All posts by Brad Chmielewski


6 Year Anniversary Of The Hop Cast

This month marks 6 years since Ken Hunnemeder and I started the Hop Cast. When someone asks me how long we’ve been doing the Hop Cast, I know it doesn’t feel like 6 years to me. Time flies when you’re having fun and drinking beer. The Hop Cast is just something we do that allows Ken, Maeve and myself to get together and have fun. All the episodes are unscripted, you never know what could happen or what might be said. Very rarely do we sample the beers before we hit record and the only time we re-shoot something is if we forgot to hit record due to us having drank a few too many.

After 6 years, we’ve released 245 episodes and put out a number of other fun videos as well. I also try to keep the blog updated regularly with festival reviews, photos, events and my take on craft beer culture. At this point I think we’re one of the longer running video beer podcast out there, maybe the longest.

Thank you to everyone who’s been watching, listening and supporting what we do. Over the years we’ve met some fantastic people who love beer and that’s the reason Ken and I haven’t stopped. I’ve learned a ton about beer over the last six years, probably more than I truthfully need to know for someone who doesn’t work in the beer industry. Still it’s wonderful knowledge to have and has had a huge impact on what I drink, eat and the places I visit. Not only have I enjoyed some great beers but I’ve also enjoyed the company of many great friends in the beer industry. Beer brings people together and inspires them. I know it’s had a huge impact on what I do and create over the years.

Unfortunately, we didn’t shoot a special episode celebrating the 6 years or put on a killer event. We do this podcast pretty much for free (minus the few beers we are given or events we get into for free). Thanks to everyone who has contributed to the show and thanks to everyone who’s been watching. Be sure to subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher and leave us a review, if you can.

Last year at the 5 year point, I shared a few of my favorite episodes, which was tough to figure out because there have been so many good ones. This year I thought I’d pick some of my favorite episodes with brewers we’ve had on the show. Many of our episodes feature friends but they also feature brewers from different breweries across the country. And some of those brewers we can also now count as friends.

Cheers and thanks for watching the Hop Cast!

Festiv-Ale 2013

Festiv-Ale – “Cure What Ales Ya!”


Looking for a good reason to drink some great local Chicago beer? You probably don’t need one… but when you can drink for a good cause it makes it a little more meaningful.

This past weekend was the 7th Annual Festiv-Ale held at Carmichael’s Steakhouse. This festival supports the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and features a number of items up for silent auction.

The number of breweries at the event was rather impressive, some of your old favorites like; Haymarket Pub, Half Acre, Goose Island, Solemn Oath Brewery and 5 Rabbit. I say old only because the amount of newer breweries at the event was crazy. So even through many of these breweries have only been around for a couple years they’ve become the old standby’s. Some of the newcomers at the fest were; Ale Syndicate, 18th Street Brewery, Temperance Beer Company, SlapShot Brewing, Off Color Brewing, Begyle Brewing, and Forbidden Root. I’m sure I’m forgetting a few but as you can see it was an impressive line-up. That beer list would of been worth the ticket price alone but the folks at Festiv-Ale also had restaurant sponsors too giving out food and helping to make sure no one went hungry. You had; Ta-ki-to, Small Bar, Three Aces, Fountainhead, Frontier and more that I didn’t even get to try. Oh! And how can I forget the White Castle that showed up just as the event was ending, handing out sliders to the somewhat drunk guests. Really, the best time to eat White Castle in my opion.

Half Acre At Festiv-Ale

Back to the beer for the moment. I was glad to sample some beer from these new breweries especially since I haven’t been able to make it to the awesome launch parties so many of them have been having around the city. If you’ve been paying close attention to the beer scene in Chicago I’m sure you’ve heard of all of these new breweries but a surprise for me was Forbidden Root. They are a new brewery working with Randy Mosher and they’re brewing heritage-style “beer botanicals” made with roots and other special ingredients. Forbidden Root was pouring two offerings; their Forbidden Root, a root beer or sarsaparilla flavor, but with the quality of a brewed beer. Their second one was the Sublime, a ginger root, key-lime and honey bush brew. Both fantastic! Another surprise was Temperance Beer Company, the first Evantson brewery in 100 years. Claudia Jenron is the brewster there now. Claudia recently left GooseIsland and is already doing some good stuff at Temperance. Both the Pale Ale and Porter they poured on Friday were rather tasty and I went back for seconds. I could tell you more about all the beer I drank that night but really you should have been at Carmichael’s Steakhouse on Friday!

If this event isn’t on your radar, it should be. Tickets were $65 for regular entry and $100 for the VIP reception. Maeve Price and I grabbed a couple VIP tickets which included an extra hour of drinking and eating before the regular entry showed up. The event ran from 6:00 PM – 11:00 PM; 5 hours of food and beer and all for a good cause. Yes please! The event on Friday was a perfect balance of good people, food, and beer. I never found myself waiting in line for a beer or food; it always helps that I know a lot of brewers who don’t like to see my glass empty but I never saw anyone else waiting either. Although I did see a few familiar faces like Nik White of Chicago Beer Geeks & Steve Mastny of Beer Download, the event brought in a ton of new people into the scene, which is fantastic to see. Seeing all the awesome breweries represented there in one room all pouring for a good cause, being enjoyed by some fine folks; it was a great night for Chicago beer.

Beer Tower

Great Taste of the Midwest

The Great Taste of the Midwest

Great Taste of the Midwest

I hope at this point everyone has recovered from the Great Taste of the Midwest last weekend. After hearing about GTMW for years this was the first year I was able to go and I finally scored tickets and made my way up. Getting tickets for the most part was pretty easy. The Chicago Beer Society each year gets a block of tickets that they sell to members. It costs $25 for individuals or $40 for couples a year to join the Chicago Beer Society and you get access to a number of great events including GTMW. The tickets for GTMW cost $60 through the Chicago Beer Society because this includes the price of the shuttle bus there and back. The tickets they get for GTMW do go fast so you have to respond quickly with your money.

Now, everyone will tell you that you need to go up to Madison on Friday before the festival and go to all the bars. Most of the breweries sponsor a different bar and put their beers on tap with special tappings, brewer meet-n-greets and other fun events. Unfortunately or maybe fortunately, Maeve and I couldn’t go up early. When you get tickets from the Chicago Beer Society you need to ride the bus to Madison with them and they give you your ticket once you get up there. I’d say its a pretty good deal, you don’t have to try to figure out how you’re getting to Madison and since the bus takes you back to Chicago that night you don’t have to worry about booking a hotel, driving or bumming a ride back that night. A pretty good deal over all so if you live in Chicago or in the suburbs and you aren’t a Chicago Beer Society member, fix that right now.

Our bus left from Goose Island Clybourn around 9:30 (there’s a separate bus that leaves from the west suburbs) and we ended up at the festival at about 12:30. Doors / gates don’t open till 1:00 PM so you spend a little while waiting in line thumbing through the fest booklet they hand out that lists all the beers and brewery locations. This was the first time I had even seen the list for the day. The only thing I had heard about beforehand was what Ken mentioned that Goose Island had planned. Ken has been to GTMW for the last several years working the event and went up earlier in the week to help set up for the booth this year. These days I’m not one to plan much when I go to a beer festival. Planning might allow you to try some of those rare, hard to get beers but by not planning you may get to stumble on a new beer or brewery you’ve never heard of. And that’s how Maeve and I handled the festival. With over 1000 beers you’re going to find something new you’ve never heard of or tried before.

Great Taste of the Midwest

This wandering and lack of planning can often backfire which it did for us when we first walked in. We grabbed a couple of beers from a brewery we don’t often drink and instantly had to pour them out. First beers and they all got dumped, not a good start to the day. We quickly grabbed another beer we were familiar with and moved on. Making a quick stop at Goose Island to say hi to Ken and all the folks over there. Goose Island and Revolution Brewing both had some of the biggest and most elaborate set ups at the festival. Goose Island with their barrels all lined up helping guide people in a line and then Revolution Brewing with a halfpipe, skateboarders and a DJ out. Extremes for sure but pretty awesome to see how both these big names make a splash at the festival.

Great Taste of the Midwest

As Maeve and I wandered around we ran into a ton of great people like Gary Gulley of Panic Brewing, Mike Rybinski of ZwanzigZ Brewing (can someone do a video so we all know how to say this) Deb & Wil Turner of Revolution Brewing, Justin Maynard from the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild, The crew from Haymarket, Tom Korder from Penrose Brewing, Jess from Revolution Brewing, Nik White of the Chicago Beer Geeks, Mike of Beer Genome Project and many of the Chicago brewers we’ve gotten to know over the years.

Walking around this park is crazy, in the 5 hours we were only able to do one big drunken circle. The thing is massive and overwhelming. If you did make a plan I don’t know how you kept it all straight, especially after a dozen beers. I would say I wish we had a couple other friends with us throughout the day so we could have tasted and shared more beers; it’s difficult with just the two of us. Walking around I noticed a ton of people with chairs and blankets laid out, they were just enjoying the day. Which to me seems like a waste, I mean come on people there is beer to drink, get moving. Ha!

Great Taste of the Midwest

Overall the day was fantastic and the Great Taste of the Midwest is a lot of fun. I know I had more than my fair share of great beer that day but that didn’t stop Maeve and I from stopping in at Goose Island Clybourn for some food and more beer after the Chicago Beer Society bus dropped us off. For all the hype of the Great Taste, it’s a lot of fun and it’s great to see so many people out supporting craft beer. The special tappings are good if you want to wait in line and the set ups Goose Island and Revolution Brewing do are cool to see. There’s a ton of great breweries at this fest but in the end its really just a big beer fest. Mostly it’s nothing you haven’t seen before if you’ve been to another beer festival. Be sure to go if you have the opportunity to but don’t beat yourself up about not being able to make it. It was a ton of fun but there’s a festival almost every weekend in the summer. I for one missed the Oak Park Micro Brew Review and I hear that’s good too.


Videos From Breweries


I don’t think it’s any surprise that I’m a big proponent of video marketing. I talk about it on my blog often and my company LooseKeys helps businesses reach larger audiences by working with them to tell their stories. Being a craft beer fan, I love it when a brewery releases a new video either about a new beer release, a special event or simply an interview. These videos range in quality but that doesn’t typically stop me from watching them. I love learning about what these breweries are up to and I know others do too because most of these have hundreds of views on YouTube.

The two breweries I see more often than any others release videos are Goose Island and Stone Brewing. These two breweries put out a video for many of the events they do and for every beer they release. These guys are making killer videos. Both of the breweries have great in-house teams working for them, which is the reason they are able to do these sort of projects. I’m sure these breweries have widely different marketing budgets but that doesn’t stop either from taking the time to make great creative content.

Both breweries have put out some notable recent videos. Stone’s video about the Stone Farking Wheaton w00tstout collaboration beer was very well done and I’m sure helped build the buzz even more about that beer. Goose Island put out several videos last week showcasing their involvement as beer sponsors at this years Pitchfork Music Festival. The video showing the Goose Island collaboration with Killer Mike and EL-P for their beer Run the Jewels was pretty funny too. These breweries are smart to put out these kinds of videos often because not only will it help to promote them and their beers but the videos also help people to connect to these breweries. When you impart humor in a video, have a brewer talk about a new beer release or show some of what went into the making of a beer, it personalizes the brewery for the person buying their beer.

Each one of these videos also has the opportunity to be seen by new customers as well. After I watch a great video about a beer I’m looking forward to tasting, I’ll hit that share button and let everyone else on Facebook or Twitter know about it. That’s getting the brand and the beer in front of more people. Videos shared by friends have even more power than the big commercials you might see during the Super Bowl.

Smaller breweries don’t have to have a big marketing budget or in house teams to keep people informed about what’s happening. Creating more online content that promote new beers or brewery events should be on every breweries to do list.

Canned Craft Beer

Give Me A Beer In A Can!

Craft Cans

I’m a big fan of craft beer in cans and on the Hop Cast we’ve been promoting it for years. At this point we all know the benefits; lighter to ship, more likely to be recycled, immune to sunlight, etc…

But I have another thought about canned craft beer that’s a bit more psychological than just the visual benefits.

I grew up drinking soda that was primarily in the can, sometimes we’d pick up a bottle, usually when we were in the car and didn’t want to spill it. Most of the drinks I remember seeing were in cans, once in a while people would drink a bottle of coca-cola; even today I only see bottles of coke if someone had grabbed some of the mexican coke from Costco. So when I turned 21, would I grab a six pack of bottles or would I reach for cans? Actually, most of the time we’d pick up the cheapest thing we could get, often in a package that resembled a 24 pack of canned soda. Why? Well, it was cheap but it was also very familiar. I have a sneaky suspicion that the marketing folks for the big beer brands know this.

Well, like many other people, I grew out of buying beer by the case and got some more money and started exploring and trying craft beer. Craft beer until recently pretty much all came in bottles and there was a stigma that cheap, bad beer came in cans. Canned beer was the beer your dad drank. Canned beer was the stuff you used to buy in bulk to get drunk with your buddies before you knew about the good beer; now you like something better. If you look back, canned beer came before canned soda. Canned beer made it’s debut in 1935 but canned soda didn’t take off till the late 50’s.

Now the shelves of the beer stores are lined with brown bottle after brown bottle of craft beer. Heavy to carry and often breaking if you’re traveling with them. However, slowly breweries are making canned beer cool again for craft beer lovers. Often with unique designs and in a larger format, something that resembles the can you see at the gas station next to the soda, not your dad’s beer.  That’s right, energy drinks. As the craft beer revival was happening (or rather a bit before that) soda was on the downturn and energy drinks were taking it’s place.

The Rise Of Energy Drinks

What do you see and hear about kids drinking these days? Cans of soda? Nah, they want something more, energy drinks… Monster, Red Bull, Rock Star. And these are all in cans. Energy drinks had 13.3% dollar sales growth in 2010. Most of these cans have attractive packaging and catch your eye when you walk past them in the cooler. This is what the smart package designer wants. Now think about those hip canned craft beers and the energy drinks you’re seeing everyone downing one after another. Boy do they look similar…. Heck, if I saw someone drinking a 16 oz tall boy of craft beer in public I’d probably assume it was just some new energy drink, unless I took a second look.

When kids these days turn 21 are they going to look to buy a six pack? Bottles no way! Cans! Bottled craft beer is what their dad drinks. Currently canned beer accounts for approximately half of the $20 billion U.S. beer industry, I have a feeling we’re going to see that number rise even more as the next generation of drinkers become of age.

Emporium Arcade Bar

Craft Beer, Pinball & The Rise Of The Barcade

Emporium Arcade Bar

In Chicago, craft beer has an incredible presence, it’s hard not to find something “crafty” on tap when you walk into a bar. Since the explosion of craft beer in Chicago, its becoming increasingly important to offer more than just good craft beer to get people to crowd into a bar. Whether it’s a bunch of TV screens so people can watch the game, some great food, or even some arcade games.

I went to the arcade pretty often growing up. Many of those arcades were attached to a bowling alley where my parents were bowling with their league. The arcades of yesteryear don’t really exist anymore. The arcades of my youth were isolated areas, noisy, dark, no booze, or food (maybe some vending machines) and a place where parents just dropped their kids or teens off. I don’t recall seeing anyone drinking in the arcade, I guess everyone was underage or I was too busy trying to beat that Terminator game to notice. These days if I went to the arcade and they didn’t serve beer, I’d be greatly disappointed. What do you do when you’re waiting for your turn? Or when you’re watching someone else get a high score?

Until this year, it was hard to find a place in Chicago to grab a beer and play some video games. Portland has Ground Kontrol, Barcade is in Brooklyn, Seattle has Shorty’s and almost every other major city has a great video game bar or barcade with a nice selection of beer and pinball machines.

I believe Chicago lagged behind other cities in having this type of establishment due to certain gaming and liquor licenses you need in Chicago and getting those from what I’ve been told can be difficult. Video games also take up a lot of room, room that could be full of people eating or drinking. Also, Pinball machines are expensive, they REQUIRE regular maintenance so they run properly. These days the kids and teens stay home and play each other online so the people who are interested in going to an arcade are for the most part over the drinking age. So it makes sense to have beer in an arcade or an arcade in a bar.

Emporium Taplist

The tides changed and now we have several options for drinking craft beer and playing games. Right now there are a couple solid barcades in Chicago; Headquarters and Emporium Arcade Bar. Emporium is right around the corner from my place, so I’m there fairly often. When you walk into Emporium you’re treated with a draft list of 20 plus beers and ciders, the only thing more impressive then the draft list is the classic arcade machines lining the walls. With a quick glance around you’ll notice Dig Dug, Paperboy, Tapper, Marvel vs. Capcom, Donkey Kong and the list goes on…

I’m not there just for the beer because I can get many of the same beers at a number of other bars, I’m also not there just for the video games because I could play many of them on my iPhone if I really wanted to. Nah, I’m mostly there for the Pinball. I can’t play pinball at home, I doubt my wife would want a machine in our small condo.

Brad Chmielewski Playing Pinball

Pinball is something you really can’t do on your phone and its something most people don’t own in their homes. Pinball is a real machine with moving parts that changes depending on how well kept the machine is or if it’s leaning a bit. Its often more of a challenge than video games because every time you play the game its a bit different, the chances of you scoring the same each time is almost impossible.

You can nerd out and become extremely knowledgeable about beer and pinball to the point that’s maybe a bit extreme for some people, but you can also enjoy either very casually. Which is something that makes both craft beer and pinball fun, you can appreciate them alone or with others. Focusing on learning the pinball rules and how to play or slowly sipping on a craft beer and taking notes on what you smell and taste. When you are out with friends you can all chat about the beer, or start a multiplayer game and see who can get the high score.

Chicago has long been the capital of pinball manufacturing and it makes sense to see it picking up steam here again. Stern Pinball, Inc. is located in the suburbs and is the last of the old-school pinball machine manufacturers. In fact many of the first arcade and pinball makers were founded in Chicago. You also may have noticed the crazy amount of breweries that have opened up in the area in the last several years and there are plenty more in the works. Which is nice to see since Chicago has a long history with brewing including being the home of the Siebel Institute of Technology, the brewing school that was founded in 1868. Both pinball and beer have an extensive history in Chicago and both are experiencing a renewed popularity.

There is a bit of nostalgia, in regards to pinball and arcades. People who grew up during a time where arcades and pinball were popular, can hold an affinity for those games. Playing those games again can allow them to relive a part of their youth. So there is certainly a novelty about going to an arcade but I think the simplicity of most of the games speaks to people right now. Something more tactile and genuine since almost everything else in our lives is online. I rarely turn on my PS3 and there are millions of games to choose from but I don’t want to spend 40+ hours playing a game alone at home. I want something social, I want to go out to the bar, grab a drink with friends and playing some games isn’t a bad way to spend an evening.

As the 30 and 40 somethings come to grips with how hectic their lives are today they’re looking for something simple and uncomplicated at it’s heart. That’s pinball, that’s the arcade. And at the same time people are looking for artisan foods and artisan drinks. Products made by hand and made with more natural ingredients. Less manufactured, less mass marketed. They appreciate craft beer that’s made locally by brewers in their community. I think a lot of people are seeking out something real. Sometimes what feels most real exists in the past. Its easy to see why Chicago Craft Beer and pinball are both getting a lot of love in Chicago these days.



Chicago Craft Beer Week Kicked Off With Beer Under Glass

Last night Chicago Craft Beer Week kicked off with one of the best events of the week, or rather 10 days. The event was Beer Under Glass at the Garfield Park Conservatory. I love beer events when they are in locations that you aren’t typically allowed to drink. Its what makes the opening ceremony of the Craft Brewers Conference great every year and its another thing that makes Chicago Craft Beer Week so much fun.

This years event was even bigger and more spread out than last years. Which made it less crowded feeling but harder to get around to all the beers. Although it did cut down on lines, it took awhile to walk from one end to the other. The entire night I was only able to walk around the place twice. But no complaints here about that because the Conservatory is a beautiful place to wander around, especially when you have a beer in your hand.

With around 50 breweries pouring beer, you never had an empty glass, or if you did it was your own fault.

As you walked around from one area to the next it became hard not to run into someone you knew; either a brewer, a blogger or a craft beer enthusiast. Every area you wandered into, you were greeted with a new set of breweries that were pouring two or three different beers. If you looked to one side you’d find something delicious to eat that likely paired wonderfully with one of the beers.

One of the most serendipitous moments of the night was right outside where Perennial was pouring their beers. They were pouring their Black Walnut Dunkel and growing right by them was a Black Walnut tree. Not sure if that was planned or not but either way, pretty awesome.

Once again, Beer Under Glass was a fun night and I hope they continue to put it on as Chicago Craft Beer Week continues to grow every year.

Goose 25 Years

Congratulations On 25 Years!

Last night Goose Island celebrated 25 years with a great event at the Goose Island Clybourn Brewpub. The event featured over 60 beers that had been brewed on and off since 1988. The event cost $75 and gave you access to all those beers as well as some amazing food. You also had the chance to chat with people like John & Greg Hall if you wanted.

It’s hard to believe that Goose has been around for 25 years and it’s exciting to see everything they have done in really such a short time. Some of those have been more liked than others but still it’s amazing to think about the impact Goose Island had on the American craft beer scene. Such as barrel aging beers and cultivating wild yeast. There was a number of breweries that started around that same time like Great Lakes, North Coast and Deschutes and we’re seeing them all release special beers to celebrate this, as well as putting on some great events. Of course, since I’m from Chicago and Summertime was the beer that introduced me to the craft beer world, Goose Island means a great deal to me. By seeing the amount of people at the event you realize how much Goose Island also meant to them. This wasn’t a beer fest, although you could drink as much as you wanted, everyone was there to give their well wishes to John Hall and Goose Island.

With Chicago Craft Beer Week starting later this week, the Goose Island party was sort of like the pre-party to the whole week. Rather than getting lost in all the other events of the 10 days, they were able to position it a few days before everything gets started and remind people how much influence Goose Island has had on the Chicago beer community and the American beer community.

2013 Craft Brewers Conference

2013 Craft Brewers Conference

This past week some 6,000 brewing industry professionals descended on Washington D.C. for the 30th Annual Craft Brewers Conference. When I first heard that the Craft Brewers Conference was going to be in Washington D.C., I truthfully wasn’t that excited. Sorry D.C. I didn’t know much about D.C. (besides the monuments) or really thought of it as a place with a thriving beer scene. I’m a bit spoiled living here in Chicago and I often make trips out west to Portland, Oregon. So, D.C. really hasn’t been on my radar that much. That’s changed after these last few days hanging out in the city, it’s time me and everyone started to pay attention because the scene is blowing up there now. One person described it as being where Chicago was 5 or so years ago. I can see that, it’s small right now with a few key players but it’s changing fast. Over the three days we were there, I was able to check out a number of fantastic bars all around the city.

On the first day, Maeve and I stopped in at Capitol City Brewing Company. In 1992, Capitol City Brewing Company became the first brewpub to open in the city since Prohibition. Capitol City Brewing Company isn’t a bad stop if you’re wandering around downtown and looking for a quick beer and a bite. If you’ve been to a Rock Bottom, it has a similar vibe. A big food menu, plenty of TVs with a game playing on them and a handful of beers on draft. We ordered a flight of their beers and particularly liked their Amber. From there we went over to the opening ceremony which was held at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. This is probably one of the most fun events at any of the Craft Brewers Conference. The opening ceremony is usually held at a museum, zoo or just landmark location in the host city. It’s held after hours and there is a ton of beer and food to sample. It’s pretty amazing to be walking around a museum with a beer and checking out all the great displays and interactive exhibits. At the opening ceremony you’ll run into any and every brewer you’ve seen or heard about. Since we’ve interviewed a good amount of brewers and hung out with so many people in the industry over the years, its almost like going to a reunion of sorts; so many familiar faces and people to catch up with. At one point I found myself waiting in line for the bathroom with Jim Koch. We spent several hours chatting with people, wandering in and out of cool plane and space exhibits and tasting many solid beers from D.C. and the surrounding area. From there Maeve and I ran into Eric Hobbs and Tom Korder of Penrose Brewing and went with them to enjoy a couple more beers in the great city of D.C. Right here was the moment I realized D.C. was going to be a lot more fun than the previous year in San Diego. Listen, we had a great time in San Diego but being Chicagoans, we’re used to being able to walk or jump on a train to our next beer destination and San Diego is a sprawling city where a car is needed. In D.C., we had the ability to walk to another great beer bar or easily grab a cab and go across town. In San Diego, it was hard to travel around and because of that most people just stayed where the convention was held, The Town & Country and hung out. But in D.C. everyone was on the move going to and from a number of different places.

Day two was all about checking out more of D.C. as well as shooting a couple great Hop Cast episodes that we’ll be putting out in the next few weeks. We made it over to Meridian Pint, a great local bar and chatted with Tim Prendergast, their beer director. From there Ken, Maeve and I jumped in the cab and went to ChurchKey to interview Greg Engert. Just to clear up any confusion, the ChurchKey in D.C. isn’t the one with the canned beer that you need a “ChurchKey” to open. The D.C. ChurchKey is a killer beer bar and the folks involved are working on opening their own brewery soon, named BlueJacket. You can already try some of the beers BlueJacket has collaborated on with other breweries, so keep an eye out. The night we were at ChurchKey there was also a Chicago event going on so we stuck around to try a couple of those limited Chicago releases as well as making sure we said hello to all our home town beer friends. It was crazy in there, the line to get in wrapped around the building. Its pretty great to see people in D.C. loving Chicago beer as much as we do. From there we moved onto Smoke & Barrel. Bar hopping is really easy in D.C., most cab trips only cost $10 – $15 each way for us. Smoke & Barrel is a great beer, bourbon and bbq bar. We also had a chance to visit a couple other places that night like The Pug on the NE side. The Pug is a bit of a dive bar and that night they were pouring some excellent beers from our buddy Kevin Blodgers Baltimore brewery, Union Craft Brewing. Since the Craft Brewers Conference was going on, the draft lists at all these bars were insane and every bar we went to had a great atmosphere and were filled with craft beer lovers. These bars not only featured beers from the growing number of local breweries but also breweries from all over the United States. Since D.C. has some relaxed or different distribution rules than other places they are able to get beers from all corners of the US.

Thursday morning we took it easy. We hit up the conference for a bit in the afternoon and wandered around town. Giving beer a break for the moment, Maeve and I met up with Taylor AKA TheArtOfBeer for some cocktails at the speakeasy style bar, The Gibson. I highly recommend it if you’re in the mood for a great craft cocktail. After a few drinks and a bite to eat, Maeve and I walked down the street to the 9:30 Club for the Festival De Cans. This was a ticketed event and was a blast! They showed off a dozen films from different breweries that can their beers. You could tell that everyone took some time to make something that they were proud of but there were a few that stood out. After the films, the music kicked in and the dancing started. Maeve and I had an early flight back to Chicago the next day so we took off but I saw on Twitter a number of folks ran into Ken and danced the night away.

Those couple of days we were in D.C. went by fast and were a lot of fun. In fact, events are still going on and Ken is still there representing for the Hop Cast. For anyone who lives nearby the city that is hosting the conference, it’s worth just hitting up some of the tap takeovers and beer dinners that happen. They are great and give you a chance to meet the brewers as well as enjoy some amazing beer. Next year the Craft Brewers Conference is off to Denver and hopefully we have the time to make it out.

Ale Syndicate

Getting A Taste Of Ale Syndicate

Ale Syndicate

Last night Ale Syndicate held a small event for some media and beer bloggers at Troy Mediterranean Restaurant. My initial thoughts about this event was great, I can’t wait to finally try Ale Syndicate beers. Then I was a bit confused, why is this at a Mediterranean restaurant… do they even have beer? Turns out no, but it is BYOB which is why it was picked. Gotta love a good BYOB spot! Ale Syndicate was able to bring in some of their beer, talk about them and allow everyone to enjoy a causal dinner.

Still not familiar with Ale Syndicate? Well, that’s going to change fast but you might know them as New Chicago Beer Company. New Chicago Beer Company was the brewery project that Jesse Edwin Evans and Samuel Evans founded after selling their successful Lucky Hand Brewing in Oakland, California in 2009.

There was a lot of buzz surrounding New Chicago Beer Company last year and their plans to open up a brewery in a building that would create its own energy and produce no waste.  After New Chicago Beer Company left the brewing deal at The Plant in the Back Of Yards, I sort of lost track of them and I think everyone else may have too.

This month or rather this coming Monday, they rollout with three inaugural beers; Municipal India Pale Ale, Richie Imperial Porter and Sunday Session. Municipal is an all-Cascade hop ale with a tangy aroma and citrusy flavor. Richie Imperial Porter is an 8.5 % ABV named after Richie Daley, yep these beers are “distinctly Chicago”.  Richie has roasted barley and chocolate malts, balancing sharper flavors with a clean, semi-sweet finish. Sunday Session is a mellow ale that uses wheat to complement a blend of Cascade, Crystal and Centennial hops for a deliciously drinkable brew.

These beers sound great but if these guys are so distinctly Chicago, why the name change to Ale Syndicate? I asked Jesse and he said that “as we developed a team of people working on the brewery along with Samuel and I, we realized that there might be a better name out there to reflect what we want to do with this project. We spent a lot of time thinking of possible names and really fell in love with this one, as it truly expresses our intents to make this brewery a collaborative project. A syndicate is a group of people coming together around something they believe in. That’s exactly what our brewery is all about.”

That seems clear as I hear about their plans for the brewery. Soon they’ll be installing a 5-barrel system on which they’ll brew pilot batches and special beers just for the tap. Shortly after that is installed they will also install a 30-barrel system. It’s once that 30-barrel is installed that the idea of people coming together really comes into play. At night for the next year or so Arcade Brewery will be brewing beers at the Green Exchange where Ale Syndicate’s brewery will be. Arcade Brewery will have their own fermenters and be in charge of ordering their own ingredients. Of course you can count on an Ale Syndicate and an Arcade Brewery collaboration in the future, as well as other collaborations too as Ale Syndicate invites home brewers and smaller brewers into the space to brew. You could think of it like an incubator for breweries. Ale Syndicate has the space and the equipment and then new younger breweries can come in there and grow and mature.

It was a fantastic night learning about the beers and the team behind Ale Syndicate. But the night wouldn’t have been complete without getting to taste the beer. Both the Municipal India Pale Ale and the Richie Imperial Porter were being poured. My favorite of the night was the Porter, which had such amazing flavor from the malts; I could have sworn that there was coffee in the beer. Jesse told me that he was inspired by “Death & Taxes by Moonlight Brewing Co. (a dark lager made by Brian Hunt in Northern California). It’s almost perfect, it’s dark and roasty and delicious. Even though we are focusing on ales, I was thinking of that taste profile as we started to develop the recipe for Richie.” Yes Richie accomplishes just that, roasty and delicious. I don’t think I’m alone in loving the beer either, it sounds like most bar owners and beer buyers are choosing it as well. Which makes sense to me, I’m sure every bar already has an IPA on draft but a great Porter isn’t something they might have. With the weather still being chilly in Chicago, I’m all for a tasty Porter.

Even though it was BYOB and all the beer was brought in bottled, it’s going to be awhile before bottles start hitting the shelves. For right now, it will be draft only.

Be sure to keep an eye out Monday as Ale Syndicate starts showing up on drafts around the city and if you’re out drinking you might even see Jesse & Samuel around too. No matter how many times they’ve drank their own beers it’s a totally different feeling when you can order it at bar. Cheers guys and welcome to the scene!