With the 2013, and 2nd annual, Chicago Beer Festival right around the corner, we thought it a perfect chance to take a look back at our experience and tastings from last year's kick-off event.
Chicago is no stranger to great beer. We are lucky to have seen a surge in pubs that care about what they serve and the recent opening of several breweries in and around the city. One thing that has been lacking however, is the large scale beer festival. There have always been smaller events around the city but a large, city wide event is new to the area.
March 31, 2012 saw the inaugural Chicago Beer Festival in Union Station’s Great Hall. While the team behind organizing the event have a lot to improve on for next year, overall it was a great experience. During the three hour festival, the three of us tried countless beers from across the world, many of which were completely new to us. Below are each of our impressions with a couple brews that stuck out.
Best of Show: Red Hook – ESB – Having grown up in the UK and trying more than a few excellent Extra Special Bitters, I’d have to say this was a pleasant surprise. ESB’s are hard to come by in the US and those that you do find are average at best. My only complaint: Why was it so cold?
Most Disappointing: Chi Town – Lake Shore Lager – Not sure if this was a product of there being so many great beers immediately available, but I find myself consistently disappointed with Chi Town Brewery. Not only are they currently not actually in Chicago (changing soon), but their beer tends to be underwhelming with a strange after taste. I’ll be keeping my eye on this in hopes that they get their act together.
Best of Show: Strange Pelican Blood Orange IPA – One of the last beers I tried, and was happy I did because I hadn’t yet found my favorite. While in line all I kept hearing was how good the Double IPA was, unfortunately they were out, but the Blood Orange IPA was not a bad alternative. The Blood Orange gave the beer a nice citrus taste while not sacrificing the hoppiness. Would love to elaborate, but at this point in the afternoon my mental note taking skills had severely diminished.
I had a brief conversation with one of the Strange Pelican guys and think they are headed in the right direction. I look forward to them getting some product in- market and hopefully trying the Double IPA.
Most Disappointing: Strawberry Beer – I don’t even know who made it, or why I tried it, but I do remember that my beer was pink and tasted like someone squeezed some strawberries into a Miller Lite.
As much as I hate to agree with Tom and Jack, I was also pretty disappointed in the Chi Town assortment. I love the name and some of the branding, but would have loved a little more flavor out of the beers that I tried.
Best of Show: Big Muddy Brewing Company, Big Muddy Monster India Brown Ale - Whew, I need to take a breath after saying all that. I can’t say I’ve ever heard of an India Brown Ale as it’s own style, but the melding of hops and maltiness from this Southern Illinois (Murphysboro, IL) brewery hit the spot. Not too bitter, not too malty. Just right in my book – and I will now certainly be keeping an eye out for other offerings for this new-to-me brewery. bigmuddybrewing.com
Most Disappointing: Chi Town – Pier Pale Ale - Like Tom, I feel that I am yet to get my hands on a truly likable brew from this gang. It does pain me too that they opened up under the name “Chicago Beer Company” but operated north of the border til recently. But aside from my bitterness in that regard, I would say that this pale ale struck me in one word: “underwhelming.”