MAHOMET — Think a craft beer festival and family fun might not go hand-in-hand? Think again.
In fact, Saturday’s Mahomet Craft Beer Festival on Main Street involves youngsters early in the day as part of the barbeque contest associated with the third annual event’s festivities.
“This is definitely a family friendly event. Every year, we try to make it so that it is,” said Justin Taylor of JT Walker’s Restaurant & Brewery on Main Street. “Mahomet’s a family town. We had plenty of people out with the strollers last year. We’ve actually created more space for that. We’re expanding it all the way down the street this year.
“Every year, we’re trying to make adjustments. Last year, we were triple the size as we were the first year.”
Dozens of craft beer vendors are expected at the event, of course. Most bring two to four beers, Taylor said, for a total of 150 to 200 varieties to try. But attendees can also expect to find a taste of craft sodas, wine, vodka, ciders, various cuisines and the barbeque competition, which will kick off the day.
The festival itself is slated from 2 to 6 p.m., and it’s sponsored by J T Walker’s, Reynold’s Towing and Main Street Events. But the barbeque contest starts in the morning, with four categories: kids 8-14; chicken; ribs; and People’s Choice ribs. The first of the flavored delicacies are due to be turned in by noon and the last by 3 p.m. The public donates money to charity and then votes on their favorites.
Both trophies and cash payouts will be awarded for the top three in the People’s Choice category for the best prepared meats as chosen by the crowd.
“They kind of are finishing up as the beer festival is starting. We kind of have something layered throughout the whole day,” Taylor said.
In addition to numerous vendors pouring beverages and dishing out other goodies — from pizza to ice cream — there will be live music at the festival. Steve Meadows will play at JT Walker’s brewery from 4 to 6 p.m. Eric Burgett is slated to perform from 6 to 8 p.m. at Project 47, while Aquila will play from 8 to 11 p.m. at JT Walker’s restaurant. A late addition is New Souls of Champaign, poised to entertain from 2 to 4 p.m. in the brewery, Taylor said.
Taylor explained that attendees can buy 20 tickets for $25 and a sample glass to start with. This gets them tastings of 20 craft beers. Beyond 1,000 sample glasses handed out, organizers will go to plastic cups. He said a new commemorative glass is designed each year of the festival.
“This will be our third year. We’re pretty excited about it. We’ve kind of built it over the last couple of years,” Taylor said.
The festival is not just for the craft beer-tasting public but also to help boost small breweries.
“That’s what we’re really trying to do is help promote all those breweries too and give people a chance to try something they’ve never had before or didn’t know was there. Every year, we try to bring in new people,” Taylor said.
“We do have some stuff for people who aren’t super big into craft beer. So there’s going to be a variety of things for people to try,” he added. “We’re going to have a mix of anything and everything.
“It’s just a good atmosphere to hang out downtown. We’ve got music playing, so a lot of people showed up and just had their kids with them to listen to the bands,” Taylor said. “We want to make it a full day event for people to hang out.”
Why craft beer?
It was about nine years ago when laws started to change away from an expensive, complicated licensing process for craft breweries, according to Taylor.
“A lot of laws have changed. It’s given people the opportunity to open on a small scale and build from there,” said Taylor, who opened JT Walker’s Restaurant in 2008 after the village board ended Mahomet’s status as a dry town in 2007. He opened his brewery in 2013.
“We rely heavily on our regulars — people who live in Mahomet and come in here all the time, they’re kind of our lifeblood, but we are situated just off the interstate between Champaign and Bloomington (and) we do get a lot of out-of-town crowd,” he said.
JT Walker’s distributes kegs and 12-ounce cans from the Mahomet area and nearby Champaign-Urbana and Bloomington-Normal as far south as Effingham and as far east as Danville.