I just had my one-year blogerversary in May and I feel like I have made some big strides since that initial post. I have been brought in as a correspondent for both Chicago Beer Geeks and the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild; I appeared on WGN Morning News to provide my beer recommendations for St. Patrick’s Day; and I even got to host some of my own events. But back when I first started the blog, I could not have imagined that it would be even marginally successful. Nor could I foresee whether it was just a fad or if I would actually stick with it. So when I heard of the Beer Bloggers Conference last year, while I wanted to attend, I could not justify spending money on a trip to Portland, Oregon to attend a conference for something that I may not be doing in a few weeks.
Fast forward one year and I am still enjoying my blog and I work hard to produce a post at least once a week (although some weeks are more successful than others). So when I heard that the Beer Bloggers Conference would be in Indianapolis, Indiana this year, a mere four hour drive from Chicago, I immediately signed up. And an added bonus? There would be a pre-conference excursion in Chicago sponsored by Goose Island. How could I say no?! I, along with my friend Kristin Stroud from Beer + Running = Happiness even had the opportunity to organize a brewery crawl to give out-of-towners a taste of the awesome craft beer scene here in Chicago. I hope to give a brief overview of what I thought were the highlights of the conference. First up? The pre-conference in Sweet Home Chicago.
Goose Island Beer Dinner
I met the group of 40 beer bloggers in the parking lot of their hotel (the Howard Johnson, apparently not as sketchy as I thought) at Chicago and LaSalle and led them to the Red Line that would whisk us two stops north to North and Clybourn. Goose Island went above and beyond with regards to hooking some beer bloggers up. For a mere $20, they provided us with a four course dinner with beer pairings; a messenger bag that included beer, a mug, a hat, and other novelties; and a bus ride down to Indianapolis the next day! As we entered the brewpub, servers were handing us each a full goblet of Sofie, a tart, dry Belgian style ale that is fermented with wild yeasts and aged in wine barrels with orange peel. Goose Island Communications Manager, Mark Mahoney, made a brief speech and introduced Goose Island Brewmaster, Brett Porter, who briefly went over how each of the beers we tasted were made.
The meal was fantastic and had the brewery’s Education Coordinator, Suzanne Wolcott, lead us through the pairing. I think my favorite quote from the night was when she expressed her gratitude for the women beer bloggers in attendance because typically when she attends beer-geeky events “the room gets so farty by the end of the night.” As a female who is often outnumbered 3-1 at beer events, I can attest to this disgusting statistic.
The first course was pan-seared trout and tomatoes with local chevre cheese and balsamic vinegar reduction paired with Lolita, a barrel-aged sour beer aged six to 10 months with fresh Michigan raspberries. The tartness of the beer offset the sweetness of the ripe tomatoes and balsamic beautifully. The second course was pork belly and homemade pasta paired with Matilda, a Belgian style pale ale modeled after Orval. It is fermented twice: once in stainless steel and then in another fermentor with brettanomyces, a yeast strain that eats sugars typical brewing yeast does not so it continues to dry out the beer. According to Wolcott, “Matilda is our pork beer” and pairs well with a big, fatty slice of bacon. Oh, does it ever.
The third course was a fatty leg of lamb, pork fat poached fingerling potatoes, and haricot vert paired with Juliet, a Belgian style rye beer with fresh Michigan blackberries that ferments for 10 to 14 months in the barrel. This is the closest beer that Goose Island makes to a lambic style. It definitely exudes a lambic-quality and the dryness and tartness combat the fattiness, richness of the lamb beautifully.
The final course was a dense, extremely rich flourless chocolate cake with Seedling Farms cherries and Black Dog malted gelato paired with my favorite Goose Island beer, Madame Rose. This oud bruin-style beer is named after a Liefman’s brewer who acquired the ‘Madame Rose’ moniker and is aged for 10 to 14 months with Michigan’s Seedling Farms tart cherries.
The most exciting news from this dinner was the revelation that Gillian, a white pepper saison with honey and champagne yeast, will soon be making it into bottles. If anyone tried it at Goose Island’s Belgian Fest last year you know what a treat this is. Can’t wait to get my hands on some bottles!
Chicago Brewery Crawl
Allan Wright of Zephyr Adventures, the company that organized the Beer Bloggers Conference, sent out an email in early March to local Chicago bloggers to assess interest in organizing a pub crawl during the Chicago pre-conference. Both Kristin Stroud from Beer + Running = Happiness and I volunteered so we got to work on researching places to visit along the crawl. While Chicago has a ton of amazing beer bars, I thought it would be cool to take the out-of-town bloggers to establishments that brew beer onsite. So, Kristin, Allan, and I decided on reserving a bus from ChiTown Party Bus (complete with stripper poles) to transport us to Piece Pizzeria, Revolution Brewing, and Haymarket Pub & Brewery.
After dinner at Goose Island, the lot of us exited the brewpub to board the bus. This was an experience in and of itself as party lights pulsated to the loud music and glistened off of the silver stripper poles. (Yes, they did get some use as the night went on but mostly from the guys. Sorry to disappoint you.) The bus dropped us off at Piece and we were ushered to the separate party space on the north side of the restaurant. Unfortunately, we did not have much time but the service was impeccable and it was a real treat to listen to my new friends talk about Top Heavy Hefeweizen or Dysfunctionale.
We only had time for one beer (well, half a beer if you ordered the full glass of Top Heavy) and then we got back on the bus to head to Revolution Brewing in Logan Square. I knew that we had the brewers lounge reserved on the second floor so I lead the group up the stairs to the second floor bar. Revolution had quite a few tasty treats on tap including Bastille, a biere de garde, and Double Fist, a double pale ale and one of my favorite Rev beers. Since I knew there was still some drinking to be had I opted for a refreshing Coup d’Etat Saison. Again, we only had time for one beer or so before it was time to board the bus once again for our final destination: Haymarket Pub and Brewery.
To my surprise, both Brewmaster Pete Crowley and Executive Director of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild were both in attendance which was a huge treat for all of the beer bloggers. Pete even said a few words to welcome everyone. Pete also had a special beer on tap for us in the back bar area: an all Simcoe IPA. Even though I had been enjoying quite a few beers that evening and I probably should have chosen a more sessionable beer, I cannot go to Haymarket without ordering a 10% ABV Mathias Double IPA (quite possibly my favorite manifestation of the style). My hubby’s to blame that it happened to be a 16 ounce glass, though.
This evening ended up being even later than I expected and I was not looking forward to waking up bright and early the next morning to catch the bus down to Indy. It was an immensely fun evening and I loved showing out-of-towners just what Chicago beer has to offer. I hope everyone had a great time, and a huge thank you to Piece, Revolution, and Haymarket for hosting us!
Lunch at LaFayette Brewing Company
Not only did Goose Island go above and beyond with the four-course beer dinner, swag, and brewery tour, they also arranged for our transportation down to Indianapolis! The charter bus picked us up at the Chicago HoJo and we began the four hour journey to Indy. As part of the bus trip, though, we stopped at LaFayette Brewing Company, a small brewpub in the town of LaFayette, Indiana, for lunch. Upon arrival, we were lead to the second floor party space and greeted by owner Greg Emig. He instructed us to take a seat at one of the many tablecloth-clad tables and to help ourselves to any of the three pitchers of beer already resting on the tables. This was my kind of place! A buffet lunch was set up in the far corner and we were free to enjoy samples of both the beer already on the table, as well as some samples from the rest of their line of brews from the bar.
The Black Angus Oatmeal Stout, one of the first beers LaFayette Brewing Company brewed when they opened 19 years ago, was my favorite of the beers that were on the table; it paired exceptionally well with the brisket and pulled pork that was served for lunch. It was rich and flavorful but the body wasn’t too heavy so it was refreshing. Emig did not come straight out and tell us which beers to pair with the food, however. “That’s the great thing about beer and pairing it with food,” said Emig. He encouraged experimentation with the pairings, telling us to “taste the food, taste the beers, and have a great experience.”
There was one pairing that they did provide for us, however, and that was dessert. Local candy maker Kathy’s Kandies utilizes the Black Angus Oatmeal Stout in a chocolate truffle and Emig paired it with a 13-year old barleywine. Exquisite! And how generous for him to offer it to us! I really enjoyed this stop and if you are ever in that neck of the woods, you should definitely check this place out. A huge thank you to Emig for guiding us through the beers, and the knowledgeable staff who helped out.