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Chicago Beer Festival: Does Location Make The Festival?

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Mar 27, 2012 8:20PM

2012_3_27_beer_fest.jpg Saturday's inaugural Chicago Beer Festival at Union Station's Great Hall has us wondering if the location is the draw for this festival. Because it certainly isn't the beer.

Local breweries and brewpubs Hamburger Mary's, Rock Bottom, Pipeworks, Strange Pelican, Big Muddy, Chicago Beer Company, Goose Island, Argus, Wild Onion, Brickstone, and 5 Rabbit are among the participants for this festival, which leans heavy on the Anheuser-Busch/InBev and Miller-Coors distribution chains. (See the inclusion of Shock Top, A-B's answer to Blue Moon, as one of the beers available Saturday.)

When we see brands like Shock Top, Blue Moon, Leinenkugel, Point and Sapporo on a list of "over 50 microbrews," it's hard not to be cynical. Factor in the cost ($40, tickets available online here) and the realization that food will cost extra, and one gets the sense that this festival's organizers are hoping the venue does silence the argument.

The overall lineup of participating breweries and brands is strong, but they're brands with which even casual drinkers are familiar and hints at what we've been speculating for months: that one day the local craft beer bubble will burst because of jaded plays for the consumer's dollar like this. Our new beer guy Paul Schneider believes the bubble is still solid, but the breweries jumping aboard the bandwagon will instead be found ultimately lacking, thereby making Chicago's craft beer scene stronger. Let the market decide, Paul says.

And it will, on the retail shelves and with festivals like this. The Chicago Beer Festival seems like an attempt to make a splash in a local beer events calendar that is already packed with tastings of wide variety and depth, in bars, restaurant and "underground" venues across the city like Won Kim's homebrew club events.

If you're the person who still thinks Blue Moon is brewed in Belgium, this festival is for you.