09 Apr Chicago Beer Classic Returns to Soldier Field on May 5th
Let’s face it, some craft beer festival attendees look at the experience as one of getting a lot of beer in a short amount of time. How many times have you heard someone get to the front of a brewery booth line and ask, “what’s the highest ABV beer you have?” Unfortunately, some festivals unconsciously endorse or are complicit with this attitude, as they invite a large number of breweries and then just turn the attendees loose like the beginning of an Easter egg hunt.
However, there’s an upcoming festival in Chicago that has beer galore, but also helps the drinker along in their path to craft beer enlightenment. The 6th Chicago Beer Classic (May 5, held on the grass at Soldier Field) offers a lot to a lot of fans, and it’s only a short drive from Indiana an Wisconsin, or a long swim from Michigan. Given the variety, the amenities, and the location – it’s no wonder this festival draw 8,000 attendees each year (split into two manageable sessions). Believe me, there’s enough beer for everyone.
Over 65 breweries from Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and beyond will be bringing beer for the Chicago Beer Classic, a festival that started as the American Beer Classic, showing how much the organizers believe in bringing in beer from around the country. California will have a nice presence at the festival, but not necessarily the breweries that distribute across the country and you get to drink often. These are hidden gems, like Novo Brazil, Hermitage, and Fireman’s Brew Crew.
Chicago is represented well, including many breweries that Walter and I have tried before (Ravinia, Bucket List, Aleman, and others), but all of the northern part of Illinois has breweries there as well. Wisconsin has 3 Sheeps Brewing from Sheboygan, Ale Asylum in Madison, and others coming as well, along with myriad cideries and meaderies, so this will be a great way for the two of us to continue our craft beverage education.
Education is best when you don’t really realize your learning – this is one of the things the Chicago Beer Classic does well. This is a new twist for Walter and I, and we love the idea. It probably works best at larger festivals, but we think that whenever possible, more beer education should be incorporated into a festival. It does nothing but strengthen the relationship between the drinkers and the brewers.
The organizers have limited the session sizes and invited enough breweries that the lines will be better than manageable – leaving time to talk to the brewers who are bringing you their beer. In addition, the Jumbotron at Soldier Field will have craft beer trivia questions and points to spark discussion amongst the attendees. There is even a Most Valuable Beer competition to help foster discussion about the beers.
But education about the beers isn’t the only learning going on. The organizers of the festival, Red Frog Events, has a long standing relationship with charity partner St. Jude Hospitals for Children. There will be activities before and during the festival to help foster an exchange of information about St. Jude’s mission and to allow for additional support from the craft drinkers. Over the years, Red Frog has delivered more than $14.5 million dollars in support to St. Jude. Craft beer drinkers can take a lot of credit for that number – just another way that craft beer helps the community.
OK, so craft beer education and saving the world are great, but what’s on tap for fun during the Chicago Beer Classic? Well, the attendees are on the grass at Soldier Field; that alone is a fairly rare venue idea for beer festivals. Getting the perspective of an NFL player is unique, and you’ll probably be one of the few people that had had alcohol while on the field, although who knows what some of those players keep in their uniforms.
Soldier Field plays a role before and after each session of the festival as well (11:30-2:30 and 4:30-7:30). A lot of craft beer drinkers pre-game before a festival, but at the Chicago Beer Classic you get to tailgate at Gate zero. Merchandise sales, food trucks, games and other activities will be available while you wait to get it or wait for your Uber after your session. Having something to do always makes a wait go quicker, like making a pretzel necklace or having it judged by others, if you’re into that kind of thing. I prefer when they serve you beer in the staging area, but games and food are OK too.
You can run on to the field through a special Chicago Beer Classic Arch, and feel just like a pro player running out to the cheers of the crowd. Who knows maybe you’re such a well-known craft beer geek that they’ll actually cheer for you. Once on the field, the fun continues. The VIPs will have a half hour to themselves in each session, with special, rare beers to try. Both the GA and VIPs will also have many activities to spread out the beer for a much more enjoyable afternoon. Games like Giant Jenga, hammerschlagen, and others will be spread out along the sides and in the tailgate party. And throughout each session there will be music broadcast from the stadium speakers.
Stadium tours will be available for purchase to bring you in even further to the big time feeling, with stops in the visiting locker room, the Skyline suite, the Colonnades and other points of interest. And just like a pro game in Soldier Field, the Chicago Beer Classic will take place rain or shine. I asked the organizers if umbrellas will be allowed, and ironically they told me that yes, small umbrellas would be permitted. That takes the beer festival beyond the Bears, since you can’t bring in umbrellas for a game.
The early session has a tendency to sell tickets quicker than the later session, so decide soon on when you want to attend. However, rest assured that all beers will be available at each session; there will be no session specific beers, and enough will be held back to ensure that the later session has just as many options as the early session. Come to Chicago, see Soldier Field, pick up some valuable information on craft beer, and taste some of the best and most varied beer in the Midwest. It’s a heck of an afternoon in the big city.
Tickets are available here, and makes sure to keep checking the website for late additions to the brewery list and perhaps for a beer list. The organizers are toying with the idea of a beer list and tasting note app for attendees, so let them know if this is something you would be interested in them pursuing. This is a 21+ event and IDs will be required.