Sunday, November 2, 2014

Penguin Hops Release Party at Shedd Aquarium

By guest contributor MC Johnsen

On Thursday, October 30th, the Shedd Aquarium and Revolution Brewing hosted a release party at the aquarium for their annual collaboration beer, "Penguin Hops." For the last three years, the Shedd Aquarium has partnered with Revolution to brew this beer with the organically grown hops from the grounds of the aquarium itself. This beer is not to be missed because for each pint sold, $1 will be donated back to the aquarium to support their conservation efforts.

The event kicked off at 5pm with a keg-tapping of "Penguin Hops". The beer, an American Pale Ale, was remarkably clear with juicy grapefruit notes and a creamy, smooth finish. A sessionable beer, this nicely hoppy, but not-at-all-bitter, beverage clocked in at 5.5% ABV and 30 IBUs. Most notably though, it was a beautiful amber-orange color with reddish highlights – both delicious and pleasing to look at. 

Each year, the beer recipe has actually included a combination of the unknown variety of the whole hops gathered from the Shedd, some others harvested from Wil Turner’s home-grown hop garden (the vines of which are rumored to cover his entire house), and some commercially-produced hop pellets. Hops were added mainly for flavor and aroma, and the known varieties included Warrior, Crystal, and Centennial. This year, because of its past success, Revolution actually brewed a double batch (about 60 kegs) of Penguin Hops, which is great news for beer lovers and supporters of the Shedd Aquarium alike. 

After some mingling and tasting, the crowd filed into the aquarium’s 4D-Experience theater for a presentation dubbed “Science Pub.” Revolution Head Brewer, Wil Turner, gave a thorough description of how the brewing collaboration came to be. He recounted how the Shedd had been renovating a portion of their building and had decided that they needed to cover the unsightly construction with a fast-growing vine. Shedd Horticulturist, Christine Nye, choose to plant hops – known for their voracious ability to climb quickly. When the hop cones eventually matured and began sprouting a few years later, it became apparent that the they needed to be harvested. As the Shedd is always focused on sustainability, they looked for a local solution to this (what I would call convenient) problem and decided to reach out to Revolution. A partnership was immediately born, as was a delicious pale ale that highlighted the Shedd’s accidental crop.

Science Pub continued with a slideshow presentation by Lana Vanagasem, the Shedd’s resident penguin expert, highlighting her time spent at the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB). Lana worked there with a team of other penguin specialists to rehabilitate injured birds and worked toward releasing them back into the wild. The star of the slideshow was the rockhopper penguin, the type of penguin after which Penguin Hops was named. Rockhopper penguins are diminutive in size only; they have a spiky mohawk of black and yellow feathers which matches their spunky attitudes. Their blood-red eyes and orange beak were a perfect compliment to the color of the beer we were all imbibing in honor of her species.

Photos of Christine Nye and the Rockhopper Penguin courtesy of The Shedd Aquarium.
Following Science Pub, the visitors returned to the Penguin Hops tap or dispersed to visit the other bars that were placed throughout the aquarium. Wil Turner had brought along a couple of small containers of some whole Centennial hop cones for show, giving visitors the opportunity to smell and touch actual hops. I asked Wil what his best guess was as to the kind of hops the Shedd had planted, and he told me that because of their aroma and resulting flavor profile he initially thought they were Centennial, however this year’s hop cones were so huge that he’s no longer sure what they really are.

The party came to a close with a spirited performance from American Idol winner Caleb Johnson, to whom attending Shedd members had been given the chance to say hello during a VIP meet-and-greet session earlier in the evening. 

All in all, the Penguin Hops Release Party was a lively, family-friendly celebration that I would happily attend again. It not only provided a unique opportunity to explore the aquarium after hours and to learn about their specific penguin-related conservation efforts, but also gave party-goers a chance to learn about brewing by talking to the actual brewer regarding the creation of a truly one-of-a-kind beer.

The Penguin Hops official tap list will be released sometime during this first week of November, so keep your eyes peeled for your chance to sip on a very drinkable, pleasantly hoppy beverage brewed in the name of sustainability. In the meantime, you can find the beer on tap at Revolution’s Logan Square brewpub (2323 N. Milwaukee Ave.), at their Avondale taproom (3340 N. Kedzie Ave.), or you can enjoy a taste of this beer this coming Wednesday, November 5th at Whole Foods Market Chicago in Lincoln Park (1550 N. Kingsbury St.) starting at 5:30pm. 

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.