I was having so much fun sampling at talking beer last Saturday, that it's only now that I realized I had been to my first film premiere.
A fourth floor loft studio on North Racine was packed full for the debut of "FOBAB," a documentary shot at Chicago's tenth annual Festival of Barrel Aged Beer. It was a short film, to be sure, and the producers did not discuss what would happen to it next, but the crowd was very appreciative, cheering on-screen appearances of John Laffler (ex-of Goose Island's Barrel program, now a partner in the forthcoming Off Color Brewing), Randy Mosher (5 Rabbit) and Pete Crowley (Haymarket Pub & Brewing), among the many "Kahunae" of barrel-aged beers.
The film celebrated the Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer (the acronym caught on before the word "Wood" was added to the title), sponsored by the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild. The 10th annual event was held last November 17 at the South Side's new Bridgeport Art Center. Like so many craft beer events, this has grown from an intimate gathering of beer nerds to a sold-out festival, with over 173 beers from 60 brewers across the country that had been aged in clean oak, or used liquor barrels. Here's a teaser trailer below:
The documentary was produced as a collaboration by Kent Weber (BeerFX), Nik White (Chicago Beer Geeks) and videographer Mark Skala, as the second installment in an "Independent Beer Series," following a journal of last year's "Iron Brew" competition. The debut party at the No Sandbox studio space also served as a fundraiser for Pints for Prostates. The three talked about the movie, which was then projected to general cheers from a happy crowd. The movie turned out to be a celebration of the festival, and of Chicago's position as the originator of the barrel-aged beer crazed, starting with Goose Island's Bourbon County Stout in the early 1990s. Update: I have a link to the full video now at this article. Yes, it's a ploy to draw another click from you.
Homebrewed Beer Deliciousness
But why go to a beer-centered event if there aren't great beers to drink? This party was no exception.
There was only one table with beers from commercial brewers: Goose Island supplied its FoBAB Gold medalist Fertile Crescent Wheat Wine, and a special collaboration between Laffler and Evil Twin Brewing of Denmark, called "Even More Evil." There was a Belgian Pale Ale from Haymarket, and Revolution's Cross of Gold. Drew Fox, a brewer for Pipeworks who is already "seeding" his own 18th Street Brewery, to come in Gary, IN, was dispensing Pipeworks' eccentric bottled beers, including his own Brotherhood Belgian Single.
But this was my first time meeting many of homebrewers who manage to produce large quantities of beer to pour at events like these. Many of them have web pages and sell merchandise that positions them the same as professional brewers, and may one day turn pro themselves. You'll be likely to encounter these truly nano brewers at a local art or beer event yourself.
In the interest of journalistic completeness, I tried to find out about each of these brewers and their wares:
Twisted Hippo Brewing is a collective homebrewing group that has been using the pilot brewing space at The Plant (not the full scale brewery that New Chicago had to leave). They had an Oak-Aged India Pale Ale, as opposed to bourbon barrel aged, that did indeed show a lot of oak character in a clean, hoppy brew.
Big Dicks left behind the dildo-shaped tap handles that got them some notoriety earlier, and offered a bourbon barrel-aged stout with lots of mild coffee roast notes. Still: not even a Facebook page, guys?
David Gibbons of Albany Park's Inebriated Brewing poured an IPA dosed entirely with Nelson Sauvin hops, a New Zealand variety with a big gooseberry and tropical fruit nose. They also had a dark milk stout named "Smoresgasbord," made with cocoa, vanilla, and… graham cracker crumbs.
Josh Garrett and his cohorts of Powell Brew House had a growler of a great–and tart–blueberry sour stout, plus their usual Tart Cherry Black Saison.
From Low Dive, I tasted a Berliner Weisse, a low-alcohol sour German style that's not made very often.
Soma Ale Werks brought on a barrel-aged barley wine, "The Great Attractor," featuring lots of bourbon flavor over a note of root beer. I also tried one of their Cucumber Saisons, aged in a gin barrel: not much gin character, as it is pretty well macerated by the note of cucumber. Would a soured version be called a pickelbier?
I'm pretty sure I had Distortion Brewing's Sunburst Cherry Stout, but it's not in my notes. Pretty sure it was toward the end of my visit, when I was sitting on a stuffed chair in front of one of the DJ's speakers, blissing out as he was playing Deodato's "Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001)." And watching the whippersnappers try to dance to it.
Of course I can't neglect mentioning the rep from Ravenswood's Koval Distillery, who was mixing drinks with a spice tonic, and sampling their single-grain whiskies in both white and barrel-aged versions. Especially at the end, when she set the rest of her club soda bottles.
The many local homebrewers represent an interesting new twist in the beer scene. While their presence at a private, RSVP beer party or gallery opening is almost a given, state regulations that prevent them from pouring at more public events like large beer festivals or commercial establishments like bars. But there has been a push in some states to allow licensed nano-brewers to sell at local farmers markets, though lining up enough approval for even that seems years down the road. In the meantime, look up some of these brewers, "friend" them, and find out where they'll be pouring next.
Chicago Beer Geeks will be out next filming at Fischman Liquors' "Tap This" event on January 24.