Thursday, January 31, 2013

February Craft Beer Events

"Mild winter" or not,  if you're still feeling the blues and looking for a few things to do this month, here are some recommendations of Chicago craft beer events...

Bell’s Brewery 4-Course Dinner Riverview Tavern 1958 W. Roscoe, Chicago IL
Riverview Tavern is offering a 4-course Prix-Fixe dinner featuring beer pairings from Bell’s Brewery. Tickets are limited, $45.
Tuesday, February 5th, 7pm

Goose Island “Blackout” Invasion Kelly’s Pub 949 W. Webster Ave, Chicago IL
Kelly’s will be tapping Bourbon County Stout, Night Stalker, Big John, Baudonia, 2011 Fleur as well as a few “surprise bottles”.
Thursday, February 7th, 6pm

Winterbrew 2013
Dank House 4740 N. Western Ave, Chicago IL
The second Annual Winterbrew festival put on by Square Kegs Homebrew Club and the Lincoln Square Chamber of Commerce features beer from Chicago Breweries 5 Rabbit, Begyle, Finch, Half Acre, Metropolitan, Revolution and Koval Distillery. Hopefully you have your tickets because this event, for the second year in a row, is SOLD OUT!
Saturday, February 9th 2-5pm and 7-10pm

Cider Summit Chicago Navy Pier 848 E. Grand Ave, Chicago IL
The Region’s largest cider tasting makes its Chicago debut at Navy Pier featuring over 60 ciders from the US, England, Scotland, France, Spain and New Zealand. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door (cash only).
Saturday, February 9th 11am-7pm

Chicago Metal Arts Guild Valentine’s Day Jewelry Sale 
Revolution Brewing 2323 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago IL
Grab a beer and shop for the perfect gift for your sweetheart at the Chicago Metal Arts Guild Jewelry Sale. Featuring one of a kind hand-made jewelry by local artists.  
Sunday, February 10, 1-6pm in the Brewers' Lounge.

3rd Annual Sour Night SmallBar Division 2049 W Division, Chicago IL
SmallBar Division hosts their 3rd annual Sour Night featuring wild fermented ales and traditional lambics
Friday, February 22nd, 6pm (5pm VIP session)

Bruery Tart of Darkness
Firestone Walker Reginald Brett
Cantillon Classic Gueuze
Against the Grain Gnag Reflex
Perennial Unblended American Wild Ale
New Belgium La Folie
New Belgium Tart Lychee
New Holland Blue Sunday
Ommegang Seduction
Allagash Interlude
Timmerman Blanche Lambicus
Böckor Cuvee Jacobin Rouge
Loverbeer Madamin
Gueuze Tilquin
Evil Twin Femme Fatale Brett
Liefmans Goudenband

In addition there is a VIP session to kick the event off from 5-6pm. 30 guests will get $30 tickets including a flight of featured ales, a complimentary scratch food spread and a wild ale production discussion presented by Perennial Artisan Ales Head Brewer Cory King.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Quest for the Imperial Goose

When Goose Island Brewpubs announced "The Quest for the Imperial Goose" homebrew competition last October I couldn't help but be intrigued. The charge was to brew a Russian Imperial Stout, per BJCP Guidelines and submit for a chance to win a day brewing with the Pub Brewmaster as well as have your recipe on tap at Goose Island Brewpubs

By no means would I expect to win, since I had never brewed this style before - but knowing that I work well under pressure I decided to sign up and accept the challenge. If nothing else it would be a great learning experience that would hopefully result in some helpful feedback. 

The Russian Imperial Stout is a huge beer, with a complex grain build. Per the guidelines the beer had to be brewed subsequent to Nov 1st, 2012 which left just enough time for fermentation and bottle conditioning (according to the general beer fermentation schedule), knowing that it would still be a very "young" beer at this stage for the style. I had the pleasure of working with Larry from Brew & Grow to craft a rich recipe using some beautiful crystal, chocolate and specialty German malts as well as some roasted barley and wheat.

I had been holding on to a lovely bag of 100% Kona coffee beans brought back from Hawaii, waiting for the right opportunity to incorporate it into a recipe and this seemed to be the perfect occasion. Harvested in tropical conditions and volcanic soil, pure Kona is deemed to be one of the highest quality coffees. With hints of chocolate and just enough fruit and acidity to round out the flavor it sounded like the perfect compliment to my RIS. Upon further research of exactly how and at what stage to add the coffee I decided on a cold extraction approach I found in a really helpful blog post by Brian Cendrowski (of Untamed Beer) called How To Put Coffee In A Coffee Stout. Per Brian's suggestion I coarsely ground 8oz of my Kona beans and soaked in 24oz of cold sanitized water for three days. I then filtered the coffee and added 2 cups to the secondary fermenter, adding gradually and tasting to see how much impact it had on the flavor.

When I started thinking about the label the idea of using burlap fabric instantly became the perfect tie in to coffee. I was able to cut strips of burlap to be used a full wrap label. As it turns out "goose" in the Hawaiian language (Nēnē) represents a species exclusive to the islands and is the official state bird - suddenly the plan was coming full circle. I illustrated a tiki/totem style goose that I turned into a custom stencil and painted onto the burlap fabric.

The Imperial Stout itself is coming along nicely. Quite rich and flavorful, ringing in just shy of 10% ABV. Results of the Goose Island competition will be announced this Sunday at the Wrigleyville location. Details can be found here. Until then Chicago homebrewers will wait with baited breath...


Friday, January 18, 2013

North Center Welcomes Bottles & Cans

Chicago is often fondly referred to as a “city of neighborhoods”. A big city broken into 77 communities and over 200 neighborhoods, at which the heart of each centers around culture, cuisine and small businesses. One of North Center's latest neighbors turned business owners are Joe and Carly Katz, the dynamic duo behind Bottles and Cans, a craft beer focused retail store. The shelves are stocked with a wide array of local, national and international offerings, as well as wine and liquor. In addition to isle after isle of 6-packs and 22oz bombers, they also feature a "build your own" 6-pack option, which is unique in that it can be comprised of anything in the store, since each bottle is individually priced.

“If someone wants to build a $30 all Belgian beer 6-pack, who am I to stop them?” says owner Joe Katz. 

Finally, someone who understands and delivers what the true beer fanatics are looking for! I had the opportunity to stop in and interview the lovely pair on how Bottles & Cans came to be and what the future holds for this neighborhood gem.

How did your interest in craft beer begin?

Joe: I came from the distribution side, started off in wine and spirits and about 5 years ago took a beer job with a local distributor. Over time it just blossomed my love for and knowledge of beer. I started the Cicerone program, passed Level 1 and am studying for Level 2. Carly is also studying for Level 1, so it’s been exciting to learn about beer together. We both also want to further our wine knowledge together.

What made North Center the right location to open a beer store?
Joe: We knew that this neighborhood would welcome a retail store featuring first and foremost craft beer. There are a good number of fine wine stores, but not many beer-first stores. So ultimately we found this place two blocks from our home and did some diligence realizing that Bad Apple, Half Acre, Brewcamp were down the street, as well as a million little breweries popping up - and decided to go for it. The Alderman was so receptive and helpful, along with the neighborhood.

What has it been like being a newcomer to the Chicago craft beer scene?

Carly: Super warm and inviting. Everyone has been awesome - brewers swinging by, neighbors introducing themselves, bloggers like yourself reaching out. Everyone wants everyone to do well in this community.
Joe: It’s been almost shockingly pleasant. Beer people seem to have much more of an “everyone can play together” mentality. We find it to be a much more laid back, friendly, creative side of the beverage industry.

Who do you feel embodies today’s craft beer drinker/enthusiast?
Carly: Can I tell you, it is everyone! It’s one of my favorite things about this industry. We have everyone from hipsters and musicians to young families, older folks, males, females... It’s awesome and I can’t believe how vast the crowd is that comes by.
Joe: I couldn’t believe during the holidays how many people came in to buy gifts of beer for other people. People are either into craft beer or want to get into it. As a business owner it’s great, but even from a observing standpoint it’s such a cool trend to see. I think a big part of it in this community is the homebrewing side - people are aware and open to trying so many new things.

Any particular beers or breweries on your personal “wish list” for the store?
Joe: Oh my gosh, this could take awhile. One of them arrived in last week - Deschutes is a brewery I’ve been obsessed with for awhile. Chicago is becoming a huge craft beer destination and with some of the bigger guys like Deschutes and Kona entering the market I think it will open the door to some others like Alaskan, Odell, 21st Amendment, which we would love to see come into Illinois. When Oskar Blues came in 4 months ago it was a great moment too. And obviously we're excited for all of the Chicago craft beers. Spiteful Brewing came over to introduced themselves and then went back to the brewery, picked up a case and walked back to share with us, so nice. We’ve tasted some of Begyle Brewing’s beer, which was amazing. We’re excited to see all of the additional local stuff popping up.

What are you the most excited about in the upcoming year?

Joe: I’m excited to see how we can continue to reach out to the community. Every day we get repeat customers which is wonderful and equally important we’re getting new customers. I love see the reactions from people when they walk in and realize what we’re trying to do [with craft beer]. Carly has been coming up with some really fun events. We want to start doing seminars and classes. Like anyone we have a thousand ideas so it will be exciting to see which ones we can put into action.
Carly: It’s always fun to see new people come in and hear that first question of “how long have you guys been here?”. We’re excited to have our first employee and equally excited to start paying ourselves [laughs]. Seeing what the new breweries bring in is fun every day.
Joe: Bottom line - we’re excited, we’re ambitious but we’re also still trying to keep our feet on the ground. It’s been a great three months, but it’s only been three months. The neighborhood is filling our head with of reasons to be optimistic. We hope it continues and we’re excited to see what comes of it.

Visit Bottles & Cans at
4109 N Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 857-2270

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Day In The Life of an 'Assistant To The Brewer'

Atlas Brewing Company is one of Chicago’s newest craft beer destinations. Resurrecting the name of one of Chicago’s oldest breweries which closed after prohibition, the NEW Atlas is a small brewpub serving a variety of handcrafted beer paired with a creative food menu. I had the pleasure of meeting brothers and brewers Ben and John Saller when the brewpub first launched last spring. Adjoining Seven Ten Lounge, its a really fun spot for bowling and craft beer!

After months of beer talk and homebrewing tips, Ben kindly allowed me the opportunity to come in and assist on a brew day, to experience craft brewing on a scale much larger than my apartment kitchen setup. Atlas brews on a 7 barrel system and is currently producing 1-2 batches a week. The Atlas brewpub has anywhere from 8-10 of their own beers on tap at any given time, which is impressive! The recipe we were brewing that day was a Russian Imperial Stout. This style is a high gravity, dark, full-bodied stout with a very complex roasted malt flavor. The ABV can range anywhere from 8-12%. We were shooting for 10% with an OG (Original Gravity) of 1.100. Ben’s recipe called for 770 pounds of grain. I realized quickly after sizing up the grain bags, that getting the grain into the Mash Tun was going to be the first challenge of the day!

Although the process was roughly the same as homebrewing, witnessing it at this scale was overwhelming to say the least. He walked me through each step of the process even allowing me to do some of the more glamorous tasks like hopping the beer, measuring the gravity and last but not least using the power hose!

While we had some downtime I was able to pick Ben’s brain on a few questions I had.

What inspired you to take the leap from homebrewing to owning a brewpub?
I wasn’t really finding many other things that I enjoyed doing for a living. I love cooking and sharing food and beer with people. When I started homebrewing I found that friends enjoyed partaking, so doing that as a profession definitely appealed to me. Some people say you shouldn’t try to turn your hobby into a job because it will ruin the fun but so far that hasn’t been the case.

What has your experience of the Chicago craft beer community been like over the last year?
Its been pretty amazing to see that people whose businesses compete with each other are basically like family in a lot of cases. We’ve received a huge amount of support from a wide range of people and nobody ever seems hesitant to withhold advice or encouragement from us. Its been great. We try to help out other breweries like they’ve helped us, but featuring their products here and giving them assistance in any way we can. Hopefully as the craft beer industry grows that sense of family doesn’t go away.

How would you define your brewing style? Do you find that you gravitate towards certain types of recipes?
We don’t tend to do really outlandish stuff here, but we also don’t necessarily stick rigidly to known styles. I think an example of something unique was our Monadnock Rye Ale. It was a pretty smooth brown ale with English and Noble hop character, brewed with a decent amount of rye to give it a little complexity and spice. That was a beer different from any I’d had before - it was something that we came up with and were very happy with. The barrel-aged Monadnock Rye won a medal at FoBAB (Festival of Barrel Aged Beer) which was pretty cool. The Quadrupal with oak and cognac was another recipe we thought would taste good. We’re going to start doing some things we haven’t tried yet like an occasional cask ale, brewing with wild yeast as well as with fruit when it comes back in season. There’s so much that can be done with just those four ingredients (water, malt, hops, and yeast) that I think that John and I are fascinated at the possibilities.

Thanks again for the learning opportunity Atlas. It was a great day!