• Julia Thiel
  • Plastic tasting glasses—there’s no glass allowed on Soldier Field

It’d be easy to hate on the American Beer Classic for featuring Shock Top (an attempt by Anheuser-Busch to look like craft beer) and Blue Moon (same thing, from MillerCoors). But the organizers don’t actually claim this is a craft beer event—though it does include a whole lot of craft brews. And that makes it easy to just skip over the less attractive options in favor of the many excellent ones.

This Saturday’s first-ever Beer Classic, which took place over two sessions at Soldier Field, was as enormous as the venue demanded: there were more than 100 breweries, from small, local outfits to huge national ones like Sam Adams, plus a few cideries and one meadery. My one complaint about the otherwise well-organized event is that the program listed the breweries, but not the beers they were serving, which made strategizing difficult. Still, all the breweries had their offerings posted on signs on the tents, so it was pretty easy to see what they had.

One exception was Recital, a collaboration between Perennial Artisan Ales and Deschutes Brewery that Perennial was pouring out of growlers and hadn’t advertised. Unfortunately, the citrusy, hoppy Belgian double IPA isn’t available in Chicago, because it was one of my favorites of the festival—despite the fact that it smells oddly like durian. Argus Brewery’s wild rice ale (yes, brewed with wild rice) was another winner that you probably won’t be able to find; the brewers said they don’t sell it but brought it along for fun. I was also really impressed by Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery, which I don’t think I’ve tried before: their Fixed Gear red ale, Rendezvous biere de garde, Fuel Cafe coffee stout, and Chad barleywine were all excellent. Below are a few other favorites.