What we Drank in 2013: Our Top 10 Beers of the Year

What you see below is an unranked list of our top 10 beers of the year. You’ll notice Ryan’s list is heavy on the cellared beers because — well — less time to drink out means more time to drink in. Having kids will do that to a man. Thankfully, Karl picked up the slack by hunting down a combination of unique one-offs and attainable everyday offerings. All for the good of the cause, we’re sure.

We hope you enjoy reading about these beers as much as we enjoyed drinking them. Continue reading

Drink Better at This Years Illinois State Fair

The Illinois State Fair — a ten-day celebration of agriculture, carnies and fried food on a stick – kicks off in Springfield tonight with the ceremonial Twilight Parade followed by the ribbon cutting and official opening of the Fair Friday morning.

As someone who grew up in Springfield and frequented the fair each and every summer for two decades there are a handful of things synonymous with the Fair: fresh-made saltwater taffy, a lemon shakeup, a Vose corn dog, a pork chop sandwich from the Illinois Pork Producers Association, something deep-fried, looking at a cow made of 500 pounds of butter, milking a real cow, petting a goat, something else deep-fried, riding down a Giant Slide and beer.

While I could drone on and one about the aforementioned fair goodies it is the latter — beer — we’re going to be talking about today. Continue reading

South of 80 2.0: The Wrapup

It’s something you don’t quite realize until you’re finally drinking beers at the event itself just how much effort can go in behind the scenes to get one of these Chicago Craft Beer Week events set up.

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I’m not saying that as a point of pride for myself or anything – but I do know that this year took a lot of work to pull off, from the brewers, to the distributors, and to ourselves as well. If you’re distributing credit anywhere, the absolute Lion’s Share of it should be directed straight towards Ryan, who herded these brewery cats going all the way back to last year and beyond.

IMG_1068Any time you bring in new brewers that don’t currently offer beers in Chicago there are some extra strings to pull and thankfully, they were all pulled appropriately enough in order to bring some super-cool breweries to the city for the first time. Which was fantastic, because they were all awesome.

For a full evening at The Green Lady on Tuesday, as rains seemed to threaten constantly (but never quite arrive), it was a little piece of downstate. We got to compare notes on beers, talked about breweries, try some stuff that we’d never tried before, learn more about brewers that we’d previously only known through reputation, and generally bask in the mid-week CCBW glow of good beer.

IMG_0375Oh, and we got to pass Das Boot for some extra beer karma as well to raise money for public school teachers in tornado ravaged Moore, Oklahoma. And it was also awesome of Melani Domingues, owner of The Green Lady, to match some of those proceeds as well.

At the end of the evening (well, the end for me anyways), I was wondering how well this had worked out in comparison to last year’s event. I hadn’t realized that for 2012, there were only three bartenders behind the bar, whereas Melani had all 5 of her folks plus a door guy in attendance and we kept them all pretty busy for hours, which seems like a pretty solid turnout to me.

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Judging from some of the feedback we received on Twitter, South of 80 2.0 was a hit.

If I had to gauge interest, I’d say the big hits among the crowd were the Arugula Rye from Scratch, the Strawberry/Raspberry Sour from Destihl; Urban Chestnut’s Zwickel and Winged Nut, in equal parts, and we all really seemed to enjoy the Strawberry Honey Weizen from Six Row and the Blood Orange Hefeweizen from Rolling Meadows, which seemed to keep getting better as the night went on.

IMG_0379What’s more important than that, though, is that everyone from all attendees to brewery reps to bartenders to beer bloggers to owners seemed to be having a really good time. For that, we thank you all.

We would be remiss if we did not single out and thank the following: Melani at The Green Lady for clearing out half of her taps to make room for fifteen fantastic beers from downstate Illinois and the St. Louis area, our distribution partners Chicago Beverage Systems and Donnewald Distributing and – of course – the breweries for entrusting us to be the first to introduce their beers to Chicago.

ANNOUNCING: The South of 80 2.0 Tap List

sof80breweries

In advance of our second annual Chicago Craft Beer Week event celebrating the unknown and under-the-radar breweries south of Interstate 80, we present to you the tap list for South of 80 2.0.

This list includes a diverse selection of beers, many brewed using old school and even old world techniques. From sessionable IPA’s and blonde ales, to higher ABV offerings like a beer brewed with maple sap in lieu of water and a Belgian Tripel – you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more unique selection of beer, under one roof, during Chicago Craft Beer Week.

All beers listed below will be available in flights and full pours.

Destihl (Bloomington, IL)

  • Strawberry Blonde Ale (5% ABV) – A fruit beer made by adding generous quantities of strawberries to a blonde ale base beer. Golden-strawberry blonde color, crisp/dry palate, light body, low hop characters & bitterness and light malt & fruit sweetness.
  • Deadhead Double Red Ale (9.1% ABV) – Imperial Red Ale featuring intense hop bitterness, flavor and aroma balanced by high notable alcohol content, fruity esters and caramel malt character.
  • Saint Dekkera® Reserve Sour Ale Series Strawberry/Raspberry – Aging since March 2012.
  • Saint Dekkera® Reserve Sour Ale Series Lambic – Aging since July 2011.

Rolling Meadows Brewery (Cantrall, IL)

  • Blood Orange Hefeweizen (5.8% ABV) – A hefeweizen, brewed with blood oranges, is the first beer brewed by the mothers of Rolling Meadows’ head brewers. Enjoy its fruity aroma, bright mouthfeel and hints of raspberry and grapefruit.
  • Lincoln’s Lager (6.5% ABV) – A dry, pleasantly hopped lager, perfectly sessionable and a favorite from last year’s South of 80.

Scratch Brewing (Ava, IL)

  • Acer Saccharum (9% ABV) – Named after the Latin for “Sugar Maple,” this beer is brewed entirely with maple sap in place of water, from trees harvested in southern Illinois. This beer is dark and malty, with cherry and fruit esters and a light smokiness the result of being brewed over a fire and adding several pieces of hot granite to the boil.
  • Arugula Rye (6% ABV) – Rye porter bittered with organic arugula from all seasons farm in Cobden, Illinois, and blended in the fermenter with roasted arugula root, giving the beer a roasted coffee-like aroma.
  • Blonde Gruit (4.5% ABV) – A gruit bittered and flavored entirely with plants other than hops, including dandelion, dock, ginger, nutmeg, and orange peel. Spicy, ginger aroma gives way to a green, tea-like tonic with low bitterness.

Six Row Brewing Company (St. Louis, MO)

  • Strawberry Honey Weizen (5.2% ABV) – Light on the palette and in color, our Strawberry Honey Weizen is designed to give you just a hint of fruit followed by our traditional German wheat beer breadiness.
  • Red Eye (5.5% ABV)A “session IPA,” medium copper in color, crisply bitter but slightly drier than your average IPA. We’ve finished and dry-hopped it with Galena hops for a mellow, earthy flavor and aroma.
  • Belgian Style Tripel (8.7% ABV) – Brewed for Six Row’s third anniversary. This dry example of a Tripel was brewed with a Trappist yeast making a gorgeous golden ale fit to enjoy for a birthday.

Urban Chestnut Brewing Company (St. Louis, MO)

  • Zwickel (5.1% ABV) – Our flagship lager, pronounced ‘zv-ick-el’, is an unfiltered, unpasteurized, German classic that finishes as a smooth-drinking, naturally cloudy bier.
  • Winged Nut (5.7% ABV) – It’s a little on the flighty side at 5.7% ABV and it’s a little on the wacky side because we brew it with finely milled chestnuts, Willamette hops, and we ferment it with a Bavarian Weissbier yeast strain. All of these nuances contribute to its ‘nutty’ personality.
  • STLIPA (8.1% ABV) – We pronounce it “sta-leep-ah”; you pronounce it how you like. STLIPA, which is the acronym for St. Louis India Pale Ale, is a double IPA brewed with Sterling, Cascade, Mt. Hood, Willamette and Chinook hops.

South of 80 2.0 takes place Tuesday, May 21st starting at 7 p.m. at The Green Lady in Lakeview and is free to attend.

Special thanks to our distribution partners, Chicago Beverage Systems and Donnewald Distributing, for helping make this event possible.

 

South of 80 2.0 Snapshot: Rolling Meadows Brewery

In the days leading up to our second South of 80 event during Chicago Craft Beer Week, we wanted to make you a little more familiar with our featured breweries, since we know that news from downstate doesn’t tend to get a lot of play up here. Today we take a look at one of the more popular attendees from last year’s South of 80: Rolling Meadows.

When we wrote about these guys last year, we started rollingmeadowsby noting that there’s something uniquely Midwestern about the beers created by Rolling Meadows, right down to the minimalist and even Prairie-style labels on their bottles. Another brewery that we were made aware of during the “Save the Craft” campaign, we’ve revisited the brewery a few times over the past 12 months or so, always with good results.

For starters, you’ll recall that after the passing of SB 754, Rolling Meadows was the first brewery to apply for the then-brand-new Craft Brewer’s license.

Since last year:

They were one of 13 breweries from across the nation to be awarded a Good Food Award in San Francisco back in January. So recognized for their “tasty, authentic and responsibly produced” Abe’s Ale, the brewery viewed it (and rightfully so) as a strong acknowledgement of their quality product created in a sustainable manner – using water from their own artisanal well near the Sangamon river and products grown organically on their own farm.

Started pouring that award-winning Abe’s Ale at While Foods – Lincoln Park, their first draft offering in the city since South of 80. Shortly thereafter they were pouring at DOSE Market as well.

We reviewed the Lincoln’s Logger, a unique coffee and cocoa-y schwarzbier, as well as their barrel-aged Abe’s Ale. The brewery took the maple syrup brown ale and set it aside in an Elijah Craig bourbon barrel, making a concoction which Ryan said may already be his favorite beer of the year.

bloodorangeAllow us to announce the first of many special, unique and interesting draft beers to appear at this years South of 80: Rolling Meadows has promised to provide one of their most creative beers to date, a blood-orange hefeweizen.

We can’t wait.

A reminder: While many Chicago Craft Beer Week events require tickets for admission, South of 80 2.0 is free to attend: just show up, drink the beer and enjoy. It’s our pleasure to help facilitate new and interesting brewers to come to Chicago; all we ask is that you join us to enjoy their efforts.

South of 80 2.0 takes place Tuesday, May 21st starting at 7 p.m. at The Green Lady in Lakeview. Beers from multiple downstate and St. Louis breweries will be on hand, many available in Chicago for the first time.

While there are many events taking place throughout the week, we do hope you’ll join us for a beer and help us raise a toast to the under-appreciated and under-recognized brewers that exist South of 80.

Review: Rolling Meadows Lincoln’s Logger

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Rolling Meadows says:

“A contradiction of sorts, our black lager combines the flavor intensity of a porter with the crisp finish of a classic lager. Expect coffee notes, wisps of smoke and a deep midnight hue.”

Rolling Meadows Lincoln’s Logger
Schwarzbier, 6.5% ABV

Sayeth the Guys:

Kudos, right off the bat, to head brewer Chris Trudeau on this seasonal – now in its second year. Kudos for the creative label, playing off both Abraham Lincoln and famed children’s toys Lincoln Logs, and for concocting a beer that has aromas, flavors and an appearance that don’t seem to fit together – but also do.

The Lincoln’s Logger pours midnight black in color and gives off a nose of lightly roasted coffee beans and raisins. Take a sip, however, and you’re greeted with a beer that is light and crisp – crisper than its appearance would dictate – that carries light notes of coffee and cocoa with a splash of orange citrus in the finish. The tail of this beer gives it a certain brightness that seems out-of-place for its style and appearance – making for a unique take on a schwarzbier.

By no means is this a “session beer,” at 6.5% ABV, but it is remarkably easy to drink and, with those light citrus notes, would be a great bridge beer from a heavy winter seasonal into something a bit more spring-like.

Rolling Meadows is starting to sprinkle their beers around the city, finding their way onto store shelves at the Whole Foods in Lincoln Park and Fox & Obel in Streeterville and on tap at The Publican. We suggest finding your way to their beers pronto, because they’re churning out some great stuff South of 80.

Downstate Brewers Invade Chicago Craft Beer Week for the Triumphant Return of “South of 80″ ***UPDATED***

Organized as part of this year’s Chicago Craft Beer Week to recognize and celebrate the beers created by downstate or St. Louis-area breweries, the nationally recognized craft beer website GuysDrinkingBeer.com and Chicago beer destination The Green Lady are excited to announce the followup to last year’s successful “South of 80” beer event, affectionately called “South of 80 2.0.”

This year’s event will take place at The Green Lady on Tuesday, May 21, starting at 7 p.m. Representatives from five breweries are expected to be on hand to show off their creations, many of which have never been available in Chicago before – some of which have never even been north of I-80, the demarcation line that has come to “define” Northern Illinois from all points south.

This year, GDB and TGL are excited and proud to announce the brewery lineup for this year’s downstate-focused event as follows:

Six Row Brewing Company (St. Louis, MO):SixRow_logo

Last year’s South of 80 was the first time Six Row poured in Chicago, and that event proved to be so successful, Six Rows beers are now being distributed by Chicago Beverage Systems; their DIPA and “Whale,” a wheat pale ale, can be found throughout the city.

After introducing their flagship brews in 2012, Six Row plans to bring some unique and never-before-seen beers to Chicago for South of 80 2.0.

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Scratch Brewing Company (Ava, IL):

We’re really excited to introduce these brewers to Chicago.

Scratch Brewing is a farm-to-table brewpub creating beers out of locally foraged products like mushrooms and nuts. Scratch is the brainchild of a trio of southern Illinois homebrewers and their beers are, without question, some of the most unusual we’ve ever seen, which is not something we say lightly. Scratch pulls ingredients like arugula, maple sap and cedar branches from the brewpub’s farm and utilizes old school techniques like brewing outdoors over and open flame. The world likely hasn’t seen brewing experiments like these.

GDB co-creator Ryan Hermes says Scratch is redefining the “farm-to-pint”, movement. “Expect a fresh take on traditional styles creatively brewed using unique ingredients that are grown on their very own farmland,” said Hermes. This will be the first time Scratch’s beers will be commercially available outside downstate Ava.Take note while they’re here – we expect you’ll soon be hearing a lot about them.

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Rolling Meadows Brewery (Cantrall, IL):

When Chris Trudeau came to town last year and introduced his Abe’s Ale, Lincoln Lager and Springfield Wheat, brewed on their family farm outside of Springfield, they lived up to the high expectations set by this self-distributing capital city brewery.

This year, Rolling Meadows returns in the midst of a stretch where they released a barrel-aged version of Abe’s Ale, won a Good Food Award and have started sprinkling their beers around Chicago. This time around, Rolling Meadows will treat Chicagoans to popular downstate seasonal as well as a South of 80 favorite.

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Urban Chestnut (St. Louis, MO):

Since opening in 2010, Urban Chestnut’s brews have practically taken over St. Louis. This brewery’s beers have proven so popular they recently announced plans to expand their capacity; soon they’ll be able to exceed even the production levels of St. Louis’ flagship current reigning craft brewer, Schlafly.

Currently ranked as an “Exceptional” brewery by BeerAdvocate and praised as one of “The Best Beers of the Future” by Esquire Magazine, this will be Urban Chestnut’s very first foray into Chicago.

Destihl (Bloomington, IL):Destihllogo

Destihl, a hallmark brewpub of central Illinois, gained national attention at the 2011 Great American Beer Fest. The then, little-known brewpub based in downstate Normal brought along six of its signature sour beers which drew huge crowds and created a coast-to-coast buzz. Those of us who live in Illinois know about Destihl’s remarkable sours, the creation of CEO and Brewmaster Matt Potts, which is why we’re pleased to announce Destihl as a late-addition to the South of 80 2.0 lineup.

Many of you have likely encountered Destihl at beer fests across the state, but this will be the first to time – ever in Illinois – that Destihl’s beers will be on tap, at a bar, that isn’t one of Destihl’s brewpubs. No tiny three ounce samples here, unless you want a flight. You’ll be able to get full pours of Destihl’s beers at South of 80 2.0.

Specific draft lists for each brewery will follow as we grow closer to the event.

The Green Lady opened in 2011 under the direction of Melani Domingues, former manager of one of New York City’s best craft beer bars, the Ginger Man. Inspired by the Scottish spirit that’s both protector and demon (depending on your perspective), TGL’s draft list is always among the best in the city featuring unique beers from around the midwest and beyond.

GuysDrinkingBeer.com started in 2010 as a way for three friends to write about the beer they loved drinking, and since then has become a noted source for beer reviews, brewery news and advocacy for the issues in Chicago’s craft beer scene that they believe in. Since their start three years ago, they’ve earned praise from Chicago Magazine, the Huffington Post, Chicagoist.com and just last month the site was recognized by Saveur Magazine as one of the country’s best beer or wine blogs.

For more information, contact:

Ryan Hermes
Creator and Editor, GuysDrinkingBeer.com
ryan@guysdrinkingbeer.com

Karl Klockars
Co-Creator and Social Media Manager, GuysDrinkingBeer.com
773-769-7139
karl@guysdrinkingbeer.com

Melani Domingues
Owner, The Green Lady
773-525-5571
thegreenladychicago@gmail.com