Saturnalia was a festival in ancient Rome celebrating the agricultural god Saturn. Gift-giving, role reversal, and general merriment was had by all Roman citizens and slaves. What once started out as a single day celebration eventually expanded to three (wacky Julian calendar reforms) and eventually into (at its peak) seven days.
Chicago Craft Beer Week started in 2010 as a seven day (Monday to Sunday) beer celebration and has, much like Saturnalia, expanded due to popularity to an eleven day extravaganza encompassing two weekends and places outside of the city limits.
So what’s the purpose of this guide? Earlier in the year I went out to San Francisco for their beer week. They had a website set up (similar to www.chibeerweek.com) listing all the events taking place during the week. Problem was there were many repetitive events and some of the good ones were not listed (such as the City Beer Store Sante Adairius event). Therefore, this guide intends to serve both the Chicago-dwelling craft beer drinker as well those from other areas that might want to try regularly available (in Chicago) beers in one spot. For each day, an overall “best”, an alternate, an out of town (for those not from Chicago) and honorable mention events (if available) will be listed.
This is simply meant to serve as a guide; your CCBW is what you make of it. For ABV Chicago, we both have day jobs and functioning livers (and we would like to keep both), so, while we won’t be able to attend every event, one of us will try to make it to a handful of them. If you see us, feel free to chat us up! We love meeting fellow craft beer lovers and (of course) listeners.
On that note, let’s do this!
Best: Beer Under Glass (ticketed)
Alternate: CCBW Kick Off Party w/Firestone Walker
Out-of-Town: Beer In Your Glass
Beer Under Glass (BUG) is one of the highlights of CCBW. The pricing is prohibitive ($60 for GA) and the success is heavily dependent on the weather, but it is a fun and unique event with 20+ great local and downstate breweries pouring, along with a few food vendors (Marion Street Cheese Market? Yes please). The Garfield Park Conservatory just let it be known that the event would take place entirely outside, so it will be more like “Beer Next to Glass.” With the forecast (as of this writing) being 52 degrees with a 50% chance of rain, take warning.
If you don’t care to travel there, don’t want to pay, or don’t like cold, wet beer events, Northdown is holding a very solid Firestone Walker event featuring Parabola and Stickee Monkee amongst others (two great beers rarely on tap in Chicago).
Emporium is holding the Beer In Your Glass event with about as many breweries featured as BUG, plus an exclusive Solemn Oath Beer “Goth Syrup.” Variety per brewery might be lower, but it’s indoors and there are video games.
Alternate: Off Color/3 Floyds Tap Takeover
Out-of-Town: “There’s More Than Corn In Indiana!”
On a very oddly slim night, the Dryhop/GI event wins almost by default. In addition to the collaborative sour ale release, Goose will have all “five” sisters (Madame Rose, plus the four sisters: Lolita, Juliet, Halia and Gillian). A plus is that it’s the only one of the three actually in Chicago.
Out in Des Plaines, Countryside Saloon is having Off Color (including Dino S’mores and Dawdle (BA Scurry)) in addition to 3 Floyds offerings. The closer you are to Des Plaines, the more likely should you be to go this event (i.e. it only didn’t get best because it’s far out of the city). A must stop for out-of-towners as well (if they’re north of the city).
For those south of Chicago (or those that want some 18th Street and 3 Floyds), Maple Tree Inn is hosting 3 Indiana brewers (the two above, plus Upland). Four 18th Street beers (plus brewer/owner Drew Fox) plus Zombie Dust (which isn’t at the Countryside Saloon) should seal the deal for those not from the city.
Best: Lagunitas Chicago Beer Circus (ticketed, also happening on May 18)
Alternate: Pipeworks vs. Emporium: Tap Takeover Edition
Out-of-Town: Pipeworks vs. Emporium: Tap Takeover Edition
Lagunitas throws one helluva party, and this grand opening should be no exception. Featuring carnival rides, art, music acts and beer (from both Lagunitas and other locals like Une Annee) it should hopefully be an awesome time.
For those not wanting to travel to 18th and Western or those out of towners, Pipeworks – rarely on tap in the city – is taking over Emporium’s taps with 25 of their beers. There will be one new beer (Just Drink it Dummy, a DIPA) just for the event, plus the most Pipeworks beers ever tapped in one area. Expect a majority of the Ninja vs. Unicorn series, as well as (hopefully) a few Abductions and surprises. ABV Chicago will be in attendance for this one.
Best: Goose Island Sunday Funday (ticketed, sorf of)
Alternate: Haymarket Mini-FOBAB (ticketed)
Out-of-Town: Off Color Patio Party
Honorable Mention: Lagunitas Chicago Beer Circus
This Sunday is the most stacked (and best) day during CCBW. All 4 of the events listed above are quality and probably would have won most other days outright, except for the fact that they’re happening on the same day.
Goose Island. BCBS variants. Brewer dodgeball tournament. Sounds like a fun Sunday, right? How about everything being free?
If you purchased tickets already, the entry and beers will all be free; from my understanding, those who did not can still enter free but will have to pay for beer. As long as they learned their lesson from the 25th anniversary Block Party from last year (which was a disaster), this should be an enjoyable event with some amazing beers being tapped (BCBS variants!).
Don’t like Goose and their AB InBev ways? Then Haymarket’s mini-FOBAB is for you! Tons of great Haymarket BA beers (Clare’s Thirsty Ale, Indignant, Tart Cherry Indignant, etc.) plus a host of other Chicago breweries, Haymarket makes it tough to say no to this event.
Not to be outdone, Smallbar is hosting an Off Color Patio Party with 3 Off Color beers, plus owners John Laffler and Dave Blietner will be there to chat (and possibly ridicule you). This should be a bit more laid back and relaxed than the two former events.
Best: Haymarket Illinois Brewers’ Night (ticketed)
Alternate: Barrelin’ Down West Division
Out-of-Town: Haymarket Illinois Brewers’ Night (ticketed)
Not one to let your liver recover, Haymarket is at it again with their Illinois Brewers’ Night. A majority of Chicago and Illinois breweries will be represented, plus each one will be bringing pint glasses to give away! $25 gets you 12 tasting tickets with the option to buy more.
While certainly not on the grand scale of the above, Barrelin’ Down West Division features some of Perennial’s barrel-aged offerings paired with the standard version. Smallbar will have Sump and BA Sump coffee stout, while Jerry’s Sandwiches will have 17 and BA 17 mint stout. A top notch event which could be made better if Abraxas and BA Abraxas were somewhere. Oh well. Maybe next year.
For those that haven’t had Une Annee yet (and why not?) their event at Table, Donkey and Stick would be a chill alternative. You get guaranteed quality beer plus the ability to meet Jerry Nelson and Dustin Zimmerman. The Game of Thrones event is for fans only, but worth a mention because all 3 GoT beers would be on tap at the same time.
Best: Get Sour!
Alternate: South of 80
Out-of-Town: Half Acre Tap Takeover
This day is all about breweries not in the Chicago city limits. DESTIHL and Transient Artisan Ales will be tapping their sour beers, which hopefully means a lot of St. Dekkera variants!
If sours aren’t your thing, the South of 80 event (hosted by GuysDrinkingBeer.com) provides for patrons to taste things distributed to Chicago (4 Hands, DESTHIL) and those not (Triptych, Urban Chestnut, Little Egypt, Rolling Meadows). Triptych brought their barrel aged chocolate cherry stout to BUG last year and it stole the show for me, so trying some of their creations might be a good idea.
Half Acre just distributes to Chicago (finally the South Side!) and Philadelphia (?), so hitting up the Village Tap if you’re from out of town is a must. They’ll have their standard Daisy Cutter, Akari Shogun and Pony Pils, plus the elusive Galactic Double Daisy Cutter! Definitely worth the trip for that one alone. If that’s too far for you, Revolution and Begyle are having tap takeovers at two different places, so those are solid alternatives.
Best: Division St. IPA Crawl
Alternate: Inspired Variation (ticketed)
Out-of-Town: Division St. IPA Crawl
Honorable Mention: Begyle Tap Takeover
A fixture of CCBW, the Division St. IPA Crawl is a must (especially if you’re an IPA connoisseur), whether you’re from out of town or a resident. Line up along Division from east to west, Bangers and Lace, Jerry’s Sandwiches, and Smallbar Division will feature IPAs from each region respective to their location on Division (Bangers and Lace has East Coast due to it being the furthest east of the three). Non-Chicagoans would probably be best served hanging out at Jerry’s, which will have Galactic Double Daisy Cutter, Une Annee, 3 Floyds and Surly (amongst others).
Liver need a small break? Inspired Variation at the Beer Temple should serve you well. Chris Quinn’s events are always of the utmost quality, plus this one is hands on (you get to try to “recreate some of their most coveted ales”). Perennial and Penrose will have a beer there, along with Off Color’s Dino S’mores.
Best: Evil Twin’s Tap Invasion
Alternate: Create your own tap take-over (potentially)
Out-of-Town: Cross the Lake Classic
Checking in from the far South Side (154th and Cicero), the Blarney Stone Pub will be tapping an assortment of Evil Twin beers, including regular and BA Biscotti Break, Even More Jesus and Doughnut Break. They’ll have $4 Evil Twin drafts (which is a steal for any Evil Twin beer, robbery if it’s for one of the above) and flights.
One of the more interesting CCBW ideas, Jerry’s Andersonville is doing a Create Your Own Tap-Takeover event. Voting ends May 18th and has the potential to be a top notch tap list (or a dud if some of the listed beers somehow win). Personal choices would be Abraxas, CW Bourbon Barrel Stout, BCBS, Sour in the Rye, and BA Old Rasputin. Problem with that list is I would just suck down the Abraxas…
The Cross the Lake Classic features libations from Half Acre and Dark Horse. Clear winner here (in my opinion) is Half Acre, with Galactic Double Daisy Cutter (again) and a rare, not-in-winter keg of Big Hugs. And watch out for that 3 Pairs of Legs Maple Porter (the BA version was, um, interesting).
Also of note (mainly for giving your body a respite) is the Art of Craft Beer event at the Village Tap. Chicago has some of the best bottle artwork in the nation and those artists will be on display. Those behind 3 Floyds, Half Acre, Pipeworks and more will be featured.
Best: Michigan 3-Way
Alternate: Goose Island BCS Infusions
Out-of-Town: Central Waters Meet and Greet
Jeez! The second Friday is as light as the first! The Michigan 3-Way at Lincoln Station is the clear winner, with KBS, Plead the 5th and Puff the Magic Cyser on tap, plus raffling off a chance to win a 3 year KBS vertical and a bottle of CBS!
Brixie’s in Brookfield know how to randall BCBS, and they’ll be doing three different ones. I think I saw peppermint last year, so who know what they’ll come up this for this year.
For those that don’t get Central Waters (or like meet and greets), South Loop Binny’s will be having a CW meet and greet with 4 beers being tapped (including their barrel-aged barleywine and stout).
Best: West Loop Craft Beer Fest (ticketed)
Alternate: Middle Brow Homebrewing Competition w/Man-B-Que (ticketed)
Out-of-Town: Atlas BA Beer Night
Almost there! The big “finale” to CCBW (there are still some events Sunday) is the West Loop Beer Fest. With too many breweries to list here, it encompasses everything and everyone involved in CCBW. Nestled right by the Chicago French Market, the food will be quality as well. A glorious end to CCBW.
Prefer some homebrew and BBQ? Ticket price too prohibitive for the West Loop Beer Fest? The Middle Brow/Man-B-Que dinner has you covered then. Featuring Man-B-Que BBQ paired with session, Belgian, Stout and Spiced/Offbeat homebrews, the event serves to pick the best homebrew paired with a particular BBQ. The winner will be brewed, bottled and distributed throughout Chicago and half of the proceeds will go to charity. If it’s anything like The Life Pursuit, this stands to be a good event.
If “local and free” is more your game, the Atlas BA Beer night and the Horse Thief Hollow releases (a BA English barleywine and Brettanomyces saison) would serve you well, depending on if you’re on the North or South Side. Both breweries are putting out quality brews, so trying their BA offerings is a must. The R&D Night at Fish Bar is a fun, interesting look at some unreleased Two Brothers beers with game, flights and raffles.
Alternate: Little Goat Rooftop Revolution
Out-of-Town: Half Acre Beer Brunch
With the “official” end being the West Loop Beer Fest, Sunday serves as more of an epilogue than anything else. For the thoughtful beer drinking, The Green Lady is having their Beer School with sour beers from Transient Artisan Ales. When the head brewer and a Siebel Master of Beer Styles (Chris Quinn again!) get together, there will be knowledge abound! A choice way to end the 11 day revelry.
The Little Goat will open their rooftop for the season along with some Revolution brews (this one is definitely weather dependent!) so you can chill while soaking the final day in. If brunch is more your speed, SmallBar Division will have their standard “end of CCBW” Half Acre beer brunch. 4 Half Acre creations (no Galactic Double Daisy Cutter this time!) along with 4 paired small plates, all for an affordable $30. A nice way to enjoy the (hopefully) spring/summer weather.
And there you have it. I’m positive I’ve missed some events (simply due to the fact there are so many out there) and these are obviously just recommendations, but CCBW is all about Chicago beer and celebrating it in your own way, so pick whatever you like and drink up! Cheers!
Photos courtesy of avoision.com, northdownchicago.com, businessinsider.com, urbandaddy.com, countrysidesaloon.com, mapletreeinnrestaurant.com, lagunitas.com, trulychicago.com, villagetap.com, smallbardivision.com, tripadvisor.com, tabledonkeystick.com, bangersandlacechicago.com, jerryssandwiches.com, blarney-stone.net, atlasbeercompany.com, horsethiefbrewing.com, www.stephanieizard.com, lincolnstation.com, and brixies.com.