American Beer Classic at Soldier Field: The Brews, the Pours, the Scene

American Beer Classic at Soldier Field:  The Brews, the Pours, the Scene

Written by guest blogger, Brett Brewer...

It’s easy to complain.  It’s much harder to put on an event for 10,000 rowdy drunks.

My tendency toward cynicism is too often a self defense mechanism determined to prove to myself that I can do whatever it is you’ve done better than you.  Had I not spent the first hour at last Saturday's American Beer Classic finding fault with everything, I may have sooner recognized the potential for fun.  Am I really complaining about the lack of event signs outside the north end of Solider Field?

The layout of the event, admittedly, is a little awkward.  Walking into the stadium it appears at first blush the event might only take place in the interior concourse encircling the outside of the field.  My fears were allayed after a few minute long search yielding to the winding concrete path descending down to field, where the meat of the event was in progress.

The event supplies guests with a small plastic cup with a line demarcating the 2 oz., limit.  In theory as you walk around trying out each brewery they are suppose to fill the cup to this line and then mark an X over one of the 24 spots on your free sample card.  Immediately annoyed with the realization that every two sips I would need to refill my cup, my reactive annoyance is again quieted as each station fills the cup to the brim ignoring both the “2 oz. rule” and not bothering to check off the pours on the free sample card.  It’s becoming readily apparent that it’s functionally all you can drink.  Taking a deep breath I again try to reset my expectations.

Both surprised and impressed by the Chicago area brewery turnout (about 25 in total) I sip on local favorites from Two Brothers (Wheaton) and Brickstone Brewery (Bourbonnais) then progress to unknown brews from Hopothesis (Chicago) and Flossmoor Station (Flossmoor).  Best local brew?  Hard to say, but If we’re calling South Bend local then the Irish Red by the Four Horsemen might be top dog.

As my BAC continues its gradual ascent so does my enthusiasm grow for the event.  We take a brief break from the field and play bags in the Honest Tea lounge (technically just for designated drivers, but with no DD’s around my friend and I take up the challenge) barely edging out a competitive couple down from Milwaukee.  Returning to the field I bemoan the lack of opportunities to simply toss a football around the 50 square yard open green space on the south end of the field; unwilling to acknowledge the idea was probably considered but the thought of hundreds of drunks chucking footballs in 20 different directions might create more trouble than fun.

It’s now nearly three hours into the four hour event and an impromptu dance session breaks out in the northwest corner to some catchy tune I’m unfamiliar with.  Recognizing the good idea, it quickly swells to more than 100 people.  In the northeast corner a 100 yard foot race goal line to goal line breaks out in intervals between a similarly growing group.  At mid-field a man gets down on his knees and bends his head down until he locks lips with the grass in two dignity-defying 10 second make out sessions while his friends laugh and eagerly snap photos sure to be posted to Facebook.  He may have some explaining to do to a girlfriend.

Polishing off the nearly four hour drinking marathon with a couple ciders from Crispon (Minneapolis) I only very reluctantly admit I like, I’m at peace with the event.

Things learned:

1)     The wind on the field does indeed whip around in chilling intervals in spite of the fact it was nearly windless outside the stadium.  I’ve heard this tired proclamation from NFL announcers a hundred times but never before believed it.

2)     Soldier Field is freaking cold; even in May.  I’m the kind of Chicagoan who doesn’t like to admit he ever gets cold.  But I did.

3)     The turf at Soldier Field is hardly better (if any better) than most public parks.  Again, I’ve heard a number of times before how bad the turf is, but had considered exaggerated in the somewhat spoiled context of NFL players.

4)     Although an admirable goal, it’s simply not possible to try every single brewery unless gifted with several livers and a basketball sized bladder.

5)     Chicago is the home of improvisation, not just in theater but, in the creative antics of its finest drinkers.

6)     It’s ok for a guy to have a cider now and then, just don’t let it become habit.

7)     I’m frequently wrong.

Will I go again next year?  Maybe.  But if I do, I will certainly check my judgments at the door, wear my winter hoodie, and remember to enter from the South.

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