The past year has definitely been a roller coaster for me, but there have been nothing but highs when it comes to my experiences in the world of craft beer. Below is the third and final batch of my personal highlights in no particular order. Thanks to all of my new friends and followers that made 2013 a truly unforgettable year. If you missed them, here are links to Part 1 and Part 2.
Stone tap takeovers were downright “epic” – With a storied history of craft beer domination over the past 15+ years, Stone and its in-your-face, hopped up beers are about as reliable as they come. It’s also released countless one-offs that have truly exhibited its brewers’ imagination and skill. Rarely do you see these special release beers on tap in the Chicagoland area, let alone more than one at a time. That all changed in 2013. World of Beer-Naperville’s “Stonehenge” featured about 20 different Stone beers, with the majority of them being older, hard-to-find releases. A few months later, Tribes Alehouse’s “Stone Vertical Epic Series Event” offered guests Vertical Epics from 2003-2012 and a host of other coveted Stone beers. Hopefully this trend continues in 2014. An honorable mention also goes to Stone for its horde of tasty collaboration releases and continued brilliance with the Enjoy By Series.
I survived FOBAB – With a name like “Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer (FOBAB)”, you know going in that you’re about to embark on an amazing day that you probably won’t remember tomorrow. My first FOBAB was a blurry whirlwind of finally trying beers I’ve only dreamed about and discovering remarkable beers I hadn’t known of. Between the main hall and sour room, it felt like I had walked a marathon, navigating the festival floor in an effort to try as many beers as possible. Needless to say, the multitude of water coolers played a huge role in my enjoyment of the day.
Wirtz brought Deschutes, Ballast Point and Greenbush to Chicago – On the heels of my previous highlight of Maine Beer Co. and Surly hitting local shelves is Wirtz Beverage Illinois bringing three knockout breweries to the Windy City. Each at different stages of their histories, Deschutes, Ballast Point and Greenbush also carry with them diverse flavor profiles representative of their regions (Northwest, SoCal and Midwest, respectively). And we’re lucky enough to see them every time we head to the bottle shop.
The Chicagoland brewery roster expanded…a lot – It’s no secret that, over the past year or two, new breweries are popping up left and right in our area (and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future). Off the top of my head, the following joined the scene in 2013…Ale Syndicate, SlapShot, Temperance, Une Année, 18th Street, Big Shoulders, Buckledown, Chain O’ Lakes, DryHop, Burn ’Em Brewing, Transient Artisan Ales, Flesk, Hopvine, Horse Thief Hollow, Indiana City, Lake Effect, Light the Lamp, Nevin’s, Off Color, Only Child, Small Town, Ten Ninety and Urban Legend. There are plenty that I missed, but you get the point. I’m willing to bet the list for 2014 will be even longer.
I honed my hunting skills on Goose Island’s Black Friday – Trust me, I’m the last person you’d expect to see at the crack of dawn braving the crowds, traffic and hoopla over Black Friday sales. However, when it comes to securing a few bottles of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout and its variants, count me in. While hitting up a handful of west suburban shops, my hunting instincts became stronger and stronger, and I ended up bagging a decent collection. I also quickly realized how much classier and reserved the shoppers were for beer vs. the half-wits you see at Wal-Mart trampling and punching each other over a $3 DVD of Battleship.
I learned the beauty of bottle shares – Sharing my beers with a few friends has never been a foreign practice for me. However, sharing a couple of my most prized bottles with complete strangers never really crossed my mind. After attending a couple of bottle shares, I’m now a full-fledged supporter. Not only did I get to try countless beers from my personal wishlist and learn more about them, I’ve been able to meet handfuls of people who share my passion for great craft beer. The initial sting of losing the majority of my bottles to strangers quickly faded when I realized how much more I was getting in return.
I made Michigan my unofficial holiday weekend destination – With a family cabin in southwest Michigan, it’s been easy getting to know the craft beer landscape in the state affectionately known as “The Mitten.” Over the weekends of Valentine’s and Independence Day, Pour Woman and I ventured out to a handful of breweries and were swiftly charmed by the characters, places and, of course, beer to be discovered. The vast list of heavily hopped IPAs at the Livery in Benton Harbor. The popular trio of Bell’s, Arcadia and Dark Horse from Kalamazoo to Buchanan. The mere five-minute drive from our cabin to Greenbush in Sawyer. Washing down homemade donuts with fresh hard cider at Vander Mill in Spring Lake. The endless tap list of odd but delicious beers at Odd Side Ales in Grand Haven. All that Grand Rapids (“Beer City USA”) has to offer: the top-notch beers and patio at Founders; the spiritual vibe at Brewery Vivant; the pinball machines and Short’s beers at Pyramid Scheme; and the banana-Hefeweizen ice cream and stellar local beer list at Hopcat. For good measure, I’ll throw in the amazing design and drinks at Journeyman Distillery in Three Oaks (hey – they sell their barrels to Michigan breweries so they count).