Each year the month of May brings to Chicago a mixture of tumult and bliss. The weather oscillates between, on the one hand, violent storms that usher in cold, rainy snaps, and, on the other, warm, resplendent days. This of course is a perfect backdrop for the annual Chicago Craft Beer Week, itself a cuvee of manic beer-event panoply mixed with periodic moments of beer-drinking tranquility.
The 5th Annual CCBW kicks off Thursday May 15, and between then and the May 25 finale, a blizzard of events across more than 300 venues will unleash the craft beer revolution upon Chicago. Bars, restaurants, tasting rooms, and even boats will showcase the Windy City’s craft brewing affinity. This year’s jubilee unofficially launched a couple of weeks ago at the superb DryHop Brewers’ stately, inviting brewpub. Beer writers, brewers, and other media assembled for the kick-off meeting, which featured a terrific video montage highlighting members of Chicago microbrewing’s constellation. You’ve been hibernating for the last five years if you are unaware of craft beer’s local power surge. But the video crystallized the extent to which craft brewing has interwoven itself in the community fabric. Sound clips from various local brewers revealed their pride in their output and in its bar-raising impact on brewing quality.
This moving tribute powers us into a Craft Beer Week that’s poised to be the most exciting one yet. Events will be replete with local, national, and overseas brews and will feature top-quality beers, demonstrate the latest in brewing trends, and offer creative pairings with delicious and innovative food. There are far too many events to detail, and the constraints of time, money, and not to mention sobriety, will inhibit anyone from attending most of these myriad happenings. Already the esteemed Beer Under Glass soiree at the Garfield Conservatory is sold out. But there are hundreds of other events to choose among, whether your goal is to discover great beers, to experience innovative meals, or to simply socialize with fellow beer lovers. Here are ten events which should give you a representative slice of CCBW, and serve as a platform for your coming away from the week feeling fulfilled (and perhaps downright full).
1. Cheers to Local Beers – Thursday, May 15, 6:00 p.m. at Monk’s Pub, 205 W. Lake, Chicago
There should be a mandate that anyone participating in CCBW start with a local brew. One of Chicago’s warmest and most inviting downtown pubs, Monk’s, which has a quaint dinginess about it, will be featuring a smorgasbord of local brewers including Goose Island, Off Color, Begyle, Metropolitan, Local Option, and Half Acre. This event is a great opportunity to try offerings from these standouts and from the other excellent local brewers. The roster is deep and the taps are sure to be pouring unique beers across a range of styles. Everyone will find something appealing on tap. Several other events that night to consider are Hackney’s Printers’ Row’s tappings of Dogfish Head 120 and World Wide Stout, which are not local but are rare and powerful beers, and Northdown’s Firestone Walker tasting, which will feature several of the California brewer’s singular beers including the devastating and uber-rare Parabola.
2. Unicornucopia: Deuce, at Star Lounge Coffee Bar, Friday, May 16 at 7 p.m., 2521 W. Chicago Ave.
Friday night is a good beer-dinner night. So, go big or go home with Pipeworks Brewing. They make huge, delicious, beers that will blast your senses to smithereens. Four monstrous Pipeworks brews will be paired with a four-course meal from CO-OP Sauce and Big Fork Bacon that is sure to be memorable and delectable. I want in on this! Also look in to DryHop Brewers’ and Goose Island’s Collaboration Release party which is also that night and will feature the new collaboration from the two innovative brewers, along with a lineup of Goose’s sours. In addition, the Grafton is tapping Founders KBS. Res ipsa loquitur.
3. Lagunitas Beer Circus. Saturday, May 17th, and Sunday May 18th, Noon-5 p.m., 1843 S. Washtenaw.
Are you really going to pass up a circus? A circus with beer? With Laguintas beer? I didn’t think so. Step right up and welcome Lagunitas, now officially a Chicago brewery, to town with a freakish sideshow certain to blow the lid off the big top. A music and freakshow spectacle such as this is a perfect way to commemorate Lagunitas’ bringing its star and its increasingly large brewing footprint to its massive, new southside brewhouse during an event which could be frighteningly delicious. Or deliciously frightening.
4. Haymarket Mini-FOBAB, Sunday, May 18th, 1-4 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. 737 W. Randolph
FOBAB stands for the Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beers, an annual Chicago affair, apart from CCBW, that features beers that have been steeped in oak, whiskey, and other saturated wood barrels. This event is a condensed program presenting samplings of primarily whiskey-barreled beers from Revolution, Goose Island, Rock Bottom, Great Divide, and a bunch of other breweries I’ve never heard of. One thing is for certain: both sessions of this will sell out, so try to get your tickets early – as soon as you read this. If you like barreled beers, this is for you. The No. 8 bus is waiting for you. If you survive until that evening, check out The Green Lady’s “Sweet Home Chicago” craft beer event, featuring beers from Metropolitan, Pipeworks, and 18th Street.
5. American Craft Beer Tasting at The Chopping Block, Monday, May 19th at 7 p.m., Merchandise Mart, Suite 107
Get a little Beer Ed 101 at this fun little event. Owner of the revered beer bar, Hopleaf, Michael Roper will conduct a tasting of seminal American beers, including Belgian-styled domestic brews. Quite a few brews which factored prominently in my beer education will be offered and discussed, including the legendary Anchor Steam, Victory Prima Pils, Bourbon County Stout, and Bruery Saison Rue. It’s not cheap and there’s a cancellation policy, but the discussion of American beer evolution should be quite insightful.
6. Half Acre Tap Takeover at Village Tap, Tuesday, May 20 at 5:00 p.m., 2055 W. Roscoe
If it can’t be definitively stated that Half Acre is Chicago’s best brewery, then I can at least offer that their selections are far more attainable than those of Pipeworks. Plus HA’s ability to blend accessibility, uniquity, and supreme quality is unassailable. Not many breweries can boast a schedule that includes Daisy Cutter, Vallejo, Galactic Double Daisy Cutter, Akari Shogun, and The Hammer, The Bullet & The Vise. And that just scratches the surface. Their brilliance lies in bending common styles into something refreshingly new but at the same time familiar. But don’t take my word for it. Go to Village Tap and see for yourself.
7. Division St. IPA Crawl, Wednesday, May 21 at 6:00 p.m. at Jerry’s, 1938 W. Division
Now we are talking, hopheads. Three Division Street bars combine efforts in a showdown of IPA styles as Jerry’s taps Midwestern IPA’s, Bangers & Lace taps East Cost IPA’s, and SmallBar taps (you had me at hello!) West Coast IPA’s on a West Division St. IPA crawl. I don’t yet see any actual West Coast breweries, such as Port or Stone, listed among the brewers, but stay tuned. Something hoppy this way comes.
8. Create-Your-Own Tap Takeover at Jerry’s Andersonville, Thursday, May 22 at 6:00 p.m., 5419 N. Clark St.
Pick the 5 epic beers you want on tap on at Jerry’s on the 22nd. Voting begins on Sunday the 18th and the winners will be on tap on the 22nd. Candidates include Bruery Tart of Darkness, a 2012 Port Santa’s Little Helper, Goose Island Big John, Revolution Bean Gene, and a 2012 Great Lakes Blackout Stout (which ages exceptionally well). You won’t need a Harris poll to tell you that one or more of these beers will be among the winners on tap that night. Also that night, Mystic Blue Cruises’ Craft Beer Cruise will set sail on the lake for an evening of craft-beer nautical fun. Only $30. Not bad!
9. West Loop Craft Beer Fest, Saturday, May 24th, 12-5 p.m., Chicago French Market
This is one of the CCBW highlights, and your trusted beer scribe will be there! Get a ticket and stop by for Chicago’s biggest craft brewing block party, outdoors at the fabulous French Market. Enjoy some of the terrific food from FM vendors, and try beers from just about every local craft brewer you can think of. If we get sunshine that day, it could prove to be one of the city’s best events of the year.
10. Little Goat Rooftop Revolution, May 25 at 2:00 p.m. 820 W. Randolph St.
Wind down an exhausting but thrilling CCBW with a little Revolution tasting on Little Goat’s rooftop. Besides their delectable, savory diner food, Little Goat will be featuring Revolution beers as well as 16 other tap handles with Chicago-area brews. This will be a food-and-beer event like no other. When you have had your fill of that, cruise on up to Green Lady that evening for their Beer School: The Sour Edition event, which will focus on sours, wild ales, and farmhouse ales, hosted by Chris Betts and Christopher Quinn. Stick around afterwards to watch some Mad Men.