Chicago Craft Beer Week Beer Under Glass Event

M. Sheppard

July 14 2014 - 1:07 AM

Never underestimate the power of beer.  It never stops amazing me the lengths to which beer lovers will travel, and the obstacles they will hurdle, in pursuit of great brews.  Through rain, through dark of night – through mud.  These elements hardly dampened the fervor among the legion of beer advocates who attended Beer Under Glass 2014, the signature and the kickoff event for Chicago Craft Beer Week, which was held at the Garfield Conservatory.  It was one of those Chicago mid-May early evenings which you’d swear was actually in late October.  Temperatures struggled to remain in the high forties.  A morning rain had soaked the grassy areas, and the humongous beer tent populated with dozens of craft-beers stations had been out of the day’s direct sunlight and, resultingly, resembled a muddy field at Lollapalooza.  Event goers slogged around in the muck with plastic grocery bags draped around their shoes.

Yet these potential downers were barely minor annoyances to the huge crowd gathered for the beer festivities.  Long lines wrapped around the outdoor tents near small operations such as Hamburger Mary’s and Church Street, near recent arrivals on the scene such as Une Anee and Destihl, and near staples such as Pipeworks.  It was quite cool that many of the brewers fermented event-exclusive beers.  Bourbonnais’ own Brickstone, for example, prepared a session IPA for the event called One Night Blonde, that was lean and resiny like a Port Brewing (hearts!) beer.  Your scribe was hardly the Boy Scout, was unprepared for the mud, and darn-near ruined a pair of expensive dress shoes in the beer tent’s thick muck in pursuit of the Three Floyds station.  As if I’d pass up Three Floyds over some mud on a pair of $200 shoes.   Please.  But if you dared traverse the mud pit, you were able to try a delicious 6% “FFF” pale ale made especially for BUG. I swear that the Floyds crew could brew an elite pale ale in a comatose sleep.  But what was surely the star among the event-only releases was a surprising release from Pipeworks, the Poivrie Vert, a cucumber and celery saison.  Its unfiltered status marked by cloudiness, the Vert smelled like salad in a glass and tasted like a garden, rife with soothing vegetable flavors.  It was an incredible treat and the night’s unexpected highlight.  Of course, Pipeworks also offered up their massive and delicious hop-bomb IPA’s, which were the basis for the usual swollen crowd around their tent.

Thanks to BUG I met the brewer at Evanston’s Temperance and was able to try a few of their offerings, namely the Might Meets Right, a 9% coffee stout, and Three Way, an American IPA.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t circle back for the later tapping of their English-style IPA.   I was curious about how it compared with FFF’s Blackheart, which is one of the few Americanized English IPA’s brewed around here.  Personal-favorite DryHop poured a beer I had not previously tried, a Russian imperial stout called Death which was brewed in conjunction with Kuma’s.  This wasn’t overly soupy as some Russian imperials are, and it pleasantly coated my palate on the chilly night. Downstate brewer Desthil’s line was ridiculously long, but I was able to try their four beers, which included a couple of sours, a Belgian and an APA, none of which disappointed.

I love talking shop with brewers and reps about the industry, and an event highlight was getting to talk with Gavin from Deschutes about their growing Chicago footprint.  Deschutes is an elite brewer from Bend, Oregon, whose presence here is bolstered by favorable distributorship rights.  Over a glass of Deschutes’ Mirror Mirror limited-release barleywine, Gavin shared his thoughts about Deschutes’ emphasis on quality and his ideas on growing the brand amid Chicago’s crowded field.

As for the food options at BUG, one of the winners was Pastoral with their cheese shavings which you could simply grab in bunches and devour.  Gotta B Crepes had a long line but it was hard to obtain a representative sampling from their small crepe bits which they were preparing on the griddle.  Porkchop’s pulled pork had a supple texture, but barbecue doesn’t play well at an event at which attendees are walking around with a glass in one hand.   I’d be curious – which I guess is the point – about the restaurant’s higher-level offerings, namely their ribs and brisket.  Dinky Donuts’ line was 45-people deep and I didn’t bother joining the fray.  Actually, the food highlight for me was Cheesies’ food truck, parked outside the event.  Yeah, I know that the grilled cheese is their core competency, but I discovered that their beef chili is phenomenal.

Overall, the crowd was well-mannered and people generally stayed within their groups.  But you could start talking beer with anyone, and most attendees seemed quite knowledgeable about the local beer market.  Maybe the best part of the event was, well, actually taking a beer under the glass, for a moment of repose, and walking around with it inside the actual conservatory amidst the intimidatingly large tropical vegetation.  It was a beautiful place to enjoy the warm buzz from great beer.