You know that feeling you get on Christmas Eve or on the day of a concert you’re going to see your favorite band? That’s exactly how I feel leading up to each Chicago Craft Beer Week (CCBW). Encompassing 11 days every May for the past 5 years, Chicago and suburban breweries and bars pull out all the stops to showcase the area’s craft beer scene in a whirlwind of tap takeovers, beer specials, collaborations, pub crawls, new releases, festivals, bus tours and whatever else the various characters of the industry can dream up.
I’ve yet to achieve the Holy Grail of attending an event on all 11 days of the week, but I always get to as many as I can. Below is Part 1 of my recap of my experience this year.
May 15 – Beer Under Glass
Even though the weather took a turn for the worse just in time for Beer Under Glass (BUG), this event always successfully manages to not only mark the beginning of CCBW but the onset of summertime as well. While the Garfield Park Conservatory and its expanse of meticulously manicured plant life, winding paths and alcoves normally play a key role in the unique vibe of BUG, repairs to its glass roof forced the entirety of the event outdoors in less than optimal conditions. Attendees persevered, however, with positive attitudes, an extra layer or two of clothing and some footwear ingenuity when it came to making their way through a mud-soaked field.
As usual, many brewers used BUG as a stage for introducing new, one-off and rare beers to the Chicagoland crowd. Some of my favorites included Slapshot’s McLaughlin’s Red Eye Coffee Porter, Goose Island’s Pineapple Brettanomite, Destihl’s Black Berliner Weisse, Breakroom’s Legend of Chief El Dorado Lactose IPA and Forbidden Root’s namesake, which beautifully melds more than 20 natural extracts in a low-ABV root beer.
While next year’s BUG will most likely shift back inside amongst the foliage, which will support the overall ambiance and guest comfort, it would be nice if the event hours were expanded. At only 2.5 hours for general admission ticket holders, BUG tends to fly by, preventing most guests from fully experiencing all the event has to offer.
May 16 – Imperial Oak Brewing Soft Opening /
350 Brewing & Hailstorm Releases at Beer House
It seems that every month another brewery is popping up in a new area. Just in time for CCBW, Willow Spring’s Imperial Oak Brewing is the latest. The vision of two homebrewers (Brett Semenske and Grant Hamilton) and the owner of Brixie’s craft beer bar in Brookfield (Chris DiBraccio), Imperial Oak opened their doors for a 2-day soft opening May 16 & 17 (grand opening is this weekend). The spacious, yet cozy, 7bbl brewery will be focusing on small batch experimentation so they’ll have something new every time you stop by. They’ll also be aging beers in small barrels from local distilleries and offering “Snifter Society” memberships. A handful of guest taps round out the beer selection.
Keeping with the South Side theme, I then checked out an event at Beer House featuring 350 Brewing and Hailstorm Brewing, two new breweries that call Tinley Park their home. Each were releasing new beers and brought a big crowd out to raise their glasses in celebration. Hailstorm’s taproom is currently open, while 350 plans on opening its doors in July.
May 17 – Ale to the Burbs’ Tri-Cities Pub Crawl
With the overwhelming flood of CCBW events in this year’s schedule, Ale to the Burbs’ Craft Beer Fox Trot unfortunately did not get a chance to float. However, its members and a few guests, in their continuing quest for suburban adventure, flipped with script with a pub crawl. All situated near the Fox River, stops included:
Gammon Coach House in Batavia – At our first stop, we laid down a base with sandwiches from their full menu, while enjoying a few beers from suburban favorites like Flesk and Solemn Oath. Whether you’re on the patio or seated inside, Gammon has everything you’d want in a pub – an old school feel, reliably good food and a rotation of fresh craft beers.
Penrose Brewing in Geneva – Only a couple months old, this Belgian-inspired brewery is already an established destination in the Chicagoland craft beer scene. After enjoying some flights, we were treated an the unofficial first public tour of the brewery courtesy of Brewmaster Tom Korder. He walked us from grain storage through kegging, giving a detailed illustration of the brewing process and Penrose’s background.
EvenFlow in Geneva – A couple blocks from Penrose, this 3-floor bar/restaurant screams rock n’ roll from every square foot. We all had a glass of Goose Island’s Matilda as we took in all of the pictures and lyrics of music legends adorning the walls. I’m looking forward to checking out live music here this summer.
The House Pub in St. Charles – Our last stop on the crawl, House Pub was tapping a couple of SlapShot Brewing’s latest beers, the amazing McLaughlin’s Red Eye Coffee Porter and Leather Leisure Suit ESB. With live music, free popcorn and a beer list that takes up most of the wall behind the bar, this late night pub has all of the bases covered for an unforgettable (and sometimes forgettable) time.