Category Archives: Blog

7 Year Anniversary Of The Hop Cast

This month marks the 7th year of the Hop Cast. It’s hard to believe that Ken Hunnemeder and I have kept this show going for this long. Although we’ve slowed down with our episodes, mostly due to life just being busier than it was in 2008, we still try to give everyone a couple new episodes a month. Beer brings people together and The Hop Cast has continued to be 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.

After 7 years, we’ve released 245 episodes and have met a countless number of friends through producing the show. I’ve learned a ton about beer, probably more than I truthfully need to know for someone who doesn’t work in the beer industry. At this point, I think we may be the longest running video beer podcast out there, if not please let me know who has us beat. In the last seven years the craft beer landscape has changed so much in Chicago and in the country. Its been truly incredible to watch this growth and to help promote it in the best way we know how. To turn on a camera, drink and hang out.

Thank you to everyone who’s been watching, listening and supporting what we do. It’s been an amazing ride and I can’t even picture what the craft beer scene is going to look like as we move forward. Be sure to subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher and leave us a review, if you can.

Unfortunately, we didn’t shoot a special episode celebrating the 7 years or put on a killer event. We always talk about how we should throw an anniversary bash but since this is just one of the things we do for fun, we never seem to get it together in time. Maybe we’ll put on a sweet party for our ten year anniversary.

For the 5 year anniversary post, 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 want to go back and watch episode 165 from February 10th, 2012. This was just an informal chat with Pete Crowley about cellaring beer. It wasn’t a typical Hop Cast but it was a pretty interesting conversation to have with a brewer who has likely contributed more to the Chicago beer scene in the last 15 years than anyone else.

Cheers and thanks for watching The Hop Cast!


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!


The 11th Annual Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beers

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Last weekend was the 11th Annual Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beers or what the cool kids call, FOBAB. This was the first year in 5 years that the Hop Cast didn’t film an episode at the event. However, we did have a chance to document the event through a few great photos taken by friend of the show, Sergio Salgado. I wish I would have posted these up earlier but I think it took me a while to recover from the festivities.

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This years FOBAB was bigger than it’s been in the years past. Last year it had moved to Bridgeport Arts Center mainly for space reasons and it’s once again busting at the seams. Last year the event mainly took place in one large room, but this year it had spilled into a second room. I almost wonder if there were some people who didn’t even know about this second room. The second room was where you’d find most of the wild / sour ales and ciders. For being a smaller room, it really never got awful in there, it was busier during the second session but still you could make your way up to the stations for the beer.

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Like previous years past the Hop Cast crew went to both sessions. It’s fun to see the different crowds at the two sessions. During the day you’ll find some of the brewers, judges and their friends; so it’s a little older of a crowd and they tend to know how to handle their beer. But as soon as the doors open for the evening session, all hell breaks loose. That crowd is there to party, they are also on a mission to try all the beers that won awards during the afternoon session. At night you’re going to find longer lines for some of the beers and they will run out quickly. During the afternoon, very few beers kick in the first 3 hours, it’s not until after the awards that you see beers getting pulled off. But you do see lines throughout the day for some of those extra special beers like Goose Backyard, Firestone Walker Parabola, Utopias and most of the Track beers from Lost Abbey.

For me it’s the awards that make the afternoon session great. Having the opportunity to see all the brewers you know taking the stage and accepting their well deserved awards is just awesome. The Chicago beer community is very close and I doubt anyone is too upset when a fellow brewer wins for what they do best.

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The amount of beers at FOBAB is a bit overwhelming and I don’t think anyone could sample them all. With that being said you get a booklet of tickets when you arrive and I know very few people who needed more. In the years past when the list of beers wasn’t so large I know they used to sell extra tickets, I don’t think that’s even an issue anymore. After a dozen or so 10% ABV barrel aged beers I personally am ready for a nap.

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This years Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beers was a blast. I know getting tickets was a bit tricky this year and I don’t see next year being much different. So make sure you follow the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild for all the news as it approaches because you really don’t want to miss this event. FOBAB is the only place you can have the opportunity to try so many of these rare beers from brewers all across the country in one place.

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Hop Cast - 5 Years

5 Year Anniversary Of The Hop Cast

It’s been 5 years since Ken and I started the Hop Cast. Truthfully, it doesn’t feel like that at all. When you’re doing a podcast about something you enjoy with friends, time just sort of flies by. More often than not the podcasts are done when we’d be hanging out enjoying beers together anyway, it just so happens we set up a camera and hit record. After 5 years, we’ve released 215 episodes and put out a number of other videos as well. I also try to keep the blog updated regularly with festival reviews and my take on craft beer culture. The most fun comes from being on camera and since the episodes are unscripted and often unedited, you never know what could happen or might get 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. Even with the number of beers we have during an evening, it doesn’t happen that often.

After 5 years, the Hop Cast wouldn’t be anything without the people who watch, listen and read what we put out there. You’re the reason Ken and I haven’t stopped. If a week or so goes by when we don’t put out an episode, someone on Twitter usually says something. So thank you for that. We’re drinking for you…

When we’re at a festival or even a bar and someone comes up to Ken and I to say “Hi” it’s amazing. We’re just a couple of guys drinking beer… hardly someone who should be recognized. For me it’s amazing to have such an impact on the craft beer scene, especially here in Chicago. The community of people are great.

“Beer People Are Good People.”

Over the last 5 years we’ve learned a ton about beer, made some great friends in the beer industry, traveled the country and even inspired people to start their own blogs / podcasts. All of which is a bit surreal.

Unfortunately we didn’t shoot a special episode celebrating the 5 years, but we would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the show and thank everyone who has been watching. Be sure to subscribe on iTunes and leave us a review if you can.

Now for some fun, with 5 years of videos it’s hard to choose our favorites but I did pick out a few of my favorites in case you missed them. And if you have a favorite episode, I’d love to know.

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.