DECATUR — Good times and good beer were on tap for Stephen Lewis and his friends.
The group of five traveled from Springfield to Decatur on Saturday to enjoy the suds that came along with the Decatur Craft Beer Festival, which saw hundreds from across the area sample more than 120 beers and ciders from vendors across the country.
“There’s a lot of great beer out here today, and a lot of things that I’ve been wanting to try,” Lewis said. “I love events like this.”
The festival came about as a partnership between MRI (formerly Macon Resources Inc.) and the Decatur Area Arts Council, which partnered with Decatur Brew Works to produce the event. Friday night involved a VIP experience, but Saturday was the main course as a bevy of drinkers and brewers mingled under the large canopy outside the Arts Council in downtown Decatur.
Along with beers, food trucks set up shop to offer attendees burgers, tenderloins, chicken, among many offerings. The festival also had a silent auction and live music
There was no official number of tickets sold as of Saturday afternoon, but MRI Executive Director Amy Bliefnick said they were expecting to at least match last year’s attendance of just over 700.
“It’s just a fun event, and people are always looking for something fun and new to do,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for people to come out and have fun while raising some funds for two great not-for-profits.”
All proceeds from the festival go to MRI and the Arts Council.
Along with beer offerings from across the country and state, the festival also featured 12 breweries from the central Illinois area, from Champaign-Urbana’s Triptych Brewing and Blind Pig Co., to Monticello’s Monarch Brewing Company and Decatur’s own Decatur Brew Works.
For many of them, appearing at the festival was a chance to gain some additional exposure for their business.
“We’re trying to market in central Illinois, and this helps us get that awareness out there,” said Bussy Roate, one of the owners of Spirited Republic in Lincoln.
The business is set to soon expand with its own brewing operation, called Limerick Brewing Company, and Roate said he was thankful the festival allowed him to tell more people about what beers they can expect when Limerick starts to sell their own beer in the next “4 to 6 weeks.”
Other newcomers to the local brewing scene saw the festival as a chance to let people know what they’re missing out on.
Melissa Whitt was keeping busy as she worked the taps for Monarch Brewing Company, which opened this spring at a renovated church in Monticello. Since they have been open for less than six months, Whitt said she was happy to see the crowd show up to try their beers.
“We’re letting people get to know us,” said Whitt, whose husband, Rob, is one of the owners of the brewery. “It’s a chance to get people to try our stuff.”
The good times carried on throughout the afternoon, as people got their samples and made small talk with the various venders there, while others sat down and laughed over some tasty brews.
It’s the sort of camaraderie that brings a smile to Dreux Lewandowski, co-owner of Decatur Brew Works.
“The nice thing about beer is that it’s bringing a lot of new people to Decatur,” he said. “Our hope is the more people visit Decatur, the more they help the local businesses as well as ours.”