I love Chicago Craft Beer Week. The fact that we all get to revel in American Craft Beer Week each year is already cool enough, but when you throw in all the incredible beer events of Chicago Craft Beer Week at the same time, it’s a true embarrassment of riches. In the last two years, I’ve made it to at least one awesome CCBW event during each celebration, like last year’s closing party at Revolution Brewing (it’s at the end of that post, scroll down), and as more and more breweries get on board and the event organization gets better, each year has more and more reasons to get excited.
Reason the first for this year’s third rendition of CCBW: It’s a “week” lasting 11 days. Now that’s my kind of week! You know that when they’ve got so many cool events to cram into a beer festival that 7 days isn’t enough, you’re probably looking at a surplus of opportunities to drink good beer.
As such, with more events being added to the master list daily, you need someone to wade through the big ‘ole list and cherry-pick the absolute coolest of the cool events. That man-boy is ME. So here we go, the coolest events of Chicago Craft Beer Week 2012, arranged in chronological order. Click on each venue in bold to go straight to the event page.
Thursday, May 17
Beer Under Glass: This one I’m including just because of its importance, but don’t plan on attending–it’s already sold out. For those who are not Chicago natives and don’t know, this is sort of the popular, yuppie-ish kickoff event of CCBW. If this a political campaign, it would be the “inaugural ball.” Folks sipping on local craft beer and sampling tapas and small plates from area restaurants at Garfield Park Conservatory. The kind of thing that I’m sure is a lovely time, but good luck getting tickets.
Bigby’s Pour House, “Craft Beer Week Kickoff Festival”: I am not going to ignore the suburbs in this post, let it be known. I’m here to highlight any opportunity to try good Chicago brews, and that should be pretty easy to do on the cheap at this western suburb bar, which is offering HALF OFF ALL TAPS (their emphasis) for the night. That’s enough to sell me! And with Yelp reviews like this, it doesn’t look like the need my help anyway. But mostly I included this one because unlike Beer Under Glass, it’s not going to be sold out.
Friday, May 18
Half Acre “Not at Brewery Party”: I love the name of this event. Guess where it is? It’s not at the brewery! Where is it? Nobody knows yet! But because Half Acre, perhaps my favorite Chicago brewery, is throwing it, I’m quite sure that it will be awesome. I will be very curious to see where this party will be hosted and what the theme of sorts will be.
The Bavarian Lodge, “Solemn Oath Brewery Launch Party”: Solemn Oath is a very intriguing new brewery based in the southwest suburb of Naperville, and information about them and their beers has been scarce. Partnering with The Bavarian Lodge, which is one of the very best beer bar/restaurants anywhere in the Chicago area, they will be pouring some of their first-ever beers for public consumption, in “American, Belgo-American, traditional wood-aged, and experimental styles.”
Saturday, May 19
Bridgeport Art Center, “Mash Tun Festival”: Several great events this afternoon, but the one that I’m most interested in is this beer festival run by perhaps my favorite Chicago beer bar, Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar, in celebration of the first issue of their new Chicago beer publication, Mash Tun: A Craft Beer Journal. The $40 ticket gets you “unlimited pours of flagship beers, 4 tickets for rare and specialty brews, a Maria’s tasting glass, a copy of the Mash Tun Journal as well as some snacks. Food trucks will be attending and vending.” To this, I say “YES,” because that is how you do beer-festing. I’m more interesting in something like this than the similar Craft Day Afternoon happening this afternoon, which is charging $60 and hasn’t announced any of what may be available. Announced breweries for the Mash Tun Festival include “Half Acre, Three Floyds, St. Feuillien, Dogfish Head, Stone, Founders, Lagunitas, 5 Rabbit, La Trappe, Pipeworks, Great Lakes and others.” So yeah, good hands, folks.
Haymarket Pub & Brewery, “Beerfly Alleyfight”: This is quickly becoming one of the signature events of CCBW as well. Essentially, this is the other side of the coin from the Mash Tun Festival—where that previous fest focuses on opportunities to try many different beers, this event focuses on the thought going into each selection. In this competition, a single homebrew is paired with a food dish, which is then paired with a piece of local art. Attendees vote to determine an overall winner. The location at Haymarket Pub & Brewery is a definite reason to consider attending.
Sunday, May 20
Farmhouse Tavern, “Macho Man 3Floyds Jolly Pumpkin”: Forget “best event of CCBW,” I am ready to preemptively award this idea BEST BEER EVENT OF ALL TIME. Quoting the site: “Last year on May 20th we lost a pillar of American Pop Culture, Randall Mario “Randy” Poffo also known as “The Macho Man” Randy Savage. There will be a minute of silence to honor “The Macho Man” followed by an “OOOOOHHHH YEAAAHHHHH!” that will shake the ground of River North! Video of his best moments will be looped on the Tele, and a complimentary SLIM JIM will be handed out to every guest and after the moment of Silence.”
Oh. My. God. Also, this event boasts 16 drafts from 3 Floyds and 10 drafts from Jolly Pumpkin. How do you beat this? The answer is that “you do not,” any more than other wrestler could best Randy Savage. Because HISTORY BECKONS THE MACHO MAN, OH YEAHHHHHHHHH!
Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar, “Discovering The Flavors of Beer”: There are so many opportunities not only to drink during CCBW, but to learn. At this event you’ll have an opportunity to sit down and speak with Dave Kahle, one of only four Master Cicerones on the planet Earth. Seriously, when else would you get these opportunities?
Monday, May 21
Fountainhead, “Perennial Artisan Ales and Half Acre Night”: Fountainhead is another one of the city’s very best beer bars, but I often feel like it isn’t known by quite as many people. It’s also notable for its intense whiskey focus and delectable “whiskey flights,” for people interested in that sort of thing. This event brings back former Half Acre brewer Phil Wymore, a very friendly and sociable guy who I met and interviewed when I visited his new St. Louis brewery, Perennial, on the day of their soft opening last fall. Come check out his new beers and a special collaboration with his former employer.
Tuesday, May 22
Fountainhead, “Local Cask Night”: We return to Fountainhead again for an event focused on cask-conditioned real ale! Described by the bar as their signature CCBW event, they describe it thusly: “We get casks from all our favorite local breweries & we line up across the bar. You order your beer & we pour it directly from the cask.” Sounds great, if you’re a passionate cask beer fan.
The Green Lady, “South of 80: A Celebration of Downstate Brewers”: I live south of I-80, in what is automatically referred to as “downstate” Illinois, so it is cool to see an entire event focused on spotlighting brewers who are situated south of Chicago proper. “Save the Craft” organizers, Guys Drinking Beer put this event together, and I commend them for taking some downstate beer up to Chicago for the event. Chicago drinkers, this could be a good chance to try quite a lot of stuff you’ve never even heard of before.
Wednesday, May 23
Acre, “Faux BAB”: This mini-festival is a play on words reference to the yearly Festival of Barrel-Aged Beers (FOBAB) put on by Illinois Craft Brewers Guild. Not too much to tell here, but it’s a pretty cool-looking, upscale bar (suitable for fedora-wear) and it will boast a good lineup of barrel-aged rarities from breweries like Goose Island, Lost Abbey, Jolly Pumpkin and Great Divide, for 25 barrel-aged offerings in all.
Thursday, May 24
“Division Street IPA Crawl”: Here’s a chance to visit three cool bars (Jerry’s Sandwiches, SmallBar Division, Bangers & Lace) located within half a mile of each other that will each be tapping local IPAs. By this time in the week you could probably use a walk. Or a stumble.
Timberlanes Bowling Alley: “Bowling with the Brewers”: Another premise that seriously, when else would you get to do this? CCBW has rented out all eight lanes of this small bowling alley for a night-ending bowl party from 10 p.m. onward. Go have fun and bowl with other beer geeks and whichever local brewers show up to close out the night. You know that some good craft beer will probably show up with them.
Friday, May 25
Revolution Brewing Kedzie Production Facility, “Grand Opening Party”: The grand opening party of the official production facility of former brewpub Revolution Brewing is officially the “closing party” of Chicago Craft Beer Week, even though events continue for two more days (why, I don’t know). It’s sure to be a good time, if last year’s closing party at the Revolution brewpub on Milwaukee Ave. was any indication. This will be the first time for most Chicago beer geeks to get a peek at the new facility that will be producing fantastic Revolution beers on a mass scale. I for one can’t wait to get cans of Anti-Hero IPA. This event is sold-out already, unsurprisingly, but check out the craaaazy list of 28 Revolution beers on tap.
Saturday, May 26
Whole Foods Market Lincoln Park, “CCBW Beer Brunch”: There is a similar event going on this morning over at Haymarket, but I choose to specialize this one because it features the beer/food pairings of a guy called Chef Won Kim, who I’ve been hearing more and more about lately. He seems to have a lot of connections to some of the area’s smaller brewers and homebrew collectives, and this seems like a very good opportunity to learn about some of the area’s most nano of nanobrewers.
ALL WEEK LONG
A few of these events will be happening on a daily basis, and I want to recognize them as well.
Maple Tree Inn, “A Little Slice of Heaven”: This goofy-looking, walrus-themed restaurant in the far south suburbs has a pretty darn impressive list of craft beer accolades. All throughout the week it is hosting its “A Little Slice of Heaven” event, showcasing barrel-aged beers, particularly those aged in Heaven Hill barrels. This includes many of the different Goose Island Bourbon County Stout variants, including BCS Coffee, BCS Vanilla, BCS Bramble Rye and others. And while I don’t choose to drink the Anheuser-owned Goose Island myself, they include so many other beers during the event like Founders KBS and Firestone Walker that I can’t resist letting people know about this event. Keep on rockin’, you walrus weirdos.
Nellcote, “Lambic and Pizza Pairing of the Day”: Sure, a few of the lambics in the pairings are fruity Lindeman’s offerings, but there’s a few others as well. And props for the weirdness inherent in deciding to pair lambics and pizzas.
As you can no doubt see, there are a dizzying array of possible events to attend. These are only the ones that capture my own imagination, when it comes to craft beer appreciation. I would encourage you to continue checking the Chicago Craft Beer Week master list of events for any that are added at the last minute and decide which of them appeal to your own interest in beer.
Regardless of what you choose, however, that ultimate takeaway can be nothing but the realization of what a golden age the Chicago craft beer scene is now entering. If you’re a beer fan in the city, you should feel privileged to live here at a time when you can enjoy such a grand array of choices. I hope to see you out there during Chicago Craft Beer Week, enjoying the opportunities!