Monday, December 17, 2012

Naughty, Nice Or Just Plain Thirsty?

Introducing our latest homebrew endeavor - Naughty or Nice Holiday Cider. After discovering some fantastic, very sessionable English style craft ciders this past year we were interested to tackle the feat ourselves. With the Midwest, and Michigan in particular having unfortunately sparse apple crops this year, finding fresh apple cider without preservatives proved to be quite a challenge.

After stalking many Chicago farmers markets we finally found success during a visit to VerHages Fruit Farm and Cider Mill in Kalamazoo, MI. Fresh cider was being pressed on site. It was fascinating to watch just how natural and simple the process still remains.

Our recipe included: 4 gallons of unpasteurized fresh apple cider4 cups sugar (dissolved in 1 gallon cider heated to 165)12oz fresh cranberries (flash boiled in 1 cup sugar dissolved in 1 cup water for 5 minutes to pop the skins and help release sugar)Nutmeg Ale Yeast versus Champagne yeast (which I was not a fan of as it seems to bring the flavor closer to wine than cider in my opinion). An Ale yeast would potentially bring more flavor and also work harder on all of those fermentable sugars projecting a ABV of 7-8%, nearly double your typical cider.Campden tabs (1 per gallon)The cider fermented for a week and was filtered into secondary to discard of the cranberries. Some additional nutmeg as well as clarifier were added. After three weeks in a secondary fermenation the cider was unbelievably clear but the flavor had become substantially dry and tart. We decided to back sweeten, which also served as a primer for bottling with 1 can of 100% apple juice concentrate which worked quite well to balance out the tartness.(OG: 1.050/FG: 1.000) 

Any further questions on specifics, feel free to reach out and ask. Managing the sugar and controlling the residual sweetness was definitely more challenging than expected and resources were much more limited than with beer recipe forums and books. I learned the most by asking fellow brewers and experimenting throughout the process.

Follow us on twitter at @hail2theale

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Mistletoe Lounge Holiday Podcasts

The holidays have arrived... and so much to be thankful for. Once again its time to release my widely received Mistletoe Lounge collection - funky fresh electro-lounge holiday remixes to mix up those holiday parties and get you dancing under the mistletoe! Wishing you all peace, joy & much love this holiday season and in the new year.

Mistletoe Lounge V.1 Tracklist:The Christmas Waltz (Awayteam Remix) - Nancy Wilson
Santa Clause Is Coming To Town - BIlly Paul Willliams & Nicole Henry
We Three Kings - Josh One ft. Cool John Ferguson
Still Still Still - Kaskade
O Christmas Tree - King Kooba
Christmas Eve - Members Only
Sleigh Ride (Ralph Myerz Remix) - Ferrante & Teicher
I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm (Stuhr Remix) - Kay Starr
It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (Shrift Mix) - Andy Williams
Let It Snow! (Suedojazz Remix) - Lena Horne
Snowflakes Falling (Movement 1) - JT Donaldson
The First Noel In An Unknown Galaxy - GB
Happy Holidays (Beef Wellington Remix) - Bing Crosby
Charlie Brown Cut Up - Colossus
Jingle Bells Hop - Sharpshooters
Download here (left click on link): Mistletoe Lounge V1

Mistletoe Lounge V.2 Tracklist:

Everybody's Waiting For The Man With The Bag (Thunderball Remix) - Kay Starr
Metrorail Thru Space - Cut Chemist
Psycho Jingle Funk - Rithma
Baby, It's Cold Outside (Mulato Beat Remix) - Louis Armstrong & Velma Middleton
Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town (Q-Burns Abstract Message Mix) - Johnny Mercer & The Pied Pipers
Christmas Bells (Northern Eletrix Remix) - Patty Page
I'll Be Home For Christmas (Ohmega Watts Remix) - Charles Brown
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (Away Team Remix) - Lou Rawls
What Are You Doing New Year's Eve? - STUHR ft. Patti LaBelle
The Merriest (Thunderball Remix) - June Christy
Rudolph Shuffle - Billy May
Jingle Bells (Rise Ashen's Reindeer Dub) - Duke Ellington
The Christmas Song (Patrick Krouchian Remix) - Rosemary Clooney
Carol Of The Bells - MystiQuintet
Download here: Mistletoe Lounge V2

Mistletoe Lounge V.3 Tracklist:

Let's Go Dance Again - East Coast Boogiemen
Green Sheik of Araby - Greens Keepers
Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town (Remix) - Woody Herman
The Christmas Song (MK Open Fire Mix) - Mel Tormé
Bubbles In The Wine - Dex Dubious
Cheek To Cheek (Club Mix) - Billy Eckstine & Sarah Vaughan
Kiss Me Twice - Parov Stelar
Merry Christmas Polka (Remix) - The Andrews Sisters
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! (Remix) - Frank Sinatra
Party Hard - Little Isidore
It Snowed - Meaghan Smith
The First Noel (Attaboy House Party Mix) - Bing Crosby
Jingle Bells (Dan The Automator Remix) -  Dean Martin
Winter Wonderland (Rise Ashen's Brazilian Beach Mix) - Johnny  Mercer

Download here: Mistletoe Lounge V3

The Beer Geek's Christmas List

Upcycled Notebooks - This is my favorite thing I've found this year! The Roaming Pint sells 3 packs of notebooks made from used 6-pack beer carriers. You can choose from an assortment of Regional breweries or send in your own cartons for a custom design order. Perfect for taking beer notes and making lists at home or on the go - it's the perfect size. ($10-12) 

The Pop Chart Lab Beer Poster - Signed and numbered by the artist this comprehensive collection of over 89 varieties of beer including glassware is a beer geek’s dream. ($32)

Custom Bottle Caps - For the serious homebrewer, packaging is an important aspect. Bottlemark sells a large variety of bottle cap designs or allows you to upload your OWN designs. They sell Gift Certificates as well - $10 gets you 55 caps (5 gallon batch).

Build A 6-Pack - at Bottles & Cans. Chicago’s newest craft beer, wine and spirits store, located right in the heart of North Center has an unbelievable selection. The build your own aspect makes for a fun gift for any beer enthusiast ($12-20)

Brew Classes at Brew Camp - Offering classes spanning from the basics to the more intermediate you will leave feeling enlightened and full of beer knowledge. ($10-20)

BeerSmith 2.0. - This inexpensive homebrewing software is a helpful tool for those looking to branch out and start building and tracking recipes. ($27)

Beer Geek T-shirts - from Ladies, Men, font collectors, lobster lovers - there are plenty of geek-shirts to go around! ($15-20) 

Bottle Opener iPhone Case - This durable phone case has a built-in stainless steel bottle opener. Nerdy - yes. Practical - pretty much! Made by Be A Headcase, but best price is on ($13)

BeerAdvocate Magazine - Always well written and designed - my favorite of the beer magazines because of the in depth culture and hometown style features. ($14.99)

Beer Knowledge - Staple reference guides for tasters and brewers alike. (

Tasting Beer (Randy Mosher), $12
Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation (Jamil Zainasheff), $12
Hop Variety Handbook (Dan Woodske), $10
Brewing Classic Styles (Jamil Zainasheff/John Palmer), $12

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Return of Punkim Ale!

Last fall's Punkim Ale was probably one of my favorite beers I've brewed. I'll admit that I'm always ready for summer to end so that the more robust seasonal beers can start replacing the over abundance of hoppy IPAs. Since I'm always looking to improve on my recipes and techniques I did some additional research and taste testing to see how I could make Punkim Ale 2.0 even better. I felt as though I was able to achieve the right blend of "conservative spicing" but I was craving a bit more malt in the body. I used Zainasheff & Palmer's "Brewing Classic Styles" Pumpkin Ale as a guide, with some slight variations to the specialty malts. This recipe had much more caramel malts and less bittering hops than my last recipe. Their spice combination was spot on, but I added it in three different stages of fermentation rather than solely at the end of the boil as I had in the past.

This time around I was enamored with the idea of creating a glow-in-the-dark label. Who drinks beer in the dark you may ask? I have no idea, but it sounded flippin cool. I simplified the label design from last year a bit to open up more white space for the florescent paint to adhere to. I also sprayed the beer caps (prior to bottling) with many light coats of the paint as well. There was however, a flaw to the plan - the fluorescent paint requires significant light exposure to keep the glowing capability "charged"... and as you may know light exposure is not a friend to bottled beer. The initial label did have a nice little glow but as time went on it faded out.

Upon talking with a friend I learned that quinine (the bittering agent found in tonic water) naturally glows under black light. I wonder if anyone has tried adding quinine in primary fermentation to attempt making a glow-in-the-dark beer or what affect that would have on the flavor?

Punkim Ale 2.0 making its debute at the company Halloween party!

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Tale of A Hauntingly Dark Ale

Inspired by the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, this rich brown ale dubbed [The Quagmire of] Secrets & Murder was brewed on a dark October night.

Pushing the boundaries of the American Brown Ale style it pours a deep brown color with a creamy tan head. Notes of nuts and toffee on the nose are followed by a sweet, dark molasses flavor and medium body. The sweetness is nicely balanced by the earthy, smokey characteristics of the Chinook hops.

Aged for a month in secondary fermentation with a homemade walnut extract brings a slight pepperiness to the finish.

The label was brought to life with the dynamic representation of a large walnut tree, deep rooted with years of secrets. The label was printed on recycled craft paper, like pages ripped from a storybook.

Enjoy if you dare!

Follow us on twitter at @hail2theale

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Chicago's 10th Annual Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer

The Illinois Craft Brewers Guild’s 10th Annual Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer (FoBAB) was one of the most impressive beer fests we've been to yet. The innovation and quality of the beer offered was undeniable. The sold out festival, which has grown exponentially each year had the largest attendance yet. Over 2,000 people arrived at the Bridgeport Art Center on Saturday to sample over 173 beers from 60 breweries. The layout was set up according to style rather than brewery, which was an exceptional way to taste your way through the ten categories.

It was no surprise that Goose Island left a bold and sizable impression on festival goers showcasing a first taste of the Cherry Bourbon County Stout, which launches in stores on Black Friday. Also making an appearance was the rare and beloved 2011 King Henry Barley Wine. Another highlight from Goose Island was the “Blending Station” in which paddles holding four different barrel aged Bourbon County Stouts could be sampled - BCS aged in Koval, BCS aged in wine barrels, BCS aged in Buffalo Trace barrels and BCS aged in Low Storage barrels. Our favorite was the Koval barrels which added more toasted oak and fruit characteristics.

Bourbon County Stout "Blending Station"

Even without the breweries having assigned tables the brewers had a strong presence and were eager to talk and share a craft beer. We had the opportunity to meet some fantastic and talented folks from around the country.

Devon from The Lost Abbey and his 4 medals

Our new buddy Bryan from Great Divide Brewing. We love his tshirt!

Here are just a few of our favorites (it was VERY tough to narrow down!)

Kim’s FoBAB picks:

Barrel Aged Abraxas (Perennial Artisan Ales) - This Imperial Stout with flavors of chocolate, ancho chile, vanilla and cinnamon was high on my list for the day. Aged in Rittenhouse rye whiskey barrels, it embodied the perfect combination of sweet & heat with a smooth, full body finish.

Bourbon Barrel Holiday Spice Lager (Lakefront Brewery) - If Christmas Day was a flavor - this would be it. A perfectly balanced, moderately spiced Doppelbock with brightness of honey & orange peel, aged in bourbon barrels - it will be my holiday go-to beer of the season.

Track #11 (The Lost Abbey) - This Strong Ale had a beautiful pour with a slight orange hue. It had big fruit-forward peach and bourbon aroma as well as flavor, with hints of black tea that created a slightly bitter finish.

Mayan Gold (Goose Island Clybourn) Chocolate + Bourbon = a match made in heaven! Formerly known as XOCOLATL, this Mayan spiced Barley Wine was sweet, rich and flavorful with mild notes of cinnamon, toffee and toasted wood. YUM, yum, yum!!

Pappy Van Muckle (Sun King Brewing) - I have to admit I am a sucker for Scotch Ales and Sun King’s Wee Heavy aged in a Pappy Van Winkle barrels did not disappoint. It was smooth as can be and a solid, traditional execution which was a nice treat after all of the bells and whistles we encountered.

Dave’s FoBAB picks:

King Henry (Goose Island Beer Co.) Goose Island’s Barley Wine aged in Pappy Van Winkle barrels was astounding. Such a simple idea with incredibly complex flavor's, ending with a smooth finish. I felt honored to be able to taste greatness.

Humidor Peach IPA (Cigar City Brewing) - This IPA brewed with peaches and aged in cedar. The cedar left a dry, white pepper finish that was balanced by the slight sweetness of the peach's. This was the first cedar aged beer I've had and I'm looking forward to trying many more.

Sex Syrup (Rock Bottom Brewing Chicago) - Breakfast in a glass! Rock Bottom’s Imperial Oatmeal Stout brewed with bacon, maple syrup, coffee and then aged in bourbon barrels had to be one of the most intense beers at the fest. Despite the copious amounts of flavors waging an epic war in your mouth, everything settled into a harmonious balance on the finish. Needless to say I went back for seconds (...and thirds).

Rumpkin (Avery Brewing) - Avery's Imperial Pumpkin Ale aged in Gosling’s dark rum barrels was the one beer I was looking forward to trying the most. Despite the heat (17%), the pumpkin and spices married so well with the vanilla and brown sugar notes from the rum. One of the most ambitious and delicious pumpkin ales out there.

Smaug’s Breath (New Holland Brewing) - Dragon’s Milk Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels with chiles. In my opinion the best chile beer I've tasted. Silky, smooth mouthfeel that leads into smoky vanilla. You feel a subtle bite of heat and spice from the chiles, very balanced.

We hope you had a chance to try some of these as well - and if not, keep an eye on for ticket announcements on all events. Those suckers sell FAST!

Results of the judged competition can be found at

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Gastropub Review: The Black Birch, Kittery Maine

Reviewed by Dave Leshinski

The Black Birch... I quickly salivate at the utterance of it's name. To some, it is a genus of North American tree. To others in the New England area, it is the foodie mecca. A dimly lit haven for those seeking the most comforting, yet brilliant food, along with the most ambitious beer and spirit menu on the East Coast. It is located in the quaint downtown of Kittery, Maine, just 4 miles north of downtown Portsmouth, NH. The only way to spot the restaurant is to get out of your car and search for the carved wooden sign resting against the glass window.

The setting offers an industrial twist on a rustic New England gastropub combining dark woods with brushed metals and hand crafted fixtures. The bar is equipped with approximately two dozen hand selected (constantly rotated) craft beers from all over the world, as well as an eclectic spirits list. The seating is cozy (50-80 capacity), but it sparks this incredible dialogue between veteran and rookie patrons asking each other whatʼs good on the menu today or how hoppy the IPA is that youʼre drinking. The bartender also has vintage vinyl spinning in the background as you enjoy your meal.

I will admit, the reason I travel to this restaurant is because as a beer geek their beer menu is something to be reckoned with. I was able to try two very different but very tasty brews. First, I had a glass of Allagashʼs Confluence. A dry-hopped Golden Ale fermented with their house Belgian yeast strain as well as Brettanmoyces. It is a ridiculously balanced sweet and spicy beer with just the right amount of Belgian funk. Second, I tried Green Flashʼs Le Freak. A modern blend of a Belgian Triple with an American Imperial IPA. This beer won the Bronze at the World Beer Cup for Best American Belgo Ale. All I can say is - the BEST of both worlds, the end.

As for sustenance, we started off with the Deviled Eggs 3-ways: bacon, jalapeno, and
pineapple; carrot and pickled ginger; and wasabi tobiko. Ah-mazing. This dish has
changed combinations each time weʼve been here, which ultimately adds to the
intrigue. For an entree, I had the Lamb Bolognese with goat cheese. The flavors
married together and melted in your mouth. My girlfriend had the Roasted Marinated
Chicken Thighs with Sweet Potato Hash and Smokey Chorizo, which was also to die
for. Everything they create is miraculous; from the Bacon and Bleu Cheese Mac, to the
Deep Fried Short Ribs, comfort food has never felt so comfortable.

I beg... nay, PLEAD you to travel from wherever you may think you are getting great
beer and food and visit this tiny piece of what I hope heaven to be.

Don't just take our word for it, Beer Advocate Magazine Issue #66 reviewed The Black Birch as one of the top beer destinations in the Portsmouth, NH & Kittery, ME area.

For more information visit The Black Birch at:

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

O.C. Brew Fest Reviewed

This past weekend I ventured out to sunny California to check out some West Coast craft beer, as well as attend the 3rd Annual Orange County Craft Beer Festival located in scenic Oak Canyon Park in Silverado, CA.

This event is partnered with the Local 3631 Firefighter's Union. Boasting over 60 Award winning Breweries serving 150+ beers on tap, it raises thousands of dollars for the Fallen Fire Fighters Relief Fund.

All of the big breweries of the regional west were in attendance - Sierra Nevada, Lagunitas, Stone, Avery, Firestone Walker, North Coast Brewery as well as numerous smaller California breweries.

My strategy was to try things I haven't had before from some of the West Coast's craft beer trailblazers as well as discover some of the up and coming breweries. We found that most of the larger breweries had two tap lines, simply showcasing their flagship beers. I have to admit that I'd hoped based on my experience with Midwest beer festivals, that this would be a venue to try some special/limited releases but this was unfortunately not that case. The smaller, local breweries really came out to shine!

Beers of Note/Best in Show
• Epic Brewery (Salt Lake City, UT) Spiral Jetty IPA (6.6%), A bold IPA boasting 7 types of American hops
• North Coast Brewing Co. (Fort Bragg, CA) Red Seal Pale Ale on Nitro (5.4%), Copper-Red and creamy
• Bootlegger's Brewery (Fullerton, CA) Golden Chaos Belgian Ale (8.4%), Perfectly spiced
• Golden Road (Los Angeles, CA) Get Up Offa That Brown (5.5%), Smooth & smokey English-style Brown Ale
• Taps Fish House & Brewery (Orange County, CA) Pumpkin Ale (5.8%), Well balanced

Best Tent Display
• Hangar 24 Craft Brewery (Redlands, CA)
Custom Tent, vintage truck, 4+ taps, lots of swag - these guys had all of the bells and whistles.
Breweries To Keep An Eye On
• Hangar 24 Craft Brewery (Redlands, CA) 
With a impressive list of quality crafted beers and vintage branding that can't be overlooked this local favorite caught my eye. I had a chance to visit their brewery - stay tuned for a dedicated write up.

Brad from Ritual Brewing and I
• Ritual Brewing Co. (Redlands, CA)
A craft brewery opening this fall, this was their first festival and they had quite a showing. The Wit's End was refreshingly delightful.

• Monkish Brewery (Torrance, CA)
These guys did not have their own tent, but were being served by Brü. Their Belgian spiced beers - Rosa's Hips (Belgian Brown spiced with rose hips) and Crux (Belgian Single spiced with elderflowers) were by far the most impressive I had while in Southern California. Check out their new tasting room right outside of LA.

Best Food Trucks
• Ranch A Go Go (Multiple Southern California locations)
Let's just say these guys rocked my world with their over-sized Pulled Pork Sliders.

• Brewcakes (Redlands, CA)
A unique bakery specializing in desserts infused with craft beer, wine or liquor. We tried a sampling of craft beer infused cupcakes that were delicious!

Glass Half Full
 • Wrist bands - pretty cool each little tear off square was a drink ticket, no worries about losing paper tickets
• Overhead Misting Cords - such a life saver on a hot day
• Location - great amount of shade, not over-crowded

Glass Half Empty
• No cell reception - hard to meet up with people
• No map handouts - hard to know which breweries were where for planning/strategizing
• Brewery representation - as a beer geek I would have loved to see more people from the breweries who could answer questions about the beers on tap.

Overall the festival was spacious, delicious and well planned. Thanks so much O.C. Brew Fest and O.C. Firefighters Union, we had a fantastic time!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Beer T-Shirts of SoCal

Truth: People at beer festivals love their kitschy beer t-shirts, so it became a fun hunt of sorts to find and document the best of the fest. Only one person got angry at me, everyone else was pretty excited about being part of my project.

Route Beer?
That's what she said...
Brewcake was one of the delicious food vendors

This was our favorite!
This guy has a Belgian Yeast Infection

I have no idea...

Words to live by!

Trust me, this guy had plenty of beer.

This guy actually called me an asshole for asking about his beer blog, but let me photograph him anyway.

My score of the day. Pork: the perfect accompaniment.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Portland Brew Festival Reviewed

This past Labor Day weekend Portland Maine celebrated its 2nd Annual
Brew Festival on a picturesque New England summer day. It was held at
an old marina warehouse right on the waterfront of Oldport, which
added a unique and rustic feel to the event. Over 30 local breweries
were in attendance, including Allagash, Baxter, Shipyard, and Sebago
to name a few. The beer was flowing from 12-4pm, unfortunately the
selections from the breweries were a tad lackluster. The majority were
offering their staple brews without the added bonus of rarities or new

Allagash, however, was pouring their anniversary brew Fluxus, a
strong golden ale with a classic Belgian aroma and tart/peppery
finish. It was definitely a highlight of the afternoon. If you are a
Belgian beer fan, their beers always offer a balanced yet unfettered

Longtrail Brewery also surprised me by having their new Brewmaster’s
Series Imperial Pumpkin ale, which at 9% abv was amazingly smooth and
devoid of the canned pumpkin flavor. It was fresh and festive, as a
fall pumpkin brew should be.

One of the most distinct and satisfying beverages of the day wasn’t
actually a beer. Urban Farm Fermentary, based out of Portland,
specialize in ciders, mead and Kombucha, a Japanese fermented tea.
Their Ginger Kombucha was incredible. With aromas of pickled ginger, a
light effervescent mouthfeel, and refreshing sweet and sour flavors,
it was hard to believe I wasn’t drinking a Flemish sour ale. Kombucha
is derived by fermenting tea leaves with live bacteria and yeast,
sometimes including the ever popular strain Brettanomyces
Bruxellensis, which gives it that classic Belgian funk. Clocking in at
around 1.5-2% abv,  it isn’t exactly a party brew. In fact, you might
catch your parents drinking it within the next few years if it gains
popularity. The copious amounts of healthy bacteria in every bottle
are said to help ease indigestion and extract toxins from the body. 
Sounds like a perfect breakfast beverage after a late night out in one of 
the fastest growing craft beer cities on the east coast.

Reviewed by Dave Leshinski

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Beer Bistro North Opens in Lincoln Park

With an extensive background in the craft beer industry and a love of bringing quality beer and food to the masses, owner Bob McDermott has established the The Beer Bistro brand as a premiere destination for beer lovers. Whether you’re visiting the Madison location or the newly opened Fullerton location, you’ll find a feel-good atmosphere that is homey, welcoming, and unpretentious. Bob McDermott and his staff pride themselves on having a neighborhood approach - they offer a rotating selection of high-end beers, but will never look down at you for ordering a Miller High Life.
We met up with Bob at The Beer Bistro North on Fullerton to check out the new location and talk about their recent expansion.

H2TA: Bob, I understand you have quite a background in the restaurant industry. What led you to focus on brewpubs in particular?

Bob McDermott: I’ve worked at a lot of Chicago institutions over the years. My love of craft beer exploded when I was working at Goose Island on Clybourn and also helped open the Wrigleyville location. I then went on to run a larger national chain of restaurants. I learned an awful lot through those places - what to do, what not to do. Like any business you have to make a lot of mistakes before you get decent at it, that’s how you learn.

As far as what drew me to brewpubs, I’m a big fan of variety. I don’t want a beer all night long, it’s just not my style. I like to be able to have options - different IPAs, seasonal styles, really big beers to balance my day or night. Most brewpubs are pretty laid back and casual, which is how I am, not white collar and stuffy. I like the idea of hosting a party every day and I like that my party offers more variety than other places can.

H2TA: In 2005 you were one of the first to bring the artisan food and craft beer concept to the West Loop. How has the scene changed and what still makes The Beer Bistro unique?

Bob: The Beer Bistro didn’t start off saying “we’re going to be THE beer bar in the West Loop” and cut our niche. I opened it up as a neighborhood bar with a good beer list. Luckily the people in the neighborhood and those going back and forth to the United Center for games have learned about The Beer Bistro and use it as their stepping stone to learn about craft beer. We try to be very inclusive, rather than exclusive, and that goes for my staff. It’s important to have knowledge about what you’re selling but don’t be an asshole to people who don’t know, bring them into the fold because then they’ll come back and want to learn more about craft beer. Right now, craft beer in the West Loop is on fire - Haymarket, The Publican, Girl & The Goat, Paramount Room, Twisted Spoke – they all have great beer lists. We were fortunate enough to open up when the neighborhood was starting to change and were the first bar on the street. This neighborhood has helped us be who we are and what we are.

H2TA: This past spring you purchased Small Bar Fullerton as your second location and opened The Beer Bistro North in ten days - an incredible feat in this industry! Can you tell me a little bit about the space and what made it the ideal location?

Bob: Small Bar was already established and very successful. They have a great brand and did a good job of putting the bones in place. There’s a lot of history in this building - it used to be St Paul’s Billiards back in the day, where The Color Of Money was filmed. When I was younger, I used to hang out here because they sold $1.75 bottles of Miller High Life and $2 an hour to play pool. As a kid growing up in the city that was a pretty good deal. As an adult, it’s an odd feeling to actually be working here now, even though it looks different, because I know what was here. It’s in the middle of a neighborhood that wants to do more, surrounded by some great restaurants. I’m happy to be up here on the Northside and I think there’s a lot of potential. You can see we didn’t do an excessive amount of work to Small Bar, we just broke up some of the hard lines and made it a little softer and more homey.

H2TA: The West Loop is known as being a community of serious foodies and “hop-heads”. Is your approach at The Beer Bistro North any different than at the original location? What are you finding the Northside clientele are looking for?

Bob: We’re still feeling out the Northside clientele. They’re not as hop-driven as the West Loop. The West Loop can’t seem to get enough. When we did a tap takeover for IPA day we went through 4 barrels of Hopothesis in 3 hours, it was awesome. We’re learning up here (Northside) that sours and some other things we’re trying are well received. There are different distributors between the two locations so we’re able to bring in some unique beer at different times.

H2TA: With approximately 200 beers available, The Beer Bistro and The Beer Bistro North are considered prime beer locations. How are you able to consistently bring such a diverse selection of quality beers to your bars?

Bob: We want to have great beer list with variety. Breweries in the Midwest are on fire right now, so it’s not difficult to bring in quality beer. We’re fortunate enough that we have gotten the respect of not only the sales community but customers that come in that we can sell great beer. With this second location we’re learning that the craft beer drinker really is everyone - male, female, 25-75. You’ll get the older gentleman who drinks his High Life and shot of whiskey and then turns around and orders a Lagunitas A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ and you’re thinking - “How does he know about this?” but he does, it’s awesome.

As far as looking ahead to what’s new – we’re just asking, trying and having fun with what we do.

H2TA: And with the diverse selection you have at your fingertips, why was it important for you to have a House Draft? Who brews it and what makes it unique?

Bob: We’ve always done a “Beer Of The Month” special and I wanted to have a beer that we could call our own, one line that could switch out seasonally. We’re not brewers; I’m much better at selling it than making it. Originally, I wanted it to be locally-sourced, but that was in 2009 when Midwest beer was really exploding and breweries were having a hard time keeping up with beer production. We put our feelers out and were able to pair up with Brooklyn Brewery and it’s been a really good partnership for us. Will it always be with them? I don’t know. With the amount happening in Chicago right now, I’d love to see a window open up where we can work with someone locally, but we’ll see.

H2TA: You are known for some pretty fantastic tasting events (Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, Goose Island Fulton & Wood) and tap takeovers (Three Floyds, Two Brothers, Milwaukee Brewing, IPA Day). What is it about these events that draws so much excitement? How important are these events in promoting the local craft beer community?

Bob: Our first tap takeover was Three Floyds and it was not the easiest day for us. We had twenty different beers on tap on at once, which we had never done before. It was a huge investment and our hope was to be out of beer completely at the end of the night. It happened on February 23rd last year, the “thundersnow” day, where there was lightening and thunder in the middle of a snowstorm (which only seemed appropriate for Three Floyds). We were nervous whether people would make it out, but we tapped the beer at 4:30pm and by 5pm it was nuts in here. There were no issues and it was great because everyone was here for the craft beer. We try to offer all of the pints at the same price so that you can taste 8-10 different beers and get more flavors and varieties. The tap takeovers recreate the beer tour experience by bringing everyone to their neighborhood bar and letting them meet the brewers and try beers they haven’t had before.

H2TA: What excites you most about being on the purveyor side of craft beer and where do you see the future of The Beer Bistro/The Beer Bistro North?

Bob: I like to drink it, bottom line. I love craft beer. I’m going to be at a bar no matter what and I enjoy running a business doing it. Otherwise I’d be the bum, the old guy, complaining about the $5 whiskey.

I see the Madison location continuing to do well and hopefully being a mainstay in the neighborhood. At Beer Bistro North, the sky is the limit. We’re just getting started and working on some crazy events. There’s a lot of potential to do some different things up here. You can’t catch lighting in a bottle twice, and I wouldn’t presume to try. I think that’s the downfall of some establishments opening multiple locations - to run on reputation alone. We take advantage of social media, but we don’t pay for advertising, it’s not the way we do things. We’re just getting into the community and involved with this neighborhood. We’re about to hit Fall which is when Chicago comes alive with football, basketball, hockey and we love it. I’m blown away by our city’s ability to adapt and change beyond a Miller/Budweiser city. Chicago is a craft beer city and I’m happy with that.

H2TA: What value do you see in becoming an allied member of the craft beer community?

Bob: I’m not one of the brewers, I’m one of the purveyors and that’s where my strength lies - providing to the masses. I think there’s a huge advantage to being a member of the community beyond networking and shaking hands, it’s much more than that. With the amount of restaurants trying to survive, we felt it was time for us to expand. I have a great management staff in place, Chris Wortendyke is a great asset to my business on Madison. We’re not just selling craft beer, we’re part of the community and living craft beer life.