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Festival Of Barrel Aged Beers Gets Some Elbow Room At Bridgeport Art Center

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Nov 19, 2012 8:00PM

Chicagoist/Chuck Sudo

When tickets went on sale for the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild’s 10th annual Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beers in August I wrote positively of the festival’s move from the Plumbers Union Hall on West Washington to the Bridgeport Art Center. Of course I’ll admit to some bias—being able to walk to a beer festival is a major advantage—but the location made entering this year’s event easier than in recent years. (The line for the beginning of the afternoon session was still impressively long.)

I was also intimately familiar with the space. With its location at 35th and Racine, the Bridgeport Art Center is easier to access than the Plumbers Hall via CTA—the 35th street bus stops right at the center and it’s simple to travel out south via Red, Orange and Green Lines, or the Metra Rock Island Line. Street and lot parking options were also improved for those who drove to the festival. The views from Bridgeport Art Center’s loft, meshing the downtown and lakefront skylines with top of the world views of the neighborhood of mayors, made a perfect setting for drinking, while the size of the space allowed for more breweries, beer entries and ticket sales while feeling like sardines, compared to previous iterations of the fest in the Plumbers Hall.

The move wasn’t without its hitches, however. Freight elevators used to shuttle guest from ground level to the top of the center strained as they reached their weight limits, while the room’s windows were largely locked and fest organizers had to improvise ventilation for the space as the midday sun beat down on the loft.

Once settled, guests found themselves faced with 173 beers from 60 breweries, grouped by style and category which were easy to find. Goose Island did the retiring John Hall proud by winning five medals with four beers, including the best overall beer with Cherry Rye Bourbon County Stout. My personal favorite was Perennial Artisan Ales’ Blueberry Flanders, a red ale aged in wine barrels with blueberries that weighed in at 5 percent alcohol and ran out within two hours of the afternoon session’s start time. Bell’s came correct with its Raspberry Wild One, a sour brown ale aged in wine barrels with raspberries.

Chicagoist/Chuck Sudo

Local breweries separating themselves from the growing pack included Pipeworks, whose barrel-aged Jones Dog stout (pictured, above) was aged in Evan Williams bourbon barrels with cocoa nibs and vanilla beans. The Local Option brought a barrel-aged version of its popular Kentucky Common that had large men wearing pretzel necklaces (something I’ll never get used to seeing at beer festivals) lining up patiently for samples. Haymarket Pub & Brewery’s Acrimonious—an Imperial stout aged in Angel’s Envy bourbon barrels that previously were used to age port—was a complex array of flavors.