In 2011, Paul at Chitown on Tap posted his “Craft Beer in Review” as a way to, in his words, “give props to the amazing people in our local craft beer community who have made drinking the good suds so damn rewarding this year.” Paul has moved on from the writing about beer (temporarily, we understand) to actually making the stuff with Solemn Oath so we asked his blessing to pick up the mantle and award some of our own.
“Take it for a ride” was Paul’s response, so with his approval, we take his inspiration and present you these Chicago Craft Beer Awards as our way to continue the appreciation and acknowledgement of the craftsmen and women who have made 2012 hands down, the best year in Chicago beer ever. As always, for what we get right, thank them, for what we get wrong, blame us – and tell us who you think deserves respect and appreciation in ways we may have forgotten. It’s been a busy, busy year.
And now, with the inspiration of Paul’s awards from last year along with some of our own additions, we give you the following GDB-ys (working title):
Local (or once mostly local, or soon to be quite local) Brewery Making the Biggest Moves:
Okay, okay, so it’s not quite local yet, but they’ll soon be quite local enough. Despite Lagunitas starting its life in California, because Tony McGee is a natural-born Chicagoan we’re going to go ahead and award this one to him solely because the man is building the biggest damn brewery the city has ever seen. Consider this mind-blowing statistic we’ve had rolling around in our brains since the news broke: the new brewhouse will be bigger than pretty much all other Chicago breweries…combined.
Runner-up: Again, this skirts the issue because Goose is now technically owned by either St. Louisans or Belgians, depending on how you look at it, but in 2012 they became one of the handful of craft breweries available nationwide, and it’s hard to make a bigger move than that.
Also, was there anywhere in Chicago that Revolution’s beers didn’t end up? Those guys really stretched their legs and put some great beer in cans and bombers; we love having the option to take home a 6’er of Eugene or a bomber of Fistmas every time we swing by a grocery store or sip an Anti-hero at dozens of bars around town.
While there were plenty of good-time beer festivals and events this year, Beer Under Glass was definitely our favorite. Sure, FOBAB is crazygonuts and things like the Hoptacular continue to grow and evolve, but it’s the combination of so many different breweries gathering together in the amazing surroundings of the Garfield Park Conservatory that tops our list.
So far as we can tell, only one festival had the Mash Tun Journal just steps away from Jarrett Payton hawking his (not bad, as it goes) wheat beer from Argus just further steps away from brand-new Chicago breweries pouring for the very first time. You can’t top that, in our books – at least, not til’ next year.
Our Favorite Craft Beer Bar: TIE Between Local Option and The Green Lady
In the interest of full disclosure (and you probably already know this) it’s worth noting that The Green Lady was the site of our first CCBW event, and we worked with Melani Domingues quite closely on organizing it. She could have just agreed to throw anything on draft that we dragged up from the southland, but she didn’t do that – she insisted that everything meet her level of quality, and tasted all the beers with us to ensure that everything she was offering to her customers passed her personal quality check, which we think is thoroughly awesome.
Beyond that, we love that there exists a new(ish) option in the city to sit down and just drink a beer – there’s no kitchen, there’s no schtick, there’s no theme – it’s just a few dozen handles of some of the best beer in the city. In a time when we’re losing more and more corner taverns and neighborhood bars where you can just get a beer and a bag of chips and throw some darts, TGL is a nice melding of craft beer destination paired with the relaxed vibe of a well-loved local hang.
That said, Local Option’s melding of amazing beer, heavy metal dedication and appreciation of the occasional High Life or two (see: the assortment of neon) hits us smack-dab in the center of our beer-addled hearts. The ability to put together such a destination in the heart of a near-soulless part of Lincoln Park doubles our admiration. Any place with a liquor license and some fancy lights could have thrown together a list full of macrobrews and put on some Top 40 and be swimming in DePaul undergrad cash. Instead, they’re doing the exact opposite, likely with a friendly (yet taunting) middle finger waving high.
Oh, and their don’t-call-it-gypsy line of Local Option craft beers that they’ve created solidify our adoration.
Food Industry Professional Doing the Most for Craft Beer:
For the second year running, Cleetus Friedman wins this one going away. This year saw more and more restaurants and bars creating their own collaboration beers, and those can be traced back in a straight line to the beers that started appearing on draft at City Provisions over the last two years. Without Cleetus’ efforts to work with Midwestern breweries and come up with some really creative efforts, it’s hard to say if bars and restaurants like Hopleaf, Bad Apple, and Girl & the Goat (and many more) would have been inspired to produce the collaborations that have graced Chicago over the past 12 months.
Moreover, the beers he and the brewers make are good. You may remember that last year, I named the Sarsaparilla Stout collaboration my favorite beer of the year; watching the tweets fly out about the forthcoming 100 Grand stout has me already anticipating what could be the 2013 early winner. Beers like Testudo with Two Brothers and Anaphylaxis with Solemn Oath helped solidify what we knew already – when Cleetus arrives for a brew day, good stuff results.
And we haven’t even talked about the farm dinners featuring local brewers and distillers. We could go on, but shouldn’t you just be drinking his beers right now?
Runner Up: I like Kevin Hickey’s efforts to craft special beers for the Four Seasons; their first effort of Allium Roseus with Goose was one of the more interesting beers I had this year. After that he could have partnered with pretty much any other brewery he wanted, but he chose to work with a brand-new startup that’s one of our favorites, Begyle, to try something new for their Beta beer.
Andrew adored the peppercorn saison that Haymarket put together for Stephanie Izard as well, which earns them a nod here also.
Best Out-of-town Arrival to the Chicago Market:
2013’s early lead has already been taken by Deschutes, but this year no beer had a bigger intro than Oskar Blues. Over the first week or two of its release, special events took place nightly, unique beers were seemingly everywhere, and brews like Old Chub immediately took a place on beer menus across the city. It was an intro unseen since the likes of Stone came to Chicago, and we remember how crazy that was, right?
Runner Up: We’re pretty happy to have Brewery Vivant in Chicago finally, although it makes the trip to the Meijer outside Grand Rapids a little less special. We’ll take the tradeoff, though, simply for having Triomphe being much easier to get.
Best Chicago Beer Site:
You might think of Michael Kiser’s work at Good Beer Hunting as primarily a photo-centric site, but look a little deeper and you’ll find more words on his site than most people put into text-only pages. His writeups of his travels through Sweden and the unbelievably awesome-looking Wandawega retreat as well as his recent post taking Untappd to task shows that even though his images are great, the words behind it stand up just as much. If we ever choose to look back on what drinking in Chicago looked like in 2012, we’ll go to GBH as the primary source.
Runner Up: Jessica at Girls Like Beer Too has been doing some really good work and isn’t afraid to call us on our shit from time to time, which is invaluable.
Distant runner-up: Us. We’re hacks, but we are at least enthusiastic hacks.
Best Homebrew Shop: Brew Camp
Showing us how to work with the city after a disappointing closure rocked their world was admirable; putting together a kit for brewers to make the White House’s Honey Ale was marketing brilliance. And since they offered an all-grain option, their recipe was likely better than the President’s, so take that, Mr. Obama.
(But seriously, can we have some of that beer, Mr. President?)
Jerk Move of the Year:
That jerk who ripped off the Hopleaf comes to mind. Otherwise, it’s been a pretty good year for beers.
Best Distributor: Temporarily on hold based on the recent sale of last year’s winner Windy City, as well as the addition of a craft beer team at Wirtz and the big news regarding Dogfish Head and New Holland’s departure from Glunz to the Chicago area MillerCoors cluster of nine distributors.
We’ll revisit in a year to see how things shake out.
Most Promising in 2013: Since last year’s winner, New Chicago Brewing, has basically dropped out of sight, we won’t saddle someone with this designation. If you’re opening, you’re promising. We look forward to great things from all of you.
Best People Who Don’t Fit Other Categories But Are Worth Noting:
A lot of other people made 2012 a great year to be beer-focused, but we wanted to note at least two:
Nik and the Chicago Beer Geeks team really stepped it up this year when it came to the events they’ve put together. Their beer bus outings and football events are great ways to help bring craft beer energy to audiences that might not otherwise encounter enthusiasts like the CBG’ers. We look forward to seeing what else they come up with in 2013.
Lorna Juett stepped into a role we previously filled as beer writer for Chicagoist, and immediately started fireworks with her spot-on piece about Chick Beer.
From there saw the creation of Barley’s Angels, showcasing that it’s not just dudes with beards who drink beer and talk about it (the URL of this site not withstanding) and organizing events to further that effort and garnering tons of press in the process. It’s always nice to see that a few hundred words on a website still have the power to motivate some change – it just takes someone behind those words to put in effort, which can be tough.
It’s been a busy year, but we look forward to watching what these and everyone else in the craft beer community around Chicago can produce. The more things we do and the more people we encounter and more we discuss the little beer world in which we live, the more we realize what everyone has been telling us from the beginning: it’s filled with good, helpful, nice folks that enjoy making people happy with beer.
And for that, we celebrate all of you. Cheers, slainte, skol to you all.