I think we just experienced the first craft beer festival in the history of Chicago’s Union League Club. The space is a 23 floor “city within a city” in the middle of downtown, With it’s classic hotel rooms, event spaces, bars, members only gym and stunning artwork, the buiding is reminiscent of another time and space.
12 local breweries participated in a panel discussion exploring the science and technology behind Chicago brews. Attendees voted for which brewery would receive tap placement at the bar. The event was a fundraiser for the Chicago Engineers’ Foundation. CEF’s was founded in 1901 and is dedicated to empowering the next generation of engineers through scholarships and events that both promote and educate about the profession. 3 breweries in attendance (Penrose, Maplewood and Dovetail) are all members.
Union Club is swanky space, but not in the trendy River North, modern steakhouse sense. More like the turn of the century, old world, tuxedos after 7p sense.
Chicago has always been a drinking town, arguably the most competitive beer market in the country. But the local craft beer scene in our city is relatively young when compared to towns in places like Colorado or California. Some of the conversation centered around how the city has always taken pride in the fact we are a transportation hub. Being centrally located products cross through the city in both directions en route to the coasts. We receive world class beverages year-round from just about anywhere. It wasn’t until recently (maybe the last 7yrs or so) that we decided to finally just be local producers ourselves..especially when it comes to beer. Of Chicago’s 71 breweries, 90% have come online since 2012. This has resulted in Chicago’s becoming a market with discriminating taste toward regional players in favor of local ones.
The consensus of the panel is that our local scene came into play a couple years ago, what happened prior to that was Chicago being targeted as “dumping ground” for many national craft suppliers. We only lagged behind other cities in production because the history of Chicago is to bring in from outside, from anywhere in the world. We didn’t have the need to make any beer here.
ULCC Public Affairs Director, David Kohn led the conversation topics ranging from the local regulatory environment to how science plays a role in beer.
“Science is the reason your beer is good or bad. Appreciation for your ingredients and making beer that you want to consume are also important.” Revolution’s Marty Scott explained. “If you’re not continuing education with regard to principals in physics, chemistry and biology, regardless of what education you had before you came into brewing, you will have a hard time.”
Penrose’s Tom Korder has brewed his entire professional career and holds a Mechanical Engineering degree from the University of Illinois. When asked about the science and engineering involved in the beer process, Tom discussed the connection. “ The link is in the problem solving. Constantly adjusting between science and art is the most rewarding aspect of the profession.”
Other panelists shared their experience with the city during the business development process. Vice District’s Curtis Tarver felt growing pains early on when the city rezoned his ward during the time they were looking to open the brewery. With a wait time of 8 months for manufacturers license approval, Dovetail’s Dagen Host’s approach was to research the city. “Before looking for property we went to different wards to sit down with their Alderman. The right thing to do was to find elected officials that were supportive of craft brewing.” Dagen also stressed the importance of hiring a General Contractor with city experience who can be supportive when handling any road blocks associated with red tape.
Panel Discussion Moderator
David Kohn, Union League Club of Chicago
Charles Davis, Right Bee Cider
Curtis Tarver, Vice District Brewing
Hagen Dost, Dovetail Brewing
Tom Korder, Penrose Brewing Co.
Marty Scott, Revolution Brewing
Matt Modica, 5 Rabbit Brewing
Paul Megails, Maplewood Brewing
Penrose Brewing, Geneva
Taproom IPA, Wet Hop IPA
5 Rabbit Cerveceria, Bedford Park
Golden Ale, 5 Lizard
Dovetail Brewing, Chicago
Right Bee Cider, Chicago
Semi Dry Hard Apple Cider
Maplewood Brewing, Chicago
Charlatan, Pulaski Pils, Son of Juice
Around The Bend, Chicago
Villainous, Ghost of ‘Lectricity, Puffing Billy Brown Ale
Vice District, Chicago
Habitual, Pleasure Trip, South Town Small Porter
Flossmoor Station, Flossmoor
Shadow Of The Moon, Zephyr
Empirical Brewing, Chicago
Heliotropic, Infinity, Cold Fusion
Hopskip, APA, Galaxy Down Under
Revolution Brewing, Chicago
Fist City, Rev Pils
Shorts Brewing, Bellaire, Michigan
Autumn Ale, Soft Parade Shandy
-Vice District’s co founder, Curtis Tarver is also an attorney.
-The latest beer from Dovetail is Ur-Weiss. A 100% wheat lager.
It’s believed that one of the driving factors behind Reinheitsgebot (Germany’s 500 year old purity law) was that wheat was too good of a raw material for beer and if they didn’t come up with the law forbidding it that all the wheat in the country would be used for beer and none would be left for bread.
-The loudest cheers on the panel went to Charles Davis from Right Beer Cider when the moderator thanked him for being the lone cider producer of the event. Right Bee Cider went on to win the popular vote later in the evening for favorite brewery.
-*denotes photo courtesy of Dan Rest Photography on behalf of Chicago Engineers’ Foundation