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Event Recap | Executing the “Craft-Plus” Festival Model: Ballpark Brew Fest

Ballpark Brew Fest

The ubiquitous nature of craft beer fests suggests that the novelty of simply offering nothing but an array of craft beer has diminished; a lively competition among fests exists. As a result, festivals routinely engage in the “craft-plus” strategy, such as a “craft + a theme” or “craft + an appealing venue.” One such craft-plus fest occurred on May 5 in the Chicago area at the Schaumburg Boomers’ minor league baseball stadium — the 6th Annual Ballpark Brew Fest (co-hosted by Bigby’s Pour House).bot

The alluring venue coupled with breweries who brought A-game brews, mostly served by its all-star staffers, made for a successful fest and one for which has the potential to maintain its year-to-year viability.

Step 1: Serve Great Beer (Obviously)

Celery Gose. Belgian Tripel. Double Barrel-Aged Stout. Cucumber Kolsch-Style. And, BuckleDown made fans of Cinco De Mayo happy with its Cactus Pants. Some breweries, dare I say, were showing off a bit (and no one complained).

From hoppy wheats and Belgian pale ales to fruit-infused IPAs and botanical beers, the overall quality pointed to a fest with attending breweries that did not just phone-it-in. Indeed, a beer fan would have been hard pressed to leave the place unsatisfied and I would assume many left quite happy.

Ballpark Brew Fest
Ballpark Brew Fest: Church Street Irish Ale (Photo: Mathew Powers)

Step 2: Staff Booths with Knowledgeable Servers

Patrons mostly interacted with beer slingers possessing extensive knowledge about the beer and brewery — no small feat considering the fest coincided with Chicago Beer Classic at Soldier Field, a festival sharing a bit of the same DNA.

One received beer from brewing staffers that included:

And that merely scratches the surface

One also saw Chett Brett of Church Street and Vikki Reid of BuckleDown Brewing, both of whom are integral to their breweries and actively involved in infinite aspects of the Illinois Brewing community.

When employees weren’t available, beer fans regularly interacted with volunteers possessing intimate knowledge of the beer and brewery they poured.

A nicely staffed festival with abundant high-quality beers provides patrons evidence that breweries care about Ballpark Brew Fest, and that gives attendees confidence that they spent their hard-earned dollars well.

Ballpark Brew Fest
Crystal Lake Brewing – Ballpark Brew Fest (Photo: Mathew Powers)

Step 3: An Attractive Venue That is Also Functional

Great beer and a great staff mean nothing if the facilities prove frustrating — insufficient bathrooms, crowded booths, long lines and a lack of food can make for a miserable experience.

However, when beer booths in the concourse stretched from the left field foul pole around home plate to the right-field foul pole, and other breweries populated the field near home plate, long lines never remotely materialized. Grills, food trucks and the typical stadium concessions kept people fed (well!). Additionally, with bathrooms already designed to handle a sold-out baseball stadium, all the logistical components proved downright dreamy for a craft fest.

Ballpark Brew Fest
Ballpark Brew Fest , Schaumburg Boomers Stadium (Photo: Mathew Powers).

Step 5: Bribe Mother Nature

Let’s be real here. The lucky break of having a nearly cloudless day combined with low-humidity, a gentle breeze and temperatures rising to the low 80s doesn’t hurt.

Ballpark Brew Fest Honorable Mentions

Pipeworks Brewing | Celery Gose (not yet released)

They say that no good story every started with a salad, but if you put a component of it into a beer you suddenly draw a crowd around you.

The brewery known for its big, robust flavors and numerous IPAs reminds us all that it’s not only a bold brewery, it’s a place run by skillful brewers. The Gose didn’t throw as much salinity at the drinker as one might find in some Gose brews, but the depth of flavor coupled with its refreshing nature inspired this writer to go back for one more — okay, two more.

Pipeworks has increasingly delved into the barrel and sour game. In doing so, Pipeworks has showed that it’s ready to compete at a high level in that category.

Revolution Brewing | Double Barrel Very Special Old Deth (V.S.O.D.)

The big, bad variant of Rev’s Deth’s Tar lineup — a 17% ABV behemoth — may seem more appropriate for the November Festival of Barrel Aged Beer (FoBAB), but Chicago craft-beer junkies enjoy BA beers as much as they enjoy Italian Beef and deep-dish or box-cut thin pizza.

Rev provides one line in its notes that I think says it all, “During the second year of aging, a small number of specially selected Deth’s Tar barrels are blended then finished in fresh Woodford Reserve Double Oak and Whistle Pig 10 year Rye barrels.”

Smooth. Velvety. Robust. Elevated. Boozy. Sweet. Damn good. It’s one of those beers that makes you weak in the knees upon first sip:

Itasca Brewing | Meemaw’s Oatmeal Cookies Brown Ale

The beer came with a cookie. If you give me a cookie, you make my list. Yes, that’s my price. I later found out that the beer is served at the brewery with a cookie garnish — can I get an Amen?

Oh, and the beer just-so-happened to be terrific. MeeMaw pours golden brown and the hand-toasted oats shine. The brown sugar, cinnamon and vanilla come through nicely, too, but while it plays on the cookie flavor, it somehow refrains from tasting like a sugar bomb.

It’s a great beer, and it’s fun. Fests should be fun. Beer should be fun. Mission accomplished.

Ballpark Brew Fest
Ballpark Brewfest, Itasca Brewing Memaw’s Oatmeal Cookies Brown Ale (Photo: Mathew Powers).

Tribes Beer Co. | Mon Frere Belgian

A robust Belgian Tripel north of 9% ABV is too much for festival goers in 80-degree weather, right?Wrong. Roughly three-quarters of the way though the fest, the beer kicked.

It would appear that grabbing Matt Voelker from Revolution Brewing (pub) has served Tribes well. And, since the place is about to open its third location with a much, much bigger taproom, brewhouse and beer garden — the timing could not be better. The malt-forward beer presents lovely sweetness, a bit of spice and lovely fruited traits. Clearly, from the response, this is a beer that’s perfect for beer gardens and patios..and, as we reported in late winter, Tribes will operate two outdoor spaces. If you go, order a Mon Frere.

Forbidden Root | Hay Fever

I can’t wait to utter the phrase, “I enjoy Hay Fever.”

Forbidden Root, as usual, provides a beer worthy of accompanying a dish served in a five-star restaurant. Hay Fever is elevated, but simple, complex in flavor, but super light on the tongue. The dry-hopped farmhouse delivers gentle bitterness right alongside a delightfully fresh farmhouse beer. Sublime.

There was only one way to enjoy Hay Fever. I grabed a seat on the 3rd base line and enjoyed it while taking in the ballpark view.

Temperance Beer Co. | Root Down Porter

Who says you can’t enjoy a porter on a warm and sunny day?

I include this beer for several reasons: It isn’t widely available so it was nice to try it at Ballpark Brew Fest, and it’s “brewed with chicory and licorice roots and tinged with a touch of smoked malt,” which results in one delicious brew.

Porters need more love in the craft world, and this is an example of why I think that’s true. Light in body, but abound in flavor.

Ballpark Brew Fest
Temperance Root Down Porter at Ballpark Brew Fest (Photo: Mathew Powers).

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