Chicago Craft Beer Week 2011: Local Expert Picks Can't Miss Events

05/16/2011 04:04 pm ET | Updated Jul 16, 2011
  • Ashley Henshaw

Chicago Craft Beer Week kicks off Thursday, bringing beer lovers to dozens of Chicago venues for tastings, beer dinners and more. With so many options, we decided to recruit an expert to guide us through Beer Week happenings.

Ryan Hermes is the founder and editor of Guys Drinking Beer, a site dedicated to all things beer. The site also features “Save the Craft,” a page where beer lovers and journalists such as Karl Klockers and Andrew Flach spread the word about potential legislative changes that could prohibit the ability of craft beer producers to distribute their brews. Though they’re politically savvy, the Guys Drinking Beer crew also knows about the basics: where to drink, what to drink and the best things to eat with the city’s tastiest beers.

CB: What specific beer events are on your to-do list for the week?

RH: Wow. That's a tough one. There are some really awesome and creative events going on it is tough to narrow them down. But, if I must then I must. My shortlist includes:

Revolution Brewing's tapping, on May 19th, of a West Coast IPA called Los Osos - which they brewed with California brewery Firestone Walker - should be a hit for hop heads. West Coast IPA's traditionally have mammoth hop flavors and aromas. So if you like really hoppy beers then this one's for you.

If stouts are more your speed then Goose Island Presents Twisted Goose at the Twisted Spoke on May 23rd is a must-attend. Goose Island's big, heavy stouts take center stage here; Bourbon County Stout (an imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels), Bourbon County Vanilla Stout , Bourbon County Coffee Stout, Bourbon County Lazarus (brewed with the leftovers from batches of Bourbon County Stout), Night Stalker (a hoppy imperial stout) and Big John (an imperial stout brewed with cocoa nibs). You'll also have a chance to sample three different years of Bourbon County Stout (2007 - 2009). Oh, and not to worry, the aforementioned Bourbon County Stout hasn’t gone bad or stale. Beers that are high in alcohol content, like a BCS, can be aged like wine.

Goose Island Presents Rare Stout Night at Goose Island Clybourn on May 25th also caught my attention. And I'm going to cut to the chase with this event. There are a number of fantastic beers on this list but there is just one that truly caught my eye; Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout. This is an imperial stout that was aged in whiskey barrels that once housed maple syrup. The end result is a beer with rich vanilla and bourbon flavors mixed with a sweet hint of maple syrup.

You'll probably need to a break after the onslaught of imperial stouts and hoppy beers and I couldn't think of a better way to do it than with sour beers at The Bristol on May 24th.

CB: Some people don’t realize that there are a lot of food events going on in conjunction with Craft Beer Week. Which food events on the festival schedule do you think are the most promising?

I am glad to see people embracing the idea of pairing food with beer. And there are some very fun and unique combinations that will be on display during Chicago Craft Beer week. As far as the most promising? I think tops on my list is Rock Bottom Chicago's Pig-Out Under The Stars on May 23rd. Dishes showcasing select cuts of pork will be paired with some of Rock Bottom's in-house beers or locally brewed offerings. If the weather cooperates they'll be serving dinner outside on the rooftop patio.

A very, very close second is the one sixtyblue Goose Island beer dinner on May 25th. The menu includes seared Maine sea scallops paired with a blackberry Belgian beer and a pecan pie tart alongside an imperial stout brewed with vanilla beans and aged in bourbon barrels.

If you want something a bit simpler the Map Room is hosting a beer and sausage night on May 24th pairing three different sausages with beers from Founders in Grand Rapids, Mich. and Great Lakes in Cleveland, Ohio.

Probably the most unique beer and food pairing is happening at Haymarket Pub and Brewery on May 21st. The Beerfly Alleyfight will pair homebrewed beer with home chef prepared meals...with local art.

Which beers are you most excited to taste during Beer Week, or which breweries are you most excited to try samples from?

These events always bring out the best of the best in craft beer, in that brewers may conjure up something fun to commemorate the week and brewers from outside the Chicago area will bring in hard to find and rare beers. I'm sure I am going to inadvertently leave a beer or two out, but in no particular order here is what I'd keep my eyes peeled for:

  • Goose Island Ava, a fruit variation of Goose Island's Dominique which is a Belgian sour ale aged in Bourbon County Stout barrels.
  • Goose Island Mae, a farmhouse ale brewed with fresh Michigan peaches and aged in white wine barrels.
  • Revolution/Firestone Walker Los Osos, the aforementioned collaborative West Coast IPA brewed by Chicago's Rev Brewing and California's Firestone Walker
  • Two Brothers Askew, the Warrenville, Ill. breweries second run at a sour ale.
  • Lost Abbey's Frambroise De Amorosa, a barrel aged raspberry framboise.
  • Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout, an imperial stout aged in whiskey barrels that also house maple syrup.
  • Three Floyds Hell’s Black Intelligencer, an oatmeal stout brewed with Intelligentsia coffee
  • Amager Xbeeriment Black Force One, a big and bold imperial stout from a Denmark brewery.
  • Anything from Stillwater. The artisan brewery is pumping out unique and fun beers, some of which will be on tap at the Map Room on May 25th and throughout the week at the Roscoe Village Tap.
  • Jerry's Sandwiches, which is a craft beer gem, is promising rare beers from Port/Lost Abbey all week.
  • The unveiling of 5 Rabbit's beers at the Map Room. Offerings include, "5 RABBIT Golden Ale, 5 LIZARD Latin-Style Witbier and 5 VULTURE Oaxacan-Style Dark Ale."

Check out the full Chicago Craft Beer Week schedule here.