As we close in on our third annual South of 80: A Celebration of Downstate Brewers, Tuesday, May 20th at The Green Lady in Chicago, we thought we’d introduce you — or in some cases reacquaint you — with the brewers taking part in our event.
They all hail from downstate Illinois or St. Louis. Some are available in Chicago now, some you may have come across at a festival here or there and others are here for the very first time.Rolling Meadows Brewery has been one of our favorite attendees since the very first South of 80 in 2012. We’ve been following their efforts outside of Springfield since they popped onto our radar during our Save the Craft campaign. Since then they’ve impressed us with their Abe’s Ale and Lincoln’s Lager. Ryan reported that the barrel-aged version of the Abe’s was one of his favorite beers of last year.
RMB was the first brewery in the state to apply for a Craft Brewers License (maybe because they’re so close to the capitol building) and look how many have followed since then. RMB sources ingredients as close to the brewery as possible, including growing their own hops on the family farm in Cantrall, IL, whenever possible.
Brewer Chris Trudeau sadly won’t be able to attend this year’s event after making it up to the last two (notably passing around a tin of hops for attendees to smell like it was a controlled substance); he’s currently preparing to enter the world of fatherhood. Their awesome blood orange hefeweizen will be up here, though, as will the aforementioned Lincoln’s Lager and a white IPA brewed with coriander and farm-grown hops.
St. Louis knows all about this brewery, and it stands to reason that Chicago should as well.
Urban Chestnut was recently recognized by Paste Magazine as one of the best breweries STL, saying “Every beer stands out—they have essentially claimed certain styles as their own by making better examples than anyone else in town…They are, with no exaggeration, one of the best brewers of German craft beer styles in the U.S. today.” In addition, since we’re not quite in the future, it’s fair to mention that Esquire Magazine listed their Zwickel as one of the Best Beers of the Future in 2012.
We’re pretty pleased to be able to bring them to you for the second time. They bring us four beers this year. We’re excited to try Hopfen, described by the brewer as a “Bavarian IPA,” and the Maifest-y Erlkonig for the first time. Come visit and try this Exceptional brewery yourself.
Downstaters have known about DESTIHL (yes, all caps) since 2007 when they opened their brewpub in Normal. As you may recall, 2007 was pretty barren ground for microbreweries just 7 years ago here in Chicago, so imagine the efforts required to get something like this off the ground in a much, much smaller market.
Us Chicagoans probably got our first idea of what Matt Potts and his team were doing down there in 2012, when Josh Noel wrote this tale of sour beers from the Great American Beer Fest and the splash DESTIHL made with their Saint Dekkera sours and medal-winning Strawberry Blonde ale.
They arrived in Chicago full-time following South of 80 2.0, after starting in Wisconsin first (our story about how that came about is here). Outside of festival pours, last year’s South of 80 was the first time their brews were available for full pours, and it was great to be able to bring their wares to Chicago 12 oz at a time.
This year, they’ve returned with a latest-and-greatest lineup of brews for you to try. Details are in our taplist post, but we’re quite excited to get our hands on the Black Berliner and of course, the wild, spontaneously fermented St. Dekkera Reserve Kriek.
If our friends at Urban Chestnut have already become the face for St Louis craft beer that’s at least a little traditional and refined (at least that’s my impression), then 4 Hands came to town to be the aggressive younger sibling. What they’re doing is working — Riverfront Times named them the Best Craft Beer Maker in St Louis around this time last year.
Per the RFT: “The quality of 4 Hands barrel-aged brews is impeccable, and each brings something unique to the 4 Hands repertoire.”
After expanding in late 2013, which allowed them to enter the Chicago market earlier this year, 4 Hands is now fully ensconced in the city and just introduced their Contact High cans within the last couple weeks. BeerAdvocate has them rated as a World-Class operation. In the aforementioned Paste Magazine guide to STL craft beer, either they agree with me or I with them, either way, they call 4 Hands “the brash American yang to Urban Chestnut’s contemplative yin.”
We’re happy to have some very fun stuff from them on hand to sample, and are quite looking forward to the brand-new Passion Fruit Prussia Berliner Weiss.
Located in Ava, which is also home to Scratch Brewing (who knew Ava, population 662, could support two breweries?), Little Egypt’s beer has traveled the furthest to be in Chicago. Opened last year at the Bluffs Winery, they brew on a 1.5bbl system and can crank out up to 300 bbl a year — not a ton by anyone’s standards, but a goodish amount for the husband and wife duo at Little Egypt.
Brewer Ken Rhude was an award-winning homebrewer before beginning work for BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse out in California. Little Egypt currently churns out a mix of classic Bavarian, American and Belgian-inspired styles. Its flagship Hefeweizen is brewed with yeast from Weinstephan and advanced to the second round of judging at last year’s GABF. Other highlights include a chocolate cake and coffee porter, a surprisingly sessionable American Pale Ale and Belgian-style Golden Ale.
All of the above, minus the porter, will be pouring at The Green Lady on Tuesday night.
One of the last brewers to jump on board this little downstate train is Triptych Brewing in Savoy, IL.
Savoy, for those of you who aren’t familiar, is a town located on the outskirts of Champaign. This three-man operation from the three-city area of Champaign, Urbana and Savoy kicked things off with a Kickstarter way back in 2012. Even though you might expect a response from an area like Champaign-Urbana to be limited, they cruised past their $20k goal and ended up with a serious $25k to work with. Seems like a good indication the area might be thirsty for some craft beer, doesn’t it?
They put it to good use — per this News Gazette piece published near their opening date, they did the construction themselves, they used things like old church pews for furnishings, and a trio of screens keeps people up to speed on what’s pouring (and you thought Links Taproom did it first).
The Herald Review tells us about their opening and their focus on sessionable beers here, and the Aleheads team did a nice Q&A when Triptych opened which covers the creative process and using New Glarus as a model, which isn’t a bad place to emulate. Triptych skipped Beer Under Glass this year in order to focus on bringing beers to South of 80 and we’re plenty glad to bring them to Chicago.
Among the beers pouring tonight is their World Beer Cup Silver Medal winning Dirty Hippy, an English Brown Ale clocking in at a mere 3.9% ABV. Also, take note of the tap handles behind the bar at The Green Lady; owner Joshi Fullop made those himself.
We created these snapshots to tell you a little more about these breweries, as we figured you may not be super familiar with them yet. That said, the best way to learn about these folks is to come try their beer.
There’s a lot to do on Tuesday, May 20th, but we’d love to see you at The Green Lady in Lakeview. Starting at 7pm and running until closing time, 21 beers will be pouring and no ticket purchase is required. Just show up, have a few beers and feel free to say hi; we’ll be right there trying as many of these as we can as well.