Big Muddy Monster Brew Fest 2010

Big Muddy Monster Brew Fest 2010
Venues & Businesses
Big Muddy Monster Brew Fest

Who: Friends of Murphysboro
What: Big Muddy Monster Brew Festival
When: 2010-10-23
Big Muddy Monster Brew Fest 2010
T.J. Jones

Beer is the most popular beverage in the world, and nearly six-million gallons are produced annually in the United States alone. Locally, beer has had a storied history. The Stecher Brewing Company in Murphysboro produced more than forty-thousand barrels of beer annually in its heyday until Prohibition in 1919. Though others have tried since then, it wasn't until last year, when Chuck Stuhrenberg founded the microbrewery Big Muddy Brewing, that Southern Illinois, long-known for containing some fabulous wineries, was able to regain its brewing legacy. In addition to Stuhrenberg and organizer Brent Stewart, the Friends of Murphysboro will hold the first annual Big Muddy Monster Brew Fest on Saturday, October 23 at Riverside Park in Murphysboro.

With the event, which will hopefully usher in a new era of regional craft-beer appreciation, the Friends of Murphysboro have invited nearly thirty breweries and brewmasters to Riverside Park in a celebration of regional beer. Stewart says the Friends of Murphysboro used their successful annual Wine Fest as a model for the first annual beer festival, and had been thinking about a beer fest for a long time. They asked him to help organize the event. "They knew how much I liked beer— which is either a good reputation or a bad reputation, depending on how you look at it!" jokes Stewart.

With the Big Muddy Brew Fest, Stewart hopes that people will get exposed to many different kinds of beer that they'd usually never drink. "A lot of people, when they think of beer, they only know Bud Light or Miller Light or Keystone," says Stewart. "At times, those beers are great. You can definitely have fun times drinking those beers, but craft beers are more fresh and more varied, and that's what we're hoping people will take part in and get to expand their palate and learn more about beer and have a really good time doing it. Every time I go to beer fests, it's such a cool thing to try all these different kinds of beers that I've never had before because [a certain beer might] not be available in this area or I just hadn't had the opportunity to try."

Tickets are on sale for the event at ABC Liquors and Warehouse Liquors in Carbondale and Southern Illinois Liquors in Murphysboro. Each ticket for entry will allow participants to get twenty-five two-ounce samples of beer. After those tastings, extra tickets can be bought at the event for fifty cents apiece. In surrounding areas like Chicago or Saint Louis, a participant might pay $40 for such an event, yet the Big Muddy Monster Brew Fest only costs $20.

Stewart says the Big Muddy Brew Fest will be much more specialized than regional wine festivals. "Beer has become a big industry in the sense of craft beers, new and different beers, and there's such a variety that it's like wine. People take it really seriously. I've been to lots of beer fests, and it's more about the tastings than getting drunk or anything like that. It's a serious thing."

More than fifty varieties will be on hand in Riverside Park, from ales, stouts, and porters to wheat, Belgium, fruit, and even root beers. The event will also host a home-brewing contest. More than seventy entries have been sent in to Stewart and Stuhrenberg. Judges came from out of state the weekend before the festival to judge the entries, which were sent in both by local home brewers and from across the region. The winner will be announced during the festival.

The number of home-brewing entries completely surprised Stewart and Stuhrenberg. "We knew we wanted to have a home-brew competition as a part of the Brew Fest for the fun of it," says Stewart. "Chuck started out as a home brewer. A lot of these guys with microbreweries were doing it in their basements before they were doing it in tanks. We thought it would be a really cool part of the competition. We would have been happy if we had gotten ten entries! It has way surpassed our expectations."

Stuhrenberg started his regional microbrewery last year and first released Kinkaid Wheat, a light wheat beer (which is still more flavorful than many a full-flavored national brew), and also Saluki Dunkel Dog, a dark amber. Stuhrenberg is set to release a pale ale sometime in the near future, which he promises will be the microbrewery's strongest beer so far. By next year, Big Muddy Brewing plans to expand by five times the size, which Stuhrenberg says will invigorate the region's interest, and help the economy.

"People crave craft beer, just like they crave the [local] wines," says Stuhrenberg. "People like to support local business because they understand the economics of it. The money stays local and gets invested locally, instead of going to Walmart and China overnight— which has been going on for years. People wonder what's wrong with the economy. It's not that hard to figure out. This way, you know where your cash is going. It'll help out the [local] economy as more [local] breweries or home-based businesses open up, which is also good for the environment, because you're not shipping across the ocean or the United States. [The beer] is fresher too because it's not going through so many hands and warehouses."

But in the end, Sturhenberg and Stewart hope that the Big Muddy Brew Fest will continue the rich and historical communal aspect of beer. "When you're out with your friends, there's nothing better than sitting around and drinking a beer or going to a bar and sitting around a table and talking to each other and drinking a beer," Stewart says. "That's a good night. A lot of the best times of my life have centered around that situation. The old quote by Benjamin Franklin, which is oft-repeated, 'Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy'— a beer fest is a natural extension of [drinking beer with friends] and that community."

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who: Friends of Murphysboro

what: Big Muddy Monster Brew Festival

where: Murphysboro Riverside Park

when: Saturday, October 23