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.

HopCast Episode 204

Episode 204: The Alchemist Heady Topper & Dogfish Head Burton Baton

In episode 204 of the Hop Cast, Ken Hunnemeder and Brad Chmielewski crack open a couple IPAs. It’s been a while since they’ve featured an IPA on the Hop Cast which is a bit of a surprise. First up is the Heady Topper from The Alchemist. This 8 % ABV IPA is currently the number one beer on beeradvocate and for good reason, it’s delicious. What’s surprising is how different this beer is in the can, then when it was poured out into a glass. The Alchemist does recommend drinking it from the can but we had to test this for ourselves. Next, Ken pulls out a 5 year old Burton Baton from Dogfish Head Brewery that had been hidden away in his basement. This beer really shouldn’t of been aged for this long but it was interesting to see how well it held up over the years. Remember when you drink those IPAs, the sooner the better.

Cheers and thanks for watching the Hop Cast.

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HopCast Episode 203

Episode 203: Penrose Brewing

In episode 203 of the Hop Cast, Brad Chmielewski and Ken Hunnemeder sit down at the Hopleaf with Tom Korder and Eric Hobbs to talk about their new Chicagoland brewery, Penrose. Penrose Brewing will be brewing Belgian inspired beers in Geneva, Illinois. Both Tom and Eric were with Goose Island for a number of years and have a ton of experience with what it takes to make quality and unique beer.

Right now Tom & Eric already have their 40 barrel brewhouse but are dealing with all the fun paperwork that goes into starting a brewery. Their goal right now is to have beer this summer for Chicago and the Fox Valley area. Penrose Brewing will be a production brewery with a tasting room.

I can’t wait until we’re able taste some more of their beers; if the beers we had during the episode are any indication, we have some good beers to look forward to from these guys. If you’re looking to get an early taste of what Penrose is all about, keep an eye out for a collaboration that they’re doing with Perennial Artisan Ales. Welcome Penrose!

Cheers & thanks for watching the Hop Cast!

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HopCast Episode 202

Episode 202: Off Color Brewing

Brad Chmielewski and Ken Hunnemeder were able to catch up with John Laffler and Dave Bleitner during the Off Color Brewing presents Mischief at Black Rock. This event was the debut for Off Color Brewing. On tap were 4 collaboration beers that they brewed with friends around Chicago.

It’s an exciting time for craft beer in the city of Chicago and Off Color Brewing is planting their flag. This was a truly unique event with the 4 collaboration beers, a great guest tap list, Jell-O shots and beer cocktails.

In this episode, John talks about the plans for the brewery and the goal to initially launch with two, year round beers that they hope everyone is going to enjoy. With the intention that at Off Color, they will approach beer with an avant-grade mindset.

The brewery is coming together and they should be ready to start brewing soon. If you didn’t make it to the pop-up shop event, you’re going to have to wait a little longer before you get to try Off Color beers.

Cheers and thanks for watching the Hop Cast!

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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!

DryHop Brewers Coming Soon

DryHop Brewers Brewery Warming Party

DryHop Brewers

I know many friends in the area have been waiting patiently for DryHop Brewers to finally open; they’ve been teasing everyone for a long time with the coming soon sign. Ken and I talked with them back in September 2012 and from what they said then, they still had a good ways to go before they would be pouring their own beer at their own brewery. They seemed up to the challenge and all that work has really paid off, they’re now only months away from opening the doors. Greg Shuff told me that their goal is May.

Last night the brewery debuted with a brewery warming party for industry folks. It seemed like everyone made it out and wanted to see how the place was doing and sample a few beers. Even though the 10 barrel brew house has been installed, fermenters and serving tanks are in, Brant isn’t brewing at the brewpub yet. There is still a lot to hook up and of course final permits and inspections from the city.

It’s going to be tight in the space but DryHop Brewers is taking full advantage of the space they have.  With just over 3000 square feet and seating for 70, it’s going to be cozy. Greg said the windows that are currently boarded up would be able to fully open and there will be some patio seating in the summer as well. Which should make the space feel more open. But my favorite feature is the bar, or what will be the bar. You’ll be able to sit facing the serving tanks and the brewhouse will be to your back. Making for a great experience when sipping on one of DryHop’s tasty beers.

For the event they were pouring three beers; a Chicago Common called “Shark vs. Hipster”, a Belgo IPA called “Shot A Man In Simcoe” and finally a Black IPA called “Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts“.  Yes that is a Less Than Jake reference if you were wondering.  If you’re familiar with the Chicago beer scene and have bellied up to the bar a few times, some of those beers might sound familiar. “Shot A Man In Simcoe” is a collaboration with Lake Effect and “Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts” is a collaboration beer with Begyle Brewing. This was my first time getting to sample these beers so it was a treat. The “Shot A Man In Simcoe” had some great flavor, it was pretty cloudy and looked like it was poured straight from the fermenter.  “Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts” pours a black-brown color, that had a nice, rich malt character with the hops giving it a nice, bright flavor.

The only non-collaboration beer was the “Shark vs. Hipster”, this beer was a test batch done by Brant Dubovick. I’m looking forward to seeing how this one evolves and changes once it’s moved from the home system to the larger commercial system at the brewpub. It’s a nice, easy drinking beer that if you’re in the area you’ll have no problem knocking back a few with friends.

My favorite beer of the night was the  “Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts” and not just for the awesome name. The beer poured perfectly and tasted great. Both Begyle Brewing and DryHop should be proud of this beer and if you’re in Chicago you might want to get a taste of both the collaborations because once they are gone that might be it…

We’ve got a good number of production breweries opening in Chicago this year but DryHop will be a brewpub, which is really going to make it a destination not only for the people in Lakeview but also everyone in the city. I’m looking forward to seeing what Brant, Greg and the chef Pete create. I’m sure you’ll see me there in May once they finally remove the wood from the windows and open the doors.

HopCast Episode 201

Episode 201: Porterhouse Brewing Company Wrasslers XXXX Stout & Oyster Stout

We can’t just focus on beers here in the United States, there are some great breweries across the world making some excellent brews. For episode 201, Ken Hunnemeder and Brad Chmielewski are opening a couple beers from Porterhouse Brewing Company in Ireland. The beers from Porterhouse Brewing Company have a really fun pull top, making opening a beer easier, allowing you to get to the beer that much faster. The first beer Ken and Brad open is the Wrasslers XXXX Stout a 5.00 % ABV Irish Dry Stout.

Next is the Oyster Stout which is a beer that Ken tried when he was in Ireland a few years ago. This 5.2 % ABV Stout has fresh oysters added during the brewing process. Being from the Midwest, the oyster stout isn’t a beer we see much of and is always interesting to try.

Do you have a beer from Ireland or even an Oyster Stout we should try? Let us know and thanks for watching the Hop Cast.

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