The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Recap: Lincoln Square's Winter Brew

By Alexander Hough in Food on Jan 30, 2012 10:00PM

More than five hundred people filled the DANK Haus German-American Cultural Center on Saturday night for Winter Brew, the Lincoln Square Chamber of Commerce’s celebration of city beer and neighborhood food. Last Tuesday Caitlin broke the bad news that admission tickets had sold out. The tickets disappeared quickly - most everything was gone the day following a January 10 Tribune article - leading to a secondary market on Craigslist (according to Tony Black, one of the event’s organizers, “Now we know how Bono feels.”).

Regardless of how attendees came by their tickets, the lucky souls filed into the Marunde Grand Ballroom, which housed the tasting stations of five different breweries. This room tends to have a Munich beer hall atmosphere, an association that gives your Hebraic correspondent a touch of nerves, although the closest thing to a putsch on Saturday night was a discussion of strategy to maximize beer consumption (skip the nine-ounce pour that’ll cost four tickets for the one-ticket two-ounce taste, which usually wound up more in the six ounce range).

In any case, most of the tables present for such DANK Haus events as Oktoberfest were removed, lessening the beer hall vibe and opening a swath of space in the center of the room. Good thing, too - with the ticket holders’ ranks bolstered by industry folks and members of Square Kegs, the Chamber’s home brew club that was instrumental in organizing the event, it was crowded. If you squinted at the chaotic herd, Magic Eye-like, five distinct lines appeared, one for each brewery station lining the perimeter. Revolution Brewing had the longest line, extending to the opposite wall with a fishhook curve at the end for most of the night. Finch’s had almost no line. Waits for Metropolitan, Half Acre, and 5 Rabbit were lengthy, but not intolerable. We spent a fair amount of time around the 5 Rabbit table, especially once we found out they had tapped their Huitzi Midwinter Ale, a Belgian strong golden ale with ginger notes and a heavy honey presence, both in flavor and mouthfeel. The Vida y Muerte, a märzen-style ale, was a treat, and literally so, as it’s made with dulce de leche. Another headturner was Finch’s Cleetus’ Slack-Jawed Dunkel, made with honey from City Provision’s owner Cleetus Friedman’s bee hive. The honey was less conspicuous than in the Huitzi, but it balanced the smoked malt, and with a lager-like body, it was almost refreshing.

Around the corner, in the smaller room that houses a long, L-shaped bar, Koval Distillery was tasting a couple different whiskeys (rye and oat), two liquers (ginger and walnut), and Bierbrand, a schnapps-like liquor made from unfermented Metropolitan beer. Company reps were also whipping up cocktails, including a deliciously spicy Manhattan.

At the far end of the bar was a mini-kitchen that churned out food by the Grafton and Fountainhead, created specifically for Winter Brew. Each of the seven dishes were meant to be paired with one of the beers in the main room, although here there were a couple logistical hiccups. Selling the food and beer in different rooms placed a physical obstacle in the way of successful pairing. Add to that the problem of minimal table space. Without a place to put down food or drink, there arose the age-old eating-and-drinking-while-standing problem. If this sort of food-based socialization continues, and if Darwin was right, yuppies will eventually evolve a third arm for food-scooping at parties, but for the time being, the best solution we could come up with was to cram as much veal short rib and cremini ragout into our mouths as possible and then rush to the beer area to grab Revolution’s Foursome quadruple.

Although it played less of a role in the night’s public festivities, Winter Brew’s second function was as a BJCP-sanctioned homebrew competition. They apparently tapped into some pent-up demand: in a little under two weeks, they received 451 beers from over 200 individuals from as far away as Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin, making it the largest homebrew competition in Chicago. Thirty-five judges spent the day tasting these beers spread across twenty-four categories. The winner of Best in Show, judged by beer icon Randy Mosher, was Greg Irving’s Tiffani Amber Thiessen, an American amber, and will be produced commercially by Frank Lassandrello of Broad Shoulders Brewing. Check out all the winners here.

None of the entrants’ beer was available, but upstairs in the Skyline Lounge, Square Kegs was pouring six different beers created by club members. By the time we made it up there, around 9:00 p.m., it looked as if a tornado had hit. Square Kegs members were standing around, most everyone in some combination of exhaustion and drunkenness but still happy to tell us about the beers we missed. At that point, there was just one beer left - the line had extended out the door for most of the night - and that was killed at 9:20 p.m. by Jared Saunders, co-owner of Brew Camp, the homebrew supply and teaching store that helped with much of the competition’s logistics.

If you missed out on Winter Brew and this recap just isn’t doing it for you, hold tight. The Chamber of Commerce and Square Kegs are planning a three-day long outdoor beer festival over the last weekend in July 2012 (July 27 - 29). With a bigger space and more days, attendance should be easier. We’ll keep you posted on it, though, so you can get tickets legitimately and avoid trolling Craigslist.