ChiSox Craft Beer Fest 2019
The Chicago White Sox are no strangers to craft beer. They installed the Craft Kave in the Bullpen Sports Bar for the 2017 season which, at the time, featured at least 75 different options. That was successful enough, so they put one on the 500 level/upper deck concourse – dubbed the Craft Kave Express – in 2018 with a smaller yet still impressive array of choices. That too was successful. So what’s the next natural step?
Host a beer fest of course.
The Inaugural ChiSox Craft Beer Fest took place this past Saturday, September 14. Featuring 44 breweries (by my count), this was not just some AB-InBev/MillerCoors/Constellation cabal with only breweries owned by them (although some were present). There were breweries hyper-local to the area (Marz, Whiner), ones that don’t really distribute that much or at all (Imperial Oak, Blue Nose), brewpubs (Horse Thief Hollow, ALULU), international (Collective Arts), and, of course, the big boys on the Chicago craft scene (Revolution, Half Acre). Seriously, check out the list for yourself. It’s a solid beer fest.
There were two ticket options available for purchase – general admission and VIP. General admission ($45) got you 30 pours of beer and access to the fest from 1-4 PM. VIP ($125) got you 40 pours of beer, access to the fest one hour early, pours of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout, clubhouse/dugout/field access, and a meet and greet with Bo Jackson. We agreed that $45 for general admission was perfect, while the VIP was only worth it if you wanted the clubhouse/dugout access or the meet and greet with Bo. (Field access was simply the dirt behind home plate and by the home dugout roped off, so you couldn’t, you know, run the bases.)
The event itself took place on the outfield concourse, with a majority of the breweries nestled between sections 157 and 106 (the Goose Island section). A band played underneath the giant scoreboard, bisecting the fest, and most concession stands within the fest were open and serving food. Outfield seating was open to take a break and enjoy the scenery. Even the Fan Deck was open and had breweries pouring there. The coolest thing the White Sox did was put the brewery logos on the giant scoreboard, and many a brewer were ecstatic that their logo would quite possibly never be bigger and happily took pictures of this.
While the venue was the draw, you’re here for a beer festival. So how was the selection? If you’re going into it expecting limited edition, high-gravity, and/or barrel-aged beers, you’d be sorely disappointed. Most breweries brought their more approachable, lighter, and easy drinking beers to the fest. Oktoberfests were all over the place, as were pale ales and IPAs. Some breweries even brought out some brand new beers, including Maplewood’s Festbier and Whiner’s Blue Tub. But the real draw for me was the breweries whose beer rarely ever leaves the premises. Some of the first ones I hit were Rabid, Horse Thief Hollow, and ALULU, and there was even one brewery that I’d never heard of before and was excited to try (Off Square from Indiana).
I’ve only been to one other beer festival in an athletic venue – the Chicago Beer Classic at Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears. Everything about this festival just felt more enjoyable – the people, brewers, pourers and even the concession stand workers seemed happy and excited to be there. The only advantage the Chicago Beer Classic had was field access – it was a blast to walk (or break tackles) up and down the yardage lines with no restrictions on where we could go. The ChiSox Craft Beer Fest also felt more intimate, with it only taking place on the outfield concourse as opposed to the circumference of the stadium. An added bonus was the speed pitch was open and free to use. I only attempted three throws; a few more and I’d be a Tommy John candidate.
Overall the White Sox did an excellent job with their first fest. Water and bathrooms were plentiful as they are already in place for the baseball games and there was even a ball tossing game where you could win autographed memorabilia! (I was tied for 3rd upon leaving; I somehow think I didn’t win anything.) The $45 admission price is in-line with similar style festivals, with the added bonus of it taking place in a major league baseball stadium. I would definitely be interested in returning in subsequent years.
Hemogoblin | Fruited Wheat Beer | 7.5% | Rabid Brewing | Homewood, IL
Resist the urge to instead order the hemoglobin and you’ll be rewarded with a very interesting and delicious beer. Blood orange adds a tinge of tartness, while the chocolate is present and accounted for but not up front and in your face. It’s a refreshing wheat beer at its core and quite possibly the most adventurous beer poured at the fest.
Mosaic Voxel | Saison | 6.3% | Lo Rez | Chicago, IL
Lovely banana esters backed by some lemon and bubble gum made this one a winner. The Mosaic dry-hopping adds some fruity pop to the nose, but the overall balance and effervescence made this one worth having and stand out on a reasonably hot September afternoon.
Bleu Tub | Fruited American Wild Ale | 5.6% | Whiner | Chicago, IL
Pleasantly surprised to see this one pouring at the fest. It maintains the slight sour and tart flavor along with an airy mouthfeel of Le Tub and adds a hint of blueberry. While the blueberry made it a bit more sour than Le Tub, it was added in moderation and accentuated the base nicely. It’s available in cans, and I’ll definitely purchase if presented with the opportunity.
Astronaut Eye Scream | Milkshake IPA | 8% | Illuminated Brew Works | Chicago, IL
Illuminated didn’t get the memo – this wasn’t a beer nerd beer fest. Their two offerings were Kopra Ta Tokra (an imperial stout with coconut and orange) and this beer. Astronaut Eye Scream seriously tasted like a tangerine milkshake with a little hop bitterness at the end for good meausre. The lactose wasn’t overpowering and the beer itself wasn’t cloyingly sweet, making this a good entry point for milkshake IPA newbies. Bonus points to Illuminated for not terrifying me with their booth set-up at this fest!
Bodem | American IPA | 6.7% | Half Acre | Chicago, IL
All day with this beer. Always a top choice at a bar, pouring at a festival it’s a must. Piney, bitter, fruity, a bit malty, delicious. Half Acre even had a nice booth, with a I-want-to-see-that-under-a-blacklight bear banner. There was a nacho cheese machine near their pouring station so I asked the server for some nacho cheese in my pour for maximum ‘grammability. I was denied. But I still won.
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