Screw City back next week for 7th year

By Nick Ostdick

ROCKFORD — The 7th Annual Screw City Beer Festival will provide an intimate setting for craft beer lovers and brewers to unite in their shared passion Saturday, Sept. 9 between Main and Wyman streets downtown.

The festival will take place from 1-5:30 p.m. and feature more than 50 local, regional and national craft breweries pouring more than 130 unique craft beers. About 2500 tickets were offered primarily online for this year’s festival, which sold out in roughly 35 minutes; this year’s VIP tickets were sold on-site only at Artale Wine Co.

Founded in 2011 in collaboration between former owner Kryptonite owner Chris Wachowiak and current Artale beer director/buyer Aaron Sleger, Screw City Beer Festival has experienced continued growth and interest from craft beer enthusiasts on a local and regional level. In the festival’s first year, only about 25 breweries were in attendance with just under 1,500 tickets available for purchase. Sleger attributes some of the festival’s recent boom in popularity and demand to not only a good sense of timing, but also to how Screw City places an emphasis on bringing brewers and beer drinkers together.

“We started at a time when there wasn’t a beer festival in every town every weekend,” Sleger said. “But there’s also an attention to detail that has helped propel us. Anyone who pours beer at this festival is somehow directly related to the brewery. We don’t do volunteer pouring or proxy-pouring. There’s value for our attendees in talking with somehow who understands how a beer was made, why it was made, and what makes it unique.”

In addition, Sleger also believes part of what draws people to the festival, especially on a local level, is its connection the downtown area. Though the festival originally started at the corner of State and Main in part due to the proximity to Kryptonite, the festival has embraced and helped champion the revival of the downtown core during the last several years, as well as ties to Rockford’s rich manufacturing history.

“We always wanted Screw City to have some kind of Rockford identity,” Sleger explained. “That’s why we named it Screw City. A lot of people still don’t really understand what that means. It’s not that Rockford sucks or that it’s trying to screw people or anything. It’s more about more about our history, how we were once known as the screw capital of the world. That’s pretty unique.”

This year’s festival looks to build on that unique history by expanding and tweaking its original layout. While last year the festival fanned out into a cross-like shape from the corner of State Main, this year the festival will move a few blocks north and be housed exclusively in two municipal parking lots between Main and Wyman. The move will in part allow for a more efficient use of space given new retail and residential developments at the corner of State and Main, but it will also give brewers and attendees a slightly bigger stage to interact.

“Most people think this new space is smaller,” Sleger explained. “But we’ve actually gained space. People see these parking lots when they’re full of cars, but we’re going to have more than enough space to accommodate all the brewers, attendees, food vendors, and more.”

Sleger admits some Screw City attendees expressed initial reservations about the move, and that the festival has had its share of logistical challenges during its seven-year run. But he also says reaction from past attendees has been overwhelmingly positive, which is what drives him to continue working on the festival each year.

“As long as people walk out happy about the time they spent waiting in line, buying tickets, and attending the festival, that’s all I want,” Sleger said. “As long as people leave feeling like this was worth it, that’s all I can want.”

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