Sipping in Chicago

Martin Johnson - My craft beer tour of that great city.

I spent Labor Day weekend in Chicago. I was there to cover a jazz festival, but I never go anywhere without drinking the local beer. Chicago is an underrated city in jazz; it has a lot going on but doesn't stop and announce it to the world. The same holds true for beer. Mention Chicago craft beer to a lot of people and Goose Island and Lagunitas come up. then there's a long pause. There's good reason for the initial associations. Goose Island has been the leading local craft brewery and it hasn't slowed down much since its acquisition by InBev. While its 312 series and IPA are well known even to beer drinkers in New York City like me, Goose Island excels with a line of barrel aged brews with names like Matilda, Lolia and Sofie. 

Lagunitas opened a facility there recently and Windy City folk are enthusiastically claiming their various pale ales and other beers as their own. But that's just the head on the beer in the pint glass, if you will (the ol' tip of the iceberg analogy seems wrong here since we've all probably had great beer that was served too cold). There's so much more going on in the Chicago craft beer scene. I was drinking amazing and unusual beer almost from the moment I got out of O'Hare until hours before my plane left.

When I'm in Chicago I stay with my mother who is 94, and she is proof that craft beer isn't just a young person's game. Two years ago during an August visit, she and I enthusiastically pounded back a six-pack of a 5 Rabbit wheat beer that had aged in Pinot Noir barrels while watching a Bears preseason game. En route, I stopped at a Whole Foods on the South Side to pick up stuff to cook during my visit. I visited the beer bar on site and as expected, I saw that one of the beers on draft was from a brewery I didn't know. It was the Around the Bend Silk Road, a pale ale. 

My barstool neighbor also ordered one and I looked it up, thinking Bend, Oregon while my neighbor suspected South Bend, Indiana. Imagine our surprise when it turned out that the brewery was located about a mile and a half from the Whole Foods, and even better less than a mile from my mother's place. When I told my sister, she began planning a brewery visit.

I've long contended that the South Side of Chicago has the potential to be a new “Brooklyn” in terms of being a haven for artisanal food and drink production and brewing is proving my point. One of the honchos at Maria's Packaged Goods and Community Bar, an absolute paradise of a beer bar in the Bridgeport area, has begun Marz Community Brewing nearby.

The malt and hops highlights of my weekend included a Half Acre Lead Feather a Black IPA, that nicely balanced the roasty overtones with a nice hop structure, several glasses of the 3 Floyd's Alpha King, a pale ale with tropical fruit overtones, and a nice, dry Right Bee Apple Cider. Of course in a city teeming with great bars and great beer, I didn't restrict myself to local stuff. In my obligatory pilgrimage to Maria's, I enjoyed beers from Louisville and Boulder that I don't often see in NYC.

Finally on the night before my departure my mother and I stayed up past midnight talking. The liquid refreshment included three superb Chicago beers: Revolution Coup D'Etat Saison, the Marz Jungle Boogie, a pale wheat brewed with rooibos; and Spiteful God Damn Toffee Pigeon Porter, a dark brew with rich caramel overtones.

The next morning, I was a little sluggish as I schlepped to O'Hare, but that meant that the trip had gone exactly according to plan.

The Author:

Martin Johnson is a beer buyer and merchandising manager for Westside Market East Village in New York City.When not selling or drinking beer he writes about jazz and beer for the Wall Street Journal, basketball for Slate, beer for Eater and about a variety of cultural and culinary topics for The Root.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.

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