Tina Veal was looking for an agricultural-related venue that focused on local produce and, if possible, was somehow related to University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.
In short, she had a tall order for something that seemed to have a small niche. Veal, who is the director of alumni relations for the college, needed the venue for an alumni event that introduced the new dean, Kim Kidwell, to alumni and friends of the Urbana college. As an agricultural institution, they’re constantly looking for places that align with their values and mission.
Veal found that venue in DESTIHL Brewery—a brewery with locations in both Normal and Champaign. Not only was it located in their area and used local products as much as possible, but its CEO, Matt Potts, earned his bachelor’s degree from the college in 1991.
It was a perfect fit, and Veal made no hesitation in booking the brewery. The alumni event ended up being one of the first events at the brewery’s new 3,500-square-foot event space, the Barrel Room, which opened in late 2017 and can accommodate up to 216 guests. The brewery itself has been producing beer since 2007.
“We typically host events that are related to agriculture, and the growing craft brewery industry [has] become a part of agritourism,” says Veal. “This was an opportunity for the college to showcase a successful alum, tour a new facility in the McLean County area and have alumni hear from Matt in regards to his career path and success.”
Craft Beer Boom
In recent years, the craft brew industry has exploded. According to the Brewers Association, there are now more than 6,000 craft breweries across the country. Illinois has more than 200 and, in the last five years, according to the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild, breweries in Illinois have grown by more than 350 percent.
“Breweries offer new space to hold events,” says Joseph Tota, CEO of Red Arrow Tap Room in Elmhurst. “Many new entrants in craft beer enable more choice.”
Erin Jason, business development coordinator for the City of Elmhurst, planned the annual Commercial Real Estate Professional Forum for about 75 guests at the local Red Arrow Tap Room. The event included an hour presentation and networking before and after the event. Attendees received $15 beer cards and grazed on an app buffet throughout the forum.
For this annual event, Jason seeks out unique and interactive venues with an engaging atmosphere. Red Arrow has a pour-yourown tap wall (the first in the Chicagoland area) that allows guests to select and pour their own drinks. This aspect in particular was something attendees of this event enjoyed. Aside from giving guests a sense of independence with their drinking, the wall encouraged networking and talking by giving them a natural conversation starter that focused on something nearly everyone enjoys: beer.
“I believe breweries and craft beer havens such as Red Arrow provide a natural warmth and pride of ownership that resonates with their staff, which in turn makes everyone feel like a welcome guest in their home,” says Jason. “Aesthetics vary from place to place, but that core pride in their product is a central theme.”
Jason notes another plus of hosting events at a brewery is having no limit on what you can host—everything from holiday parties to birthdays to corporate events can fit well at breweries. The only rule is understanding your guests and thinking about whether they’ll be comfortable in the interactive atmosphere.
“The key is knowing your audience,” says Jason. “Are the hosts and guests open to go on this out-of-the box journey with you, and is the venue itself capable of holding the event without causing too much disruption to their regular consumers?”
That uniqueness, says Steph Aksland, event planner at Revolution Brewing in Chicago, has contributed to the growth of craft breweries not only in Illinois, but the country as a whole. Revolution opened in 2010 and began hosting events in 2011. At the time, they were one of the only breweries in the area to also serve as a venue. Now, with more than 200 breweries in Illinois, that is no longer the case.
“We’re seeing more and more breweries adding [events] to their retail operations to accommodate that growing demand,” says Aksland, who attributes the growth of breweries to both the heightened interest in craft beer itself and the public’s focus on supporting local and independent businesses.
Tota of Red Arrow echoes Aksland’s view on the public’s increased interest in spending their money locally. “There’s a movement towards locally sourced and brewed beer,” he says.
Sarah Deeke, owner of event planning company Cheers! Chicago, worked on a wedding at Revolution Brewing alongside Aksland. She recommends planners looking to host events at breweries should learn to lean on their onsite support. They provide invaluable insight into venues you might not be familiar with.
“Utilize your brewery contact,” says Deeke “When planning an event at a nontraditional venue like a brewery, it’s important to use your contact’s knowledge of the space for everything from creating the most effective floor plan to the best spots for photos.”
Today’s guests clamor for events that create awe and experiences that they’ll remember forever. They also want to eat well and drink even better. These factors, says Deeke, also con - tribute to the popularity of breweries as venues. They perfectly marry the desire to be blown away with the necessity of eating food that tastes good and drinks you can’t get anywhere else.
“When it comes to their planning events, my clients usually rank great food and drink high on their priorities list,” says Deeke.
While it’s clear that breweries in Illinois—and the United States itself—have grown expo - nentially in recent years, it shouldn’t come as a shock. In various forms, beer has been a drink of choice for centuries—everyone from the Ancient Egyptians and Pilgrims to the Greeks and English royalty has served some sort of ale at their meals, gatherings and monumental events. It’s been something that’s united people for thousands and thousands of years. That’s not about to stop now.
“Beer has been bringing people together since the beginning of time,” says Ariel Ameday, marketing and events manager of DESTIHL. “What’s better than a gathering of friends and a cold craft beer in your hand?”
Wineries Can be Venues, Too!
According to Enjoy Illinois, the state has more than 100 wineries, including almost 40 on the Northern Illinois Wine Trail. While that doesn’t compare to California’s over 4,000, it’s still nothing to scoff at for a state that’s smackdab in the middle of the country and known for its brutal winters. We rounded up a number of different wineries to consider for your next event.
Location: Maple Park
Fun Fact: The winery is located on a 40-acre estate and has its roots steeped in Bari, Italy, where the owner’s grandfather opened a small vineyard in the late 19th century.
Location: Alto Pass plus a tasting room in Champaign
Fun Fact: Alto Vineyards is one of Illinois’ oldest wineries and has won more than 500 awards.
Location: West Loop Chicago plus a bar and restaurant on the Riverwalk
Fun Fact: City Winery produces nearly 100,000 bottles of wine annually.
Capacity: 400 guests
Fun Fact: Craig Wear, co-owner with his wife, conceived of the winery during pharmacy school in Southeast Australia. He wasn’t a huge fan of wine, but seven years later, he found himself opening the 63-acre Lake Hill Winery in 2010.
Capacity: 300-plus guests
Fun Fact: The 15-year-old, 86-acre winery produces more than 20 wines. From its tasting room, you have a 30-mile view of the valley and farms in the area.