s because you did.

It was late September when Wichita craft beer fans last gathered at Century II to sip and sample more than 400 beers brewed both locally and in breweries across the country. But organizers decided to act on a longtime hunch that they should move the festival to the spring, a (somewhat) less chaotic time for beer people, who often are away at national conferences and festivals during the fall.

The upside: Less than a year later, it’s all happening again. The 16th annual sampling event, put on by the American Institute of Wine and Food, returns for the 2016 installment on Saturday afternoon.

“It’s also the end of Craft Beer Week,” said Beth Bower, the festival’s chairwoman. “We thought it would be a good way to kick off summer fun time – with a beer festival.”

Another upside: Because the festival is at a different time of year, distributors will be able to sample spring and summer seasonals that wouldn’t be around come fall.

Here’s everything you need to know to celebrate Beerfest weekend successfully.

The beers: Attendees will get to sample from more than 400 craft beers from around the United States, and organizers will set them up in an easy-to-navigate way. There’s 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).

The most popular geographic area at last year’s festival, though, was the Wichita/Kansas section. On Saturday, it will feature 15 local and state breweries, including Central Standard, Wichita Brewing Company, River City Brewing Co., Hopping Gnome, Hank Is Wiser and Walnut River.

“These guys bring kegs,” Bower said. “They always make the area fun.”

The wings: This is the seventh consecutive year for the Midwest Chickenfest, a festival within a festival that invites local restaurants to compete with their best chicken wings. Between eight and 11 restaurants will participate, and for $6, attendees can sample wings from Buffalo Wild Wings, Douglas Avenue Chop Shop, Rachel’s Kitchen, The Anchor, Wing Stop, Wings & Things, Joe’s Old Town Bar & Grill, Chef Larry Walker of Wichita State University and more.

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

Food trucks: Unlike the Midwest Winefest, the Midwest Beerfest doesn’t have food vendors giving out samples. Instead, people can try out the wings, buy Century II concessions food or step outside to a mini-food truck rally and purchase food. Five vendors will set up on Saturday: Brickhouse BBQ, B.S. Sandwich Press, Funky Monkey Munchies, Hopperoni Express and a mobile version of The Anchor. Beer samples also will be offered in the food truck area.

Dance-off: Every year, hour three of the festival arrives and people are feeling loose. Local disc jockey Ronnie Choy is spinning tunes, and an impromptu dance party always breaks out. This year, organizers decided to formalize the boogie. Starting at 3 p.m., the festival will put on an old-fashioned dance-off. People interested should follow the music and start dancing. Judges will watch, and whoever is the last person dancing will win a trophy and tickets to next year’s festival.

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. The trail would be used by walkers, bikers and horseback riders. Beerfest attendees can help support the charity by bidding on silent-auction items, which will include etched bottles, jewelry, bicycles, restaurant gift cards and more.

The education: The purpose of the festival, Bower said, is to educate aspiring beer aficionados about what they like and why they like it, and the people pouring the beer are there to help.

“We have a group of people we call educated pourers that are people knowledgeable about what they’re going to be pouring,” she said. “Part of AIWF’s mission is helping to provide information about what we drink.”

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