Yaga’s Chili Quest & Beer Fest in Galveston

Early in our 3-week week stay in Alvin, TX, we were told about the Chili and Beer Festival in Galveston, TX. Since that’s only 30-45 minutes away, we decided we were definitely going. Plus, how do you turn down an invitation to enjoy both beer and chili at the same time? Yeah, we couldn’t think of a reason either.

So on a misty, then sunny, then cloudy, then foggy Texas Saturday, we headed over to Galveston to see what Yaga’s Chili Quest & Beer Fest had to offer.

The Strand Historic District

The street fest is centered at the corner of 23rd St and Strand St, right in the heart of Galveston’s historic Strand district. First, let’s talk about The Strand. It’s the 36-block historic district of Galveston, bounded on the north by Harborside, on the south by Post Office St, on the west by Rosenberg/25th St, and on the east by 20th St.

In and around The Strand, you’ll find all kinds of dining, shopping, bars, and museums. After we had our fill of chili, we walked around most of the area and found ourselves in several cool little shops. We didn’t actually buy anything because we have nowhere to put more stuff, but we did enjoy browsing (well…we did pick up a postcard but that hardly counts!). The costume shop was particularly cool with a front window that had a display with a wolf dressed up in Mardi Gras attire, beads and all!

Just outside of The Strand, you’ll find Galveston’s beaches and quite a few museums. There are the 3 pyramids at Moody Gardens: the Aquarium Pyramid, the Rainforest Pyramid, and the Discovery Pyramid. Then you have a railway museum, Seaport museum, and Mardi Gras museum, plus old Victorian mansions that have been turned into museums, like Ashton’s Villa and The Bishop’s Palace.

I could go on and on, but to put it simply, you could spend days and days in Galveston and not run out of things to do. You can even just enjoy walking around and taking in the old Victorian architecture, some of which has been amazingly restored and some of which hasn’t (or is currently under restoration).

Yaga’s Chili Quest & Beer Fest

Alright, so with The Strand and Galveston as a whole out of the way, let’s talk about the important stuff: chili and beer. The festival is 3 blocks full of chili, beer, handmade crafts, and music. For $10, you get a wristband, a chili sample cup, and a spoon. Then you just walk up and down the street, stopping and eating chili whenever you find something that looks interesting, which is about every 6 feet.

We arrived a little late, so a good third of the booths were already out of chili, which meant we only had the opportunity to sample about 30 different kinds. I know, I know, a travesty, for sure.

The Chili

So let’s talk about the chili. To me, chili is synonymous with Texas. Barbeque too, but this isn’t about barbeque. If you’re a chili lover (or even a chili liker), you’ll find more than enough to tickle your taste buds here. We don’t remember all of the names of the teams competing, but here’s a sampling of the more memorable:

  • Mike’s Game Day Chili (one of our faves)
  • Team Foos
  • Chili Belle’s
  • Hillbilly Chili
  • Mystery Meat
  • F Bomb Chili Crew
  • The Church of the Sacred Gumbo (complete with a guy dressed as the Pope…sort of)

There were far more booths, but there’s no way we can remember them all. We do, however, remember a lot of the different kinds of chili we had. Obviously, there were your regular meat & bean chilis – some hot, some mild, and one that the chefs claimed was hot that was about as spicy as a can of tomato sauce (and nearly as flavorful too).

Then there were the wild game chilis, including numerous kinds of deer chili, elk chili, and an interesting white chili made with seafood. There was the “it’s all in there chili,” made with beef, shrimp, crawfish, gator, pork, oysters, and at least one other type of meat.

There was even a booth with gumbo. We’re not real sure how that qualifies as chili and unfortunately, they were out, so we didn’t get a chance to try it, but they did have a guy dressed as a cross between the Pope and a shaman.

There were thick chilis and thin chilis and in-between chilis. Some had alcohol, some didn’t. One of our favorites was a Tex-Mex style red chili that had a rich, smoky chipotle flavor. There was even a Hawaiian style chili, though it didn’t do much for us. If you can’t find a chili or five that you like, you probably don’t really like chili.

The Beer

So we’ve covered the chili, now onto the beer. While there were booths selling your basic beers like Budweiser, the main beer attraction was the Craft Beer Tent. Inside were plenty of places to sit and enjoy your local craft beers, plus two long lines leading to a cash bar (yes, no need to get drink tickets!). The craft beer tent featured numerous offerings from local (and 4 non-local) brewers for sale by the bottle or draft, along with some free samples:

  • Buffalo Bayou from Houston, TX
  • Cornel’s Brewing Co from Beaumont, TX
  • Karbach Brewing Co from Houston, TX
  • No Label Brewing Co from Katy, TX
  • Rahr & Sons Brewing Co from Fort Worth, TX
  • Saint Arnold Brewing Co from Houston, TX
  • Southern Star Brewery from Conroe, TX

The non-local brewers were:

  • New Belgium Brewing Co from Fort Collins, CO
  • Rogue Brewery from Newport, OR
  • Sierra Nevada Brewing Co from Chico, CA
  • Shock Top and ZiegenBock, both by Anheuser-Busch

Scott went with the Bourbon Barrel Aged Winter Warmer from Rahr & Sons and was quite pleased with that choice. Having tried it out of a bottle elsewhere, he can also say that Saint Arnold makes great beer.

There was also a single tent that we saw serving liquor. It was small, perhaps 8′ x 8′ and you had to drink your shot before you stepped back out. But nonetheless, they had a smattering of fancy shots, along with plain ol’ bourbon and vodka. Well, actually they said they had bourbon, but really they had Crown Royal, which is a Canadian Whiskey. And not a very good one at that.

The Music

What street fair is complete without some music? Next to the Craft Beer Tent was a stage with a live band. While we were in the area, it was a country band that was definitely getting the job done. Up and down the streets, there was plenty of other music.

A radio station truck was in the center of the area blasting modern pop like Rihanna and Katy Perry. There was a booth with a random smattering of old rap (like EPMD), pop (we heard some Prince), and modern blues. And the Hillbilly Chili crew had their own music setup with popular country playing.

The Contests

Like any good street fair though, Chili Quest doesn’t only feature chili and beer. There are also games for all-comers. There’s a Washers Pitching Tournament, which is similar to Cornhole, but entails tossing large washers onto a 16″ x 16″ board with a cup in the middle.

There was a margarita making contest. And there was a Jalapeno Eating Contest because what says “I’m a man” more than eating hot peppers for the grand prize of “Trophy, Bragging Rights & 1 roll of Aloe TP”? The winner surely needs that roll of soothing aloe toilet paper.

The Pictures

Anyway, enough yammering. If you find yourself near Galveston in late January 2013, go to the Chili and Beer Festival. It’s tons of fun.