Inaugural festival celebrates beer

By Kaley Fowler

With St. Patrick’s Day come and gone, it is safe to assume that Chicagoans have consumed their fair share of alcohol. Yet opportunities to further indulge abound just two weeks following the holiday thanks to the first-ever Chicago Beer Festival.

More than 200 vendors will gather March 31 in the Great Hall at Union Station, 210 S. Canal St., to show off their latest brews at the festival hosted by the Los Angeles-based production company Drink Eat Play.

“In every city right now, there’s a discovery of beer,” said Dan Silberstein, spokesman for Drink Eat Play. “People might not even know what they like or don’t like, so [the festival] is an opportunity for them to sample beers they might not have even heard of.”

Silberstein said each company will offer its own unique selection of beer. He explained that he initially sought Chicago-and Illinois-based breweries as a way to stimulate interest in local beer.

“We were invited to the Beer Festival because of their interest in spotlighting Chicago’s craft brewing scene,” said Eric McNeil, spokesman for Strange Pelican Brewing Co., a Chicago-based brewery. “This event is specifically catered to the craft beer enthusiast and will be an amazing outlet to raise awareness of our product and identity.”

Acknowledging what lies beyond grocery store coolers is a major goal of the festival, Silberstein said, and the festival serves as a way for small businesses to get their name out and increase their following.

Such is the case for Uncommon Brewers, a brewery based in Santa Cruz, Calif., that hit the Chicago market in February. Alec Stefansky, the brewery’s owner, said he hopes this festival will attract future customers.

“[Festivals] represent an opportunity to directly interact with passionate craft beer drinkers,” Stefansky said. “I suspect that most people coming to the festival will be trying my cans for the first time. If I’m doing my job right, they’ll be back for more.”

In addition to new breweries, several veteran companies will showcase their beer at the festival, such as Big Muddy, a growing name in Illinois production companies.

“We have a distributor in the Chicago area now, so we’ve had an excellent response in that market,” said Chuck Stuhrenberg, spokesman for Big Muddy. “We’re trying to expand as fast as we can.”

The festival will be split into two three-hour sessions from 1 – 4 p.m. and 6 – 9 p.m. Tickets, which will not be sold at the door, are available online. Admission is $40 per session, including beer.

The Chicago festival is modeled after the success of Drink Eat Play’s West Coast beer festivals, Silberstein said. He decided to move the festival east because of his connections to friends and family in the area.

“I have family out in Chicago, so I’ve always wanted to do more events out there,” Silberstein said via telephone, adding that the possibility of a 2013 festival will be considered following this year’s event.

For more information about the festival, visit TheChicagoBeerFestival.com.

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