A glimpse inside Chicago Craft Beer Week

CCBW '13-feature

Another Chicago Craft Beer Week (CCBW) has come and gone. With hundreds of events and festivals held over the course of 11 exhilarating and, sometimes, foggy days, CCBW never fails in leaving Chicagoland craft beer drinkers with a handful of memories to carry with them until next year’s kickoff. While you might run into some friends, acquaintances and brewers once in a great while the rest of the year, CCBW has a way of bringing everyone you love hanging with together for 11 straight days (if you have a strong enough liver that is). It also serves as an annual status check on Chicagoland’s craft beer market. With the number of new breweries, bars, collaborations and expansions at the time of this year’s event, it is clear that Chicago is making a bold push to become the craft beer epicenter of not only the Midwest, but perhaps the country.

Below are just a few of my CCBW highlights:

Beer Under Glass @ Garfield Park Conservatory
Entering my first Beer Under Glass (BUG), my expectations were very high following all of the hype and rave reviews of last year’s event. Immediately upon stepping into the lush, colorful gardens of the Conservatory and gazing upon the exhibitor layout, my expectations were promptly shattered. BUG sets the bar for any and all beer sampling festivals, and serves as the perfect kickoff event for CCBW. Sixty-two exhibitors were spread across the interior and exterior of the Conservatory’s beautiful property, cutting down on line lengths and giving attendees ample space to get a sample and roam the gardens. Food booths serving delicious and eclectic small plates were also spread out, filling the rooms with amazing smells. Many breweries brewed up special batches just for BUG, while others made it their first festival to pour their beers for the public. Under a warm, falling sun that turned into a balmy spring evening, everything seemed to fall perfectly into place at BUG, making for a special night to remember.  

Chicago Beer Geeks Tap Takeover Experience @ Bottom Lounge
Firestone Walker Barrel Event @ Haymarket

Solemn Oath 1-Year Anniversary @ Bangers & Lace
One of the best parts of CCBW is that once one event is over, there is always another closeby. The first Saturday of the Week was no exception. Bottom Lounge was the sight for Chicago Beer Geeks Tap Takeover Experience, at which they introduced their first ever beer. A collaboration with Wild Onion Brewing, Deception is a black IPA with roasty chocolate notes and plenty of hop aroma. It’s in limited supply, so be sure to check the Geeks’ Facebook page for where you can find bottles. This 3-hour party packed a lot into a short timeframe: CBG Dan DJ’d, raffle prizes were awarded, burlesque acts took the stage, professional beer pong tables provided fun and a handful of great, but overpriced, beers were on tap alongside Deception.

A short walk down the block brought us to Haymarket, where California-based Firestone Walker was holding its Barrel Event. An impressive list of their barrel-aged beers were on tap, and if you know anything about this brewery, this is where they really show their mettle. The real treat was sitting down with Barrel Master Jeffers Richardson to learn more about his background and what Firestone Walker has planned for the coming year.

Our last stop was Bangers & Lace for Solemn Oath‘s 1-year anniversary. This Naperville brewery has made a huge impression on the Chicagoland beer market in a short amount of time, and brought 17 beers for attendees to choose from. Brewery owners John and Joe Barley were on hand to chat about their beers and raise a toast to their success. Also on tap were 17 selections from The Lost Abbey/Port Brewing, a brewery close to Joe’s former home in San Diego.

Goose Island 25th Anniversary Block Party
On an unusually hot mid-May afternoon, a block’s length of Fulton Street was a crowded home to Goose Island‘s 25th anniversary party. It’s hard to believe that they’ve been around that long and were Chicago’s only brewery for many of those years. A lot has changed with the city’s beer landscape over the past few years, but Goose Island continues to innovate and bring a bevy of delicious styles to the market. Due to the relatively small area for the amount of people and vendors in attendance, the party was a bit of a disappointment. Insanely long lines to enter, get a small pour of a Bourbon County Stout variant and most of the guest brewery tents made it extremely difficult to get around. It almost seemed like Goose Island wasn’t prepared for the amount of people that showed up. The hot weather only made guests more agitated and anxious. And, to be honest, a thick boozy stout is not most people’s drink of choice on a blistering day in the sun. This is probably what caused the ridiculous lines at the other brewers’ tents and their subsequent tapping out of several beers.

Luckily, the day was not a complete wash. Following the party, we rallied to a friend’s deck to share some amazing beers from Vermont and other rarities. Hanging with old friends and making new ones over beers and pizza, I couldn’t help but sit back and take stock in what a great city we live in and how CCBW, while only 11 days in length, represents a year-long celebration of how far our craft beer market has come and the unchartered territories of where it can go.

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