Walking into the new Lakeshore Beverage distribution center, one would expect to be attending a wedding reception much less a beer tasting, judging from the look and feel of the place alone. The industrial wood, glass, metal and stone construction is elegantly crafted into a rich, modern setting with high ceilings, plenty of natural light and open space. The round, granite topped bar provided the perfect setting for the one-on-one preview with brewery reps.
The 9-round, live tweeting, speed-dating style schedule was a new twist on things, but proved to be an effective way to speak with reps and gather as much information as possible in a short amount of time. Featured beer specs, a short history, and a rundown of specific events happening for Chicago Craft Beer Week with each brewery were all covered with time for Q&A.
Each rep was given roughly 10 minutes to discuss beer, answer questions, and hang with us before the next round began. We had 9 rounds and live tweeted the whole event. I'll touch on a few standouts here but if you want the play by play, search @Solidarity_Chi on Twitter and take a scroll through the event.
HELLO, MY NAME IS JOE - 3 SHEEPS BREWING CO.
Hello, My Name Is Joe from 3 Sheeps Brewing in Wisconsin is an Imperial Black Wheat beer that is infused with coffee. This beer has all of the light, easy-drinking qualities that you would look for in a wheat beer but also has a wonderful aroma and flavor of dark malts and coffee. Founder and Brewmaster, Grant Pauly, said he knew he needed a dark coffee beer on the market in order to keep up with the interest, but didn't want just another porter or coffee stout being tossed around. The end result is an extremely smooth, coffee packed (40 lbs of whole beans to be exact) beer that drinks like a wheat beer should but with coffee replacing the citrus and herb spices you would be expected to find.
GAME OF THRONES FIRE & BLOOD - BREWERY OMMEGANG
The Game of Thrones series from Brewery Ommegang has seen mixed reviews from a lot of beer drinkers. When the latest release, Fire & Blood, came to shelves, it wasn't immediately accepted. Fire & Blood is a Red Ale with rye malt and Ancho Chilies and may actually be the one to bring people back around to the series of beers. Aggressive with a bit of a bite from the hops and chilies, this beer hits hard at first but then cools off to a smooth finish. The balance and blend in the beer was well done and is a good twist on the red ale style.
NO.4 BARLEYWINE - FLOSSMOOR STATION
Flossmoor Station is typically known for their barleywines, especially Hi-Fi Rye and Barrel Aged Hi-Fi Rye. Their latest concoction, No.4 Barleywine, is another that can be added to the list of experiments with the style. No.4 is one of the few American Barleywines that doesn't have the hop-forward boozy impact that you would usually get from an American style. Using 2000 pounds of malt and 60 pounds of coconut sugar for this batch gives it a characteristic closer to that of an English version. With Flossmoor mainly focusing on barrel aging, and who uses Woodford Reserve barrels almost exclusively, it was no surprise that there was a barrel aged version of No.4 as well. The barrel imparted a bit more sweetness and a softness from the oak that definitely speaks to an English style barleywine.
NOT YOUR FATHERS ROOT BEER - SMALL TOWN BREWERY
I've had my share of the hard root beers on the market. They are a fun novelty gig, worth trying, and end up being something that is only good for a few ounces before it turns gritty, overly sweet, and something you're ready to move on from. When I saw Tim Kovac, Owner and Brewmaster at Small Town Brewery, I was interested to see what he had brought out for this event as the first time we met, I hadn't gotten a chance to try his beers. When he told me it was a hard root beer, I clearly had my reservations. Not Your Fathers Root Beer is a game changer. This wasn't cloying. This wasn't gritty and dry. This was 10.7% ABV. This was dangerous. The blend of honey, vanilla and other hand mixed natural ingredients that he uses really brings the root beer quality to the top. Think of the best root beer you've had and then just slap a 10% ABV sticker on it. It's just that simple. What was even harder to imagine was that he produces a 19.5% and a 24-26% version as well, with the latter leaning more towards a really sweet whisky. This one really set the bar for hard root beers for me.
2014 MADAME ROSE - GOOSE ISLAND BREWING
Goose Island always has something interesting in the works or hiding around the corner. Madame Rose has yet to see distribution this year, but is one of the original "3 Sisters" sour Belgian Ales from Goose Island. Now the sisters series has grown to 5 with the addition of Halia and Gillian, Rose still seems to be the sister that moved away long ago and rarely comes to visit. This year marks only the third release of the beer, and even then it is considered extremely delayed. With 50 pounds of Michigan cherries and 18 months spent aging on wood, the beer is tart, acidic, fruity, and well worth the wait. Madame Rose only gets released when it is ready, and only the beer decides when it is ready, hence the lag time. I think we all know that when a woman says she'll be ready in 12 months, that she actually means 18.
A FEW FEATURED CCBW EVENTS
Sweet & Sour at Bangers & Lace (1670 W. Division St.) - Sunday, May 18
Featuring: Bourbon County Barleywine, Bourbon County Proprietors Stout, Bourbon County Cherry Rye Stout, Lolita, Madame Rose, and Class of '88 Belgian Ale Collaboration
Wine & Beer Blending at City Winery - Wednesday, May 21
Featuring: Blending wines with Ale Syndicate beer
Animals vs People WhirlyBall Showdown (1880 W. Fullerton) - 7:30 - Wednesday, May 21
Featuring: 3 Sheeps Brewing
Craft Beer Cruise at Mystic Blue Cruises (600 E. Grand Ave, Navy Pier) - Thursday, May 22
Featuring: Smalltown Brewery, 3 Sheeps, Ale Syndicate, Flossmoor Station, and more.