• Julia Thiel
  • The Forbidden Root booth at Beer Under Glass

Despite (or maybe because of) the dozens upon dozens of Chicago Craft Beer Week events happening this year, I haven’t been to many of them. But I’ve tried to make it count when I did. I made it to the official kick-off event, Beer Under Glass—which was held entirely on the grounds of the Garfield Park Conservatory this year rather than inside, leading some people to refer to it as “Beer Next to Glass.”

This year’s event will go down in history as the muddy one: the outer lawn was waterlogged, and you could sink a half inch just stepping into the grass. Around the booths that grass quickly turned into mud, leading people to improvise with trash bags wrapped around their feet. The squishiness makes a convenient scapegoat for the fact that I didn’t make it to several of the breweries I’d starred on my list as places to try (never mind that my attention tends to wander after the first couple hours of a tasting, which is how long it took me to make it to the far part of the lawn). So I still haven’t tried 5 Rabbit’s Paletas beer—which I missed last summer when they introduced the line of fruit beers in flavors like guava and watermelon (inspired by Latin American popsicles). And there were a few new breweries that I meant to try and didn’t.

But since there were more than 50 breweries in attendance, most of them pouring several beers apiece, there was no way to try everything (more on what I did try later). Last night, though, I went to a far less overwhelming event: the New Brewer Showcase at Andersonville Brewing (formerly known as Mary’s Rec Room). There were nine new breweries there, each pouring one to two beers. Even factoring in a seasonal beer from Andersonville Brewing that was also pouring, there were fewer than 15 beers on tap—a small enough number that it was actually possible to try all of them (especially if you asked for small pours). Compared to the hundreds of beers available at the larger tastings, that number might seem paltry, but it was nice to be able to taste everything available. I also got to actually talk to the brewers about their beers, which isn’t technically impossible at the larger tastings, but when there’s a line of people behind me waiting for a beer I tend to get my sample and move out of the way rather than having a conversation.

  • Santina Croniser
  • Rude Hippo Brewing at the New Brewer Showcase

I found out, for example, that Rude Hippo Brewing Company is a merger of the nascent breweries Rude Boy and Twisted Hippo; they’re contract brewing at 18th Street Brewery in Gary, Indiana, for now, but they launched a crowd-funding campaign last week to build a brewery in Little Village and hope to be in their own space in three or four months. Their beers will be available at Compass Bar and the Harding later this week. I also learned that I really enjoy their Belgian IPA, a citrusy, yeasty brew with hops that stay put firmly in the background.

Bucket List Brewing, another brand-new endeavor, is currently contract brewing at Slapshot and isn’t really on the market yet. “This is our first hurrah,” one of the owners joked. Aquanaut Brewing, formerly known as Strange Pelican, is operating out of the Ravenswood space originally occupied by (now defunct) Four Paws Brewing; 350 Brewing Company in Tinley Park, run by two friends who’ve known each other since high school, has been two years in the making and will open in June or July. Below are some of the best things I tasted, both at Beer Under Glass and the New Brewer Showcase—some with notes, some without.

Transient Artisan Ales: My colleague Philip Montoro got really excited about this brewery when he first came across its beers last fall, and at Beer Under Glass I discovered why. There wasn’t a bad beer among the four I tried, but the Henry porter and Obelus: Galaxy saison were my favorites.

Une Annee: I’ve been a fan of the Maya Belgian IPA for a while now, but hadn’t tried the tart, floral, citrusy Sanguinaire Belgian amber ale before. I’d try to wax poetic about how complex it is, but my friend already summed it up pretty well when she commented, “My mouth is intrigued; tell me more.”

350 Brewing: When I first tried the Ruckus golden ale I couldn’t taste much; palate fatigue is a hazard of beer tastings. But I’m glad I took more than a couple sips, because as I kept drinking the flavor developed and I realized that this easy-drinking beer is something I’d pick up on a hot summer day.

Aquanaut: This brewery’s mash-up of an English mild and a saison is creamier and darker than you’d expect from a saison, more citrusy and yeasty than you’d think an English mild would be. As odd as the combination sounds, it works.

Bucket List: Hellfire Club brown ale

Middle Brow Beer Co: Life Pursuit (Philip has a much more detailed description here than I could come up with, so this is just another vote in favor of the beer)

Spiteful Brewing: God Damn Pirate Pigeon peanut butter porter

Slapshot Brewing: Leather Leisure Suit ESB

Hopvine Brewing Company: Stolp Island wheat

Dryhop Brewers: I’m Not a Raccoon saison (a collaboration with the Lincoln Park Zoo; funds from its sale benefit the Red Panda Wish List Fund)

Penrose Brewing Company: Proto Gradus Belgian single

And, of course, because in Chicago we need 11 days to celebrate Craft Beer Week, it ain’t over yet. A bunch of events run through Sunday, including two big ones on Saturday: the West Loop Craft Beer Fest and Middle Brow’s homebrewing competition.

Julia Thiel writes about booze on Thursdays.