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CHAMPAIGN — Illini beer drinkers, time to get your craft on.
Now serving cans from local and alumni-founded breweries during Illinois men’s basketball games: the “Beer Cave” outside sections 127 and 128 at State Farm Center.
In the center’s Orange Krush Club, on the north end’s lower concourse, fans can buy signature drinks from Riggs, Triptych, Destihl, Blind Pig and Revolution breweries.
“We have had craft beers available, but not in a themed, targeted space like this,” said arena director John Marquardt. “It’s an exciting opportunity, and we think fans will enjoy it.”
The Beer Cave debuted Friday as Illinois hosted Michigan State. More than 400 cans from Riggs Beer Co. were sold that day, according to food-service provider Oak View Group.
“The Beer Cave is another step in the direction of bringing local beer to the mainstream at sporting events,” said Matt Riggs, co-founder of Riggs Beer Co. “This is a trend that’s already happening nationwide, and we’re now catching up-to-speed.”
Illinois sporting events first began selling alcoholic beverages in fall 2019. But craft beer wasn’t available at general concessions until the 2022-’23 football season, months after Oak View Group bought Illinois athletics’ previous food-service provider, Spectra.
After the football season, “it was a no-brainer to keep the local flavors involved with our beer selection,” Oak View General Manager Chris Thomas said. “I do expect the Beer Cave to be open for other events, like concerts, or hopefully other Illini sports as they continue to grow in attendance.”
Fans can still grab local craft beers from multiple concession stands in the arena; the Beer Cave will offer a wider, rotating selection of products.
“The go-tos are Bud Light and (Michelob) Ultra. Always will be,” Thomas said. “But people, like myself, like to support local businesses. Bringing in craft has eaten a little bit into the domestic brands’ margins, but they are beating expectations.”
“We’d love to see beer in general — more specifically, locally made beer — become mainstream at every occasion where beer belongs, and I think most Americans now agree that that’s a lot of big sporting events and concerts,” Riggs said.