Sample Craft Brews at Inaugural Belleville Ale Fest Saturday

Belleville, Illinois, is jumping on the craft-beer bandwagon. The small city to the east of the big river is hosting its inaugural craft-beer festival this Saturday, April 20, from noon to 4 p.m at the Belleville Crossing shopping center.

Gut Check spoke with John Lengerman, the executive director of the Belleville Chamber of Commerce to get details about the inaugural Belleville Ale Fest.

"This is our first rodeo," Lengerman says. "We have experienced a number of craft beers on the St. Louis side, but we really felt that with the explosion of craft beer in the area, we should celebrate it here in Belleville."

The festival will feature more than 80 unique beers from craft breweries all over the country.

"We went to some of our local distributors, Koerner, Gray Eagle and Robert 'Chick' Fritz, and we asked them what their craft beers are," Lengerman says. "We really wanted to focus on craft beers and not large production."

The brewery list includes some local favorites like Perennial, Schlafly, 4 Hands, Six Row and Urban Chestnut, as well as nearby breweries Crown Valley Brewing & Distilling Co. in Coffman; Charleville Brewing Co. in Ste. Genevieve; Big Muddy in Murphysboro, Illinois; and O'Fallon Brewery in St. Charles.

"We have three distributors on our chamber who sell craft beer," Lengerman says. "We thought we should step up and make something happen in Belleville."

Belleville has a long and storied history with beer. It was the site of Illinois' first brewery in 1832, and the German immigrants who poured into Belleville in the 19th century continued to bring their tradition of brewing with them. Prohibition essentially ended Belleville's successful run as a beer producer. Several breweries opened back up in the 1930s, but none was able to establish themselves like Anheuser-Busch across the river.

The Belleville Chamber has two local restaurants lined up to provide grub for the drinkers: Roy-el Catering and Crehan's Irish Pub. There will also be soda for those who purchase "designated driver" tickets.

Tickets are $25 general admission and $10 for designated drivers. The general-admission ticket includes a commemorative festival pint glass and fifteen drink tickets, each of which can be exchanged for a three-ounce sample. Additional samples will be available at the event for 50 centes per ticket. Designated driver ticket-holders will also get a commemorative pint glass, but those can only be filled with soda.

Proceeds from the Belleville Ale Fest will benefit the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce to support community advancement.

A toast to Belleville!