ON PAPER, ALE QUEST LOOKED LIKE A NO-BRAINER. Billed as the "nation’s first medieval-themed craft beer festival," event producer Global Scene Productions and nightlife publication Chicago Scene partnered with Schaumburg’s Medieval Times, a medieval-themed dinner and tournament, in an effort to both capitalize on the popularity of the multimillion dollarcraft beer industry and also attract the always enthusiastic Medieval Times audience.
"We loved having the chance to leverage the arena itself with craft beer enthusiasts," explains Chicago Scene partner Kenneth Monro.
While the enthusiasm was there, and it had looked as though Munro had dotted all the i’s and crossed all of the t’s, every good event planner knows even the best-laid plans don’t always adhere to the schedule.
On a chilly weekend in November in the suburbs of Chicago, the two-day event that should have been a slam dunk ended up falling short of previously set expectations. "The turnout was disappointing," Monro admits, echoing his event partner and Global Scene Productions founder Ted Widen. "It ended up that we didn’t reach the right people in the right way. Looking back, there were many times we could have thrown our hands up in the air and given up, but it got to the point that we would rather lose money than lose face."
So, as they say, the show went on.
Featuring a variety of timed, three-hour sampling sessions to choose from over the course of the weekend, Ale Quest attracted an array of local, national and international craft beer purveyors and the people who love drinking them. Packages ranged from $59 and $69 to $99 ticket options, which featured a variety of access points to the beer festival with optional add-ons for the Medieval Times dinner and tournament and exclusive photo opportunities.
"The uniqueness of Ale Quest most certainly gave us exposure to some new demographics different from those enthusiasts already trained to seek out or respond to craft beer-focused events," Monro says of one of the benefits. "We loved seeing 600-700 attendees on Saturday, but Friday’s attendance was much less than what we had expected."
The reasons behind the lackluster turnout for Ale Quest were many, according to Monro. From advertising promises that fell through to the eleventh-hour cancellation of a third day (Sunday) to a short lead time, Ale Quest found many mishaps throughout the planning process. And yes, first annual events are known to face their hiccups-but they also give planners the ability to learn from their mistakes.
Most notably, it gave Monro and his team a further opportunity to expand relationships with vendors including Lagunitas Brewing Company, Village Vintner Winery & Brewery and Chicago Home Brewers Group, as well as sponsors such as car service app Uber, which offered free rides for registered attendees, up to a value of $35. Those will undoubtedly come in handy for future like-minded Global Scene/Chicago Scene events they host such as the annual Highwood Craft Beer Festival and River North Craft Crawl and the recently debuted Windy City Craft Beer Festival at the Drake Hotel.
"We went into this with the intention of creating a unique experience instead of just another beer festival," explains Monro. "Partnering with Medieval Times was meant to heighten the value of the event. The fusion of the traditional craft beer festival and the Renaissance style of Medieval Times was so intriguing. Yet, anytime you engage with a privately owned company on their home court, you are going to inevitably deal with some limitations as to what they can and can’t do. All in all, it was another stake in the sand in the craft beer sector for us. So as far as that was concerned, we completed our mission."