#IllinoisCraftBeer Archives – PorchDrinking.com
In 2016, I wrote a piece about Pollyanna Brewing Summerly Raspberry Wheat that stated, “Pollyanna Brewing‘s rapid success is almost unfathomable until you try the beer — and then it makes perfect sense. Just shy of two years old, Pollyanna Brewing is already expanding its production.” Well, nearly five years after that story published, the brewery has opened two new locations and won a host of prestigious beer awards, including its Lite Thinking American Lager that won 2019 gold and 2020 bronze at the Great American Beer Fest (GABF).
Forget golden rings. On the fifth year of holiday collaboration, The Open Bottle and Hailstorm Brewing gave to us, Santa’s Cookies & Milk Stout. And, it’s adorned in gold labeling, with a special glass to match. The stout is decadent, creamy, full-bodied and somehow still crushable; a real holiday treat. Yet, the real gift goes to Tinley Wish because a portion of sales aids the south-suburban Chicago organization that gives aid to needy families.
The 2019 GABF Gold Medal for Chicago’s Begyle Brewing Barrel-Aged Imperial Pajamas gave credence to those who boasted of its excellence, and the award did wonders for its popularity. However, medals only go so far; Chicago’s beer crowd can be downright snobby about BBAs. The annual Imperial Pajamas release enjoys increasing fanfare because of its consistency, quality and a taproom party consisting of hour-by-hour variant tappings. Sadly, the global pandemic prevented Begyle from throwing its annual gathering. Nevertheless, the three packaged Pajamas stand as exemplary BBAs and evidence of why the program now hangs with the big boys and girls of the strong barrel-aging beer world.
This year’s three Imperial Pajamas release consists of the classic in Heaven Hill barrels, a vanilla variant and a special version aged in Booker Bourbon barrels. “We’ve had a lot of fun with release day variants, the way we handled those hourly releases allowed us to explore many different flavor combinations over the years. With our first foray into canning a barrel aged variant we chose vanilla as it is one of the most versatile ingredients we use in several of the variant combos we have done in the past. From the feedback we’ve gotten vanilla was always the most popular flavor, whether it was just vanilla, or vanilla combined with other ingredients,” said Kevin Cary, Begyle co-founder.
Who says you can’t have your coffee and cakes… and drink them, too? The folks over at Hubbard’s Cave are here to prove that you can, in fact, do just that. This Chicago-based brewery has dished up something straight out of boozy brunch dreams and let’s just say: We’re here for it.
The famous Chicago Fire began on October 8, 1871, in a barn owned by Catherine and Patrick O’Leary. The city went ablaze for 36 hours, destroying 18,000 buildings and leaving 100,000 Chicagoans homeless. A frightful October story, to say the least! But, Spiteful Brewing has taken that story, mixed it with some cow-blaming folklore and turned into a sweet Halloween treat: Mrs. O’Leary’s Chocolate Stout.
Maplewood Brewing & Distilling in Chicago, IL offered a dual homage to Bavaria this year with Festbier and Fest Whiskey, demonstrating its prowess in both realms of the imbibe world. Though Maplewood may have added distilling to its repertoire after opening its lauded brewery, creating spirits has always been part of the plan. Indeed, in 2016, Ari Megalis, co-founder and distiller, commented to PorchDrinking.com: “When we started, we almost considered only distilling, but it obviously takes some time before you can get your product on the market. But we love beer, and we ended up doing that, too. It worked out great because now we can do a lot of things with it.”
With the 2019-20 global pandemic still at-hand, The Illinois Craft Brewers Guild has announced details for a re-imagined 18th annual Festival of Wood & Barrel-Aged Beer (FoBAB). Brewers from all over the nation have submitted beers for judging, and this year people can purchase 6 packs to-go, with 100% of the funds going to the host of FoBAB, the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild. The money will ultimately support the broader Illinois craft-beer community.
It’s tempting to bemoan the fact that the industry remains in a lengthy pandemic-induced pivot. However, it’s time to start focusing on what is instead of what isn’t happening. For this year’s Great American Beer Festival (GABF), beer drinkers will have a chance to purchase a GABF Passport that gives them access to a host of good deals (an idea similar to Chicago and Illinois Craft Beer Weeks held in previous years). One can purchase the $20 GABF Passport and start enjoying brewery deals October 1 through October 18. As well, the passport gives beer drinkers an opportunity to attend (view) the star-studded Virtual GABF Festival (October 16-17) (which includes the awards ceremony).
If you’re currently in the mindset that it’s too early for pumpkin beer but too late for summer-only releases, then we’re on the same page. This often means it’s Oktoberfest season, the best season of all! Oktoberfest styles (usually in the form of a Festbier and Märzen) are popping up at the majority of breweries across the city and suburbs, and while it feels slightly earlier than normal (what day is it anyway?), I’m not upset about the early arrival.
When Roaring Table Brewery won the 2020 USA Today Readers’ Choice “Best New Brewery” award, it didn’t come because the brewery engaged heavily in a marketing strategies, nor did it come from chasing trends or a producing a series of sexy releases. Beth May and Lane Fearing, married couple and founders of Roaring Table Brewing, created a brewery that at its heart and soul is a neighborhood tavern or pub that just happens to serve some of the best beer in town.
“Beer is more than just a drink; it’s an experience,” said Lane, who serves as Roaring Table head brewer.
It’s certainly well-known that there’s been an explosion of breweries and distilleries offering alternative beverages such as hard seltzers, ready-to-drink cocktails, hard sodas, and malt-based fruited drinks the past few years—and COVID19 has helped boost that category. Craft breweries have not been shy in cashing in on that trend, and finding their patrons to be quite receptive to their efforts. Two examples of how diverse that trend has evolved comes from Chicago’s Burnt City Brewing and Casa Humilde, two of the four breweries that make up the city’s unique District Brew Yards. They now offer their patrons a hard soda and a michelada-inspired beverage.
Even in uncertain times, craft breweries and American ingenuity continue to create unique new ways to drink and enjoy craft beer. In Chicago, finding an establishment to sit outside and enjoy a cold one can still be hard to come by. Outdoor dining is limited, and people are lining up at the door to get a small dose of what feels like normalcy. However, with ample green space in and around the city, there is no shortage of places that provide some shade and plenty of space to spread out if relaxation and quiet are what you crave.
Just in time for the dog days of summer, Hop Butcher For The World released their highly sought after Blazed Orange Milkshake IPA, giving Chicagoland craft beer drinkers an IPA reminiscent of childhood summers and simpler times. Inspired by the classic frozen treat, Hop Butcher used their American ingenuity to bring you a Creamsicle in a glass.
Pure barrel flavoring. No extracts. No syrups. No sugar bombs. The Imperial Oak Brewing Quiet Giant (strong) Barrel-Aged American Imperial Stout series, now in its sixth year, celebrates the artistry of barrel-aging in its purest form.
Yes, there are varieties with adjuncts, but only as complementary flavors. “Why put a beer in a barrel for a year and then completely cover it up? That’s why the two-year [BBA] is still my personal favorite. But, I do like our variants. They aren’t going to knock you in the face. That’s not our thing. None of them are going to be a chocolate bomb, coconut bomb..that type of terminology. I like adjuncts. But, I want it to be subtle and complement the beer,” said Brett Semenske co-owner and brewer.
Quiet Giant arrives each year for its anniversary, which this year enjoys the theme: Six years, Six Feet Apart (details can be found at the end of this story). The party slogan speaks to the challenges presented to breweries in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic. But, Illinois’ case numbers are declining, patios are open and the beer remains consistent as ever. Going forward, most can expect five variants to arrive each May (this year in June due to the COVID-19 lockdown), with more two-year BBA for 2021. However, this year, Imperial Oak also has a one-time special beer from its Savage Oak room, offered in bottles.
On Friday, May 29, the full COVID-19 lockdown came to an end for numerous breweries across suburban Chicago, as long as they could offer outdoor seating and follow social distancing protocols (The city proper would have to wait a little longer). The questions were: How would breweries adjust to operating during a pandemic and would beer drinkers comply and behave?
The beauty of craft beer is in how intensely local it feels. Supporting your local brewery means supporting your city. While many breweries expand and grow in distribution, there’s something unique and familiar about drinking a beer that’s brewed close to you. With unique names and labels, breweries across the country lean into this understanding of what it means to be fiercely local. Illinois’ largest independently-owned brewery, Revolution Brewing, is interwoven into the tapestry of Chicago’s rich beer scene. Now, it’s going one step farther with the release of its City Series packaging refresh, which pairs iconic images of Chicago with some Revolution’s most popular session beers.
The women of Mikerphone Brewing do not play the role of background singers at the musical-inspired brewery, but instead work harmoniously with the men; they are integral to the entire operation. And, on February 8, Mike Pallen and his skilled assistants handed over the brewhouse to the women of Mikerphone in order to brew Drippin’ So Much Sauce Double Dry-Hopped Double IPA. The beer will not only be tasty but also support The Wings Program, which aims to end the cycle of domestic violence and give aid to those who have suffered.
Suburban Chicago’s Imperial Oak Brewing will celebrate its 6th anniversary this May, and that will be the last one as a single-location brewery. Imperial Oak will open a second location about ten miles north of its current taproom this summer; the brewery purchased Brixie’s Craft Beer Bar, a family-run bar that first opened in 1934.
Imperial Oak (Willow Springs) joins several other of Chicago’s west- and south-suburban breweries that opened in a roughly fifteen-month stretch from late 2013 though early 2015 in expanding, and in the process have grow into name-brands. Imperial Oak, Hailstorm, Pollyanna, Noon Whistle, and Werk Force have all expanded their original spaces, and some are now adding second and third locations.
Move over Cupid. Oswego Brewing, Riverlands Brewing, Skeleton Key Brewing and Wolfden Brewing have concocted the perfect method for which to achieve romantic bliss: the Box of Chocolates Beer Collaboration. The multi-brewery Valentine’s Day beer package is more than just a treat, though, because the beers also serve as beautiful demonstrations of the versatility of stouts (or stout-like ales), which is fitting for February (a.k.a. Stout Month).
As the Chicago-area craft scene inches its way towards 200 breweries, the annual task of summarizing the year’s best beer stories has grown ever so daunting — and exhilarating. To peer through one’s pictures of the beers, events, and interviews and re-discover the year in beer offers a reminder of how enriching the job of a beer writer can be. Indeed, the pick the minds of brewers and industry folks, and drink the fruits of their labor, is satisfying to no end. Mike Zoller, Chicago and Midwest Editor and I, Chicago writer and National Content Editor, decided to provide some of our highlights this year. Without further ado, enjoy our 2019 Best of Chicago Craft Brewing
Fresh off its Silver Medal at the Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer (FoBAB) for its Rye Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout, Crystal Lake Brewing has unveiled its 2019 Boathouse Reserve barrel-aged series, which will formally be released on Saturday, November 23. …