Twenty-five years ago, Scott Welch didn’t know anyone outside of his small home-brewing club who could name the difference between an IPA and a stout.
Much less, he only knew a handful of people who drank craft beer.
“There were like two books on homebrewing and there weren’t any YouTube videos because the Internet was just starting,” Welch, now the brewer at Geneseo Brewing Co., said. “Everyone was into the cheap and easy-drinking beer.”
That’s why the 51-year-old Moline native is so surprised, and impressed, by how far the craft beer scene has come.
For example, Geneseo, Illinois, which has a population of about 6,500 people, is home to two breweries: Welch’s workplace, which opened in August 2015 in the city’s downtown area, and Lionstone Brewing, which opened about a month later in a strip mall on the south end of the city.
“Sometimes it seems a little weird that we’re here,” he said. “I never thought there’d even be a craft brewery in the Quad-Cities and now there’s quite a few.”
For Welch, here’s the ultimate sign that times have changed for craft beer: his brewery is one of 35 establishments participating in Brewed Live, a new festival coming to the Quad-Cities this weekend.
“There are so many different options now and people wanting to try them out … it goes on and on,” he said. “It’s a good time to like beer.”
Along with Quad-City-based participants such as Bent River Brewery Co., Great River Brewery and Front Street Brewery, fest-goers can get samples from spots such as Omission Beer of Portland, Oregon, Kona Brewing Co. of Kailua, Hawaii, Breckenridge Brewery of Littleton, Colorado, Schlafly Beer Brands of St. Louis, Missouri and Big Muddy Brewing Co. of Murphysboro, Illinois.
Ross Vehmeier, co-owner of Lena Brewing Company, 9416 Wagner Road, Lena, Illinois, said Brewed Live is a good opportunity to get the word out about his brewery, which is about 90 miles from the metro Quad-Cities.
“Brew fests have become popular because craft beer has become so popular,” Vehmeier said. “If you don’t know a lot about beer, it’s a chance to talk directly to brewers about what each style tastes like.”
Since opening in January 2015, Vehmeier and his team have attended 30-40 fests and tastings per year. He said Brewed Live, where he’s teaching a session about grains, yeasts and hops, is shaping up to be different than other beer-related events.
“This brew fest is unlike anything we’ve done before; it’s not just a free-for-all of samples,” he said. “You can get more dialogue about how beer is made. The key for us is to continue educating our customers about what craft is, why it’s different and what separates us from other breweries.”
While craft beer has become more mainstream over the years, Vehmeier said he still pushes plenty of customers to go outside their domestic beer-loving comfort zones.
“People still ask us if we have something like a Blue Moon and we say that we don’t because that’s a commercialized style,” he said. “Our beer takes a stance in whatever style it is, from wheat beers to stouts. We take style guidelines and push the threshold.”
After attending a festival like Brewed Live, Vehmeier and Welch hope beer-drinkers are more motivated to seek out their breweries.
“It’s a stepping stone to figure out what your palate is like,” Vehmeier said. “And then you can keep exploring.”
That kind of exploring has had a positive impact in Geneseo over the past two years, said city administrator Lisa Kotter.
“A lot of people see those two breweries as a destination place on top of the other things to do in our downtown area,” Kotter said. “Both are very busy on a regular basis and offer different atmospheres. It brings more people from all over, including the Quad-Cities, here.”
Now, the challenge is on brewers such as Welch to keep the craft beer craze going.
“Once you start drinking craft beer, you want to keep trying different recipes,” he said. “I look at it like, ‘Do you want to eat cheese pizza everyday?’ Probably not.”