Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, age-gated children born in 1991 and beyond, to the third (now annual, we suppose) edition of the Chicago Craft Beer Awards.
This year, we’ve added some categories, removed some others, had a little fun with a few, and basically just thought “who deserves to be given an attaboy this year” until we came up with this. Much like we said last year, allow us to present you these Chicago Craft Beer “Awards” as our way to continue the appreciation and acknowledgement of the craftsmen and women who have made 2013 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 — the busiest damn year in Chicago beer ever, we merit. And it’s been a lot of fun keeping up with it.
Local Brewery Making the Biggest Moves: Lagunitas (yes, again)
Yes, last year we gave this one to Lagunitas too. It just doesn’t make sense to give it to anyone else — I literally plugged a dozen brewers names into the line above and none of ’em made sense in comparison to the company that’s in the process of building Such. A. Massive. Brewery.
Sure, it’d be easy to look at the ramped-up scale of Bourbon County Stout that Goose Island pumped out this year and give it to them as well, easy peasy. But until that Lagunitas brewery is up and running at 18th and Rockwell, we continue to watch these big ol’ moves are still being made. Plus, you couldn’t go a week on Twitter with out Tony Magee showing you piece by piece how his massive brewhouse facility was being pieced together.
I mean, come on. The dude shut down streets on the South Side and the Sun-Times sent a camera person to watch. Then he stood in the middle of the avenue drinking a Daytime while his massive 68,000-lb. lauter tun was brought to its Chicago home. That’s about as big a move as you can get. And the movement continues.
Throughout the year, it seemed like nearly every existing Chicago brewery expanded a little bit, but Lagunitas likely beat all that with the installation of just a couple of their many massive fermentation tanks.
Best Festival: Beer Under Glass
Look, FoBAB was great this year — perhaps the best one yet (although I imagine this is a statement that could be made every year it’s been happening). We had a ton of fun, drank a ton of excellent beer, and it was great to hang out with all you fine people. But once again, Beer Under Glass takes our top honors again this year.
FoBAB, for all of its awesomeness, is an isolated event. BUG is more than just a festival. It’s also more than just a kickoff event for Chicago Craft Beer Week. It’s basically become the unofficial start of summer for beer fans around the area (or at least for us it has, and you’re welcome to disagree with our assessment). It’s full of the energy of being the toehold for a full week-plus of awesome beer events, tap takeovers, beer dinners, one-off releases and more. It’s also become a great place to find new breweries pouring for the first time.
#CCBW without #BUG? Can’t imagine it. See you there next year.
Best Out-of-town Arrival/Return to the Chicago Market: Surly Brewing
Having Deschutes and Ballast Point available to pick up at our favorite corner store is a privilege and we’re very glad to have them here. But without a doubt, nothing thrilled us like the news that Surly was coming back.
Maybe it was being teased with Surly just as we were beginning our total descent into craft beer geekdom in 2010. Maybe it’s knowing that they were always out there, wanting to come back but not quite ready. Maybe it’s just because beers like Furious and Bender strike our flavor nerves in a way that Black Butte and Sculpin just haven’t. It’s not to say that those are inferior beers — they’re absolutely not — but having them for the first time wasn’t quite as satisfying as having the other ones back.
Biggest Distributor Moves: Wirtz Beverage
Last year we said…
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.
After looking at the busy 2013 distributor landscape, we kinda have to give it over to the Wirtz folks. Based on their partnership with Deschutes alone we could decide this one, but then they go ahead and drag Greenbush and Ballast Point into the mix and that pretty much solidifies it.
Add on top of that the beer expertise of Phil Kuhl as part of the aforementioned Craft division, and their willingness to take on young upstarts like Buckledown and Une Annee, and you’ve got a distributor that people seem to be lining up to work with.
Beyond even that, they’re starting 2014 off strong by bringing St. Louis’ 4 Hands to town in January. Although, we’re hearing rumors that would move this award over into someone else’s camp for early 2014…
Most Promising New Brewery in 2014: Penrose Brewing and Moody Tongue (TIE)
(Although not really a tie because no one voted, we just decided)
I talked to a lot of up-and-coming brewers for this Time Out Chicago piece. Pretty much across the board (and this includes our own estimations too), everyone seems to expect big things to come from the Belgian-inspired brews from Penrose out in Geneva and the “culinary brewing” to pour from Pilsen’s Moody Tongue.
Tom Korder (Penrose) and Jared Rouben (MT) are from different parts of the Goose Island world, but that differentiation seems pretty meaningless now that they’re out on their own — what Paul from Solemn Oath describes as “Goose DNA” runs through both of their brewing pedigree. (More on that in a moment.) In any event, if you think that it’s a coincidence that these ex-Goosers both carry with them some high expectations, you should likely think again.
Each of these teams are betting big — Penrose is starting off on a 40 bbl system currently under construction, with the expectation of 3,000 barrels year one. Rouben’s Moody Tongue will be brewing on a 20 bbl created specifically for his food-pairing-based brews and expects to pour 2,000 barrels in the first year.
We have solid expectations that both of these breweries will be pretty awesome. (Seriously though — don’t let us down, guys.)
Best Chicago-centric beer writing (not by us): Phil Montoro, Chicago Reader
Week in and week out, we’re impressed by the attention of detail, the geekiness of the tasting notes, and the demon-powered depth of metal selections from Mr. Montoro’s beer columns. Beyond that, the dude breaks news — would we have heard about the craziness that is Forbidden Root or the delicate beauty from the local gypsys at Transient Ales without his attention to the small guys?
Also, we love the guy for lines like this, from a blistering review of some shitty Romanian beer:
Unlike the solid citizen writing for J Street Beer Review, I have tasted asshole, and the comparison to Super Brew 15 is profoundly unfair to assholes…Super Brew 15 is like crashing the Hindenburg into the Titanic.
Boom goes the beer-reviewing dynamite, as the saying goes. I hate to just quote one of the few harsh reviews in a parade of celebratory posts (much like us, we write about what we like and don’t waste time with the awful stuff for the most part) but that’s just too fun to pass by.
Runner-up: Jason Baldacci, Chicagoist
Last year we praised Lorna Juett for stepping into shoes we once filled at Chicagoist, and after her departure for greener distributor pastures they proved once again that they know how to find their beer writers. Baldacci, who knows from beer due to his time at Owen & Engine and Bluebird (among other things) offers a weekly dissection of beers down to specific parts of the grain bill, hop profiles and how they work together to create just-plain-great beers. His writing makes us kinda glad we quit writing there, because now we get to read him instead of another insufferable chunk of bullshit from us.
Best writing from a brewery website: Solemn Oath’s “Ten Reasons You Should Be Drinking Goose Island Right Now“
I had this selection half-written even before Solemn Oath’s Paul Schneider published this aggressive-yet-heartfelt love letter about why you absolutely, positively, absolutely (again) should keep drinking Goose Island. (This is not the first time Paul has made this argument, but it seems to have gained resonance now that he’s a part of the industry as a working brewer.)
Seriously, go read the whole thing — again — but this part really kinda hammers it home:
6. There wouldn’t be much of a Chicago beer scene without them.
Simply put, they developed the Chicagoland talent pool. Piece, 5 Rabbit, Off Color, Penrose, Revolution, Temperance…they all spawned from Goose DNA. Alongside the Rock Bottom system and the Siebel Institute, Goose is responsible for a huge portion of the talent making great local beer here. If you believe in Chicago beer, you believe in Goose Island.
Sure, it helps that in addition to being a brewer, the gentleman is a former teacher and also creator of Chitown On Tap. However, they’re certainly busy enough making over there — he didn’t have to keep the writing part up too. In 2013, the Solemn Oath website was a destination for more than just info about ABV, IBU’s and release dates. That’s a rare thing.
Runner-up: The “About Us” page from Off Color
As brewer bios go, Dave Bleitner’s alone is well worth the price of admission. C’mon. It starts with this:
In 2008 we all learned what a subprime mortgage is, and then Dave found out that he didn’t have a job trading options anymore.
It goes on from there, and it’s all slyly hilarious in its glorious smartassery.
Jerk Move of the Year:
We can’t decide if it should go to A-B for throwing a big shoulder into Old Style and getting them bumped as the official partner of the Cubs, or if it’s worse that the Old Style folks misspelled “Wrigely” once in their followup marketing efforts.
So, let’s split the difference and say it was all one big bummer.
Brewery we most want to see start distributing to Chicago: Short’s Brewing
It’s no secret that we do love ourselves some Shorts beer. Many trips to Michigan have taught us just how fruitful those brewery experiments can be. And man, don’t get us started on last couple times we went to the Short’s Tap Takeover at 7 Monks in Traverse City. Wow. Hooboy. Yeah.
When we learned they were expanding to the tune of 1.2 million dollars, our hopes were immediately — and prematurely — inflated. Would that be the thing that gave them the capacity to start reaching out to other markets….like ours? Alas, the answer was no, there would be no Short’s for us in Illinois. Bummer.
We’ll live to survive another day, but we hold out hope to be able to wander to our corner store some day and be able to pick up an Uber Goober, a Black Cherry Porter, a Black Licorice Lager, or whatever damn-fool-crazy beer Joe Short and his team have come up with this time.
Until then, well, we get to Michigan often enough anyways. We’ll survive. We sure do feel sorry for you guys, though. It’s really good beer.
Other Stuff We Haven’t Fit Into a Category Because This is Already a Few Thousand Words Long:
Joe Swanberg deserves mention for bringing his love of Chicago beer to the silver screen wrapped up in a rom-com label with Drinking Buddies. Piggybacking off of that, Olivia Wilde earns at least a little credit for claiming Daisy Cutter as her favorite beer.
The Dryhop Brewers team earns a tip of the cap for showing everyone how it’s done when it comes to keeping the fires of interest stoked during a long build-out. It took a while, but between the collaboration brews, the regular updates and the early growler fills, they had the whole neighborhood chomping at the bit to get in — and it doesn’t seem like that enthusiasm has waned.
All of the Chicago beer community seems to be rooting hard for Drew Fox’s 18th Street Brewery. The brewing scene in Northwest Indiana has been percolating along, but it sounds like Fox is really moving to kick it into high gear. We’re looking forward to drinking a lot of his beer in 2014.
Our allegiances to north-side craft beer stores are equally split between Bottles & Cans and The Beer Temple, but BT’s Chris Quinn (who we’re happy to have gotten to know over the course of 2013) deserves a special mention for being so devoted to beer that he’s willing to pitch it in the garbage if it doesn’t move. That’s dedication.
Some time was spent this year discussing the topic of race and craft beer. High fives to DNAInfo for this piece about a group of Little Village homebrewers (that I’m still kicking myself for not writing personally) and secondary high fives for SlapShot and their decision to move into the LV neighborhood.
Some sort of mention is earned by Greenbush for their Chicago-style hot dog beer, but I am hesitant to call this “an award” until I try it. It’s more like a “wow…that’s the weirdest beer I heard about this year” mention.
We chose not to name a “favorite craft beer bar of the year” for 2013 — we love that there are so many great places in this city where we enjoy drinking beer, so we’re just avoiding that minefield entirely. We did, however, want to give a high five to the Howells & Hood team for having the stones to drop 360 draft lines and 114 different individual mostly-craft beers into the heart of the Mag Mile. It’s been a half-year and no one has disputed (to us, thus far, that we can remember) the record-breaking size of the draft program, so let’s go ahead and take pride in having the largest craft beer draft availability on the planet, shall we?
Small congratulations are in order for the Chicago City Council for not being stupid enough to enact a ban on BYOB in dry districts. (This year.)
Appreciation also goes out to the Illinois Homebrew Alliance, led by Peter J Rzeminski II and Richard Placko, who traversed the murky depths of Illinois politics to negotiate a compromised bill to allow homebrewers to take part in contests and festivals.
It feels like we’ve been telling you about downstate Ava’s Scratch Brewing for a while now, so it was definitely nice to see them get some well-deserved attention by Draft Magazine at GABF this year. Yay Scratch.
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Whew. There you have it. Another slab of appreciation for beer in Chicago in 2013.
It’s been a hell of a ride thus far. See you in 2014.