Students pick favorite beer, chili at festival



By Phil Collins

It may officially be fall, but it felt like the middle of a spicy summer on Saturday in downtown Urbana.

The International Beer Tasting and Chili Cook-Off drew hoards of people, lining up to sample more than 150 beers from around the world and chili from local chefs. With most beer and chili samples going at 50 cents a piece, it was possible to sample a wide range of food and drink without spending too much. I’ll take you through what some festival-goers had to say about the festival and their choice beer and chili samples, followed by a rundown of my own discoveries.

Dan Wrestler, senior in AHS and Jithma Vidanagamage, junior in Business, got in line more than an hour before the festival started.

“Last year we get here at like 2 (p.m.) and were like halfway down the block,” Vidanagamage said. “Today, we got here at 15 till 2, and we were like the fifth people in.”

The festival started at 3 p.m., but Vidanagamage said she didn’t wait in line for long. Considering the length of the lines, which wrapped around the festival area, she certainly could have been waiting much longer. Her favorite sample was the Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale, which she said makes her think of fall. Wrestler chose the Red Horse Malt Liquor, and as for the chili he said the Fire In the Hole Chili was very hot.

The first 500 people let in the festival received free souvenir sampling glasses with the festival’s logo on them. They were definitely larger than the plastic sampling cups that were kept at the beer tables for people who did not get the glasses.

Ariel Neff, graduate student, bought advance tickets for the festival, which cost her $5, as opposed to the $7 entrance fee at the gate.

“We bought advance tickets, but they only had one person taking advance tickets, so by the time we got in, we didn’t get the glasses,” Neff said.

Glass or no glass, she got some sampling in and called the Sea Dog Apricot Wheat her favorite.

While some festival-goers sampled small portions of chili, others quickly shoved it in their faces as they tried to win the chili-eating contest. Six contestants battled to finish 18 ounces of chili first. The defending champion, Pat “Killah” Carron won, eating some of the chili he spilled on the table to quiet any nay-sayers.

“You come here, you go hard,” Carron, who is a senior in Business, said.

I had my own tangle with some spicy chili, granted, it was much less chili, and there was no pressure to finish it fast.

Tim Heath’s Fat Boy Chili started off sweet but quickly delivered a kick that left me with a fire in my mouth. Heath, of Urbana, has been making the chili for three years and said brown sugar gives it the sweetness.

I went straight for a light, fruity drink after that and found it in the Pyramid’s Apricot Weizen.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t go for something as fruity as this. In fact, the apricot flavor was so prominent that the smell reminded me of hand soap. However, it was perfect after some seriously spicy chili.

Still light but not quite so sweet was the Pioneer Black River Red Oktoberfest. A slight wheat taste was present but not dominant by any means. It was definitely good for a refreshing, lighter brew.

Not every chili requires a dose of light relief afterward. The Crane Alley Chili was nice and hot but was not terribly spicy. It was more focused on ground beef, and was a hearty sample.

It can be overwhelming trying to choose a beer to sample at this festival, with more than 150 of them spread over 36 tables. Sometimes a name catches your attention and that’s enough to give it a try. That was the case with the Flying Dog Tire Bite Golden Ale. I like the name, but this beer’s bark is bigger than it’s bite. It has a light, fairly standard taste.

The Fort Collins Pomegranate Wheat was quite the contrary. Whoever came up with this one must have known what they were doing. The pomegranate flavor is a surprisingly good partner for a wheat beer.

However, I’m a firm believer that dark beers are far superior to anything else and have yet to be proven wrong. St. Peter’s Cream Stout was thick, creamy, rich and satisfying.

This may have been my favorite of the afternoon. The Left Hand Milk Stout may have been the darkest, thickest beer I’ve ever had. The small sample size was like a meal in itself.

It was tasty, but I think I would max out on one pint of this. Surprisingly dark was the Ska True Blonde (yes, I chose it because of my love for ska music). It had a full, strong taste, which I would like to sample a full pint of at some point.

I’m a snob when it comes to beer, and I think that’s what I like so much about this festival. I had only heard of a couple of the above beers before deciding to try them. This annual festival is a great tribute to the variety of beer that’s out there.