Wednesday, April 8, 2015

New Blog Series: Beer Glass Guide with Lakeshore Beverage

I've recently embarked upon a new guest blog series with the passionate folks at Lakeshore Beverage, featuring an often overlooked aspect of beer – glassware.

Much like beer itself, the vessels have been around for centuries and have evolved over time to accommodate beer drinker's needs, as well as trends in the structural materials.

Many books have touched on glassware, but my mission is to dive deeper into some of the world's most popular styles, sharing their historic and aesthetic significance.

Part of this exploration was creating a visual reference guide in the form of a designed infographic. To read the full story and view the graphic, check out our first post on Lakeshore Beverage's blog.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Fest Review: The Second Annual What the Firk?

By guest contributor MC Johnsen

On Sunday, March 29th, I had the great pleasure of attending What the Firk? Firkin Fest held at Headquarters Beercade in River North. Everything about this fest was unique – the location, the beer offerings, and the ability to speak directly to brewers and reps. 

Headquarters Beercade has wall-to-wall arcade games that are free for unlimited play, from Pac Man to pinball, and even my husband Matt’s favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game. (He jumped up and down like a little boy when he saw it). The games made the whole atmosphere fun and laid back, and gave you a short reprieve from sampling if needed. On top of this, HQ also provided a free buffet of delicious food for all the fest-goers to enjoy. 

The 50 beer offerings were all one of a kind, many of which were dry-hopped or had spicy pepper additions. Two Brothers got super creative and even added blue raspberry warheads and habanero peppers to their popular extra pale ale Sidekick. Metropolitan served a beautiful, crisp lager Heliostat, dry-hopped with subtly spicy and herbal Sterling hops. Some breweries, such as Three Floyds and Off Color, chose to go old school and presented a popular beer of theirs (Zombie Dust and Scurry, respectively) served at room temp from the cask (although, Off Color did claim to have added magic to their cask of Scurry). Having tasted both of these beers on draft and in bottles before, it was interesting to try them in their pure form at room temperature, too. 

Probably my favorite aspect of this fest though, was that a brewer or very knowledgeable rep from each participating brewery stood right beside their cask and explained how the beer was made as you drank it. There were no lines (people opted to play arcade games rather than wait around), so you felt free to stand and chat with them for a few moments before moving on to the next offering. This fest afforded everyone the opportunity to have relaxed conversations with brewers and fellow beer fans alike, because there was absolutely no pressure to keep a line moving. 

My top three favorites were: 
3) Uncle John’s (St. John’s, MI) - Say Uncle: Almost 2 months after attending Cider Summit, I am still entranced by what hard cider has to offer. This one-of-a-kind blend was Uncle John’s first firkin, and first cloudy cider they’ve ever made!  Usually creators of crystal clear ciders, Say Uncle was unpasteurized, unfiltered, and a beautiful cloudy yellow-green color. It was crisp, a tad funky, and refreshing with a not too fruity finish. (6.5%)
2) 5 Rabbit (Bedford Park, IL) – French Oak-Aged Gran Missionario with Fig: Having recently tasted this year’s regular Gran Missionario, the complexity of flavor added by the woody oak added a nice subtle spice, and the extra fig additions rounded this creamy witbeer out with a chewy, juicy, figgy finish. (6.8%)
1) Desthil (Bloomington, IL) – Ta’Gose: Desthil added lime, peppers, and cilantro to this cask of their Wild Sour Series gose Here Gose Nothin.’ These additions cut the typically sour and salty beer with complex, savory qualities that added so much depth. This tasted of lightly sour lemon and lime, coriander, hints of pepper, and had a chewy, bready finish–phenomenal!

I had such a great time at this fest. It was incredibly refreshing to attend one without the frantic scramble to get into line before a keg kicked. I am already looking forward to next year.

MC Johnsen is a professional graphic designer and illustrator based in Chicago, IL. She is also the artist and author behind beer blog Worth a Thousand Beers. In her spare time MC enjoys homebrewing, taking on DIY projects, CrossFit, and binge-watching TV shows on Netflix. Her favorite coffee beverage is an Americano, and she shares a home with her husband Matt and their dog Dallas in Lombard, IL. You can find her on Twitter @worth1000beers.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

New Beer Card Designs and Retail Placement

We're excited to announce that a selection of our handmade 3D beer slide cards and folded cards can now be found on our Etsy shop, as well as in our first retail location at Bottles & Cans 4109 N Lincoln Ave in North Center. We hope you'll stop by and check them out.

We've included a new selection of spring designs including the return of our "West Coast IPA" series, made with repurposed California-area maps.

XOCO Bistro's Pop-Up Beer Dinner Series

This spring Rick Bayless' latest restaurant, Xoco Bistro, announces the “Yucatan Pop-Up Series” to some of Chicago's favorite breweries for a three-course dinner and beer pairing. 

The beer-themed dinners will take place at ​Half Acre Beer Company​, ​Temperance Beer Company​ and Revolution Brewing. The brewmasters will pair craft beers with Xoco Bistro’s spicy menu 
inspired by the Yucatan, where the flavors of achiote, citrus, smoke and habanero prevail.  

“All of the flavors in this dinner are really bold. They’re not delicate flavors,” said Maurizio Fiori 
of Half Acre Beer Co. “And in our beer, we get ingredients to shine in a bold way. We saw the 
same approach in the menu Xoco Bistro presented to us.” 

Xoco’s menu will be highlighted by Cochinita Pibil tacos, made with suckling pig slow-roasted 
in our wood-fired oven, and topped with black beans, pickled red onions and habanero salsa. 

Guests at these one-of-a-kind dinners will also sip on a special beer cocktail, nosh on Sikil 
Pak, a Mexican pumpkin seed dip, and dive into a ridiculously good coconut rice pudding 
dessert. Each brewery will feature a beer for each course. 

April 6​th​: Half Acre: 4257 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago 
April 27​th​: Temperance:  2000 Dempster St, Evanston 
May 7​th​: Revolution Brewery: 3340 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago 
Tickets for the first pop-up at Half Acre are on sale now:​ ​ $40 includes 
three-courses and four beers. Tune into Xoco Bistro’s Facebook​ ​page for announcements on 
future ticket sales. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Second Annual What the Firk? At HQ Beercade 3/29

Firkin Fest returns to Headquarter Beercade’s new River North location (213 W. Institute) on Sunday, March 29, 2015. Capacity Bar Group announces the return of an event of epic ale proportions. For the second year in a row, Headquarters Beercade will host Firkin Fest, a unique tasting event that celebrates the city’s craft beer community. Last year’s sell-out event was attended by over 500 brew buffs and this year’s battle will be even bigger than before. 

So, what in the firk is a firkin? It’s considered “real ale,” one that is cask conditioned but has not been cold-filtered, pasteurized, or carbonated by outside equipment. The cask barrels preserve the taste in its most wholesome state, while the interior beer harbors active yeast, which means the flavor profile will evolve over time. At Firkin Fest, craft beer connoisseurs will have the chance to taste fifty unique brews through an unadulterated process of consumption. Top breweries will battle in a fight for the finest firkin with ales that have never been sipped before – and may not be savored ever again!

50 Breweries - 50 Firkins!
Sip on offerings crafted by a variety of vendors, including Illinois favorites: Goose Island Beer Co. (winner of the 2014 Firkin Fest “People’s Choice Award;” Chicago, IL); Begyle Brewery (Chicago, IL); Desthil (Normal, IL); Half Acre Beer Company (Chicago, IL); Metropolitan Brewing (Chicago, IL); Off Color Brewing (Chicago, IL); Penrose Brewing (Geneva, IL); Revolution Brewing (Chicago, IL); Solemn Oath Brewery (Naperville, IL); and Two Brothers Brewery & Taphouse (Warrenville, IL). Respected regional breweries will also include: 3 Floyds Brewing Co. (Munster, IL); 3 Sheeps Brewing Co. (Sheboygan, WI); Brewery Vivant (Grand Rapids, MI); Green Flash Brewing (San Diego, CA); Founders Brewing Co. (Grand Rapids, MI); Left Hand Brewing (Longmont, CO); Oskar Blues (Lyons, CO); Surly Brewing Co. (Brooklyn Center, MN); SKA Brewing (Durango, CO); Tyranena Brewing (Lake Mills, WI); Vander Mill Brewery (Spring Lake, MI); and Victory Brewing Company (Downingtown, PA).

Attendees can enjoy their fill of firkins, but only one firkin will command the crown of the “People’s Choice Award” at the end of this satisfying Sunday. In addition, guests can mingle with an esteemed panel of hand-picked industry and media experts. From beer bloggers to brewery reps, this event will be packed with top ale professionals from Chicago and beyond.

Advanced General Admission Tickets are $75 and can be purchased online.

Use the code HAILTOTHEALE and receive $10 off your ticket!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Urban Chestnut Brewery Joins the Chicago Craft Beer Market

St. Louis based brewery Urban Chestnut recently announced plans to enter the Chicago market with their German-style portfolio via Lakeshore Beverage Distributors.

Urban Chestnut is committed to both its traditional German roots as well as to modern American craft beer, which is reflected by splitting their portfolio into two series: the Reverence Series – paying homage to classic European-style beers and the Renaissance Series – celebrating where American craft beer is headed.

We received samples of Zwickel Bavarian-style Lager and Fantasyland IPA and wanted to share our tasting notes.

Zwickel is part of the Reverence Series. It poured a golden color with a bright white head, tight tiny bubbles and beautiful lacing on the glass. We expected some haziness, but found the clarity to be quite clear. The aroma displayed Pilsner malt notes of toasted bread, floral and spicy Noble hops and some mild DMS sweetness. The mouthfeel was full-bodied, creamy and sweet up front with strong malt character and a crisp finish. Clocking in at 5.2% ABV and 20 IBUs, this is a smooth, easy drinking beer.

Fantasyland Midwest Coast IPA is part of the Revolution Series, Urban Chestnut's artistic take on an IPA with a Midwest twist. It poured hazy dark amber with a frothy off-white head, large bubbles and lacing. Citrus fruit and grassy hop aroma. Medium body with notes of citrus fruit, tropical fruit, pine and resin. There's a good deal of lingering malty sweetness, missing the dry, hop forward finish. At 6.5% and 60 IBUS, it's a drinkable beer with refreshing aroma, but not quite the balance one would expect from an IPA.

Zwickel, Fantasyland and Schnickelfritz (German Hefeweizen) are available on draft ($5-7 a pint) and in 4-pack bottles ($8.99-10.49) around the city.

For more information on their launch into the market, check out this article on Lakeshore Beverage's blog.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Cider Summit Chicago 2015 in Review

February 7th marked the 3rd Annual Cider Summit in Chicago, put on by SBS Import's Alan Shapiro in collaboration with Seattle Beer Collective. This year's event was upgraded to Navy Pier's beautiful Grand Ballroom, which hosted a sold out crowd of 4,000 cider fans over the 2 ticketed sessions.

With over 15 new cider vendors this year and cider makers from around the world on hand, we found this year's crowd as eager as ever to converse and learn. Even with the expanded space the crowd was thick and lines were palpable. Those in attendance were a vast range of ages and levels of knowledge, and with easily over half being women – much different (and less unruly) than your typical beer festival.

As the 3rd year attending, my strategy was to seek out as many new ciders to the market as possible. I was joined by Ken Getty – homebrewer, cider maker and President of CHAOS Brew Club and MC Johnsen – fellow designer, homebrewer, and blogger of Worth 1000 Beers.

Our friends at WBEZ's Strange Brews were recording a live podcast during the 1st session, interviewing Eric West, host of the Cider Guide Podcast. Eric created his own guide to Cider Summit, re-categorizing each entry by style, which we found extremely helpful throughout the event. You can download his list and check out his podcasts on his website.

MC (Worth 1000 Beers), Alison Cuddy (Strange Brews), Kim (Hail To The Ale).

As fests often do when you're having fun – the 3 hours flew by. Between the 3 of us we were able to sample a spectrum of styles, regions and creative flavors. While many follow traditional, century-old processes of blending regional apple varietals with yeast, there is an increasing number of cider makers taking the "craft beer approach," adding fruits, vegetables, spices, hops and even incorporating second use spirit barrel-aging.

The cider category which was once defined as dry, sweet or semi-sweet is becoming more complex and diverse. We learned that during this past week's CiderCon, the Cider Association was working to further define styles for cider, much like we see in craft beer. This will help makers, sellers and drinkers alike to better understand and communicate a proper vocabulary around cider. While it will take time to implement, it's very exciting progress!

Overall the expanded space was a huge improvement, and a thrill to see growth in the category happening before our eyes. We caught Alan Shapiro briefly and were assured that he'd be returning for the 4th Annual Cider Summit next year.

Below is a breakdown of our top cider picks of the day, all of which can be found in the Chicago market, with the exception of Troy Cider and Urban Farm Fermentory's cider, mead and kombucha, which we hope to see distributed out of Maine in the near future.

Kim's Favorites/Notes

Seattle Cider Co. (Seattle, WA) - Oaked Maple: fermented with raisins, oak chips and VT maple syrup. Full bodied and complex in flavor without losing it's cider identity. 6.9%

Worley's Cider (Somerset, UK) - Special Reserve Keeved: semi-sweet on the tongue with hints of sweet apples and caramel, sparkling effervescence lifts and dances the tannins lingering to the finish. Uses a traditional English keeving process of slow fermentation which retains natural apple sweetness. 6%

Finnriver Cidery (Chimacum, WA) - Black Currant Cider: heirloom, dessert apples and currants, semi-sweet sparkling, jammy finish. 6.5%

Urban Farm Fermentory (Portland, ME) - Amalgam: Hard Cidah & Kombucha blend. Crisp and dry with a tart, tannic finish. Currently available only in Maine and Massachusetts. 4.5%

Sheppy's Cider (Somerset, UK) - Sheppy's Somerset Draught: cider and dessert apple blend, medium body, slight sparkle. A perfect medium bodied, medium sweetness, round and drinkable cider. 5.5%

Ken's Favorites/Notes
Eden Ice Cider Co. (Newport, VT) - Eden Heirloom Blend: full-bodied sweetness balanced by acidity and tannins 10%

Troy Cider (San Francisco, CA) - Wild Fermented Cider 2012: funky and acidic with a cloudy/unfiltered appearance 7.7%

Sheppy's Cider (Somerset, UK) - Sheppy's Oak Matured Vintage: medium body, smooth lingering oak finish 4.8%

EZ Orchards (Salem, OR) - Poire: Sparkling pear cider. Smooth, juicy, fruit forward finish. 5.9%

Vander Mill (Spring Lake, MI) - Nunica Pine: Dry Hopped with Columbus hops. Light, resinous bitterness and dry, balanced finish 6.8%

MC's Favorites/Tasting Notes
Seattle Cider Co. (Seattle, WA) - Gin Botanical: This unique cider was fermented with spent gin botanicals from Batch 206 Distillery. It poured clean and clear pale yellow, with a complex fruity aroma dominated by apples and lime. Its fizzy and full-bodied flavor of orange, lemongrass, juniper, and pine finished clean and crisp, with a lingering citrus sweetness. (6.5%)

Troy Cider (San Francisco, CA) - Wild Fermented Cider 2012: This spontaneously fermented cider was a unique creation from the fruits found in old apple orchard in Sonoma County, CA. Unfiltered and barely carbonated, this cider was the color of a cloudy orange creamsicle, and smelled like a sweet and sour green apple. It tasted tart and tannic with notes of hay and slight vinegar. Delicious! (7.7%)

Finnriver Cidery (Chimacum, WA) - Saffron Cider: This clear, full bodied and savory cider was such an interesting approach to flavor. The saffron came through in both aroma and flavor amidst this sweet and juicy, apple-forward flavor. 6.5%)

Sea Cider (British Columbia, Canada) - Prohibition: Technically an apple wine, this caramel brown-colored beverage aged in Newfoundland Screech bourbon barrels had molasses added to it. Fruity-smelling, and tasting rich, sweet, and spicy, the bourbon really came though beautifully in both aroma and flavor. This warmed you from the inside with an herbal and spicy finish of candied toffee and sweet apple pie. 12%

Worley's Cider (Somerset, UK) - Special Reserve Medium: This mildly fizzy cider smelled like a funky old barnyard, was both tart and sweet with herbal qualities and had a fruity, tannic finish. 5.4%