There is a beer renaissance going on in Chicago. It seems like every new bar I go to, now boasts a cornucopia of belgiums, IPAs, imperial stouts and barley wines. And I can’t tell exactly when it happened. It seems like only yesterday, that 99% of the bars in Chicago offered the standard BudMillersCoors swill, along with a few obligatory imports, like Heineken or Guinness, to appease the “discerning” palate.
And there is a reason for the dominance of Bud and Millers in the American bar scene. Both companies have saturated the airwaves with some of the most successful marketing campaigns in recent history. In addition, both have both spent millions of dollars trying to convince people that their beer is the beer for disciminating tastes. (Miller: “Our beer is triple-hopped.” Bud: “Our beer has superior drinkability.”) Miller even claims that they won the award for “Best American-Style Light Lager” in 2007, which is a joke in and of itself. None of our major American breweries would ever win in a general lager competition, so a new category had to be invented for shitty beers to compete with one another.
Anyway, at some point in time, a growing minority of people decided to drink beer that tasted good, rather than beer that was mildly drinkable if served at arctic temperatures. Eventually, more and more places popped up featuring extensive beer lists comprised of a variety styles from around the world. Even better, some of these places have reached out to American breweries to host different events if they happen to be in town. So I was thrilled to hear that the craft brewing conference was coming to Chicago in April, and bringing a bunch of beer geek events along with it.
Stone Brewery has been making appearances all over the Chicagoland area since the start of April. I’d been dying to get out to one, since they make some high quality beer, including an excellent strong ale (Arrogant Bastard Ale), as well as a very solid IPA (their Ruination IPA). A friend of mine had turned me on to their stuff rather recently, and I was very much looking forward to going to one of their events and sampling the full catalog. In addition, Nick Floyd from 3Floyds and Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head were doing an event at the Bottom Lounge on a beautiful Tuesday night featuring 4 beers from each brewery along with some live music.
We’ll start with “Dogfloydapalooza.” A friend of mine, Brian, decided to head on out there, which gave me an excuse to attend. This was my first trip to Bottom Lounge and due to some fortuitous wizardry, I did not have to pay the $20 cover. Excellent. Getting to the bar initially was a challenge, as it was mobbed by thirsty beer geeks. However, I persevered and made an educated decision to end my 2-year boycott of 3Floyds. I had already obtained my Dark Lord Day tickets for this year, thereby securing myself 12 tasty bottles of Dark Lord, and felt the boycott could finally come to a close.
On tap from Dogfish Head they had: the 90 min IPA, the india brown ale, the aprihop, and the raison d’etre. In the 3floyds camp they had: Alpha King, Drunk Monk, Samurai Gazeebo, and something else I’m forgetting. The Samarai Gazeebo was a pleasant surprise: a lager with japanese hops that was smooth, crisp, and hopped nicely. The 90 minute from Dogfish Head remains my favorite IPA and their india brown ale is an excellent drink as well.
As the evening progressed, a round of Malort was ordered for some perverse reason and for some even more perverse reason, I had one. So we hung out with some of Brian’s friends, drank some excellent beer, took turns blowing into a breathalyzer, and listened to a really solid blues band (Andre Williams and the Goldstars). Andre Williams, at the age of 74, took the stage in a solid red suit and fedora and rocked it out in spectular fashion. I’m pretty sure I heard a song called “Pussystank.” Anyhow, good times. I’ll probably do it again next year
On Friday April 9th, I headed out to the Bastard’s night over at Reggie’s Music Joint with my fiancee, Susan, and our friends Carlos and Dana. It was a Stone and Founders Brewery event with 10 beers on tap from each brewery. Small pours and big pours of beer were offered by each brewery, making it easy to taste a wide variety of the beers on hand without getting too trashed. We grabbed a seat at one of the long tables in front of the stage and started drinking.
I find myself liking Arrogant Bastard more and more. The balance between the strong malt and the bittering hops is excellent and the overall profile of the beer is aggressive and unique, although difficult to describe purely from memory. However, the star of the evening had to be the “Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale.” While technically a strong ale, the flavors are very reminiscent of an IPA, and it happens to be one of the best beers I’ve had in a while. It has a beautiful malt and hop combination (simcoe,amarillo, and cascade I believe), and an excellent mouthfeel! That evening, Stone cemented itself in my mind as a brewery to be reckoned with.
While we were drinking, we had a chance to listen to The Twin Cats, a funk/jazz band from Indiana. They put on an absolutely kickass set, and left me a little disappointed that they don’t have any more shows in our area for a while. When I went up to the bar to get a drink, some guy pegged me as a beer geek based on the two beer lists in my hand. He gave me a Stone Brewing DVD and introduced himself, at which point I realized I was talking with one of the founders of the Stone Brewery, Greg Koch. I’m glad he approached me, because I didn’t do my homework and had no idea what he would look like.
Greg is a genuinely cool guy, who was very much at ease talking with me and the many other beer geeks in attendance. We hung out for a while and he took a picture of us both, which I’m hoping I get a copy of, since taking pictures with my phone is a baffling ordeal. You see, due to the dim lighting I would have had to first turn on the flash, which is so bright it would have cooked us both internally. Secondly, we would have had to pose perfectly still for about a minute or so in order to get a picture not blurred beyond recognition. This was not something I was willing to put a perfect stranger through, so we’ll see how things go.
We finished off the evening over at Piece, a place with some excellent pizza and really great homebrew. I awoke the next day with a hangover of epic proportions and a receipt in my pocket that brought tears to my eyes, but still had a great time. I like the idea of a craft beer month in Chicago. Lets make that happen next year.
**** UPDATE ****
I saw that Greg uploaded pictures from his time in Chicago onto the Stone website and was pleased to find the picture of he and I among them. Furthermore, a little bit ago I recently received a package at work from Stone Brewery containing the picture he took of us, signed by him. What a class act. So Stone, you guys now have a superfan and Stone evangelist here in Chicago. I’m drinking an Arrogant Bastard as I give this update and thank you for bringing your delicious beer to town.