Midwest Beerfest 2017

Written by Joe Stumpe

A lot has changed since the the Midwest Beerfest first poured forth 17 years ago. There are more beers, more local beers, and more local beer lovers than ever. And no imports or non-beers, known as "malternatives" in the trade.

"Now it's a true Midwest Beerfest," said Rob Miller, owner of Goebel Liquor and the city's acknowledged expert on the subject of beers. "We don't have wine coolers and those kinds of things."

Actually, the festival is bigger than just the Midwest. This year's grand tasting on Saturday, May 20 at Century II will feature about 350 to 400 beers from 50 brewers across the country.

Most will be grouped by region Northeast, Midwest, Northwest, Southwest with Kansas and beer-centric Colorado getting their own sections.

Fifteen brewers from the Sunflower State will be in attendance. The Wichita area alone now sports eight: Aero Plains, Central Standard Brewery, Hank Is Wiser, Hopping Gnome, River City, Third Place, Walnut River and Wichita Brewing Company, up from two the festival's first year.

"We put them up front as you walk in," Miller said. "They're kind of our pride and joy."

New out-of-state entries that Miller said he's looking forward to include AleSmith (San Diego), Founders (Grand Rapids, Mich.) and and Bells Brewery (Kalamazoo, Mich.).

Miller, who attends beer festivals across the country, said Wichita's version is still dwarfed by the biggest of the them all, the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, where some 3,500 beers are poured. But compared with other regional events, he said, "We're right up there at the top" in size.

Some popular recent additions to the festival will be back, including a food truck round-up, chicken wing cook-off, bean bag tossing and other games.

The festival actually starts on May 19 with three dinners pairing beer with food. The matchings are Boulevard Brewing Co. and DoubleTree by Wichita Hilton Wichita Airport; Avery Brewing Co. and Larkspur Bistro & Bar; and Rob Miller's World of Beers dinner at the Wichita Marriott.

This year, reservations for the dinners will only be accepted by calling 316-682-5502, festival founder Guy Bower said. "They will sell out fast," he said.

Bower still remembers the first year's festival, which took place two weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"There was some concern about whether we should cancel," Bower, a former U.S. Air Force pilot, said. "I said %&@* no. We turned everything red, white and blue and it was a big success."

Since then, the festival has spread the word about good beer and raised money for culinary scholarships awarded by Wichita's chapter of the American Institute of Wine and Food. For the second year, proceeds of the festival's silent auction and chicken wing cook-off are going to benefit the Prairie Travelers and Andover Augusta RailTrail Initiative.

"They were really happy last year," Bower said. "We really made an impact and if you paid attention, you'll see some of the progress that's been made."

Event information

Beer dinners

May 19, 7 p.m.
Hilton Wichita Airport, Larkspur Bistro & Bar
and Wichita Marriott
Tickets $55 per person, reservations required
Call 316-682-5502

Grand tasting

May 20, 1 p.m.
Century II Expo Hall
Tickets $45, available at Century II box office or by calling 316-219-4TIX.
For more information, visit midwestbeerfest.com

New at this year's Midwest Beerfest

Uber is providing a free first ride of up to $20 for all attendees via a special promo code, good through July 31.
Festival goers can vote for their favorite brewery and favorite Kansas brewery by texting 316-218-9550 and 316-218-9551, respectively.

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