Chicago's Beer Festivals Are In A Fight

Ticket holders fume over loss of all-you-can-drink promotion

Beer festivals are supposed to be fun, but it didn't take much time for drama to brew up between a pair of competing festivals in the Windy City.

The Chicago Beer Festival, a two-year-old festival held in Chicago's Union Station and organized by a California-based marketing company, had advertised "unlimited sampling" for $40, with food sold separately. But it turned out that offer is illegal in Chicago, which has a Happy Hour Law that prohibits the serving of an unlimited number of drinks during a set period of time, except at private events. The State Liquor Commission found out about the festival's promotion and informed the organizers that their promotion was not legal.

The festival was forced to notify ticket holders that it was not going to be an all-you-can-drink event after all. Under the new system, the $40 ticket would come with 20 drink vouchers, with each voucher being worth a 3-ounce sample. The 20 samples equal 60 ounces of beer, or five full-sized beers. Another 20 vouchers could be purchased for $15. Anyone unhappy with the new system could ask for a refund.

Five full-sized beers is a fair amount to drink in a few hours, but some of the ticket holders wanted their all-you-can-drink special and responded by frothing up into a foaming head of rage.

In true Chicago style, the Chicago Beer Festival put the blame on a dirty, rotten stool pigeon who'd ratted them out to the authorities, or, you know, a competing beer festival.

"Yeah, we get it you're disappointed," read an announcement on the event's now-deleted Facebook page. "A competing beer festival called the liquor board complaining that our event offered unlimited beers their's wasn't able to. So the liquor commission told us we had to change our policy for the event to be conducted legally."

Chicagoist noted that the only other beer festival of comparable size was the American Beer Classic, a first-year festival to be held at Soldier Field in May. But organizers there say they had nothing to do with the Chicago Beer Festival being caught by the liquor commission.


"We’re impressed with Chicago Beer Festival and want nothing but success for them and all the beer festivals in Illinois and other locations," said Lauren Shield of Red Dog Events, the organizers of the American Beer Classic to Chicagoist. "The only conversations our representatives have had with licensing authorities are regarding licensing for our festival."