For the last four years, Tribes Alehouse‘s Beer Fest has been the best little craft beer event no one has known about. And for those lucky enough to attend any or all of them, they’d probably prefer to keep it that way. Held in the cozy courtyard of their Tinley Park location, the fest is split into two sessions and welcomes a limited number of ticket buyers. With it being one of my “must-attend” events of the year, I figured there was no better time to dust off some coveted hardware. Back by popular demand, it’s the best of the fest…it’s the FESTIES!As always, keep in mind that these awards are based solely on my humble, unbiased and unaffiliated opinions and are being virtually presented merely for the purpose of this article.
WILLY WONKA FESTIE:
Tribes Owner Niall Freyne
The ringmaster of Tribes Fest, Freyne brings the same approach to the event that he uses for his two brewpubs: never settle. This starts with the beer list, which is dominated by beers you’ve either never heard of before or rarely see on tap. He also won’t allow breweries to pour unless they have a brewer, sales rep or affiliate in attendance to talk about the beers and intelligently answer questions. It all adds up to a beer geek’s paradise for three suds-filled hours.
Psychedelic Cat Grass, Short’s Brewing
A similar turn of events happened when the first set of FESTIES were passed out at the Naperville Ale Fest a couple summers back. A hop-bomb of a beer (Hardcore Chimera) from a brewery I hadn’t given much of a chance to (Finch’s) completely took me by surprise, causing my head to snap around and me to mutter “Whaaaaaaaa?” This time it was Short’s triple dry hopped IPA, Psychedelic Cat Grass, which was the hoppiest of them all at Tribes Beer Fest. Knowing that this brewery is capable of such astounding feats of hop mastery has completely flipped the script for me. Here’s to hoping we see this in cans soon.
BILL & TED’S FESTIE:
Goose Island Guys
Every good party has to have them. The dude (or dudes in this case) that act disturbingly immature for their age, yet you love them for it. This honor went to the two bros pouring for the usually conservative Goose Island. Cracking jokes, poking fun at each other (and others) and dousing unsuspecting attendees with their water guns throughout the sweltering day, these guys somehow managed to turn “obnoxious” into “charming.”
THIRST QUENCHER FESTIE:
Coronado Pepino Pale Ale
As the second session kicked off at 2pm, the sun was blazing, the humidity was swamp-like, and the heat index hit triple digits. Luckily, the fest favored pale ales, sours and lagers instead of heavy, barrel-aged stouts as it had in past years. The pour that absolutely hit the spot on this day was Coronado’s Pepino, a pale ale with citrus and spice notes that finishes with a cool, refreshing wave of cucumber. This beer should come with a beach towel, sunglasses and sunscreen. Having it poured by this smiling face didn’t hurt either.
There’s nothing more dear to a beer geek’s heart than rare, one-off or probably-never-see-again brews. Unless you’re from southern California, odds are you won’t get the chance to enjoy this tasty twist on Stone’s Go-To session IPA. While lemon is a no-brainer complement to the citrus notes of this hop-forward beer, you wouldn’t think vanilla bean would play well in the mix. Leave it to Stone to make it somehow work out with the flavors happily moshing on your palate.
MIKE TYSON’S PUNCHOUT FESTIE:
Bell’s Honey Hearted Barrel-Aged Strong Ale
Though the fest was dominated by sessionable beers, there were definitely a few that tipped the ABV scales. The King of Heat was Bell’s 16.7% Honey Hearted, a mutant version of their Two Hearted IPA refermented with honey and champagne yeast and aged in Traverse City whiskey barrels. Half of a taster glass of this beast was all you needed to put a hobble in your step.
As if their hop assaulting IPA, Psychedelic Cat Grass, wasn’t enough, Short’s went above and beyond to make their presence known at Tribes Beer Fest. Not only were they pouring from behind a vintage auto chassis, they brought a 3D poster of the Cat Grass label to trip out over and allowed attendees to view and listen to a video about “Compression.” Pouring at the fest, this beer combines four different sour styles and is an homage to Vulf Compressor, an electronic tool used by funk band Vulfpeck.
Tribal Hero Goes AWOL
A staple at the past couple of Tribes Beer Fests, this collab IPA between Tribes and Revolution has been a standout for attendees. Dry hopped like a mutha, this gave all of the other Heroes a run for their money. To learn that it wasn’t quite ready to pour at this year’s fest was downright tragic.
MR. CONGENIALITY FESTIE:
Rog from Half Acre
You can’t put a price on having brewery reps pouring their beers instead of clueless volunteers shrugging their shoulders when questioned about a beer and counting down the minutes until teardown. When a rep such as Half Acre’s Rog McGuin pours your beer, you’re not just getting your glass filled by a genuinely friendly guy. As a longtime employee, Rog embodies the heart of soul of one of Chicago’s craft beer staples and is a walking Half Acre Wikipedia page. Ask him what style a beer is, and he’ll walk you through the whole recipe. Ask if a certain beer will be distributed to your neck of the woods, and he’ll pull out his phone and run down the whole list of bars that will be getting kegs of it. Rog represents everything that is right with our craft beer community, and Half Acre is lucky to have him on its squad.
LUCKY S.O.B. FESTIE:
For those already in the know about Tribes Beer Fest, we will continue to keep tabs on the day tickets go on sale and plan accordingly. We know that no other fest in the area will deliver the full package that this one does year after year. A top-notch, diverse beer list, few to no lines at all, knowledgeable brewery reps pouring, delicious Tribes food mere steps away and plenty of space for attendees. For those who aren’t in the know, it’s time you got your priorities straight and discover Tribes Beer Fest.