There’s that old joke about Chicago having only two seasons – winter and construction – but there’s one that may be even lengthier than either: craft beer festival season. If you include every city or town within a radial hour from the city proper, you can basically fill seven months worth of weekends on your calendar with some festival or bar event or special release hoo-ha. And that makes for a hell of a lot of shattered five-ounce tasting glasses and broken pretzel necklaces to step over, figuratively and literally. In other words, not all of them are worth the inflated entrance prices or the chafing.
All photos by Marie Cummins of the Down the Hatch blog unless noted.
But amongst the more dependable and long-standing craft beer festivals is the Oak Park Microbrew Review, which had it’s seventh annual fest on Saturday, August 16th. This festival is so old that it still uses the term “microbrew,” which I think I heard my grandpa say once or twice. Seriously, out of the reported 72 participating breweries, my quick and sloppy count came up with only 20 breweries that have been around for 7 years or longer. So to say that the craft beer scene has grown is as obvious as saying that more people buy organic food or that phones are “smarter” now.
Despite being a long-time resident of Forest Park, I have never attended the Oak Park Microbrew Review (or OPMBR for, uh, brevity). So I lack the insight that would come from comparison, because I immediately wondered if it has always been such a crowded affair. There were still patches of open air at times in specific places, but finding a seat anywhere other than the curb was next to impossible. There was a major bottleneck area off the side street near the Cold Stone, making it a difficult journey to reach DryHop, Aquanaut, Vice District, and many others. That was a claustrophobic type of crowded in that area; every other area just forced you to walk with your elbows pulled in a bit. (Also, please don’t “Untappd” and walk at craft beer festivals. I think that’s part of drinking responsibly in 2014.)
But was it worth the $45 advanced ticket general admission prices? Hell yes. Crowds become a non-factor if you drink enough. And boy howdy, there were plenty of options. You had the established breweries putting their classics alongside some specialties (Goose Island and Deschutes); the brewpubs with diverse and stunning selections (Haymarket and DryHop); breweries that you’ve already given a lot of money to (Pipeworks, Off Color and Begyle); the young breweries with all the buzz (Transient and Forbidden Root); and the brewery with the most eye-catching gimmick (Breakroom).
The food selections were superb, with two of this writer’s favorite eateries – Marion St. Cheese Market and The Kinderhook Tap – putting their immense culinary talents into street food and small bites. Water was plentiful, and the event was billed as “zero waste” with the leadership of Seven Generations Ahead. I can’t see how that’s a bad thing, but at one point, I walked around with a napkin for about 20 minutes looking for a garbage can that wasn’t covered in a big black garbage bag-like plastic. (I mean, there has to be some waste, right?) I’m also not lying when I say this: I’ve never been in better smelling port-o-johns in my life. They were relatively clean and smelled like fresh baked apple pie. It was weird.
Same story, different fest: Transient Artisan Ales again drew a large crowd. Brewer Chris Betts (with puppy Buckley in tow) brought four beers: a rye saison (Punch You In The Rye) that replaced black pepper with spicy rye in a pleasant way; the fruity, salty and sour gose Salarium; a Blueberry Peach Berliner weiss (which I missed); and a barrel-aged saison (Cuvier) that previewed what we can expect regularly from this young barrel wizard.
Pete Crowley for Mayor: Haymarket Pub and Brewery knows how to do festivals, and they brought some big guns: Clare’s Thirsty Ale Raspberry Bourbon Barrel-Aged Stout and Uber Mathias. Clare’s was a beer that stood out at freakin’ FOBAB, so of course it was a highlight here. The Uber Mathias was a hugely bitter Citra-hopped DIPA bomb that was magically drinkable and quenching with no harsh bitterness or boozy bite on the finish. Ridiculous.
Battle of the Berliners: Off Color Brewing’s recently-released Berliner weisse Fierce made an appearance, and it was delightfully odd, which fits their oeuvre nicely. Aside from the traditional sourness, there was something oddly herbal or lime-like or lactic. I needed much more than five ounces to figure that one out. But DryHop Brewers had the best straight-up Berliner weisse of the fest with their brilliantly-named The World Needs Fewer DJs. Fully tart with huge citrus notes, it’s a beer I could imagine becoming one of my favorite Berliners, period. I think I’m going to DryHop this weekend. DESTIHL’s Raspberry Berliner was predictably great, as I’m rarely disappointed with their sours.
Biggest surprises: I didn’t think I’d be impressed by a coffee porter, because there are so many out there already, but SlapShot’s McLaughlin’s Red Eye was huge on fragrant coffee that carried through beautifully in the flavor. And it came with a high five, and dude, I like high fives. At the end of the fest, as the cops were telling people to stop pouring, I got out ahead of their mini-sweep and made it to Cahoots Brewing in time to try their barrel-aged AmEn! barleywine. The name suggests a mix of American and English style barleywines, which is pretty interesting on it’s own, but they threw that into Heaven Hill and Buffalo Trace barrels. The blend of those barrels and the complexity of the barleywine had tons of caramel and vanilla and only a slightly warm alcohol presence. I wanted that to warm in my glass as I sipped on it all day.
Other highlights: One Trick Pony delivered on some several offerings, with the fruity and refreshing Georgia Grande (hefeweizen with peaches and ginger), the impressively-hopped amber StormCat, and the Citra-forward pale wheat Hanoverian. Begyle’s Clark Street Tart with rhubarb and Free Bird pale ale are now on my “must drink again list.” The hibiscus saison Blood in the Water from Lake Effect helped revive my palate a bit with floral flavor, a dry mouthfeel, and and a slightly spicy bite on the end.
There’s no shortage of beers I wish I had tried, of course. I appreciate that they don’t bother with the useless formality of “tickets for pours” as so many other fests require. There were also VIP tickets at a $100 price tag which allowed people early access to some other special beers, like BCBS variants from Goose Island and the many Genes of Revolution. And then there’s the ReplicAle. Yes, it’s a cool idea to have a bunch of different brewers doing their take on a specific style, which was an American Red Ale this year. But I don’t want to drink them all. The beauty of craft beer fests is the variety that comes from a bit of palate-shocking (like having a Clare’s and a tart sour wheat back-to-back). With a general admission ticket, I had 20 beer samples and would’ve had 20 more had time and my general constitution allowed it. But there’s always next weekend. And the next.
OPMBR 2014 Incomplete Beer Round-Up
Note: This list is incomplete and probably contains some inaccuracies. It was culled together from my hastily scribbled notes and some Untappd referencing. Most breweries brought two or more beers, so obviously I’m missing many specifics. And some of these beers were only available in the VIP area. Please feel free to fill me in on any of the beers (or breweries) I may have left off by e-mailing email@example.com, and we’ll fix it.
350 – Brown Out Mild, Harry Patersbier, El Scorcho, Ruckus
5 Rabbit Cerveceria – Yodo Con Leche, Naked Rabbit
Ale Syndicate – DuSable
Andersonville Brewing Co. – Grand Cru Belgian Wit, Glacier Melt IPA
Aquanaut – Maiden Voyage, Hat and Beard, Atlantis, Rhythm & Space
Argus Brewery – Pegasus IPA, Ironhorse
Atlas Brewing Company – Two-headed Boy, Rookery Rye IPA
Baderbrau – Red Velvet, Chicago Pilsener
Begyle – Crash Landed, Free Bird, Clark Street Tart
Bent River Brewing Co. – Sweet Potato Ale, Uncommon Stout
Berghoff Brewery Inc. – Berghoff Oktoberfest
Blind Pig – Summer Bitter, Hey Porter!, Ankle Biter ESB, Down Under IPA
Blue Nose Brewery – WWII
Breakroom – Topaz Shakur
Brickstone – APA, Dark Secret RIS, Raspberry
Brouwerij De Dolle Brouwers – Oerbier
Bucket List Brewing Company – Sydney Hopera House, Skydive Rye
BuckleDown Brewing – Citra Clencher, Reprehensible
Cahoots – Barrel-aged AmEn!
Church Street Brewing Company – Continental Lager, Devil’s Advocate, Shony Scottish Ale
Crispin – Prickly Pear
Deschutes – Twilight, Mirror Pond, Black Butte XXVI, Foray
DESTIHL – Strawberry Blonde, Vertex IPA, Mango IPA, Raspberry Berliner, Saint Dekkera Reserve Sour Strawberry, Saint Dekkera Reserve: Flanders
Devon Ale, Baudoinia, Penelope, Green Line
DryHop Brewers – The World Needs Fewer DJs, Shark Meets Surfer, Gorila Meets Hippie
Emmett’s Brewing Co. – Hoptweet
Empirical – IBU Overload; Superliminal
Finch’s – Secret Stache Stout
Flossmoor Station Brewery – Kaleidoscope Eyes Double Rye IPA, Railhopper IPA
Forbidden Root – Sublime Ginger, Forbidden Root, Shady Character, Hive Minded, City Winery Collaboration
Furthermore Brewing – Viking Afternoon
Goose Island – BCBW, Matilda Lambicus, BCBS, Sofie, Madame Rose, Watermelon Wit, 312, Penelope. Baudoinia, Green Line
Greenstar – IPA, Certified Organic IPA
Hailstorm – Swan Song, Crash Test Dummy, Dominatrix
Half Acre – Golden Tuna, Pony
Haymarket – Claire’s Thirsty, Uber Mathias, Kaiser Rauchenstein, Aleister
Hopvine – Ancho Papaya Cherry Blonde
Imperial Oak – Blurry Blonde, Punch U in the I
Lagunitas – Fusion 23
Lake Effect – Watermelon Saison, Pamplemousse, Blood in the Water
Lakefront Brewery – Extended Play, Wisconsinite
The Lucky Monk – Cardinal Sin
Lunar – Jumping Cow, Oktoberfest
New Belgium Brewing Company – Tour De Fall
Nevin’s Brewing Company – Sesh IPA
Oak Park Brewing Company – Betty’s Wit, Frank Lloyd Rye
Off Color – Fierce, Apex Predator, Troublesome
One Trick Pony – Georgia Grande, Warlander, Storm Cat, Spurs In My Flanks, Hanoverian
Penrose – P2, Proto Gradus
Perennial – Woodside Honey Tripel
Pig Minds – Flynn Chocolate Irish Dry Stout, Joe Daddy, Sweep the Leg, Coffee Express, Death Grip
Pipeworks – Harbinger of Doom
Pollyanna Brewing Company – Avidity IPA
Revolution – BeanormaGene, Bean Gene, Galaxy Hero, Citra Hero, Rosa
Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery – Mild Child, Milk Stout, White IPA
Saugatuck Brewing Company – Michigan Wheat, Maggie’s Irish Ale, Neapolitan Milk Stout
SlapShot – Worst Beer Ever, McLaughlin’s Red Eye Coffee, 1926
Smylie Brothers Brewing Company – Smylie IPA, Cali Common
Solemn Oath – Eigengrau
Stockholm’s – Older But Weisser
Temperance – Gatecrasher, Smittytown, Escape Artist
Ten Ninety – Imperial Black Saison, Imperial IPA, Half Wit
Tighthead Brewing Company – Go-Go Wit, Upright Extra Pale Ale, Chilly Water
Transient – Salarium, Punch You In the Rye Barrel-Aged Cuvier, Blueberry Peach Berliner weisse
Triptych Brewing – Grisette, Bourbon Barrel Barleywine, Imperial Red XPA, Pale Ale
Two Brothers Brewing Company – Sidekick
Uncle John’s Hard Cider – Russet, Perry Hard Cider
Urban Legend Brewing Company – The Tree Hugger, Catherine the Great, Sweet Lacey’s Revenge, Cold War
Vander Mill – Ginger Peach
Vice District – Everleigh , Pleasure Trip, Habitual
Village Vintner – Coconilla Stout
Virtue – Lapinette, Seedling Orchard
Werk Force Brewing – Galactic Pale Ale
Wild Onion Brewery – Pumpkin Ale, Irish Red Ale, Hefty Weiss