At last year’s Lincoln Square Winter Brew, great times were had by all, including yours truly. The recipe of up-and-coming local breweries and home brewers, tasty food, reasonable ticket prices, great people, and a choice location made for a successful model for beer tasting festivals. So naturally, my expectations for this year’s event were sky high.
Unfortunately, it felt like the Winter Brew organizers rested on their laurels a bit when planning for this year’s event. Given the boom in craft breweries in Chicago, I was expecting to see a handful of new names on the bill. Conversely, only Begyle Brewing joined the five same breweries that exhibited last year (Half Acre Beer Co., 5 Rabbit, Revolution Brewing Co., Metropolitan Brewing Co. and Finch’s Beer Co.). Whether it was a lack of reaching out or their receiving all rejections, it struck me as odd given the amount of surplus exhibition space at the Dank Haus (4740 N. Western Ave.).
The other downfall was the change in sample pour amounts. As with any tasting, the general principle is to assume your guests have not tried any of the products and, therefore, provide them with small samples to help determine their likes/dislikes. Last year’s Winter Brew hit the nail on the head, offering 2-ounce tastings for 1 ticket as well as 9-ounce full pours for 4 tickets (for those who wanted more of something they enjoyed). For some reason, only 9-ounce pours were offered at this year’s event, causing many guests to budget their tickets and forego tasting a handful of the available beers. Not to mention all of the wasted beer/money in cases where guests didn’t care for their beer and chose to dump nearly a cup’s worth in the garbage.
Don’t get me wrong though…beer fests are like pizza – even bad ones are still enjoyable. With the amount of amazing people in Chicago’s craft beer scene, it’s impossible to not have a good time at these types of events. I was able to try some newer beers, including 5 Lizard’s 5 Grass (a bright, hoppy ale), Finch’s Secret Stache Stout and Begyle’s North by Northwest IPA and Blonde Ale. Watch out for Begyle – this Ravenswood brewery has made some big strides since its Kickstarter campaign was funded last summer.
A unique, beer-infused food selection from the Grafton and Fountainhead, including Revolution Eugene Porter Beer Brittle, Half Acre Gossamer Spinach & Artichoke Dip, Fiery White Bean Metropolitan Generator Doppelbock Chili and Pulled Pork Sandwich with Half Acre Over Ale BBQ Sauce, was a perfect complement to the bevy of beer samples.
For next year’s Winter Brew, my wishlist is some live music (Dank Haus has a huge stage), smaller sample pours and an expanded list of local breweries in attendance. With the right mix of ingredients, this event could easily become Chicago’s signature winter craft beer event.