Honorable Mention) The Umpteenth Annual Chicago Beer Society Picnic
It’s at the same ole place, same old time every year. What it represents for me is the best way to end the summer festival season. The oldest beer appreciation group in the city knows how to party. The picnic also is a cooking competition where members enter food into 10 different categories. The taplist is nothing to sneeze at either. Over 20 beers on rotating taps.
Honorable Mention) The Craft Beer Boat
There are parties…and then there are parties. The best way to describe the Craft Beer Boat is that it was one of the most memorable moments of the summer..period. The Valara VI Luxury Yacht was our vessel for the evening.This was more than just an event,with 10 pre-parties set at some of the best bars in town, they created a summer event series for us all to enjoy. Tickets to the boat were not for sale. The only way to acquire a pair was to order the featured beer at a pre party. Many people have never experienced the understated brilliance of the Artisanal Imports Lineup. The Sixpoint Brewery philosophy highlights the belief that ‘Beer Is Culture’ In all the time that we have been running the website, if their ever was an idea I wish I would have come up with 1st…this would have been it.
12) Wheaton Ale Fest
This party in its second year really made strides to out perform the previous edition. Not long ago (15 yrs or so), you could have gotten arrested for public drinking in Wheaton. Now the beer community was having a 4hr festival in one of Wheaton’s most one prestigious parks. The new and improved celebration took place at Memorial Park. It’s the oldest park in Wheaton, and was purchased by the Park District from the granddaughter of one of the city’s founding fathers in 1921. 2500 beer lovers spread over 3 acres 19 booths, over 150 beers and a revamped VIP Lounge made for a very festive afternoon in the burbs. The Central Waters Brewers Reserve Barrel Stout and Milwaukee Brewing Company OGI Wit were the feature beers in the VIP tent.The guys at Brew Partners and the City Of Wheaton did a great job as hosts for this event. The committee listened to concerns from last year, and made improvements on every aspect. Fresh Hops and The Four Star Brass Band provided live entertainment.
11) Lagunitas Sneaky Peek
When Lagunitas announced they were building a brewery on the west side of town with a 250 Barrel syetem identical to their space in Petaluma, California. We did the math and said wait a sec…that’s larger than every other craft brewery in Chicago combined!!!!! The new facility sits on Cinespace home to shows like Chicago Fire. But this 300,000 sq ft warehouse is too close tothe train tracks for them to record films in it, so they are leasing it to Lagunitas…BOOM!! Sneaky Peek began on the sound-stage at Cinespace. Beer was served by actors/ actresses in full costume. You could take a shuttle across the street where the Lagunitas crew handed you flashlights and gave you a tour in the dark. Videos played while they broke down all the features that the new space will include. A Bowling Alley, a Skyline Bar on the roof. The will brew 600,000 barrels of beer per year in Chicago and can max out at 1.4M annually. You can watch the insanity take place starting in March when they open an 8500 sq ft mezzanine level tasting room in the space, you can have a beer and watch the entire project get built! This party was awesome..doing the tour in the dark by flashlight made it feel like we were breaking in for a peek.
10) Mash Tun Festival
Mash Tun was our favorite new event of the year by far. This affair was put on by the crew over at one of Chicago’s most awesome bars – Maria’s Packaged Goods and Community Bar in Bridgeport. Mash Tun was held in the loading dock of the Bridgeport Arts Center. The event was crashed by a 15 piece marching band that played for what felt like 30 minutes. Mash Tun is also a Chicago based craft beer journal, a periodical that is made available at the event.The 1st edition of the journal included a pullout map of every craft brewery, bar, bottle shop and supply store in the city. The After-party was a food truck summit at Maria’s.
9) Goose Island Belgian Fest
Sure we could have picked Stout Fest( their St Paddy’ Day celebration) or any of their Fulton & Wood Launch Parties, or even their event for Chicago Beer Week where they converted the largest barrel warehouse in the country into a 9 hole miniature golf course! But we decided to go for the ideal mid summer afternoon beer event. Belgian Fest is where GI really shines. They also invite other Chicago breweries to get in on the fun. My favorite of the day was the Barrel Aged Amaro Amo from GI. A Belgian Dubbel 6.8% This is the Jared Rouben collaboration with Amanda Rockman from Balena. Inspired by bitters, they took cherries and aged them in bourbon for 4 months to create it.
8) Beer Hoptacular
Last years Hoptacular was at the Aragon Ballroom. I thought was awesome, but it was jammed packed. This year the good folks over at JAM Productions moved the event to a space most of us have never been to – Chicago Riverfront Theater. A space that is usually home to Cirque Du Soleil. The party was spread over 3 sessions ( Friday night and twice on Saturday) . A circus tent for a craft beer fest was a bizarre and unusually wonderful idea. With over 60 breweries and 140 beers, you get the casual beer drinker, the one who looks for drink specials in the Red Eye or Metromix . They are side-by-side with the hardcore craft beer drinker. This party is awesome, and they were special releases galore that got everyone excited. Bells Black Note and Indignant from Chicago’s Own Haymarket just to name a few. Unlike most beer festivals, Hoptacular serves as a homebrew competition and gives a Best-In-Show every year. This year Beer Hoptacular Homebrew Club of the Year was Forest City Brewers. Beer Of The Year award went to 5 Lizard from 5 Rabbit Cerveceria.
7) The Oak Park Microbrew Review
This event has all the moves… The party begins at the sound of the bagpipes playing. Oak Park Microbrew Review is a collaboration between the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild and Seven Generations Ahead. The setting is Marion Street in Historic Downtown Oak Park. It’s probably the only festival all year where you don’t need a ticket to experience it. ( you need one to drink) But its set in on cobblestone streets in middle of downtown that are still open for business during tte festival. You get families on an afternoon stroll, and curious towns people mingling with the craft beer crowd. Their is an insane VIP upgrade option for this event. It’s also the only craft beer event featuring the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild “Replicale” project This exciting annual project features a different beer style each year brewed by 15 or more Illinois brewers to showcase the nuances in brewing technique. This year’s style was Belgian Abbey Single.
6) Goose Island 312 Urban Block Party
Didn’t really know what to expect heading into this event. Not much information was released about the part. But when we got there it was one of the best nights I have ever had in Chicago. The forecast called for rain that never came. It was a perfect 68 degrees. Goose Island shut down the block behind their Barrel Showcase Room in West Town. Then they proceeded to blow through a list of classics the likes of which we have never seen before. (312) with Brett. Lemongrass Indira. Demolition (retired) w Ginger. Pere Jacques Sour. When Tom Korder and John Laffler announced to the crowd that they were blending Bramble Rye Bourbon County Stout and Coffee Bourbon County Stout, the crowd went nuts. Some serious rock star shit. People cheering cameras flashing. It was twilight outside, a concert playing, the world’s most awesome skyline as our backdrop and I was surrounded by all my friends. The only brewery in the city with catalog like theirs pulled off the perfect summer party.
5) The 5th Annual Chicago Festiv-Ale
It’s a Craft Beer Festival at Carmichael’s Steakhouse. It’s also a Benefit for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. FestivAle is a craft beer event in its most elegant form. Brewers from nearly every brewery on the taplist were there to discuss their beers with you. There is a vibe unlike anything else you find on the festival circuit. The steakhouse crowd meets the beer geek crowd on Friday night worthy of dresses and sport coats. But this is a beer event, man!! We don’t turn our nose up at anyone..an all inclusive affair that is unique compared to other parties of this size. A silent auction, world premiere beer releases, food pairings, and awesome gift bags to take home are just a few of the many highlights at this event.
4) Three Floyds Dark Lord Day
Dark Lord Day is less about the beer itself, and more about a celebration of the craft beer community. Dark Lord Day is the only day of the year you can purchase the critically acclaimed Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout. The coolest apart Dark Lord Day is that it becomes the ultimate bottle share among the crowds 4000+ participants. Fans of the brewery come from around the country to share the most prized beers in their collection with friends and strangers alike. In many ways this event defines what we love about craft beer. The only thing better than pursuit of awesome craft beers are the people that you meet along the ways. The only complaint about this party is that you cant actually get any of the amazing varieties of Dark Lord on tap unless you wait in a painful line to get into the pub.Other than that the bottles that you bring and share with friends are some of the best beers on the planet. That’s what makes this event a highlight and a must attend every year. CBG Mike said it best in his description of DLD – “The main attraction is the vibrant, generous, and thriving craft beer community. It’s like an afternoon car show, but on Dark Lord Day you get to take all the prized assets on display out for a test drive.”
3) Revolution Brewery Grand Opening
The Revolution is really one of the most exciting breweries in town. In 2 short years they have taken the city by storm. The runaway success of their brewpub in Logan Square led to a serious demand for their beer. So they decided to open a 5M$ production facility near Kedzie & Belmont. I love these guys, the lease calls for them to be able to throw 4 kick ass parties every year. The 1st of these parties was a spring gathering of epic proportions. The Rev Opening Ceremony was the Closing Ceremony of Chicago Beer Week. Bands inside and out, Food Trucks everywhere and then of the course there was the beer. Revolution brought the pain with 27 specialty versions of their beers. One of the most impressive taplists from 1 brewery that we have seen all year. They really set the bar for Grand Openings with this event..one for the ages.
2) Beer Under Glass
This year due to the hail damage hail a portion of this annual party was forced outside. The result was this beautiful indoor/ outdoor craft beer garden that has come to symbolize the coming of spring in our town. Each section of the conservatory represents a different natural plant climate. What BUG ends up being is a series of parties all under one roof. Breweries were spread throughout the 4 acres of the conservatory This is the quintessential Chicago Craft Beer Festival in my opinion. We are a cold weather town… the city comes to life in the summer months. Its as if we collectively say its warm, lets party!! This event really marks the beginning of festival season in Chicago. Few places are more beautiful than the Garfield Conservatory on the city’s west side. This year’s edition of Beer Under Glass saw 1500 attendees kick off Chi Beer Week the only way we now how- turning a Chicago Landmark into a mind blowingly awesome craft beer gala .
1) Festival Of Wood And Barrel Aged Beers
181 beers, 62 breweries it is simply the standard for festival excellence in our town. For its 10th anniversary the party moved to Bridgeport. The Skyline Loft at the Bridgeport Art Center gave a FOBAB a fresh start of sorts. Breweries brought double what they typically bring to this affair. My pal Steve Mastny described it best during our video documentary collaboration coming out soon. Every beer in the room, if it were on tap at a bar would be the 1st beer you ordered when you sat down..and here you have a festival built around those types of beers. Special treats, many of which you will likely never see again.