Our friend and native Midwesterner, Dave Ratcliff, reports from
this weekend’s 15th Annual Indiana Microbrewers Festival
There are two things a visitor to a beer festival in the Midwest should know. The first is that an opportunity to sample numerous craft beers from states like Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, Illinois, Pennsylvania and beyond is an opportunity to taste high-quality beers from an area sometimes overlooked in the beer enthusiast community. The second is that timing is everything.
Each summer, the Brewers of Indiana Guild holds a beer festival in Indianapolis. With a little luck and perfect timing, it’s possible to avoid the oppressive summer heat that annually visits this part of the country. This year, though, Mother Nature had other plans.
On a clear and sunny July day in the Indianapolis suburb of Broad Ripple, I attended the 15th annual festival. With the temperature at 91 degrees and the heat index at 97 degrees, a cold craft beer was something myself and the other attendees at the sold-out festival were craving.
It was no accident that my first beer was a kolsch. Chicago’s Goose Island was perfectly positioned directly inside the entrance and their Summertime Kolsch was the perfect starting beer. While it didn’t improve the temperature, it did reinforce my belief that a well-made beer can make even a very hot day bearable.
Standing in the much-needed shade under one of the tents all the vendors were stationed in, I began to explore the scene around me. While taking a sip from my tasting glass (made from actual glass – something the plastic-loving organizers at other beer festivals could take a lesson from), I learned that the majority of the Indiana-based breweries were grouped together in a separate area.
I headed to that area immediately where Three Floyd’s, Upland, Lafayette and Indianapolis’s own Sun King and Oaken Barrel more than hold their own against breweries in other Midwestern states and beyond. The highlights were the Two Dave’s IPA (no relation) from Columbus’s Power House Brewery, the brilliantly-named Loopy Lupilin from Mishiwaka (brewed in the town of the same name), and the dry-hopped Ol’ Woody Pale Ale from Fort Wayne’s Mad Anthony. With so many good beers to sample, it was an excellent way for myself, fellow craft beer drinkers, and any other hardy souls to brave the unforgiving temperature.
Although many of my fellow festival goers chose to sample the numerous stouts and porters, I kept it hoppy. A noteworthy exception was my sample of the Bourbon Barrel Smoked Bock from Louisville’s Bluegrass Brewing Company. I visited this brewery about ten years ago and I was happy to know that they are still producing quality brews.
The day’s longest lines were found at Sun King. By maintaining a constant presence in social media and by having its product available in numerous places around Indianapolis, Sun King celebrated its first anniversary by brewing what might be its best beer to date: the 10% ABV/100+ IBU Cream Dream III: The Search for Hops. Special kudos for having an employee pour it to people waiting in line. Keeping people happy with good beer and good customer service are musts for every successful vendor at a beer festival.
After tasting a few more samples, it was time to claim victory for my taste buds and admit defeat against the sun. I left the festival with my glass, a few t-shirts, and a desire for a tall glass of ice water in an air-conditioned room. I also left with a sense of pride in the heartland’s contribution to craft beer. I hope that all craft beer lovers who usually fly over this part of the country will schedule some time to visit one of the Midwest’s numerous microbreweries and land a well-made beer… no matter what the weather is.
“A Whole World Beyond ORD” is the latest episode of One Pint at a Time.
We knew Chicago was a good beer town. We just hadn’t made it there yet. Lucky for us, opportunity knocked when our friends and fellow beer travelers Matt and Michelle asked us to meet them in the Windy City for a long weekend.
Two and half days gave us just enough time to get a taste of the Greater Chicago beer scene. We visited a dozen breweries and three beer bars during our stay. Chicago has a lot to offer the beer traveler and we can’t wait to return.
So enjoy our beer adventures in the Windy City…
For all the episodes of One Pint at a Time go to beergeekTV.
The weather on our final day in Chicago was quite pleasant…if it was January maybe! Friday’s rain and thunderstorms had passed through and Saturday dawned windy and cold. Of course, this had to be on the day we planned on walking around town. After some bitching and moaning about the weather, the beer traveling foursome was back on the train headed to Wrigleyville.
Our first stop was Goose Island. With two locations in Chicago, we would normally go to the Clybourn location because it was the the original. But, I chose the Wrigley brewpub because I wanted to see Wrigley Field. I thought it would be a good backdrop for the introduction to our beergeek.TV episode. Moreover, all the other places on the list for Saturday were in the same general part of Chicago.
After recording the introduction at Wrigley and a comedic wandering around the back alleys of the neighborhood, we finally located the front door of Goose Island. Not being beer garden weather, we settled for seats at the ornate wooden bar.
Merideth and I can sum up our previous Goose Island experience in five beers; 312 Urban Wheat, Honkers Ale, Matilda, Sophie and Bourbon County Stout. Obviously, we were excited to get a beer sampler to finally try a wider range of their brews. After some deliberation, we settled on our four samples; Summertime Kölsch Bier, Green Line Pale Ale, IPA and Opening Day IPA. Admittedly, we lost out on the ‘wider range’ with my three choices.
While we had some brunch, we tried our sample beers. I enjoyed the IPAs but neither had the ‘WOW’ factor that my West Coast palate desires. The Kölsch, the beer Merideth selected for our sampler, was the star. Too bad it didn’t feel like summertime and we were sitting out in the beer garden.
Post brunch, I also had two of Goose Island’s specialty beers: Pere Jacques and Pepe Nero. The first, Pere Jacques, a Dubbel, was a bit too sweet for my taste. Pepe Nero, on the other hand, was very interesting. A Belgian-style Farmhouse Ale, Pepe Nero is brewed with black peppercorns, a beer ingredient that I am loving more and more.
With the crappy weather, I think we could have spent the afternoon at the bar drinking beer, but we had an appointment to keep. So, we were back on the train headed to Metropolitan Brewing.
We had time to make a quick stop at Half Acre Beer Company. Located in a busy shopping district, Half Acre seemed more like a gift shop than a brewery. The only indication that there was brewery behind the Craft Beer Emporium was the row of taps built into the wall. And the staff kept talking about a brewery tour.
The five beers we sampled were all competent with the Daisy Cutter Pale Ale and Gossamer Golden Ale the standouts. But Merideth was the brave one and tried the cucumber, jalapeno and thyme soda called Flash of Beauty. I did have a little sip. Imagine what a cucumber soda would taste like. Yep. That’s what Flash of Beauty tasted like with the jalapeno giving it a little bite.
The unexpected gem of the trip was our visit to Metropolitan Brewing. Located in an industrial building in a residential neighborhood, Metropolitan Brewing stands out in the craft beer world of hop bomb this and barrel-aged that. They brew German-style beers. Despite the ‘crazy’ idea of not having and never will have an IPA, Metropolitan has been well received in the Chicago area. Owned by the husband and wife team of Tracy and Doug, Metropolitan is a hands on operation from brewing to packaging.
Visiting on one of their non-regular brewery tour days, Tracy was kind enough to take time to show us around the brewery. From second one, we got a sense of real passion for not only Star Trek but also making great German-style beer. With enthusiasm, Tracy told us a story we have heard a hundred time but never get tired of; people simply wanting to make great beer for their local market.
Merideth had already tried Metropolitan’s seasonal beer, I-Beam Alt, our first night at the Map Room. As Tracy showed us around the brewery, we enjoyed their two flagship brews, Flywheel Bright Lager and Dynamo Copper Lager. The Flywheel, which had that great German hop bite, was my favorite. The only disappointment was that I couldn’t buy any six packs at the brewery.
Just before we left, the other half of the Metropolitan team, Doug, returned from a beer tasting at a sausage store. The quiet part of the team, we chatted with Doug for a few minutes and then bade farewell.
Our short, crazy, beer-filled journey was coming to an end. The culmination of our time in Chicago was another well known beer bar, Hopleaf, in the Andersonville neighborhood. A few minutes walk from Metropolitan Brewing, Tracy had warned us that it was going to get jam packed on a Saturday night.
Walking in, we could tell we were in a good beer bar. Hopleaf just had that feel. Unfortunately, it also appeared that we were too late to beat the crowds. We walked in to find the front room filled with fellow beer drinkers enjoying an early Saturday evening. The hostess, who we found in the equally crowded back room, lead us upstairs to the balcony which overlooked the diners below. Disappointment and worry about finding a place to sit immediately changed to happiness at a comfortable table.
Once settled in on our perch, the beers started flowing. I was excited because there were a number of beers and breweries that I had never tried. On Matt’s recommendation, I ordered Crooked Tree IPA from Dark Horse Brewing in Michigan. With our cheese and sausage plates, Surly’s Bender, a hybrid Pale Ale/Brown Ale was my brew. My last beer of the trip was Oud Beersel’s Framboise, an absolutely amazing beer.
Visiting a dozen breweries and a trio of beer bars, we did a pretty darn good job of getting a taste of what the Windy City and its environs has to offer. Obviously three days isn’t enough time to fully experience the Chicago beer scene. Now that we know what lies outside airport security, we’ll definitely be back. Hopefully, we won’t pass through ORD another dozen times before we do it.
Thursday’s early morning wake up followed by a beer-filled day and a late night bedtime made for a rough Friday morning. With less demanding trips lately, Chris and I felt a little out of practice, but being the professionals we are, we ignored the aches in our heads and set out on Friday with excitement in our hearts.
We climbed into the back of Matt and Michelle’s Xterra and hit the road toward the most anticipated visit of the trip: Three Floyds in Munster, Indiana. Along the way, we stopped at Flossmoor Station Restaurant and Brewery in the historic town of Flossmoor, Illinois. As you probably already guessed, it’s located in the old train station right next to the modern day Metra rail tracks.
We all vowed to improve our skills of beer moderation on Friday, which included reducing (slightly) our beer intake, increasing our water intake, and remembering to eat. With this in mind, we took it easy at our first stop of the day. We watched the model train circle the bar on a track high on the wall as we enjoyed our 10-beer taster set. I found their Zephyr Golden Ale to be the perfect hair of the dog beer to get me going. They also offered several fruit beers, Roundhouse Raspberry and Chessie Cherry Wheat, which were interesting.
We hit the road again, but promptly got sidetracked. Barley and Hops Liquors drew us in with their advertisement of craft beer. Matt made a left turn across the busy road to go and see what filled their shelves. Chris mused that the place sold numerous California beers that we don’t get in our beer backwater. But we didn’t go all the way to Illinois to buy California beer, so we filled our bag with bottles of Bell’s, Founders, and Two Brothers.
Our momentum was growing as we got closer to Three Floyds. When we arrived, Matt and Michelle were surprised to see how much the place had grown since their last visit. Located in a quiet industrial park, the brewpub is set back from the street. The sign on the building projected a firey character and should have tipped me off to the attitude inside.
Punk music blasted us as soon as we opened the door. The loud music and hardcore atmosphere drowned out the jackhammer in my head, which was good, but also a little overwhelming while on the upswing of recovery from Thursday night.
Chris joked that he was going to ask for Dark Lord. Their Imperial Stout, Dark Lord is only sold one day a year on Dark Lord Day. A very hyped event, Dark Lord Day had happened a couple of weeks previous. I was relieved that he didn’t because I had no desire to look like a dork. Hey, I may be a beer geek, but I’m no dork. Chris ordered a taster set, which gave me the chance to find a less extreme beer that wouldn’t offend my delicate palate. I chose a pint of Pride and Joy, a beer Three Floyds characterizes as an American Mild. Chris and Matt got a kick out of Marketing Ploy, a collaborative pale ale brewed with Jonathon Cutler of Piece Brewery, so they both ordered one. I guess the brewery thought one marketing ploy just wasn’t enough.
Take your appetite because they have a great food menu. And don’t forget your protective ear wear if you’re a little sensitive that way. While we ate our lunch a woman in her 60s asked us about our filming. She was very sweet and chatty, so Chris asked her what she thought of the brewery. She thought it was pretty good, except for the music. Apparently the lunch was her 46th wedding anniversary present from her husband, who stood nearby as she talked with us. She was a hoot to talk with and a real trooper. Maybe next year her husband will throw in some diamond studded earplugs.
After a quick stop to add a notch on the brewery bedpost, we returned the car to the hotel and went right back out to hit the town. We all enjoyed Piece from the night before and Chris needed more footage for beergeek.TV, so with no argument from any of us, we made a return visit. We arrived earlier than the night before, but being a Friday, the place was filling up quickly. I was happy to have another chance to try their Swinging Single, a Belgian-style single, which I didn’t try the night before. It was fantastic! Not to spoil it, since there’s still one more blog of the trip to go, but Piece was by far my favorite brewpub in Chicago.
Before we knew it, we were off in search of the next brewery on our Friday night tour, Moonshine Brewery in the Wicker Park neighborhood. I’ll admit that I was dragging a bit at this point, but I figured if a 60-something year old woman could manage Three Floyds, I could surely manage Moonshine. To do anything else would have compromised my beer professionalism.
Moonshine’s “urban roadhouse” decor was fun and interesting. The wooden interior and the mason jar glasses made me feel like I was in a cabin in the woods hiding out while my distillery cranked out some rot gut. All I needed was a shotgun. The bartender was very nice as he served us a taster set of beer in tiny jars. He even turned Michelle onto a new iPhone app, Dragon. We were offered a blind taste test of Dewar’s by a nicely dressed woman, but much to her disappointment, the four of us declined.
We departed Moonshine in a cab and headed to yet another highly anticipated visit: The Publican. We planned to have dinner there, but that plan was thwarted by the hour and a half wait. And that time frame was only if some reservations failed to show. I felt like a dog waiting for someone to throw me a bone.
The situation was a huge disappointment to me because I was hungry and about to get very cranky. But we figured what the hell and added our name to the wait list. The hostess then kindly dropped us and a beer list off at a standing only table in the bar area. I liked the idea that she “sat” us in the bar and we didn’t have to hunt for a spot.
The beer choices at The Publican didn’t leave much to desire, as they had an extensive variety of excellent beers. I started with a Goose Island Matilda, while Chris had an Alpha King, Matt the Hercule Stout from Belgium and Michelle the Three Floyds Pride and Joy.
I was also quite pleased to learn that we could order food where we stood. Everyone had raved about the housemade spicy pork rinds, so of course I had to have some. They were every bit as good as people said and they melted in my mouth. I will admit, however, that the powdered cheddar cheese sprinkled on top was a little odd. Each time I took a bite, the cheese flew all over the table and even into my beer. We also ordered a plate of selected ham, which we gobbled down.
Besides the need for reservations, the other tip I will offer about The Publican is that it is a little on the dressier side. And by dressier I mean fashionable. Our group, outfitted in jeans (except Chris who was in shorts) and beer shirts, stood out as not like the others.
We decided to cut our losses at The Publican and bail before we could be disappointed. Since Matt and Michelle had not made it to Revolution Brewing with us the night before, we gladly agreed to return and eat there. We entered to find a busy place and up to an hour wait, which was once again disappointing. I forgot that we were in the big city now where popular places fill up and not the beer backwater of home where there’s always a seat in the house. We did learn, however, that we could sit in the waiting area where we could order both beer and food from a waiter. That was just fine with us. With long benches and a few beer barrel tables, it turned out to be a very comfortable alternative to waiting for a table.
I drank a Bottom Up Belgian Wit with a grilled tofu sandwich. Chris liked the Anti-hero IPA the night before, so he ordered another one to go with his pulled pork sandwich. Matt and Michelle each opted for the Let’s Have a War Belgian-style strong pale ale to go with their pizza. Even though it was loud, Revolution was a nice way to end our second day in Chicago.
It had been another long day, but the four of us pressed on in the name of beer travel. It was an ambitious beer schedule, but it can be done. So, if you decide to take a similar journey in the Windy City, just remember that we would never lead you astray. Trust us, we’re professionals.
We’ve been to Chicago over a dozen times but have never left the airport. Our ‘visits’ were actually layovers to or from Europe. On one of these layovers, we did manage to go out of security to visit the sports bar at the Hilton to drink some Goose Island beer.
We knew Chicago was a good beer town and it was on our list of places we needed to visit. Lucky for us, opportunity knocked when our friend, fellow beer traveler and thebeergeek.com contributor Matt Venzke asked us to join him and Michelle in the Windy City the second weekend in May.
The Venzkes picked us up at O’Hare mid-afternoon on Thursday and we were off to explore the greater Chicago beer scene. Our first stop was in Villa Park, a dozen or so miles south of the airport. While we were still pretty close to civilization, the town had a real country feel.
We walked in Lunar Brewing to see a bevy of locals at the bar chatting with the bartender. Our foursome grabbed a high table on the opposite wall.
Though Lunar brews their own beer, the first thing I noticed, after all the moon-themed stuff, was an impressive guest list. Of the nine, five were California brews that we can’t get in our neck of the woods. But I wasn’t in Illinois to drink beer from California.
There isn’t an official taster set at Lunar but the bartender was more than happy to give us a taste of any of the beers. After a few samples, I started with Batch 600 IPA, a very well-balanced IPA. Merideth’s beer trip began with Moonbeam Steam. I guess Lunar assumes that they fly enough under the radar to use the ‘S’ word. Moonbeam competed with Total Eclipse Stout as the best of the house beers.
We sampled six of the beers and while none knocked are socks off, all were very drinkable, save one. The one beer we didn’t care for was the Barrel-Aged Moondance, an IPA aged in Bourbon barrels. Admittedly, it had more to do with our lack of appreciation for strongly flavored barrel-aged beers than the quality of the beer.
Moving on from Lunar, we were off to Warrenville to visit Two Brothers Brewing. No relation to the 2 Brothers Brewing we recently visited in Australia, this Two Brothers was located in a very nondescript industrial park a few blocks from the highway. In fact, the location was so unassuming that the four of us had trouble deciding if it really was a brewery. The only indication of the contents of the building was a simple sign that stated “Tap House Main Entrance.”
Shocked might be too strong a word but walking in I definitely did a “Wow.” It was a nice-looking restaurant whose beery secret was revealed by their giant beer labels adorning the walls. Looking for the bar area, I glanced over to my left to see a shiny bar backed by stacks of glasses and a mirror walled. We sat at one of several high tables in the bar area and settled in.
The beer that caught my eye was Cane and Ebel Red Rye. A big fan of Bear Republic’s Hop Rod Rye, any rye beer that says it is “assertively hopped” is one that I’m going to want to try. While only one percent less in ABV than Hop Rod (8% to 7%), Cane and Ebel had a much lighter drinking feel to it.
The star of Two Brothers was Merideth’s beer, Ebel’s Weiss. A traditional Bavarian-style Hefeweizen, Ebel’s Weiss had all the hallmarks a great Hefe. It’s deep golden color, huge clove and banana nose and taste had us dreaming of being back in our beloved Bavaria.
With the preliminaries over, it was time to get into Chicago. We parked the car at our hotel and took the subway into Chicago for some pizza and beer. Exiting at the Damen stop, we were at Piece (and peace) within a few minutes.
There were several highly anticipated brewery visits on this trip and Piece Brewpub was the first. I had heard many good things about Piece and I just hoped that it lived up to the hype. Walking in, my first reaction was dread as the place was packed on a Thursday evening. My dismay was quickly assuaged as the hostess told us the wait was going to be only twenty minutes. Armed with that good news, we headed to the bar to grab a beer.
I passed on the Bitburger, a beer I only drink at Frankfurt airport with Ute and Wolfgang as our traditional goodbye beer. Instead I selected Swingin’ Single, a Belgian-Style single. Again, Merideth was spot on with her first choice, Top Heavy Hefeweizen. A recent bronze medal winner at the World Beer Cup, Top Heavy was the second great American Hefe we had on the day.
For my next beer I followed Merideth and ordered a Top Heavy. Shortly thereafter, the hostess sat the four of us at our table. The pizza menu is pretty simple. There are three bases, plain, white and red, and a list of ingredients to select from. Since it was going to be hard for the four of us to agree, each couple, after much deliberation, ordered a small pizza.
By the time our chicken and artichoke heart pizza arrived, I was on my third beer, a Wack Job Double IPA. Big, malty with a great hop bite, Wack Job was the first beer of the trip that reminded me of home.
There’s something special about pizza and beer. It’s, for the lack of a better phrase, just plain fun. And that’s how I would describe Piece, just plain fun. And the beer is great.
Not yet finished, we took a much needed fifteen minute walk to the Map Room, our first beer bar of the trip. Included on many ‘top beer bars in the United States’ lists, we found the Map Room pretty mellow on Thursday night. Well, except for the Black Sabbath music.
The huge bottle list was too daunting for my tired brain. And, despite never having had it on draft, I resisted the temptation to have Sierra Nevada Fritz and Ken’s Ale. My choice was Founders Double Trouble, another big malty hopbomb of a Double IPA. Merideth, showing her love for the style and also maybe better sensing it was time to wind down, ordered an I Beam Alt from Metropolitan Brewing.
As we drank our beer and sang along to Black Sabbath, I finally felt, for first time since getting up at 2am California time, that I could take a deep breath and relax.
Smarter minds should have prevailed at this point. We had already been to three breweries and the Map Room, and we were approaching 20 hours on the go. Smarter minds did in fact prevail for Matt and Michelle as they decided call it a day and head back to the hotel.
But being intrepid beer travelers we are, we pushed on to Revolution Brewing, the newest brewpub on the Chicago scene. It was after midnight when we walked in the front doors and grabbed seats at the bar.
As we perused the food menu, Merideth ordered a Workingman Mild, a proper English mild coming in at 3.5% ABV. Lucky for me, there was no Double IPA, so I ordered Anti Hero, the house-brewed IPA.
Though we weren’t hungry, we were intrigued by the menu, especially of the meaty bits. We ordered the pork and ham plate, a porkalicious collection of porcine products. And someone on Facebook had highly recommended the bacon fat popcorn, so of course we had to have that, too. Popcorn drizzled with bacon fat, bacon and Parmesan, it might have been the most decadent thing I have ever eaten.
Approaching 1am, even we had to admit that it was time to call an end to our long day. We finished our food and beer and grabbed a cab back to our hotel. I went to bed very tired but quite pleased with our first experience beyond ORD. I looked forward to the next two days of the trip.