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Craft Breweries come out for American Beer Classic

Craft Breweries come out for American Beer Classic
Mike Zoller

If Beer Heaven exists it might have been in Chicago on Saturday May 11th when 100 breweries lined up on Soldier Field to offer their finest brews. The inaugural American Beer Classic (ABC) put on display craft breweries from all over the country and the thousands of patrons who roamed the field with their shot-glass sampler could not have been disappointed.

From Washington to Massachusetts the ABC featured well-known names like Sam Adams, Shock Top and Lagunitas, but also newer brewers like Light The Lamp, who have been brewing for just six months, and Church Street Brewing, who’ve been brewing for just over a year.

Every brewer had at least two beers to sample with some offering up to four different brews. While India Pale Ales were the most popular beer that was being sampled, there was something for everyone. From lagers to stouts to wheats you would find something to drink.

While I tried to sample every beer from every brewer I don’t know if I would be here typing this right now if I had done that. I sampled well over 50 beers at the ABC and here are some of my standouts from the event.

Best Tasting Beer

I know at beer festivals they usually have different categories for beer and that makes sense. However, the best beer I tasted all day was actually a shandy from the Vermont-based Traveler Beer Co. The company brews in the traditional European style but with all-natural fruits and other flavors. I tried two different beers and loved them both. The Curious Traveler is a shandy made with real lemon-lime and had a flavor I had never experienced in a beer before. The 4.4% alcohol content made it easy to drink and it’s definitely a beer I’ll be looking for in the future. The other beer, The Traveler Shandy, is brewed with real strawberries and is easily the best smelling beer I’ve ever come across. These are lighter beers that can be intermixed throughout your day of drinking or if you just want a single beer while you relax. Traveler Beer Co. currently distributes in about 20 states and is looking to increase their exposure. Follow them on twitter  – @TravelerBeer.

Most Unique Brewing Style

The founder of Omission Beer was diagnosed with celiac disease and was unable to drink standard beer. What did he do? He created his own brewery and developed a one-of-its-kind brewing style that allows the beers to be “gluten-friendly.” While the Portland brewer can’t claim the beers are “gluten-free” because they are brewed with gluten, there is a special enzyme that removes the gluten making it safe to drink for anyone. Both the lager and the pale ale had great flavor and even though my stomach can tolerate gluten, this is a beer I could see myself drinking again. The beers have both taken awards in the gluten-free beer category at the Great International Beer and Cider Competition. You can follow them on twitter @omissionbeer.


Best Beer Names

What do you get when you have a group of hockey dads whose kids have left for college and have nothing to do? Easy – you start brewing beer. These dads played hockey growing up and then coached their kids’ team when they took to the ice. This small brewery in the suburbs of Chicago just brewed their first patch of beer in December 2012 but give them credit – the names of the beers are great. Names like Red Line Ale, Sin Bin Stout, Bench Minor Blonde and 1980 Miracle American Ale complete the hockey motif. While the names are great, it was the Short Handed IPA that was the best IPA I tried in the entire festival. Light The Lamp’s IPA has a unique flavor that is unlike any traditional IPA. While you can taste the hops, the beers other flavors make it a very smooth beer and one that you can drink all night. The 5.6% alcohol content gives it a little bit more of a kick but safe enough to have a couple when you’re out. Currently the brewery features only a taproom, however, there are plans to distribute very soon and bottling will follow after that. Follow Light The Lamp on twitter @ltlbrewery.

Silent Killer Beer

After having the Kill Devil Brown Ale from Widmer Brothers Brewing I thought it was a solid brown ale. Delicious, smooth and great hints of caramel in the beer and a bitterness rating of only 30 made this an easy drink. Then they told me it had a 9.5% alcohol content and I was shocked. If you had asked me I would have guessed maybe 6.5% but definitely wouldn’t have gone over 7%. The brewer told me people never think of it as a 9.5% beer because of how smooth it is and that while that’s a good thing – it can also be bad. Widmer Brothers had a few other delicious beers but if you go for the Kill Devil Brown Ale just remember to pace yourself. Follow the brewery on twitter @Widmer_Brothers.

Most Unique Serving Style

Shock Top is a brewery that most everyone has heard of. While I wasn’t planning on stopping by this staple, I saw everyone with s’mores and that got me curious. While Shock Top was sampling their standard beers its Campfire Wheat beer added a new twist with serving it in a chocolate mug on top of a s’more. While the beer is good there was something about drinking it out of chocolate, eating the mug and then eating the plate that got just about everyone’s attention. This was a crowd favorite for sure and a great marketing idea for Shock Top to get people to come to their tent when there were many other craft breweries bidding for our attention.

Best Brewery Name

I’ll admit I visited this brewery just because I saw the word “horny” in the title. Call me immature but I was not alone. The tent had a decent size line and I’m guessing the name Horny Goat Brewing Company had something to do with it. I tried the Watermelon Wheat beer, which had good watermelon flavor, but for me it was just too light and not enough to get me to keep drinking. The Hopped Up N’ Horny had a great name and it was a good all-around IPA but this Wisconsin brewery was one that was fun to sample but not there were better beers at the ABC. They do feature an extensive beer list at their brewery and if you’re up in that area it might be worth checking them out. Follow them on twitter @HornyGoatBrewCo.

Least Favorite Beer

I debated with this write-up for a little bit because Fireman’s Brew has a great backstory. Created by two LA-based firefighters the brewery donates a portion of its profits to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. I can’t argue with a great cause, however, the Blonde brew, a pilsner-style lager, was subpar. It had a weak flavor and was extremely watered down. Unfortunately, the breweries other two choices, a German doublebock and a red amber ale, weren’t being sampled so the Blonde is all I had to work with. Despite the poor taste, because of the mission of the brewery I’d want to try the other two beers hoping for a different result. You can follow them on twitter @firemansbrew.

Best Non-Beer Thing

I couldn’t end on such a sour note like that so I wanted to highlight something that wasn’t beer – or at least liquid beer. There was a whole row of booths that weren’t sampling beer. From beef jerky to beer accessories there was all kinds of cool things to look at. The one booth that caught my eye was from Cacao Sweets & Treats that was sampling beer cupcakes. Candice, the owner and founder, offers three types of beer cupcakes including a Guinness chocolate cake with chocolate icing and a Blue Moon cake with orange zest buttercream. I got to try the Blue Moon one being a vanilla guy and loved it. The beer taste isn’t overpowering at all and the orange zest wraps it up as if you were drinking a Blue Moon. The bakery ships nation-wide and you can find the cupcakes in stores in five states including Illinois and Colorado. Follow the bakery on twitter @cacaobakery.

Like I said earlier, there were so many other beers I sampled that I didn’t get to write-up and even more I didn’t get to try. These were just a few of the ones that stood out during my four-hour beer extravaganza. Red Frog Events put on one amazing beer festival and while this was the first year for the American Beer Classic, I’m hoping that with the success of Saturday we see another one in 2014.



  1. suzanne

    Did they end up limiting the beer tickets with vouchers or drink tickets?

    • Mike_Zoller

      Yes – After a couple of hours I think Red Frog realized that no brewery was marking off the tickets and they started making sure that they did. So for the first couple of hours people definitely got more to drink.

    • dan

      By the night session, they stopped caring, like 3 or 4 booths marked off tickets, i ended the night with only 1 mark on my book… and way more beers in my belly!

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