Craft Beer Scene Around Rockford: A look back at Great Taste and The Local, and a look ahead to Screw City

By Michael Sears
President, Forest City Brewers

Greetings, fellow beer geeks!

So, how did we get to mid-August so fast? I blinked, and here we are. Suddenly, the county fairs are happening, the back-to-school sales are in full force, and I noticed the other day while on a beer run to the store that the breweries are releasing their Okoberfest beers. Sheesh … when you are enjoying yourself, time really does pass quickly.

As for enjoying yourself, being a craft-beer geek/enthusiast, this time of year is a cornucopia (pun intended) of beer bliss. First, let me start with a couple of beer events I attended over the past couple of weekends.

Aug. 9, our club took a bus trip beyond the Cheddar Curtain to Madison, Wisconsin, for one of the premier beer festivals in the entire U.S. — Great Taste of the Midwest in Olin Park, on beautiful Lake Monona. This was the 28th annual version, hosted by the Madison homebrew club, Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild. Originally starting out as a small local event, it has steadily grown to 5,000 attendees and 170 breweries bringing in more than 600 beers, of which 60 were cask-conditioned real ales.

A few years back, a writer for a beer periodical compared getting tickets to Great Taste to tickets for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in difficulty to obtain. Space limits me, but the beers that really caught my attention and that I can remember were: Dark Horse’s Plead the 5th Burbon Barrel-aged Imperial Stout, Emmett’s Red Ale, Flossmoor Station’s Pullman Brown, Founder’s Dirty Bastard, New Glarus Staghorn Oktoberfest, Pig Mind’s Joe Daddy coffee Stout, Sun King’s Fistfull of Hops, Surley’s Darkness, 3 Floyd’s Zombie Dust, and Tyranena’s Sheep Shagger Scotch Ale. Needless to say, it was a great day.

This past Saturday evening, I attended Burpee Museum of Natural History’s inaugural summer fund-raising event, The Local. Unlike the behemoth that Great Taste is, this is a more intimate gathering of approximately 350 people at the museum in Rockford. The focus is pairing food and desserts from local restaurants with local breweries and wineries, hence the name. The breweries were Carlyle’s, paired with The Sweetery; Pig Minds, paired with Five Forks; and Rockford Brewing Co., paired with Vintage @ 501. The wineries were Famous Fossil, paired with Mary’s Market; and Hailey’s, paired with Garrett’s.

The evening was perfect weather-wise, along with the food and drink. Patrons sampled the beer/wine food pairings in the museum gardens on the river and voted for their favorite. Also, silent auctions were held to help raise funds for the museum. The highlight of the evening for myself was Carlyle’s Black Walnut Stout … mmmmm.

Along with the many Oktoberfests coming up, I want to remind you of the upcoming local beer festival, Screw City Beer Festival, set for Saturday, Sept. 6, in downtown Rockford. Breweries and beers are being finalized, but one tent you must stop by is the Forest City Brewers. This marks the return of the club pouring our very own handcrafted beers to the public. Some of you may remember we were at the inaugural event, but because of archaic Illinois liquor laws, we had to bow out the last two years. But we are back, and will have nine different beers on tap for your enjoyment. Stop by and say hi, as I will be at the tent most of the day, unless I’m hunting down a special beer.


Michael Sears is the president of the Forest City Brewers. The Forest City Brewers is a home-brewing club dedicated to the art of finely-crafted beer. The club meets on the first Wednesday of each month at Thunder Bay Grille on East State Street. For more about Forest City Brewers, go to If you have comments or recommendations, please contact Mike at

From the Aug. 20-26, 2014, issue

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