Hi. Do you remember me? I used to have a little blog about beer. But after having a baby, buying a house, moving, and starting a new job, I haven’t had much time for myself and my hobby. But, I am fortunate enough to be able to work an alternate work schedule which affords me every other Friday off. And while I feel an immense amount of guilt when I drop baby Flynn off at daycare on a day when I am not working, it does wonders for my sanity. It allows me to run errands, clean house, or meet the hubby for lunch at a brewery.
I recently received an email from Cristina Villa from the New York City Eataly promoting Flights and Bites, a tapas-style flight of apps paired with each of the house-brewed beers. A few emails back and forth put me in touch with Whitney Moeller, the events and education coordinator at Eataly Chicago, who invited the hubby and me to drop by, sample some brews, and meet the brewmaster.
We arrived at the Italian-themed juggernaut around 1 PM and were greeted by Whitney who led us up to the second level while providing an overview of how Eataly got started. The founder, Oscar Farinetti, saw how small farmers and companies were struggling and in an effort to help them, bought into their businesses and created an Italian market where their wares could be sold all under one roof. There are now six Eataly locations across the globe, with New York and Chicago being the only ones located in the U.S.
When we arrived at Birreria, we met Tyler Prokop, the brewmaster at Eataly Chicago. He began his brewing career at Eataly New York, cleaning kegs and scrubbing floors until he worked his way up to assisting with the brews. When it was announced that Eataly would be opening a Chicago location, he was asked if he was interested in making the move to the Windy City and be the head brewer here. Like many professional brewers, Tyler began home brewing in college and now that he is a part of Eataly, he has been trained by Sam Calagione, the owner of Dogfish Head and a partner (along with Teo Musso of Birra Baladin and Leonardo Di Vincenzo of Birra del Borgo) of Birreria. Tyler says that Calagione takes a vested interest in the Eataly brewers and enjoys training them and watching them grow and flourish.
When I was doing some preliminary research about the in-house brews, what caught my eye is that many would be served on the beer engine from a cask. I asked Tyler why there was such a focus on cask ales at Eataly. He said that they will focus on cask beers as it is a pure form to serve beer; it is naturally carbonated and in its true form. Currently, Birreria has one house beer served on cask: Gina. Gina is an American pale ale brewed with fresh Italian-grown thyme. This beer is actually brewed at Dogfish Head right now as Birreria Chicago has not yet received their firkins. But Tyler has been trained in the art of real ales and once their firkins arrive, the casks will be filled and maintained on site.
I was also curious about the incorporation of spices and other ingredients that you would normally see in a kitchen rather than a brewery. According to Tyler, Italian beers are meant to be paired with food so they tend to be sessionable and contain ingredients that will enhance the culinary experience. This is the inspiration behind their Flights and Bites promotion. For $16, you get a sampling of three appetizers each exquisitely paired with one of the house-brewed beers.
The first pairing was the aforementioned Gina with Shitake Fritti. Of all the pairings, this was my favorite. The earthiness of the mushrooms paired exceptionally well with the bright, savory flavor of the thyme in the beer. Also, the fattiness of the fried batter softened the overall flavor. Delicious.
The second pairing was Sophia, a Belgian-style wit beer brewed with three varieties of peppercorns paired with fried shishito peppers. While this pairing was flavorful, it did not leave as lasting an impact as the first pairing.
The final pairing contained my favorite beer of the three house-brewed ales: Fl!p Ale. This is a winter warmer brewed with green cardamon, saba, candied ginger, and slow roasted spelt. If you want a comparison, the flavor profile of this beer reminded me of Great Lakes Christmas Ale, although a tad more complex. The ginger is readily apparent on the nose and the hefty 7.5% ABV will warm you up on a cold, Chicago winter afternoon. This beer was paired with pork shoulder panino, a beer and apricot braised pork shoulder with apple, celery root, and mustard vinaigrette on house made focaccia. Wow. The apple really tied everything together for me in this pairing, offering a hint of sweetness to the sandwich that brought out the sweet-and-spicy flavors of the ginger and cardamon in the beer.
After lunch, Tyler provided a tour of the brewery. The seven-barrel brewhouse and 15-barrel fermentors are crafted in Italy (of course) and has a rustic look to them thanks to copper plating (Tyler assured us that the copper is for aesthetic purposes only). After hearing about the current line-up of house-brewed beer and how each recipe was designed by the three Birreria partners, I asked Tyler if he would ever be able to experiment. He assured me he does get to create and brew his own recipes, the first of which, an Oyster Stout, should be available for St. Patrick’s Day. So, if you are downtown on St. Patrick’s Day (Observed) on March 15th, be sure to stop into Eataly to sample Tyler’s beers.
After the tour, the hubby and I perused the beer for sale in the wine shop/beer market. The local partners of Birreria are Revolution Brewing, Half Acre, and Three Floyds so there are plenty of beers from those breweries to purchase, as well as a plethora of Italian craft beers. We didn’t have much time to really look at the Italian beers (we were on my hubby’s lunch hour, after all) but I can’t wait to return to give them the attention they deserve. And to pick up a bottle or three.
A huge thank you to Whitney and Tyler for taking time out of their busy schedules to show us around and share some beers and bites! I can’t wait to go back!