"Joust" when you think there could not be another venue to host a new beer festival, along comes another. On the weekend of November 22 & 23, the Chicago Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament venue and Chicago Scene host "Ale Quest," proclaimed to be "the first and only Medieval Craft Beer Festival." (See what I did there?)
Being as I'm your pal, I'll answer the obvious question right away. No. It's very unlikely you'll find any replicas or beers as made in medieval times.* But there will be 20 to 30 brewers, local, national and international, plus a selection of homebrewers, sampling over 60 beers in two sessions, 8:30 to midnight (Saturday afternoon and Sunday sessions have been cancelled).
A basic "Jester's" ticket package at $34 gets you 20 three-ounce beer samples (extra sampling tickets can be bought on-site for $1 each). There's also the "Knight's" package ($59) which adds a regular Medieval Times dinner and tournament event, and the "Duke's" ticket ($69), which adds VIP seating, a commemorative program, "Knight's Cheering Banner," and a "Behind the Scenes" DVD. Tickets are available through Eventbrite.
There will also be a costume contest for those interested: awards will be given for the best group costume at the fest.
Ale Quest is presented by Global Scene Productions and Chicago Scene. Founder Ted Widen told me how the social event outfit he started in 1998 came to get involved with craft beer:
"We started doing New Year's Eve parties at the Drake Hotel in 2000, and this year will have one at the Hilton Hotel Chicago, each with thousands of people. But New Year's Eve only comes once a year, so I wanted to get into other events. I was doing Halloween parties and Valentines parties, but those come and go.
"I picked up on the craft beer industry about a year ago. A friend of mine’s brother-in-law owns Lagunitas Brewing (Tony Magee). I took a tour of their new building a while ago, and; wow! It’s the biggest open building I’d ever seen in my life, about 300,000 square feet. He’s the one who told me that 'if you want to do an event, you should jump on the craft beer industry.' Thanks to my friend, who unfortunately passed on a few days after showing me the brewery.
"The first beer event I did was the River North Craft Crawl about a year ago. Then we did the Highwood Craft Beer Festival in August, that was a huge success. So we’re looking to do craft beer festivals all over the place. We ended up taking to the people at Medieval Times and thought they’d be a great partner to do an event with. They have a huge venue that can get a whole lot of people."
Medieval Times has nine "castles" across the country, which have been running the same program successfully for 25 years. So Widen said accommodating this new event has been a challenge. "The local outlet has to work with corporate, which has to figure out how to get it in their ticketing system and put it on their web site.”
But for Chicago Scene, this represents a ground floor opportunity. “That’s their reason for doing this, for going through the headaches of making it work out properly so it can work corporately at their nine other locations. We would like to end up putting these events at each of these locations once or twice a year.”
Ale Quest's brewer list is still being firmed up, though their web site has announced the participation of Ale Syndicate, Goose Island, Two Brothers, Saugatuck, Lakefront, Leinenkugle’s, Crispin Cider, Baderbräu, Samuel Adams, and Magic Hat. Widen said not all the brewers wanted to man taps for all five sessions, so the actual lineup will switch around. But each session should still provide a chance to sample from the same number of beers.
One new component of the fest will be sampling by homebrewers, thanks to the Illinois law signed in July allowing home brewers to sample at private events. Widen had first planned to invite home brewers to pour at his next event, the Windy City Craft Beer Festival, coming next February to the Drake Hotel. “We are also going to have homebrewers at the Drake Hotel festival, and when they heard about Ale Quest, they said, ‘we want to do this even sooner.’ Looks like we’ll have 5 or 10 homebrewers at Ale Quest as well, bringing in all sorts of interesting concoctions.
Ale Quest takes place November 22 - 23 at Medieval Times, 2001 N. Roselle Rd., in Schaumburg.
*That's probably a good thing. One of the biggest internet repositories of beer recipes, Cats Meow, has as it's oldest historical recipes a 16th Century Scottish swig called "Cock Ale." The original recipe starts: "Take 10 gallons of ale and a large cock, the older the better; parboil the cock, flay him, and stamp him in a stone mortar until his bones are broken (you must gut him when you flay him)…"