Great American Beers in Chicagoland
October 6, 2011 – The Great American Beer Festival concluded last weekend. Results were another excuse for me to be a happy drinker in Chicago (or at least the Upper Midwest).
Six craft breweries in the region won the prestigious gold medal, signifying “A world-class beer that accurately exemplifies the specified style, displaying the proper balance of taste, aroma and appearance,” according to festival organizers.
Perhaps the most surprising, yet deserved, recognition went to 5 Rabbit, one of Chicago’s newest breweries (or, as it’s self-described, cerveceria). It won a gold for its “5 Lizard” beer in the Fruit Wheat beer category. 5 Lizard, designed by Friend-of-Local-Beet Randy Mosher, is a Latin spin on a Belgian witbier, using subtle levels of passionfruit instead of the more common sour orange. 5 Rabbit beers are still in limited distribution in the Chicago area, but they’re worth seeking out. (Check this link for stores and bars that carry them.) More on 5 Rabbit coming in this space soon.
Another gold for another newcomer went to “Angry Birds,” in the American Belgo-style Ale category. It’s produced by Pete Crowley at Haymarket Pub & Brewery. Like the Angry Birds game, Haymarket is a great way to waste a lot of time.
Other regional golds included the amazingly complex, slightly sour (in a good way) “Raspberry Tart” from New Glarus, (Wisconsin) in the Fruit Beer Category. New Glarus also won a gold in the American-style Black IPA category, with its “Blacktop IPA.” More gold went to Bell’s (Michigan) “Expedition Stout,” in the Aged Beer category, and “Autumnal Fire” from Wisconsin’s Capital Brewery as a German-style Dopplebock. Capital also won a bronze in the same category for its “Eisphyre,” an Eisbock.
As they say in late-night infomercials, “But wait, there’s more!” Like the silver medals won by Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery’s “New Grist” in the Gluten-free beer category, Emmett’s (West Dundee) “Where the Helles Gunner” Munich-style Helles, New Holland (Michigan)’s “Blue Sunday” Belgian-style Lambic/Sour beer, “Intercontinental Pale Ale,” in the category of the same name, from Flossmoor Station and “Munster Fest” German-style Märzen from Three Floyds. Frankly, I expected Three Floyds to do better.
Bronzes went to Two Brothers “Dog Days Lager” as a Dortmunder/Oktoberfest beer, “Dark ‘N Curvy” German-style Wheat Ale from Piece Brewery in Wicker Park, and two for Goose Island — “Harvest Ale” in the Extra Special Bitter category, and “Sofie” as a French or Belgian-style Saison. Frankly, I also expected Goose to do better.
In an ironic twist, GABF named Pabst, in suburban Woodridge, the Large Brewing Company of the Year. New owners are planning to move headquarters to Los Angeles and completely revamp the company’s beers and marketing strategies. The low-key, so un-cool that it’s cool, hipster strategy, which brought the Pabst brand back from the brink of oblivion, will likely be replaced by a “Babes in Bikinis” strategy. Draw your own conclusions. I doubt Pabst will be next year’s Large Brewing Company of the Year.
Overall, 3,930 beers from 526 breweries were entered into 83 categories. So, for expense or other reasons, some breweries chose to skip it, and other breweries may not have entered all their beers. Just another reason to keep seeking out the best on your own.