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The best events during Chicago Craft Beer Week 2016

Written by
Karl Klockars

If it feels like the hype for Chicago Craft Beer Week has been a little muted this year, you’re not alone—the frenzied rush of brewery openings in Chicago hasn’t slowed as simply dropped in volume. It doesn’t help that this spring’s near-constant gloomy weather has us strongly considering leaving the flannel sheets on the bed forever and curling up with a six pack of winter porter.

But, that doesn’t mean that the city’s many beer-friendly outlets, from the biggest mega-brewery to the tiniest nano and all-beer bars, restaurants and enthusiasts between haven’t put together a damn good looking stretch of 10 days full of beer-based education, entertainment, and imbibement. Which leads to the next question—what the hell should I be doing this week? We’re here to help.

Thursday, May 19:  Beer Under Glass (because, duh)

This is the official CCBW kickoff, and as such, you should already have your tickets to one of the best beer events of the year. About 200 different breweries call the state of Illinois home, and nearly half of them will be on hand in one place for Beer Under Glass at the Garfield Park Conservatory—this is definitely your best chance to get a good cross section of what the state’s beer scene looks (and tastes) like.

Also, lest we repeat ourselves too much here, we told you to go to Beer Under Tin at Paddy Long’s last year and we were tempted to let it slide this year until we noticed that Metropolitan is tapping a rum-barrel-aged “Logganbier,” which you probably are going to want to get your hands on.

Friday, May 20: Fruit Beer Bonanza and Day 2 of the Hophead Farms Tap Takeover

If your palate skews more sweet than bitter, the Beer Bistro is planning an event called Got Fruit?!?, which will feature fruited beers with flavors ranging from mango, peach, watermelon and berry and all points between. Also, fruited IPAs are like, so hot right now, so I’m a little surprised this is the only fruit-beer-specific event we’ve spotted.

If you can’t squeeze yourself into the Half Acre taproom for their annual release of Galactic Double Daisy Cutter, you can head to the Hopleaf for night two of its Hophead Farms Tap Takeover. They’ll be hosting about 35 different beers, two ciders and even a mead on tap starting Thursday night (but you’re at Beer Under Glass, right?) and they’re all made with hops from Hophead Farms in southeast Michigan. Assuming the kegs haven't kicked by then, this will be one of the few times you’ll be able to see beers from Sun King outside the state of Indiana.

Saturday, May 21: Get to as many events as possible

Strap on a helmet, pack a lunch and prep your digestive system, kids, because there are plenty of events you have to get to on Saturday. The annual Beerfly Alleyfight at Haymarket is a longtime fan favorite, pairing homebrew and home-cooked food along with artistic interpretations of the pairing.

Delilah’s takes a break from being one of the city’s greatest whiskey bars and hosts one of the city’s greatest sour beer lineups for the day, with lambics and krieks and faros and a whole ton of other international offerings—not just a parade of the newest and cutest kettle-soured brews on the block. Arrive early for that one.

Hot off their rebrand, Burnt City hosts its fourth Beer Prom, which is also its first Steampunk Ball. A little further north, Belgian beer fans will want to hit Empirical, which is tapping all four of its Belgian-inspired ales while Bruges Brothers serves up frites on the side.

The ‘burbs get into the act with Elmhurst’s Pints bar hosting a 15-brewery minifest, while at Nevin’s Brewing Company, the 4th annual 21 Beer Salute taps 21 different specialty one-off beers (including ones infused with things like curry or Oreos). Finally, the Bell’s Tap Takeover at Division Ale House promises the first Chicago pours of the brewery’s new Double IPA, Hopsolution.

Sunday, May 22: Donut Pairings, Dog Washes, Brew Cruises and Goose’s Sunday Funday

You thought Sunday was a day of rest? Kick things off early with yoga and beer tastings at Begyle or a donut hole and beer pairing at Evanston’s Smylie Bros. brewpub. From there, get to The Green Lady ASAP because it's hosting a sour beer tap takeover of its own with 30 different options on draft (I stopped by last year and I’ve never seen an event so busy).

If you’ve ever been on a Lake Michigan cruise and thought “the only thing this needs is a beer tasting event featuring breweries from the Western Suburbs”, today’s cruise on the Mystic Blue with 15 different breweries is for you (plus, hey, complimentary sausage and cheese, too).

If you want your Sunday drinking to include a side of good karma, we’ve got two options for you—Lagunitas gets pet-friendly with its “Beggin’ for Brews & Barkin’ for Bubbles” event which includes two beers and a dog wash for your canine companion for $15 and all the proceeds go to PAWS Chicago and the Montrose Beach Dog Park. Or, head to Goose Island’s Sunday Funday, which donates all of the proceeds from the $25 tickets to Special Olympics, while attendees get to sip special releases like Bourbon County Stout as they watching brewers bean each other with dodgeballs.

Monday, May 23: Sheffield’s “Huge Ass Beer Night”

You’ve made it to Monday! Finally we can take a bit of a break. Oh, no, you should go drink massive heavy beers at Sheffield’s tonight. Those who aren’t taking a break from the weekend festivities will get to take a crack at a few of the biggest whales in the Midwest—Founders KBS, Surly Darkness and Goose Island Proprietors will all be on tap. (One pour of each is allowed per person, so don’t be a dick and go outside and change clothes and come back for another round.) 

Tuesday, May 24: GDB’s 5th Annual “South of 80” at The Green Lady

Okay, obviously we’re biased on this one, since we at Guys Drinking Beer have been putting this event together for five years now. That said, even if we weren’t directly involved (and, since there’s no tickets we don’t even make a nickel off of this) we like to think we’ve put together a pretty good time regardless. Inspired by the home towns of two of the GDB founders, we’ve pulled together more than 30 different beers from various Southern Illinois and St. Louis area breweries, including a few that have never before been available inside city limits. Just show up at 7ish and start drinking.

In case you’re too turned off by our presence at The Green Lady to drink there and you haven’t quite had your fill of sour beers yet, Fountainhead is putting on an impressive array of DESTIHL brews at its Tower of Sour event.

If you want to sit and listen to people actually talk about beer (while drinking some too), Peter Frost of Crain’s will be hosting a Near West Brewers Panel in Oak Park, featuring a discussion about opening your own brewery including newbies like Kinslahger, Exit Strategy, Oak Park Brewing Company and the not-yet-open Flapjack Brewery.

Wednesday, May 25: EAT SOMETHING. 

So many food-related events, so little stomach space. If you’re a connoisseur of food pairings and beer dinners, tonight is going to be a tough night for you.

All Rise hosts its Medieval Beer Hall Feast with a whole roast pig, Howells & Hood hosts a special six-course Belgian Beer dinner, Portage Park’s Community Tavern has a four-course Goose Island Sour Sisters dinner, Smylie Bros. opens up the smoker for its Smoke + Beer dinner, Pints Elmhurst features a Two Brothers dinner and finally, Alter Brewing’s first ever beer dinner takes place along the Fox River at the River’s Edge bar and grill in Batavia.

Also, if you’ve earned any level of certification through the Cicerone Certification Program, stop by the Long Room for its annual Brown Line Brews event—they’ll buy you your first beer and give you a free glass. We’d pick whatever Dovetail they have on draft, as they’ll be quite new to market at that point. (There’s food there too, but not officially as part of the event, in case that helps.)

Thursday, May 26: Know Your Self-Distro at Kaiser Tiger 

The spotlight of CCBW is on the beers and the brewers who make them, but we don’t think a lot about the people who get your beer from the brewery to the bars and stores who then serve them to our faces. One of the keys to the explosion of small breweries around the state has been self-distribution, or the freedom to sell directly to bars, restaurants and stores. Kaiser Tiger’s event tonight features the breweries small enough to bring you its beer themselves, including Marz, Pipeworks, Spiteful and more.

In the upper-left-hand corner of Chicago, another edition of the Northwest Side Craft Beer Ride gets underway on this night, featuring a parade of bars and breweries teaming up for the best beer run/bar crawl of the whole week. It’s $20 to hop on a bus circulating to bars like Rabbits, The Garage, Fischman’s Liquors, each with a brewery rep and beer specials on hand from breweries like Lake Effect, Ale Syndicate, Begyle, Hailstorm and Werk Force.

Friday, May 27: Get Your Beer Smarts On 

Heads up, aspiring Cicerones—head to Darien for your first chance to test your palate at Miskatonic Brewing. They’re infusing beer with mystery ingredients, and if you guess the flavors correctly, you earn raffle tickets for prizes. Usually if you sit around the bar guessing at flavor profiles, all you win is side-eye and maybe a suggestion as to what to do with your mustache wax. In a similar vein, Public House on State Street is hosting a blind beer tasting with New Belgium that they’re calling Beer Goggles, with a chance to win more stuff.  

This isn’t really a contest, but if you want to dial in your palate to what the freshest of fresh beer tastes like, the new Lakeview bottleshop Bitter Pops along with The Hop Reviewwill host 15 different breweries who will all be bringing its newest beers (in terms of age), promising beers just hours and days old. Call it the un-cellar tasting.

Saturday, May 28: Pray for Sun and Head to the Square for Welles Park Beer Fest

If you missed Beer Under Glass, the Brewers Guild has another must-attend for the closing event of Craft Beer Week. The Lincoln Square and North Center neighborhoods have been incubators for many of the city’s best breweries and distilleries over the past seven years and they’re almost all on display at the Welles Park Beer Fest, along with all its other friends from around the city and beyond. It’s a nice and relaxed, casual bookend to the frenzy of the Garfield Park extravaganza.

Last year’s festival moved to Welles Park from the West Loop, which was a great move, and one you should enjoy this year as well. The fest spreads out on a ridiculous amount of space, and after 10 days of being packed into a bunch of cramped bars, having that much room to breath feels almost as indulgent as the beers themselves. Pro tip: Pack sunscreen. (Though, watching a pack of pink-tinged festivalgoers keep themselves hidden in the travelling shadow of the park’s fieldhouse was pretty entertaining last year.) 

If you’ve got any stretch left after that, you really want to head nearly straight south to Emporium Arcade Bar Wicker Park for the Pipeworks vs. Emporium: Third Strike tap takeover. It’s damn near impossible to find a single Pipeworks beer on draft most days, as nearly all of its beers go into bombers or cans. Emporium will have thirty. THIRTY. And six of ‘em will be barrel-aged options. So go easy at Welles Park if you can.

Sunday, May 29: Wash Things Down with a Block Party and Crap Beer Day

While the official festivities ended yesterday, a few places know that there will be those who still need a little something extra to dial things down. Haymarket’s Brewers Brunch is the traditional hangover-killer, but we’ll likely head to the Empirical taproom, where they’ll be pouring Micheladas made with a new special lager crafted for the occasion. 

Further south, Baderbrau is just getting started—literally. Its South Loop production facility officially opens on Sunday with fresh lager (I found myself enjoying its Lawnmower Lager last year), live music, food trucks and a big ol’ block party beer festival on Wabash Avenue. The party’s been a long time coming, too—Baderbrau’s been contract brewing its beer since it was revived in 2012, so having it come home to the Sloop is more than welcome.

After that, all the amazing, limited-availability, super-special uber-fancy beers we’ve been drinking over the last 10 days have been great. Sometimes you just need to mindlessly crush a can of something cheap and simple, though. Crap Beer Day at Thalia Hall is a beautiful palate cleanser of an event featuring the finest of corn-tinged macrobrews including High Life (in 40oz bottles served with champagne flutes) and, for those who’ve exhausted their budget over the course of the week, $1 cans of crap as well.

There will be cornhole and bocce on hand, and while this year’s musical entertainment is provided by Hairbangers Ball. While we love a good rendition of Skid Row’s 18 to Life from time to time, we will miss the sight of a bunch of semi-drunk beer fans trying to master the art of the square dance like last year.

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