The week of May 16–22 celebrates American Craft Beer Week, an unofficial national holiday that celebrates “the culture and community of craft beer, and gives breweries and beer businesses the opportunity to connect with the fans,” according to the website.
Bars all over the CU area, including Crane Alley, Black Dog Smoke & Ale House, Mike ‘N Molly’s, Seven Saints, Quality Bar and The Blind Pig, will be celebrating by offering “special” sample glasses of locally or American brewed beer for $3. Members of the community have even set up a craft “beer crawl” on May 22nd, visiting each of the bars, hanging out and drinking beer.
Champaign-Urbana is home to some of the better breweries, which makes it a perfect location to celebrate American Craft Beer Week. “The area has a lot of sophisticated beer drinkers because of the University. A lot of educated people from all parts of the U.S. and the world who are used to drinking real beer are here,” said Chris Knight, the owner of The Blind Pig.
Knight described the Champaign celebration of American Craft Beer week as “some of the rare brewers or the more unusual for Champaign get[ting] together to promote their stock.”
But what exactly are craft beers? Sometimes described as “microbrews,” craft beers are made in smaller batches and allow brewers to “get lots of types and varieties,” said Knight. Brewing in smaller batches also allows brewers to adjust the alcohol content (anywhere from 2–30%; American beers such as Miller Lite or Budweiser range from 4 – 5% only) and flavors.
Knight described the two types of beer that are made: lagers and ales. “Lagers tend to be very light, have a low alcohol content and a clear refreshing taste,” Knight said. Ales, on the other hand, offer a “wider choice of flavors, alcohol content and are fermented differently than lagers. Ales are fermented on the bottom while lagers ferment on the top,” Knight added. Currently, one of the craft ales The Blind Pig is offering is a hibiscus craft beer that is bright pink.
In addition to being able to create different flavors and alcohol contents, craft beers are made with better ingredients. “American beers [macrobrews] use the cheapest possible ingredients, rice and sweet corn, to impart flavor, instead of barley,” Knight said.
In honor of the “holiday,” The Blind Pig will be hosting three of the best breweries in the United States, Stone Brewing Co. from California, Two Brothers Brewing Company from Warrenville, IL and Rogue Brewery out of Oregon, and will be offering their beers on tap. The fourth best brewery in the U.S. is The Blind Pig according to Knight. Blind Pig will be offering their brews on tap as well.
Becca Vann, the manager at The Blind Pig said that it’s impossible to compare microbrews to macrobrews. “It’s like beer vs. alcoholic water,” Vann added. Vann said that there has been a huge increase in microbrewing, and it has become more and more prominent throughout the U.S. “People want something people put their heart into,” Vann added.
The Blind Pig Brewery, one of Champaign’s most popular breweries, holds an impressive resume. They have the largest number of taps in the Champaign area (40 taps) and have been voted the 26th best brewery in the U.S. by Beeradvocate. They also are the 3rd best in Illinois, the only brewery outside of Chicago. Imbibe Magazine rated the bar as one of the 100 Best Places to Drink in America and Draft Magazine placed The Blind Pig in the top 150 bars in the country. In the words of Knight, “we rule.”
Celebrate all that is local, and grab a glass of microbrew with some of CU’s craft beer connoisseurs. For more information on the beer crawl, check out the Facebook group here.