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Craft Beer Week Tips

M. Sheppard

May 16 2013 - 9:00 AM

The word is out that Chicago Craft Beer Week 2013 is finally here!   Chicago Foodies has already provided you with an event overview and the most pertinent links.  With 250 venues participating, and only a week and a half to take in all the activities, that’s a lot of scheduling – and, of course, a lot of beer.  Now for a strategy on how to maximize your experience  and five of the top events to attend.

Let me preface this by saying I’m not a huge “beer fest” guy, per se.  A decade ago, beer fests were the exclusive venue for curious drinkers to sample out-of-town and small-production beers.  But fests can be annoying, often marked by long lines, minuscule pours, and too-few offerings of limited-release brews.

Chicago’s explosion of craft beer bars and the breakthrough of the local brewing revolution have been game-changers, making craft brews far more accessible.  These days, beer lovers can attend tap takeovers almost every week, where they can taste through a brewer’s major and small-production offerings.  You no longer have to travel to a stadium, pay a steep ticket price coupled with obscene fees, and wait in line for hours to try some of the world-class beers out there.

So, if your interest in Craft Beer Week is to gain some new beer experiences on a budget, I would recommend identifying ten-or-so events that capture your interest and meet your criteria, and making it a point to attend those.   Here are some strategies for maximizing your experience.

1. Look for events offering rare beers.  

Barrel-aged beers are some of the market’s most-sought-after and hardest-to-find beers.   Any event offering barrel-aged beers should be a top priority because you will only find these beers a handful of times throughout the year, and many will never be seen again in the incarnation offered at the event.

2. Find events where beers are being offered in unusual formats. 

Firkin beers are fun because their cask conditioning reinvents the beer’s entire profile. Even a beer with which you are intimately familiar, such as Bell’s Two Hearted or Three Floyds Zombie Dust taste dramatically different and often more inviting when served at 55 degrees with billowing carbonation in an English pint.  Something about a firkin creates a harmony in a crowd; you want to put your arm around your neighbor’s shoulder, toast pints, and sway while singing wassail songs.

3. A meet-the-brewer event should be on your list. 

Chicago has a terrific crop of young and established brewers, and there are plenty of  fabulous brewmasters from out of town.  Whether you are interested in home brewing or just drinking beer, meet-the-brewer events are a great way of discovering brewing techniques and getting the inside scoop on upcoming releases.

4. Attend a beer dinner. 

These can be expensive if you are on a budget, but indulging in a meal in which the beer and food are carefully coordinated can expand your palate for both, and expose you to new culinary ideas.

5. Drink it all in!

Craft Beer Week is about celebrating, so try to work in one of the mini-festivals or public events where you can revel with other craft beer lovers.

Here are five events that should be on your schedule:

1. Village Tap Barrel Aged Beer Event

2055 W. Roscoe Ave. Chicago IL, 5:00 p.m., Thursday, May 16  and Friday, May 17, 5 p.m.-2 a.m.

Village Tap is offering barrel-aged versions of brews from two outstanding brewers, California’s Firestone Walker, which has some of the most accomplished barreled beers around, and Chicago’s Revolution brewing which is helping cement Chicago’s place as a major craft beer center.  You are certain to find some rare and unusual beers on tap at this event.  Get there early because supplies will be limited.

2. Half Acre Double Firkin Tapping

4255 N. Lincoln Ave. Chicago, IL, 12:00 p.m., Friday, May 17

You need to visit Half Acre’s warm and inviting tap room in the cozy North Center neighborhood along Lincoln Avenue.  Half Acre will be tapping special firkins, at 12 and 4 p.m. that day, the contents of which will be announced on the day of the event.

3. New Wave Brewer Showcase

Hamburger Mary’s,5400 N. Clark Street Chicago,IL., 7:00 p.m Wednesday, May 22

This promises to be a terrific event in which you will be able to meet brewers from some of Chicago’s newest breweries such as Spiteful, Begyle, and DryHop, and try their delicious beers.  A key benefit of this event is that guests can purchase drink tickets for beer samples.  A drawback of tap takeovers is that you have to commit to an entire glass of beer, rather than a sample.  This greatly limits your financial ability to widely sample, as well as your sobriety.  The sampling method through drink tickets is a terrific way to become acquainted with a wide variety of breweries.

4. 2 Sparrows-Lagunitas Beer Dinner

553 W. Diversey Pkwy Chicago,IL, 7:00 p.m. Friday, May, 17

Chef Gregory Ellis will be pairing a five-course meal with various beers from stalwart Laguinitas Brewing Company, which will soon call Chicago its home.  Dishes including items such as lamb, beets, scallops, and rhubarb are on the menu, and beers include Lagunitas’ delicious Hop Stoopid and their Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale.  $60 per person.

5. West Loop Craft Beer Festival

Clinton St. between Lake and Washington Sts., Chicago, IL, Saturday, May 25

Celebrate the culmination of Craft Beer Week with this West Loop jubilee featuring over two dozen brewers, as well as food and entertainment. This is a perfect setting to enjoy craft beer with current friends and the new ones you’ll meet.

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