The changes unveiled at the Midwest Beerfest on Saturday earned a hearty two thumbs-up from the gathered throng.
Well, maybe only one thumb, if the other was clutching a chicken wing or holding a beer mug.
For the first time, the grand tasting was held in the Expo Hall at Century II, which offered much more room than the nearby Exhibition Hall had.
So much more, in fact, that couples often began to dance if they heard a song they like start blaring over the loudspeakers: Two-stepping, slow dancing and some moves that probably don’t have names.
“You’ve got room to move around this year,” said Bill Kaempfe of Marion, who was partaking in his seventh Beerfest. “That’s nice.”
There was ample space to amble, even with more than 2,200 people inside the hall.
Beerfesters seemed to take the switch from glass to plastic sampling mugs in stride, too.
Organizers made the switch because shattered glass from dropped mugs in years past had become both a safety hazard and clean-up headache.
“Open-toed shoes,” Becky Elliott said with a wince as she took a break from sampling beers with three of her friends.
Mike Klaers of Hutchinson said one of the informal traditions of Beerfest was guessing how long it would take for the first glass mug to fall and shatter — invariably drawing cheers from the crowd.
“I kind of miss that,” Klaers said wistfully.
But he said he understands and agrees with the change. Beerfest should be about the beer anyway, he said.
He comes every year to see if there are new flavors or labels he should add to the beer list of his bar in Hutchinson, the Rusty Needle. He frowns at the timid souls who look for a Bud Light booth.
“You come to Beerfest to try new things,” he said.
He came to find a gluten-free beer that would taste like a popular easy-to-drink beer, but came away disappointed. It’s not that they’re bad beers, he said, but their flavors are so distinct customers will shy away from them, he said.
“You have a hard time getting people to try it” if it doesn’t taste like something they are used to, Klaers said.
Hilary Fitzgeralds was one who came to try new beers, and she found a keeper: Redstone Meadery: Nectar of the Hops. She took a photo of the label with her smartphone so she would remember it later.
She was pleased with the plastic sampling mug, too.
“I’m sure there are some people who say beer tastes different in a glass than it does in plastic,” she said, “but I can’t tell any difference.”
Then again, she’d sampled 10 beers already — and was ready for more.