Typically, for something to be considered a “classic,” it must exhibit a consistency in high quality and popularity over a long period of time. So naturally you can understand my skepticism upon entering the inaugural American Beer Classic (ABC), recently held at Soldier Field on Chicago’s lakefront. Heading into the event, all of the makings for a great day were laid out…a tremendous, one-of-a-kind venue, a diverse lineup of exhibiting breweries, fresh grilled food, live music and educational sessions. Unfortunately, most of these did not end up meeting my expectations come the day of the festival.
Breweries – With 100+ breweries in attendance, it was impossible to visit each one, or even a good majority of them, during my 4-hour daytime session (the festival added a night session a month prior to the event). I’m all for giving people choices, but I was overwhelmed with trying to decide which booths I wanted to visit, determining which ones were pouring something I wanted to sample, locating where some of my favorites were and balancing all of the above with the time I had left and not losing my group of friends (which happened a couple of times anyways). The vast majority of breweries were pouring beers that I could find at any liquor store or bar, so I left having tried only a few that I had never had before. I’m unclear of the ABC’s mission – whether it was to introduce attendees to new beer styles and breweries or to just throw an overcrowded beer party that breaks the Guinness Book of World Record for ounces of beer poured in one venue in a single day. With breweries such as Blue Moon and Leinenkugel’s seeing consistently longer lines all day and the amount of volunteers pouring beers instead of brewery reps, I fear it was the latter. If the ABC is trying to reach the average beer drinker demographic and just show them a good time, that is completely fine with me (they should partner with the Chicago Beer Festival if that’s the case). I simply prefer beer festivals on a smaller scale that allow me to engage with the brewers, learn about them and their beers, and leave without regrets about missing a booth or forgetting about a handful of breweries I wanted to check out.
Venue – Soldier Field provided an undeniably amazing setting for this event. It was surreal to enter the main concourse, look out onto the field covered in beer booths and then be able to walk it all day long. However, the sheer number of booths detracted somewhat from the usual, awe-inspiring expanse of the field. I figured that having a good number of the booths indoors in the entry concourse would help, but all it did was cause me to forget them once I was out on the field for the day.
Music – Upon walking from the entry concourse toward the field, I noticed an empty stage with instruments and microphones set up. I even saw a stereotypical rock n’ roll-looking fella in a too-small fur coat nearby. Sadly, I was treated to top 40 dance songs blared from field-level speakers all day long. Upon exiting, I walked past that same empty stage. I never heard one lick of live music all day. If there were less booths on the field, that lonely stage would have fit nicely and enhanced the experience where the majority of festival-goers were hanging out.
Food – I don’t have much to report about the food as I never tried anything from the grill. All I know was that it took a friend 45 minutes to stand in line for a burger. Obviously, there were some inefficiencies in the food tent.
Educational Sessions – Supposedly, there were breakout sessions hosted by professional brewers throughout the day. I have no idea where or when these were held. Maybe they could have used those ear drum-bursting speakers on the field to promote or announce them?