Will You Get Enough Beer at the Chicago Beer Festival?

Someone just had to go and get the Illinois Liquor Board involved.

Photograph: Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune

Lagunitas will be available at this year’s festival—but not in unlimited quantities.  

The Chicago Beer Festival, a yearly beer sampling event where people pay a flat rate for unlimited drinks for three hours, was all set for its third annual outing (March 30, Union Station), until someone went and told on them.

According to the fest’s Facebook page, the Illinois Liquor Board was tipped off that the event offered unlimited beers for a fixed set of time. Most likely this is in violation of the state’s Happy Hour Law, which prohibits “serving an unlimited number of drinks during a set period of time for a fixed price (the exception is for private functions not open to the public).”

The tipster, aligned with a competing beer festival at Soldier Field, was upset that they couldn’t also have unlimited drinks at their event. The Board forced the Chicago Beer Fest to change its policy.

So instead of a $40 ticket for unlimited beers, attendees now pay for the $40 ticket and get 20 vouchers, or about five 12-ounce beers. Additional vouchers are available for purchase at the event. (Still, that’s five beers in three hours—really, how much more beer do you need?)

Needless to say, some people are not happy about the change (just read the comments on that Facebook post). Maybe it’s time the state revisits the Happy Hour law?


1 year ago
Posted by Chrixsus


For its past two events the Chicago Beer Fest has been able to serve unlimited samples to event-goers. It was to be the same way at this year's Spring session and was advertised by Drink-Eat-Play as such. However, two days (Thur.) before the Chicago Beer Fest was to take place (Mar. 30th) the IL Liquor Commission called them up and said they had to switch to a voucher system. As you can imagine it was quite a blow to the proverbial balls for all involved (12,000 people/6,000 per afternoon & evening sessions, the breweries, the promoters, the event, the city, etc.).

The Chicago Beer Fest people issued a FB post stating the following:

"Yeah, we get it you're disappointed. A competing beer festival called the liquor board complaining that our event offered unlimited beers there's wasn't able to. So the liquor commission told us we had to change our policy for the event to be conducted legally. As soon as we knew, we emailed the attendees to apologize and let them know that refunds were available. And as the email said, we'll refund you if you're not happy. Since it's an issue of the state policy (which they either didn't know or didn't care about before the Soldier Field festival complained about us), we don't get to decide if we want to comply with it."

Red Frog Events went and tattled on the Chicago Beer Fest about serving its patrons unlimited samples of beer. All of a sudden, ONLY A MERE 2 DAYS BEFORE THE CHICAGO BEER FEST, the American Beer Classic has a problem with this and calls the IL State Liquor Commission who then forces the Chicago Beer Fest to change its format from UNLIMITED TO VOUCHERS. 12,000 craft beer lovers have now been SCREWED BY THE PROMOTERS OF THE AMERICAN BEER CLASSIC. Our fest, our tradition, and our good times have been RUINED by the childish antics and BS of Red Frog Events.

These accusations have been made by many others on their Facebook page and Red Frog Event's only reply has been:

"We’re impressed and inspired by Chicago Beer Festival and we want nothing but success for them, as well as all the other beer festivals in Illinois and other locations. The only conversations our representatives have had with licensing authorities are regarding licensing for our festival. We’re excited to have American Beer Classic come to life in May and provide festival goers access to hundreds of great brews from around the country, while showcasing the industry through a great experience."

Baloney! Do they think we're all idiots?! If what they're saying is true, and "the only conversations (their) representatives have had with licensing authorities (were) regarding licensing for (their) festival" then how did the IL Liquor Commission know about the Chicago Beer Fest serving unlimited samples 2 days before the event? Magic? Telepathy?

A more likely scenario is that Red Frog Events was pissed off they had to have vouchers and then tattled like babies. By the way, if you're going to throw a beer fest isn't having all your ducks in a row and knowing what the liquor laws are in the state you're throwing the fest in kind of important? The American Beer Classic was selling tickets for itself before the event was even squared away with the commission. They don't even bother to answer other people's questions in regards to how much beer fest-goers will be getting. The FAQ question: Will there be unlimited samples or vouchers at this event? Red Frog Events never bothered to post in their FAQ. In its place is a cryptic, confusing question that only makes sense after deep meditation in the mountains of Tibet. Why did they fail to answer this most important of questions for a beer-fest-goer? Only Red Frog Events knows. You certainly don't have people asking questions on the FAQ page for beer fests like the Great Taste of the Midwest. Then they decide to spill the beans about the Chicago Beer Fest 2 DAYS BEFORE THE EVENT? Wow. If they really wanted "nothing but success" for the Chicago Beer Fest then they would have kept their mouths shut and waited until next Mon. to make the call to check on their own event instead of dishing out a screw-job. With one phone call they've managed to upset 12,000 people, ruin a beer fest (and quite possibly their own), destroy their own reputation as a company (Red Frog Events), and give craft beer in The Windy City a black eye.

However,f you're an event company that is going to put on a beer fest then you need to have all your ducks in a row and know what the liquor laws are in the state you're throwing the fest in. The Chicago Beer Fest dropped the ball on that one. If they were giving away unlimited alcoholic beverages at no cost, they were illegally selling or distributing alcohol and could face permanent revocation of their license. It would only take 1 person out of the 12,000 or so people to get pulled over for a DUI and say that they left the fest and it would be shut down permanently, or, in a knee-jerk reaction from lawmakers, get beer festivals such as these outlawed all together.

MAYBE (and that's a BIG "maybe") Red Frog Events only accidentally tipped off the IL Liquor Commission. Or MAYBE they were protecting the organizers and promoters of these events, as well as the people that attend, and those who may otherwise be in harms way due to gross over-consumption of alcohol by a bunch of guys/gals who don't care about what they're drinking, just that they can drink as much as they want for free. But that doesn't excuse their childish antics of calling the IL Liquor Commission 2 DAYS BEFORE THE FEST to tattle. If other people's safety was such a concern for them, why wait until zero hour of the Chicago Beer Fest to say something? Furthermore, what's to stop any of the people planning on attending this American Beer Classic from purchasing more vouchers, drinking too much, and subsequently putting others in harm's way? What's to stop a guy who goes to the bar and buys a bunch of shots and then gets behind the wheel of a car? What's to stop someone at a house party from binge drinking Milwaukee's Best, stripping their clothes off, jumping the median, running out onto the highway, and becoming street pizza? Lets just bring Prohibition back and then we'll never have to worry about the safety of others in regards to alcohol consumption ever again (sarcasm). Also, neither The American Beer Classic nor Red Frog Events have issued any kind of statement confirming or denying all the accusations flying around except the cookie-cutter, robotic statement above. Their silence is deafening.

The number of vouchers (20 vouchers/1 voucher = 1 sample) offered in recompense was plenty for everyone. It came out to to about 5 full 12 oz. glasses of beer, and with the ABV of some of these brews being higher that's plenty of beer. If handled correctly Drink-Eat-Play probably could have salvaged the wreckage and not had as many refunds, however their statement was a slap in the face to ticket-holders (myself included) and as a result our anger came forth. Understandably so, in my opinion. If you've set your mind on unlimited samples, then get told that's not the case, and finally have to read an arrogant, "we-have-your-$$$-so-we-don't-care" statement, how would you feel? Gutted? Cheated? Taken advantage of? All of the above!

There are more entities involved to share the blame (the IL Liquor Commission for being a hard-ass enforcing outdated, ridiculous laws; the City of Chicago for not stepping up and defending its own entertainment and tourist industries; Drink-Eat-Play for not being prepared and informed whilst running the Chicago Beer Fest and handling the sucker punch dealt them poorly...to be an event company you gotta' be able to handle curve balls appropriately and do some damage control), but none of these parties are to blame as much as Red Frog Events and the American Beer Classic for swinging a stick at the hornets nest (IL Liquor Commission) and knocking the wasps down on top of everyone's picnic.

The craft beer community is supposed to be "all for one, and one for all". Not back-alley tactics that destroy the fun, tradition, and good times of thousands of people. I had planned on making this an annual tradition, but alas. One company (Red Frog Events & The American Beer Classic) has ruined it for another (Drink-Eat-Play & The Chicago Beer Fest).

A Craft-Beer Defending Chicagoan,

Ser Chris of House Hopkins

p.s. I still went to the Chicago Beer Fest even with the voucher system (Shorter lines! Unruly pourers! More beer for me?! I think so!). But the bullshittery of Red Frog Events I cannot abide. Oh, and I had maybe 4 check marks on my voucher card the whole time. Quick! Someone get on the phone with the IL Liquor Commission and tattle!

p.p.s. And what's a beer fest without unlimited pours anyway?! I mean, come the hell on Chicago & IL!

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