Considering the love Chicago has for Mike Ditka and the beer-friendly nature of professional football, it’s surprising that there hasn’t yet been a local brewery to marry the two together (An Iron Mike’s Ale does exist, which is actually a blonde ale made by Oregon's Deschutes Brewery, but a locally created brew has been absent until now.) That’s an oversight soon to be corrected by the South Loop Brewing Company along with Ditka’s Restaurants with the release of Witka, a witbier brewed with the zest of more than 300 limes.
South Loop Brewing’s Jeremiah Zimmer said the collaboration plans began as a result of the Ditka’s beer buyer becoming a fan of one of SLBC’s beers, the similarly sports-y and Sox-centric Good Ryes Wear Black. “I kind of mentioned the Witka in passing, and he said that was above his pay grade, but... we thought it would be a good fit.”
Wikta is an immediate winner on name alone—“we’re connoisseurs of fine portmanteaus,” Zimmer said—but a light, citrusy wheat beer might not be the style one immediately has in mind for Da Coach. Certainly something like a roasty stout or a smoky rauchbier would work, especially as we enter fall and winter, but the Ditka’s team was very specific on why they thought this particular beer would work. Originally conceived as a more traditional orangey witbier, they pivoted the recipe to pair with the restaurant’s signature pork chops.
“They use a Michigan cherry marmalade-type glaze on their pork chops, and we really felt like lime and cherry were a fun pairing,” Zimmer said. “If we could add a little bit of tartness and lime flavor to this, it’s going to play really nicely. I at first underestimated... how important that pairing was to them. They were serious.”
The beer will be released on September 14 at 5:30pm at the Oakbrook and Gold Coast locations. Nearly a dozen barrels were brewed for this first batch and will be available at all Ditka’s locations in the Gold Coast, Oakbrook and Arlington Heights. Witka will be draft-only to start, partially because any label art involving the Coach, as Zimmer explained, “gets us into a totally different world of Ditka."
Finally, has Iron Mike delivered any feedback himself on the beer? Not yet, but as he’s certainly no stranger to his own restaurants, Mike Ditka ordering a Witka is not unlikely. “If he comes in and tries it, that would make my year,” Zimmer said. “I’ll deliver a keg to his house if he wants one.”