Chicago Brew Fests: Where the Beer Flows Like Wine

Chicago Brew Fests: Where the Beer Flows Like Wine
Sharing a beer with the Rahmfather.

Summertime in Chicago. Tis the season in which, for some reason, the guilt you would usually feel after tipping a few beers too many nights in a row is conspicuous only in its absence.

A valid excuse is never difficult to find. The weather’s gorgeous — I’ll have a beer. The Cubs are playing tonight — I should probably have a beer. I’m kind of thirsty — if I don’t have a beer, I may get dehydrated. And it doesn’t help that, more often than not, there’s some sort of outdoor craft beer event occurring nearby at that very moment.

Here's a look at three I attended over the past couple of weeks:

Friday Night Flights: Ravenswood

If you’re not familiar, Friday Night Flights is the brainchild of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a not-so-sneaky craft brew enthusiast himself. The city’s tourism arm Choose Chicago officially launched the series in partnership with the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild last year (if I’m not mistaken), and the sessions have thus far been a huge success.

Every couple of weeks during the summer, a different Chicago neighborhood plays host to about eight local breweries from that area, which set up shop in little tent stations where they serve up samples, chat with neighbors and generally enjoy the atmosphere. Even in its infancy, it’s become a pretty cool little tradition.

Speaking of the Rahmfather, my sister and I bumped into him (or approached him aggressively, open to interpretation) at the Ravenswood event, and he was friendly enough to chat for a bit and even made some interesting remarks about how he’d like to turn Chicagoland into the “Napa Valley of Beer,” an ambitious proposition, but exciting nonetheless.

As for the beer — ah, I love Ravenswood! I’ve talked about the neighborhood’s Malt Row of quality taprooms in previous posts on Empirical Brewing and Begyle Brewing, and as expected, they impressed.

However, this time around, my favorite samples came courtesy of the crew at Alarmist Brewing, which was dishing out a new release called Oatshaker — a light, airy NEIPA with an emphasis on oats that produces a distinct flavor, setting it apart from many of the other hazy IPAs flooding the market these days. As a traditional alternative to the juicy brew, Alarmist’s Entrenched IPA hit the spot as well.

I was already familiar with many of the other available beers, though I did manage to sneak in a refreshing Barbie & Ken Cider from Eris Brewery And Cider House and some new offerings from Band of Bohemia and Old Irving Brewing.

Friday Night Flights: West Town

Last Friday, the FNF gang packed up and moved to Kinzie Street, just north of the West Loop and south of Ukranian Village…the first Flights event to incorporate my personal neighborhood breweries.

Technically this wasn't at the fest...I just loved it.

Technically this wasn't at the fest...I just loved it.

Thanks to a beautiful evening and a far less overwhelming crowd, this one came together swimmingly. We thoroughly enjoyed catching up with some neighborhood favorites — On Tour, Great Central, Finch, Cruz Blanca — but it was a less familiar brewery that swooped in to steal the show: Illuminated Brew Works.

Personal hot take: if you’re going to piggyback on the current “haze craze” by churning out New England style IPAs, you better do it right. And aside from Noon Whistle in Lombard and their Gummy series, I’m not sure any Chicago brewery is doing it better than Illuminated.

Tasting the Astronaut Eye Scream with a clear palate and an empty stomach was a mouthwatering experience. It’s smooth, buttery and balanced — which is even more impressive given its eight-percent ABV — with tropical undertones that don’t inundate your taste buds with citrus flavors.

If Eye Scream was incredible, Bulgakhopf was mind-blowing. I actually returned for multiple samples, which is something I don’t think I’ve ever done before. It’s brewed with the same hefty alcohol content, but it’s hopped with Equinox and Saphire, which, combined with Amarillo hops, produced a clean, creamy body and delicious taste that was totally new to me.

If you do anything this weekend, do yourself this favor — grab a bomber of Bulgakhopf, and drink it as soon as possible.

Annual Oak Park Micro Brew Review

Thousands of craft beer lovers and general revelers descended upon Oak Park’s main drag this past Saturday to take part in what’s billed as “largest zero-waste craft beer fest in the Midwest.”

oak-parkThis may come as a shock, but I love quality craft beer, especially when I have the opportunity to try new brews. I preface with that disclaimer because, in this case, I believe the notion that there can be too much of a good thing is extremely valid.

When you have 80 breweries dishing out two to four samples a piece over a four-hour period — not to mention food vendors, bands, and tasting contests — complexity and excessiveness tend to outweigh the joy of good, old-fashioned beer drinking.

oak-park-2Don’t get me wrong, we sampled some fantastic brews. I was particularly pleased that we had the chance to try Collective Arts (a Canadian brewery new to Chicagoland), Short Fuse, Blue Nose, Imperial Oak, and several others I’d had my eye on for some time.

But you can only put down so many saisons, German lagers, hoppy sours, and NEIPAs (so, so, so many NEIPAs) before everything starts to blend together and all you want is a giant glass of water and a cheeseburger to soak it all up.

So, while these massive craft beer fests undoubtedly have their appeal, give me a scaled-down Friday Night Flights style mini-fest every time over these big operations.

There’s a certain simple magic to sampling a few offerings, pinpointing your favorite, ordering a pint of that, and kicking back to enjoy it properly.

Last two photos courtesy of www.facebook.com/OPMicrobrew. 

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