By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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CHERRY VALLEY — Kim and Chris White have the 815 Ale Fest experience down to a science.
The Poplar Grove couple has attended every Ale Fest, which is now in its fifth year.
They bought VIP tickets to arrive one hour early. They have a checklist handy of different brews to try, and they even came with their own homemade pretzel necklaces to snack on while they sample from breweries across the region.
They appreciate the event for the chance to try a variety of ales, pilsners, stouts and other drinks that allow them to expand their palates.
“Everybody’s got different taste buds,” Chris White said. “It’s the perfect way to try all different things. Things you may not even think you would like.”
The couple was among approximately 450 patrons to join a sold out 815 Ale Fest on Saturday at the Tebala Event Center. There were more than 20 vendors offering everything from craft beer to seltzers, tequila and other spirits.
“It’s just a great way to showcase local craft brews,” said Katy Chadwick, the Ale Fest 815 event coordinator for Mid-West Family Broadcasting. “People get into it and have a good time.”
Many of the breweries bring special beers just for the event. Urban Forest Craft Brewing, for example, brought a special edition lemon pie cream ale with flavors of vanilla, lemon and graham cracker.
The Rockford brewery impressed patrons, winning the People’s Choice Award for the second year in a row.
“It’s really complimentary,” said Alex Cando, brewmaster and co-owner of Urban Forest. “It’s a good feeling to come to an event like this and have people validate your product.”
The award comes with a plaque and a $2,000 advertising schedule with Mid-West Family, whose brands include B103, 95.3 The Bull, 104.9 The X, 100 FM and 94.9 WDKB. Mid-West Family is also the parent company of the Rock River Current.
Cando said breweries appreciate the event as much as the fans of craft beer because it gives them the chance to network with others in the industry.
“It’s always great to be elbow to elbow with all your associates in the industry,” Cando said. “You get to run around and chat with people you might not have seen in a long time and talk shop and try new beers.”
Katie Quittschreiber, tap room manager at Lena Brewing Co., said it also allows breweries to draw inspiration from each other.
“We’re definitely a beer community and we love being a part of that,” she said. “It’s really nice to bring everybody together in one place: Not only for the fans coming in to see us, but for us working at the breweries. A lot of times we don’t get to go out and see what everybody else has going on. So this is a nice way to network.”
Lena Brewing brought its seasonal Chocolate Covered Strawberry ale and its Hazy Situation, an IPA that’s “super tasty, really juicy, really fruit-forward. Definitely going to be a summer favorite for us.”
It also brought a stout it calls the Chubby Rumbler, which is brewed with lactose.
“It’s got some sweet notes to it, but the lactose in it really gives it that smooth mouth feel, just like you would get from chocolate milk,” Quittschreiber said.
She said 815 Ale Fest can help Lena Brewing, which is about 40 miles outside of Rockford, make some new fans.
“It’s great exposure, especially for Lena Brewing Co. kind of being outside of the city and off the beaten path,” she said. “This might give people just a little taste of what we offer and really encourage them to come out to the tap room and taste all 16 of our taps.”