The Chicago Craft Beer Scene

It’s only been a week, and I’m already missing Chicago.  What a great craft beer town!  Trey White, Owner/President of Anderson Valley Brewing Company, decided that our summer sales meeting should be held in the Windy City so that we could all experience a different craft beer scene than the one we’re used to here in Northern California.  Little did we know what an experience that would be; the following is a somewhat hazy timeline of events based on what I can remember. 😉
Day 1

3am: Waiting on my driveway for Super Shuttle to take me to the airport.  Is it too early for a beer?  If I was ending my Tuesday night, the answer would be no.  But I’m starting my Wednesday “work day”.  Hmmmmm…quite the dilemma. I decided that quality assurance testing of my recently kegged homebrew was an acceptable loophole, so I poured a glass.  Delicious!  It’s a clone of our Anderson Valley Wee Geech, a session pale spiced with lemongrass.  The best part of waking up is homebrew in your cup!

4am: Arrived at airport. I navigate my way through the maze of nylon barriers towards the TSA checkpoint and spot this door.  It sounds like a place one does not return from.

What happens in the quite room–stays in the quite room

All of the airport bars are closed. They really need to work on that.  I spied at least 8 different people that could use a Bloody Mary (including yours truly).  Guess I’ll have to drink coffee.  I meet up with the Cuffey Dame (Roxanne Barnes, our NorCal State Manager) and Sarah Lattanza (our Sacramento/Tahoe/Reno manager) and board a crowded Airbus for the 4 hour flight to Chicago.

Leaving on a jet plane

My seat upgrade was cancelled unannounced—I’m a wing man with no drinking buddy

1pm: We’re at O’Hare!  Where’s the craft beer?  Not here.  Lots of mass produced lagers, though I did happen to find a Summit Brewing Company IPA.  It was nice “touch down” beer.  I hit up our Twitter followers for suggestions on craft breweries and local bars to visit once we hit downtown.  The Maproom, Metro Brewing, Revolution Brewing and Local Option were the most often mentioned.  At this point, we’re getting really excited about the next three days.  We meet up with Barlow Hoody (Bill Manger, our East Bay guy), Nettied Brightligher (Ian McCarten from SF) and Jefferin’ Mink (Tara Abrams, our Napa/Sonoma gal) and flag down a cab to take us downtown.  Unfortunately, I’m in the middle row with no seatbelt and a cab driver who’s darting through traffic like he has to pee.  I silently pray for my life and decide to make fun of Barlow Hoodie to pass the time.


2pm: We hit downtown Chicago!  As we pull up to our hotel, we all mention out loud: “Hey, there’s a bar!” Michael Diversey’s is just a few doors down from the Days Inn, so we were all stoked to have a bar in such close proximity. Leave it up to a bunch of beer guys and gals to make note of the closest watering hole, but at least we’ve got our priorities straight.  We all check-in to our rooms and gather for the sales meeting.  We covered some pretty cool things (like new Anderson Valley beers!) and talked about the following day’s crew drive.

5:30pm: With the sales meeting over, we all plan to walk the streets of Chicago to The Old Town Pour House.  However, I can’t wait that long for my first cold one of the evening, so I head over to Michael Diversey’s.  It’s got the feel of a European pub meets sports bar.  I am impressed with their selection of local/regional beers.  My bartender was very friendly and I told her I had heard a lot about Half Acre Beer Company’s Daisy Cutter Pale Ale, so I ordered one not knowing what to expect.  I’m always leery of recommendations from strangers, but I’m happy to say it lived up to the hype!  The bright hop character and sessionable ABV made this an instant favorite for me–I wish they had this back home!  As I finish up my glass, I notice that they also have quite the lineup of canned craft beer.  This is something near and dear to my heart, as I love craft cans!

Modus Hoperandi at Michael Diversey’s (Deek the can!)

I spot a Modus Hoperandi from Ska Brewing (another brewery on my beer bucket list).  Another hoppy gem!  I’m 2 for 2 on new beers tonight, so I take one last tasty swig and hit North Clark Street on foot to Old Town.

7pm: Located in the heart of Old Town Chicago, The Old Town Pour House showcases an extensive list of craft beers from both the US and abroad .  It’s a large, two-level building with huge ceilings, a woody/stone wall decor and a very nice bar.  With over 90 selections on tap, we were excited at all the new tastes we were about to experience.  However, I did have to kick things off with a cold Boont Amber (gotta represent) and you know, somehow it seemed to taste better…and we’re 2,000 miles from the brewery!

The Old Pour House in Old Town Chicago

We made our way to the upstairs area and joined the rest of the group which included some folks from Windy City Distributing. Now on to beer!  Our server Melanie was awesome, and I told her of my goal was to stay local. She suggested I start off with a Finch’s Threadless IPA.  Don’t mind if I do!  It was very good, so I shared it with the group.  Everyone else decided to order a bunch of sampler glasses, here’s a partial list:
Bell’s Two Hearted

Founder’s Red’s Rye

Alltech Lexington Brewery Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale

Half Acre Daisy Cutter

Bell’s Oberon

Smuttynose Finest Kind

Metro Brewing Dynamo Copper Lager

Barlow Hoody enjoying Bourbon Barrel Ale

We continued on in this fashion while munching down on various appetizers (the Baked Truffle Mac N’ Cheese was AWESOME) for the next couple of hours.  We were all truly impressed by the variety of beers we tried, and are very grateful for the opportunity to experience them all in such a cool place (thanks Trey!) As the night started to wind down, Barlow Hoody and I decided it was time to leave. He took a cab but I wanted to walk back and reflect upon the day.  This was a great first night in Chicago, but we had to be up early for what would end up being one of the coolest “beer geek” days of my life.  To be continued…

Steve Miller is the Steinber Kimmie (Beer Guy) and resident beer runner for Anderson Valley Brewing Company.  Social Media, Sales and Marketing are a few of his favorite things.  He’s also a pretty decent home brewer, gee-tar picker and disc golfer too.  You can follow him @SteinberRunner on Twitter.


2 Responses to “The Chicago Craft Beer Scene”

  1. Ed McDevitt July 24, 2012 6:17 pm #

    So you didn’t get to The Map Room, Sheffield’s, Hopleaf, Acre, Local Option, Goose Island, Revolution, John Barleycorn, Piece, Small Bar, Haymarket, Fountainhead? Time for a trip back.

    • SteveMiller July 24, 2012 6:29 pm #

      We did have an event at Sheffield’s, and we were fortunate to try Revolution and Half Acre beers. It was such a short trip and we wish we could stop at them all–fortunately our owner is from Chicago, so I’m sure we’ll get back there again! Thanks for reading–cheers and Bahl Hornin’!
      Steinber Kimmie

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