#DrinkIllinois – PorchDrinking.com
Once deemed “Black Out Wednesday,” to differentiate it from Black Friday and because the day before Thanksgiving ranks as one of the busiest drinking nights of the year, Black Wednesday has grown to become one of the craft beer industry’s biggest days. Chicago’s breweries and bars are regaling patrons with plenty of special beer, most of it as black as a winter night. So, to help you navigate Black Wednesday in Chicago, we’ve compiled a list to help you.
We can’t detail every event, but we tried to hit on the big releases and offerings. Did we miss something grand? Let us know via comments here or on social media. Have a great Thanksgiving Week!
First, a piece of advice. Do not speed as you travel the picturesque country roads of southern Illinois. The first reason is, of course, the cops. The speed limits drop quickly from 55 to 35 as you near and enter the small farming towns along Highway 158. The second reason is the simple beauty of the drive. Country roads should be cherished and with the debut of Lieferbräu Brewery as a reward for heading in this direction, you’ll be driving with a smile the whole time.
Six years ago, only about 80 breweries operated in Illinois. Now, approximately 200 breweries create heavenly ales and lagers within the Chicago metro area alone. Coinciding with that eruption of breweries has been an ever-increasing amount of recognition, including Chicago-area breweries winning Great American Beer Festival (GABF) medals and winning them in highly competitive categories.
Granted, Chicago has consistently been able to boast about its bourbon barrel aging prowess—after all, it was conceived at Goose Island during its pre-ABI days and celebrated each year at the Festival of Barrel Aged Beer. But few people outside of Chicago seemed to notice the Chicago brewing scene until recently. However, at the 2018 GABF, Chicago definitely made its mark in the Mile High City.
About 60 miles south of Downtown Chicago, in a town of roughly 18,500 people, one will find a superbly crafted American Pale Ale (APA). You remember APAs, right? Craft beer drinkers used to consume multitudes of them a few decades ago. Well, they still exist, and they are as good as ever, exemplified by Brickstone APA from Brickstone Brewery in Bourbonnais, IL.
Most of the PorchDrinking.com audience is well aware of craft beer’s growth in recent years. However, one may not be aware that 59% of coffee consumed daily is classified as “gourmet,” according to the 2017 NCA report on National Coffee Drinking Trends. That was the first time in the report’s 67-year history that the number exceeded 50%.
Somehow, suburban Chicago’s Scorched Earth Brewing barreling program remains off the radar for most beer drinkers, which leaves this writer befuddled. Certainly those in the Chicago region with a nose for barrel-aged beers should make it a high priority to seek all forms of Scorched Earth brewing alchemy. One of the brewery’s latest releases, Barrel 76, is a Flanders red ale aged in French oak wine barrels with Montmorency cherries and Madagascar vanilla beans. Traditional, yet innovative. Sophisticated, yet rustic. Tart, yet a bit sweet. The beer serves as an example for what craft brewing is all about.
The inaugural Illinois Craft Beer Week (ICBW) replaced the former, annual Chicago Craft Beer Week (CCBW), but both the kick-off and closing festivals took place on Chicago’s north side, and most of the intra-week events occurred within the nation’s third-biggest market, which also happens to be where the vast majority of Illinois breweries operate. So, as they say, “A rose by any other name.” Nevertheless, the 2018 version is in the books and once again demonstrated that the enthusiasm for craft beer remains high. There are nuances to the industry and week-long festivities worthy of mentioning, so let’s take the time to note a few observations made during ICBW.
The vast majority of craft brewers take immense pride in every beer they produce, and it shows in the exuberance they demonstrate while discussing their creations to patrons during Illinois Craft Beer Week. Sure, beer releases, festivals, events and tap takeovers during craft week are wrought with stressful, logistical challenges. Nonetheless, whatever might betide, in those moments when a beer fan inquires as to the details of a beer served, sheer joy routinely arises. In fact, all those associated with the brewery exude palpable excitement when presented with an opportunity to speak about their products.
All that hard work. All that cleaning. All that blood and sweat is worth it when it gets boiled down to the very essence of beer making — the beer, itself.
Don’t think of LaGrow Beer Company as an organic brewery; think of it as a family-owned brewery dedicated to using the purest ingredients imaginable, from soil to suds.
At LaGrow, the ingredients used are pure, which results in a beer abound in flavor and exceptionally crisp, clean and fresh. Even if one doesn’t care about ingesting chemicals, the resultant flavor derived from chemical-free ingredients is sure to please any beer drinker, from beer geek to macro fan.
A lust for special release beers has increasingly dominated beer geek culture the last few years, and an abundance of Chicago beer drinkers share that trait. But, what about signature brews? While it’s fun to post pictures of whales on social media, flagships pay a brewery’s bills and their quality ultimately determine a brewery’s fortune.
It’s likely that nearly all of nearly 200 Chicago-area breweries have one or two (or more) beers worthy of making this list. And, you can be sure that we writers left a few of our favorites off this list, too. Nonetheless, we feel that these 21 beers are ones you should not miss in 2018.
On a weekend usually dedicated to the high-flying Air and Water Show, Half Acre Beer Co. delivered its own high-octane experience at their second annual The Big North beer festival. The Big North II was a celebration of Half Acre’s 10 years of business; and it also was a moment to open its Balmoral facility to the public for the very first time, and it did not disappoint.
In a craft-beer world abound in ales, a brewery focused on lagers can reap the benefits of exploring a whole new world of brewing innovation and experimentation. And that’s what you’ll find at Kinslahger Brewing in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Illinois,
The Chicago metro area certainly has a multitude of beers available for consumption these days, given its now 175+ breweries in operation. But, every once in awhile, a beer comes along that inspires a beer writer such as me to, well, write about it. This time, the beer comes from the mad geniuses of Chicago’s Dovetail Brewery. The Dovetail motto, “We brew like monks (minus the vows),” notes its dedication to traditional, continental European-style brewing methods and that is why the Dovetail Hefeweizen is one of the best you’ll ever have.
Two Brother’s Brewing Summer Festival speaks volumes about the brewery’s identity. The journey for the Ebel brothers started with a brewery that barely turned profits twenty years ago to owning five locations and adding coffee and spirits to its portfolio. But, what defines Two Brothers is not its products as much as the brewery’s propensity to host events and welcome fans into its many homes. From Scottsdale to Oak Park, Oktoberfest to Summerfest, nail-pulling parties to special releases, Two Brothers invites you inside and says, “Welcome to our house, beer’s in the fridge.”
The breweries that lie north of Chicago’s Saison-Dixon line regularly play the role of the ugly red-headed stepchild. Granted, Mikerphone receives endless, well-deserved praise, but Mikerphone is a transplant that gained its fame prior to moving to Elk Grove Village. Meanwhile, breweries located in the North Burbs, such as Light the Lamp, Ten-Ninety, ZumBier, Chain O’Lakes, Side Lot, Tighthead, Only Child, Flesk — a brewery in the process of moving to Barrington, and countless others are oft-ignored among the pantheon of Chicago-area breweries.
Don’t do it. Don’t rob yourself of that joy. Refuse to ignore northern-suburban breweries. The brewing scene of the North Burbs is too good to miss!
Around the Bend Beer Co. keeps expanding and releasing new beer. In 2016, Around the Bend introduced Mr. Marmalade IIPA with bitter oranges from Seville, Spain; Villainous IPA with its four yeast strains — two British and two West Coast; and a little beer called Vera, a pistachio cream ale. Vera, though, was not packaged. Why would anyone think a Pistachio beer would be popular? Well, it was. It really was. So, in spring of 2017 the beer returns and will be sold in cans. In fact — as of this spring all of the beer from Around the Bend will arrive to stores in the form of 12 oz canned goodies.
Around the Bend will be part of, or hosting, several events to commemorate the return of Vera and introduce its cans to the world.
The mighty rodent and his all-powerful shadow cannot defeat the mighty force that is the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild. On February 18, the temperature soared to 70 degrees as beer fans flocked to the Guild’s Winter Wonderland of Beer Festival (#ILWinterFest). Then again, in a winter where Chicagoans haven’t seen more than 1″ of snow since mid-December, maybe this is six more weeks of winter, 2017! Out with Chiberia, in with Chindiago!
Saturday, February 18
1 PM – 4 PM, 5 PM – 8 PM
MB Financial Park, Rosemont, Il
Tickets Still Available
“I think an outside festival in February is CRAZY! But, I guess there are a lot of people that really like the idea so we wanted to provide an opportunity to enjoy the best of both!”
And so, Danielle D’Alessandro, Executive Director of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild and her crew are throwing their first outdoor beer party on February 18 — the Winter Wonderland of Beer (#ILWinterFest). Get out the long johns, throw on the scarf, and get ready to throw caution to the winter winds!
ABV 9.1 | IBU 45
The sun dipped below the North Pole’s horizon long ago — not to be seen again until March. The relentless darkness creates indescribable arctic cold that marches southward all winter. But, there’s more than just frosty breezes arriving from the north, there’s Imperial Stout — Two Brothers Brewing Northwind Imperial Stout.
Noon Whistle Brewing | Photo Credit: Mathew Powers
Suburban Chicago’s Noon Whistle Brewing is located in an old strip mall and barely visible from the main road; a location unlikely to garner a passing grade in a Business 101 class. Makes no matter because in the craft beer world, it’s not location, location, location that’s essential; it’s libation, fermentation, innovation.
The beer emerging from Noon Whistle Brewing pulls throngs of thirsty patrons through its doors. And that is why when I arrived a few minutes after the noon hour on a Friday — the first of two days dedicated for its two-year anniversary — I was far from the only person ready to indulge in a parade of special releases. By the time I left that night, the place was packed.