Chicago Craft Beer Week… So Far

Wow.  I have been so busy with fun Chicago Craft Beer Week festivities that I have not had a chance to write anything! I thought I would take a breather for five minutes to jot down my experiences so far. It has been a whirlwind of a week, er, five days which included me winning an award for homebrewing! More on that later. Before I recount my beery adventures, I want to give a huge shout out and thank you to Jonathan Surratt (Beerinator to those of you on the Twitterverse), John Laffler and the entire committee putting on Chicago Craft Beer Week for their hard work and beer-infused business meetings.  Well done!

Beer Under Glass

Like many of you, I got my Chicago Craft Beer Week started at the opening night event called Beer Under Glass which is held at the Garfield Park Conservatory.  What an exquisite venue for a beer festival! As you enter, you begin feeling a delicate mist caress your skin as you make your way to one of many areas that were housing the various breweries in attendance.  I got my very first taste of Tighthead Brewing and was quite impressed; I will definitely need to make it out to Mundelein soon. I also got a taste of Finch’s new barleywine, Altus Gravitas. This was a pretty intense beer with sweet, malty flavors and a hot alcohol burn. I think this beer could use at least six months in the cellar so if you see one on the shelves at your local neighborhood beer store, be sure to pick it up and let it age. This was also my first chance of tasting Solemn Oath Brewing’s offerings. I interviewed this team a few months ago and they are now the first up-and-coming brewery that I’ve interviewed that has actually opened their doors and started brewing. From what I sampled, I was quite impressed. They are off to a great start with those tasty brews!

Tracy Hurst of Metropolitan Brewing enjoying the festivities at Beer Under Glass

Josh Deth, owner from Revolution Brewing

One of the coolest aspects of this event was that the brewers, brewery workers, and chefs were all present to mingle and serve their adoring public.  I was able to chat with Chris Rafferty from Rock Bottom Chicago and Cleetus Friedman from City Provisions; I admired-from-afar Doug and Tracy Hurst from Metropolitan and Jonathan Cutler from Piece. This aspect reminded me of Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beers where a beer geek has a chance to talk with the geniuses who create magic in a glass.  My only complaint about this event is that it was too short! There were so many interesting people to talk to and I kept running into people I knew so I talked more than I drank. And then I felt I was in a mad rush to taste a bunch of beers towards the end of the night.  Michael Kiser from Good Beer Hunting did an excellent job of chronicling the night via photograph so be sure to check out his page!

Beerfly Alleyfight!

For those of you that missed Beerfly Alleyfight on Saturday and don’t know how it is formatted, let me give you a little overview.  This event is the brainchild of Steven Mosqueda and Sean Benjamin, the founders of the Drinking and Writing Theatre at Haymarket Pub and Brewery. It is a team effort where a brewer-and-chef pair is teamed up with an artist and this triad provides the audience with a homegrown total sensory experience. Each year, the powers that be decide on a style of beer that everyone would be required to brew.  The rules are pretty loose, though, and while Haymarket graciously provides the base ingredients for the beer, you don’t have to use them and you are free to add and manipulate the beer however you see fit.  This year, the style was an alt, an amber-hued, malty, clean ale/lager hybrid that was popular in Germany before the advent of lagers.

I was asked to participate solely because they needed another woman brewer; the fabulous Janna Mestan was defending her title from last year but was the only woman signed on to participate this year. I was just so excited to get the offer!  About a month and a half before the event, Steve Mosqueda sent out an email letting the brewers know that the style was an alt and I immediately began doing research.  While I do enjoy alts (if you are unfamiliar with the style, check out Metropolitan Brewing’s Iron Works) I knew I wanted to brew something a little different.  I like strong beers, and I remembered that Rock Bottom Chicago brewed a double Alt called Alt Capone, so I began researching higher-gravity versions.  I came across some descriptions of a doppelschticke alt, basically a double alt that is hopped up a bit more to combat the sweetness of the malt. I thought about other malts that I could use and decided on adding a pound of rye malt to the mash to add a bit of spiciness.

Cheers!

Since it is the brewer’s responsibility to choose a chef, I began thinking about who I knew that would be a good fit for this event.  I didn’t have to think long, though. My friend, Colin Malone, is a great cook who is starting a pop-up restaurant company in the city.  Jaime Budzick is the artist that was assigned to us so we all met up at Haymarket Pub about a month ago to discuss strategy and theme for our match-up.  Jaime came up with the idea of the beer being called Doppelganger Doppelschticke Alt so we went with the Doppelganger theme.  Budzick is a filmmaker so he said he would create a video for our event.  Colin had the brilliant idea of slow braising pork shoulder in my beer, and then resting that on a bed of carrot-garlic puree with a nice crunchy salad on top.  Delish!  Our team was coming together nicely.

Fast forward to the day of the event, and I was freaking out a bit.  The hubby had decided that we needed a sign so he went to Staples and started creating one about 15 minutes before the doors officially opened. Jaime was nowhere to be found, and I had no idea whether or not he actually made a video.  And while Colin had come over earlier to check out the space, it was getting really close to the start of the event and the food still wasn’t there. I really needed to relax and have a homebrew. Luckily I had a whole keg of my Doppelganger Alt in front of me.

One of my biggest fears is not doing well in front of someone I truly admire. Well, that happened on Saturday.  Doug Hurst, Head Brewer and co-owner of Metropolitan Brewing, approached me and sipped my beer. He seemed to like it but began asking some technical questions, certain things that I am not too familiar with yet; I still go by pounds of grain, not percentages. So when he asked me the percentage of rye malt I used I completely froze. He continued asking questions but I got intimidated and pretty much shut down.  Doh!  Why do I get so weird around brewers?! Stupid shyness… But it has motivated me to seek out more technical training. Back to the books for me!

One of the greatest parts of Beerfly Alleyfight (besides winning, of course) was meeting Julia Herz, the Brewer Association’s Craft Beer Program Director. Wow. How do you get THAT job???  What was great about our encounter was that I didn’t know who she was at first (the picture on her Twitter handle is quite small so I didn’t recognize her).  When she came up to me for a second sample of my Doppelganger Doppelschticke Alt, she introduced herself and, of course, I immediately knew who she was. I don’t remember what she said to me after that because I was in such awe but I think it was pretty complimentary.  She did come back for a second beer.

I am more than humbled that my team pulled together (albeit at the last minute) to put forth a great sensory experience. I have a bit of a Type A personality and I like to know what’s going on and what to expect.  On the day of the event, I still did not know what Jaime Budzick, the artist, had planned. Little did I know that it was a complete work of genius; it completely pulled together the doppelganger theme in a humorous, laugh-out-loud sort of way.  And Colin, Jaime and I won best in show for the 2012 Beerfly Alleyfight. Let me just say how completely unexpected this was. I was in a room with people who have been brewing much longer than I have and have much more technical experience.  I just did a lot of research for this beer and brewed a test batch before I settled on the recipe for Doppelganger Alt; I was extremely careful on brew day; and I made sure I had time to lager the beer for at least three weeks.  I was really proud of this beer and I am glad that it got some accolades. I will definitely be brewing this one again!

We won!
Artist: Jaime Budzick; Brewer: Jessica Murphy; Chef: Colin Malone

Mini Golf at Goose Island Brewery Barrel Room

I think the greatest idea in the history of the world was thought up by the insanely creative crew over at Goose Island production brewery. They thought, “Hey, why not turn the barrel storage house into a miniature golf course?” And then they did it!  On a hot and muggy Sunday, the hubby and I hopped on our bikes and headed to Fulton Ave to sample beers and play putt putt.  Many of the local breweries around town each designed a hole of varying levels of difficulty that were arranged throughout the barrel-aging warehouse.  Now I am not good at mini-golf stone cold sober so just imagine how I am after a few beers!  Goose Island had four taps flowing right as you walk in, and then another two taps were about halfway through the course.  I started off with a Redstreak by Virtue Cider, former Goose Island Brewmaster Gregory Hall’s new venture, which was quite refreshing after a bike ride on a hot day.  After we made it through half of the course, I got a Grapefruit Sofie which was tart with just a little bit of funk.  And yes, you can see my golf game getting progressively worse the more beer I drank.

As fun as putt putt was, it was an even bigger blast just hanging out and sharing beers after we were finished. It’s fun that we are still a relatively small craft beer community; no matter where I go, I run into awesome people that I know and admire.

Some of the other bars/events that I have been to so far this week are:

Greenbush Tap Takeover at Haymarket Pub & Brewery

  • The owner and head brewer of Greenbush Brewing Co was in attendance at this event that released exclusive and barrel aged offerings from the Sawyer, Michigan brewery. My favorite was barrel-aged Cabra Perdida aged with blueberries!

Revolution Brewing

  • There is no place I would rather go to celebrate my victory at Beerfly Alleyfight than Revolution Brewing.  I proudly displayed my trophy on the bar (geez, brag much?) and enjoyed a Dos Osos while munching on a soft pretzel. A perfect end to a triumphant day.  Can’t wait for the grand opening party at the production brewery on Friday!

Dryhop Release at The Northdown

  • Greg Shuff and Brant Dubovick are the team behind Dryhop Microbrewery and Bistro which will be setting up shop in the Lakeview East neighborhood of Chicago. I interviewed them just a month ago and they are already making great strides to opening this fall.  They were both present at The Northdown on Monday night to give out samples of two of their beers: a Wheat IPA and a Summer Ale brewed with lavender and lemon balm.  I am a HUGE fan of the Wheat IPA and I can’t wait until I can ride my bike to Lakeview and get a growler of this one.  So tasty…

Fizz Bar and Grill

  • The hubby and I were at The Northdown for the Dryhop release party but they did not have any of the coveted neighborhood maps on which to place the stickers we had collected. So we walked down to Fizz to pick on up.  We didn’t feel right about just asking for the map so we each got a beer. The hubby got a boozy, barrel aged Scottish ale from Flossmoor Station called Fin Laggin, and I got Harvest Dance, a wheat wine from Boulevard Brewing.

The Green Lady

  • While at Fizz, I noticed that my friends from Bee’s Knees nut company were at The Green Lady, a bar located just up the street.  Oh, darn. I guess we need to go to another bar! This bar also was home to the Dryhop after party so we got to hang out with Dubovick and Shuff a bit more, and I got to hang out with the Bee’s Knees crew in addition to meeting Melanie, the owner of the bar.  All in all a great bar with exceptional beer list. I can’t wait to make it back up there in the near future!

How have you been enjoying Chicago Craft Beer Week so far? What have been the best events? What upcoming beer events are you looking forward to? If you ar free on Thursday, stop by Jake Melnick’s around 8pm; I will be interviewing Ben Finch, owner of Finch’s Beer Co, about marketing in the craft beer industry! Cheers!

For more photos, check out Christopher Murphy’s Flickr page.

Image: Chicagofree.info

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