12 Most Awesome Chicagoland Craft Beer Events of 2011
It has been a landmark year for craft beer in Chicago. In the past 12 months we have had the privilege of attending just about every major beer event in the area. Chicagoans love craft beer. We are a fun, savvy, educated group who appreciate the art of creating a quality beverage. Beer brings us all together in a way that few other things can. 2011 saw an unprecedented number of great events that really captured the spirit of the local craft beer movement. I present to you in no particular order the 12 most awesome Chicagoland craft beer events.
1. The Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beers
Nine years running, the Festival of Barrel Aged Beers is still the best beer experience in Chicago. It is simply the most awesome collection of beers you will find at a beer event in this town…period. 172 beers, 62 breweries, 22 states, from a rarity perspective it is the standard by which all other local fests are measured. The Illinois Craft Brewers Guild does a great job keeping the integrity of this event by not overselling it and not allowing tickets to be scalped. It’s the one fest to which every brewery consistently goes out of their way to bring something mind blowing from their arsenal. The only thing I would change about this fest …is nothing..it is awesome.
2. Chicago Beer Week
This week was about the City of Big Shoulders celebrating the art of craft beer that in many ways we helped define. It was a citywide celebration that included 70 venues and 30 restaurants. Highlights for us included Beer Under Glass @ Garfield Conservatory, Twisted Goose @ Twisted Spoke, The Origin Of The Rabbit-5 Rabbit Brewery @ The National Museum Of Mexican Art and Beerfly Alleyfight @ The Drinking & Writing Theater. The Beerfly Alleyfight is a homebrew & food pairing / live art performance competition where the audience picks from the best combination of the three. The winner had their beer featured as part of the Haymarket 1yr Anniversary Party Lineup. The Peppermint Imperial Black Belgian IPA (an awesome peppermint infused variation of the original winner) made its debut Xmas Eve.
3. Midwest Brewers Fest — Plainfield, Il
Images from this festival were some of the most memorable of summer. Spread across nearly 80 acres alongside the Plainfield River, MWBF had 7 different booths including a VIP Tent, a home brewers tent, a hand-blown beer glass art exhibition and a cigar booth! The VIP section, with a tap list that rotated every hour of the entire eight hours, was basically a fest onto itself! With 58 Breweries, 150 different beer Samples, and 3,000 beer fans, it was a very impressive 1st year production. I never had a reason to visit Plainfield before, but it has certainly become a welcomed addition to the beer circuit after this day.
4. Dark Lord Day — Three Floyds Brewery
Annually, this is the unofficial start of the festival season. Dark Lord Day, the last Saturday in April, is the only day of the year you can purchase Three Floyd’s critically acclaimed Russian Imperial Stout. You could also purchase the 4 + varieties of beer available this year, and the new, improved bottle allotment service. What DLD really represents is a massive BYOB picnic where participants bring choice selections to share (2007 Behemoth was one item we chose for the party). It’s a celebration of everything we love about the pursuit of rare beer.
5. Festiv-ale — The Warehouse at Carmichael’s Steakhouse
The 5th annual version of this event was a moment when all of my favorite things came together. The Warehouse at Carmichael’s Steakhouse in Chicago’s West Loop was the backdrop for an event I would describe as the perfect Friday night festival. The crowd at Carmichael’s wasn’t the one you would typically find at a beer event. The Warehouse brought out a welcomed component of gents wearing sport coats and ladies dressed for a fun Friday evening on the town. These elements were refreshing to say the least. So much so that HopCast Ken commented shortly after the event “Festiv-ale wins for hottest women at a beer fest ..ever!” This event was a benefit for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Illinois. It was nice to see a young man living with CF speak for a moment about his life and what it meant to him to see so many in attendance to support this cause. The silent auction was a beer lovers dream. Custom hand blown glassware from Stone Brewing Company, a magnum of Chimay Blue, brewery tours, and tickets to several local theater plays were just a few items up for bid.
6. The Neoccasion: 30 Beers for 60 Minutes—Neo Futurists Theater
The worlds of beer and art collided on 11-11-11 for a whimsical, fast paced, insanely entertaining ride when The Neo Futurists hosted an evening in celebration and support of their Andersonville based theater. Highlights included musical selections from ‘Beer: The Musical’ and a preview of their latest play ‘Burning Bluebird’. The real gem was a beer centric version of the longest running play in Chicago, ‘Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind’. Beer and Pizza from some of the cities most respected outlets complimented an amazing evening of performing arts. GABF Gold Medal Winner Angry Birds (Haymarket), Chocolate Abbey (New Glarus), and 5 Vulture (5 Rabbit) were a few of the many beer highlights.
7. FFF XV — Three Floyds Brewery 15th Anniversary Party/ Baller Stout release
3 Floyds is known for insane parties, world class beers, and an uncompromising approach toward delivering both. Their 15th Anniversary Party was a collaboration of craft beer heavyweights – Surly, Mikkeller, Struise and Three Floyds. They brewed Surly Darkness, Mikkeller’s Beer Geek Brunch, De Struise’s Black Albert, and their own Dark Lord Stout. The party brought 2,500 beer fans to the brewery. There were 5 world-renowned chefs including Chicago’s own Paul Kahan (The Publican), Justin Large (Big Star), and Mindy Segal (Hot Chocolate). The acoustics turned the brewery into a loud, relentless concert experience headlined by the double-drumming band The Melvins, who blew the roof off with their performance.
8. Oak Park Micro Brew Review
Oak Park is the suburb geographically closest to downtown Chicago. The cobblestone lined streets and the relaxed festival grounds really made this festival stand out. Oak Park Micro Brew Review was a zero-waste event co-produced by Seven Generations Ahead, an organization facilitating sustainable community development, and the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild. Typically you can’t get in and out of a fest without a wristband, but to see curious residents, couples on a friendly stroll and families all stop and mingle with foodies and beer fanatics was one of the highlights of the summer.
9. Kegs For Kids!
This year the event nearly doubled in participants and moved to a much larger space, the beautiful campus of Loyola University on the shores of Lake Michigan in Rogers Park. 38 restaurants and over 61 breweries were on display. It was nice to see a craft beer event in Chicago grow into a sophisticated affair that can be held in a space like this one.
10. Belgian Fest
The definitive top notch, low key affair. Belgian Fest took place on an early Sunday afternoon at Goose Island. Two styles that Goose Island does better than anyone in the city are Belgian Ales and Stouts. This was year two of this fest for me. Say what you must about the mighty Goose Island Beer Company, but they are the most innovative, most aggressive brew crew this town has ever seen. Goose Clybourn is where all the magic happens and Belgian Fest is located on the east half of the pub. This leaves most of the restaurant open to the public. It’s an intimate affair that gets very boisterous and personal very quickly. The brewers feed off that energy and it becomes one of those events that felt more like a really awesome house party on the north side than a festival.
11. Beer Hoptacular! at Aragon Ballroom
Hate it or love it, Jam Productions put on the wildest, most outrageous affair of the year. Crude Extravaganza is the phrase that comes to mind with this party. The historic Aragon Ballroom was by far the sexiest backdrop for a beer event. By most accounts the event was oversold creating an intense wait for some beverages. The “beer me now!!” crowd rubbed some the wrong way. I was impressed by the Midwest Craft Distillers Room, showcasing regional gems like whiskey made from distilled pumpkin beer!
12. The Umpteenth Annual Chicago Beer Society Picnic
The Chicago Beer Society is the oldest beer appreciation group in the fine town of Chicago, bringing together beer lovers for good times since 1977. The food at this event was as good as any picnic I’ve probably ever been to. 23 beers (including Sticky Fat and Mathias III) appeared throughout the day in alphanumeric order. Every year this event brings out CBS members for an affair that doubles as a food competition. Medals were awarded in 5 categories- Salsa, Chili, Ribs, Other Meat and Dessert. The event was scaled back to members only this year because as one member stated “ There is no other party in Chicago where you will get this quality of beer and food at a picnic”.
This year was one for the ages. I’m beyond excited about what 2012 has to offer.
Featured image courtesy of TheDigitel