Great Lakes Brewing News Archive
Illinois Beer News
Originally Published: 12/97
By Steve Hamburg
With the coming of Winter, beer-lovers can avoid cabin fever by escaping to their favorite brewpubs and taverns. In many ways, this is actually the best season for beer, as brewers start rolling out their biggest Winter Warmers and eagerly-awaited specialties. It's time to renew our ties with old friends, classic reliables like Anchor's Our Special Ale and Old Foghorn, Sierra Nevada's Celebration Ale and Bigfoot. But let's not forget that a number of new classics are made right here.
Goose Island's Cristmas Ale has become one of my personal favorites, a beautifully-balanced strong ale with superb malt and hop expression throughout. Available in bottles and on draft since late October-early November, Goose Island Christmas Ale can compete with the best of them, emerging as a seasonal classic in its own right. It's no surprise that it's a multiple Gold Medal winner in the annual World Beer Championships, but I think you'll want to let your own tastebuds decide.
At the brewpub, on North Clybourn, Goose Island Beer Company has extended the number of beers on tap. On any given night, there are at least nine beers on tap. This is only logical, since so many places now have multiple Goose Island beers on tap. So if you go to the brewpub, there's a multitude of beers awaiting your tasting pleasure. And there's no way the brewpub will be "out-Goosed" by any other bar!
The Finn's Wee Heavy, from Mickey Finn's in Libertyville, is another of my favorites this time of year. This is a great example of a rich, warming, winter ale, packing plenty of malt. A "wee heavy" is typically a strong, dark brown, malty Scottish ale that's intended for serving in smaller measures. The "wee" refers to the size of the serving ("wee"= small in the Scots tongue), not to what you were thinking! The Finn's Wee Heavy will be available at the pub in December, so get thee out there.
Founders Hill in Downers Grove is offering its 9.5% ABV Christmas Ale, Santa's Little Helper, for the second year in a row. Look for it the Monday after Thanksgiving. SLH is made from a base Porter recipe that's spiced with cinnamon sticks, clove, and curaçao orange peel. The beer was a huge hit at the GABF in Denver, all the more reason to check it out at the pub.
Most other area breweries and brewpubs also feature big, special Winter ales, some spiced, some not. Make sure to experience the season properly ‹ with a warming glass of locally-craft-brewed beer.
Did you know that three Illinois breweries captured medals at the 1997 Great American Beer Festival? Goose Island Beer Company took Gold in English-Style Bitter for their Honker's Ale; Mickey Finn's captured a silver in Strong Scotch Ale with the aforementioned The Finn's Wee Heavy; and Flossmoor Station grabbed a bronze in the Specialty category for the fine Pullman Brown Ale. Frankly, in this writer's humble opinion, there are many other great medal candidates from these and other area breweries and brewpubs. Do you have any local favorites you'd like to see get more credit? If so, please drop me an e-mail note (mail to: email@example.com) with your nominees for the state's top brews, and I'll mention your comments in a future edition.
In other news from around the state:
Karl Fitzloff, head brewer at Founders Hill in Downers Grove, and his staff are exulting over their Gold Medal in the World Beer Championships for their Blacksmith Oatmeal Stout. Congrats! Joel Williams, Assistant Brewer since their opening, has left to help open a micro-brewery in Plattsburgh, NY. Now on board is Assistant Brewer Darrin McDonal, a graduate of the Siebel Institute's 8-week class. As mentioned, Santa's Little Helper is the seasonal specialty. But the newest addition to the family is a Kölsch, brewed using both the lager yeast used in their Oktoberfest and the regular house ale yeast. Founders Hill was also host for the Brewers' of South Suburbia's homebrew competition on November 15.
Prairie Rock Brewing Company in Elgin will be the site of the December 2nd meeting of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild. On October 25, PRBC was the gracious host of the Chicago Beer Society's Spooky Brew Review homebrew competition.
Speaking of hosts, Two Brothers Brewing in Warrenville was home to the American Homebrewers Association Weiss is Nice competition, under the auspices of the Urban Knaves of Grain homebrew club. Their own Weiss has been showing up at more area taps, while their peat-smoked Scotch Ale turned up at the Chicago Beer Society's Fall Tasting.
New brewer Bob Ward has quickly made an impression at O'Grady's in Arlington Heights. His Stockyard Oatmeal Stout was the surprising winner of the Chicago Beer Society's 20th Anniversary Fall Tasting, topping a most impressive field of 14 draft beers. Check it out!
Kris Huber's latest innovation at Flatlander's in Lincolnshire is a regular list of experimental beers, brewed a keg at a time on their small pilot system and served only on handpump. The first was a Smoked Porter, which proved extremely popular. The idea is to test beers that might be a bit too intense for some audiences, or to fine tune recipes. All of the beers are keg conditioned and available only for a couple of days (typically Thursday and Friday). Keep an eye out for their Christmas Ale, a rich Belgian-style dubbel spiced with curaçao orange peel. Also look for more lagers on the beer list, starting the new year with a deep gold, Export-strength brew inspired by German Kloster biers. This will be followed by a "backward" Märzen (brewed in the Fall for Spring drinking, get it?), and both dark and pale bocks.
Many of my colleagues revel at the variety of beers at Flossmoor Station. Brewer Todd Ashman certainly cranks out a lot of lighter brews, but he always manages to have one or two for the real "beer geeks." I particularly enjoyed his Smoked Ale (Rauch) and IPA. Remember also that the medal-winning Pullman Nut Brown Ale is a regularly-featured tap selection. Der Bahnhof Bräu, their aptly-named Oktoberfest Beer, was a welcome addition to the beer selection at the Chicago Beer Society Fall Tasting.
River West Brewing was the focus of much of the beer world the weekend of November 7-9, as it played host to the 1997 Real Ale Festival in Chicago. They also managed to score the area's only medal in the National Cask Ale Competition, garnering a bronze medal for their IPA.
Pilsner is back on tap at Mickey Finn's, where they're still toasting the GABF silver medal won by The Finn's Wee Heavy. A Munich Dunkel should come on-line in late December. Of course, there's always plenty of their great cask-conditioned beers, Mr. C's Pale Ale and the 5 Springs Oatmeal Stout. Both were big hits at the recent Real Ale Festival in Chicago.
Glen Ellyn Brewing has been a busy place, with very successful Brewmaster's and Cigar Smoker Dinners, highlighting their chef's special creations as well as Shawn Quigley's house beers. That list of beers will soon include Carlson's "Bad to the Brown" Brown Ale, brewed by the Bill Carlson family. Bill was the winning bidder for a special package at the March of Dimes West Suburban Chefs' Auction. The package included brewing with the brewmaster, naming the beer for the winning bidder, and a multicourse dinner (featuring the new beer) prepared specially for winning bidder and his guests. Other beers in the works are an Alt Ale, a Dunkelweizen, and the soon-to-be-year-round Honey Apricot.
Hops appear to be very much in season at Taylor Brewing in Naperville, where the photogenic Ed Bronson is still brewing with his usual passion. I particularly enjoyed Milestone IPA, full of hop bitterness and flavor, with lovely Cascades in the aroma. Newly available is Janie's Pale Ale (named for the new-born daughter of one of Taylor's long-time bartenders), which is more in the English style with notable Fuggles and Goldings character. Another IPA is also planned, brewed to the same gravity (1.055) as Milestone, but this time featuring the new Magna hop variety. A new Porter should also be ready by press time.
The famed Baderbräu Pilsner has resurfaced as part of the Goose Island family. Goose Island bought the rights to the brand after Pavichevich Brewing closed in August 1997. Speaking of Pavichevich, its Elmhurst brewery was reportedly purchased by a group known as American Beer Works, who will brew a number of contract beers on the system. Key members of the Dinehart family, famous for their involvement in the Chicago Brewing Company (closed June, 1997) are actively involved in this new venture. Nice to see the Dineharts still active in our beer community.
Finally, congrats on the upcoming marriages of two Chicago-area brewers (not to each other!). Mickey Finn's Ryan Ashley and Goose Island's Greg Hall will both be tying the knot on the same day ‹ December 27. Cheers!
Illinois Craft Brewers Guild Formed
In July 1997, papers were filed with the State of Illinois forming the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild (ICBG). The not-for-profit corporation was created to promote the development and expansion of the craft brewing industry in Illinois.
Membership will be separated into two categories: voting and non-voting. In order to be a voting member, the brewery must brew beer at their own facility in Illinois. Non-voting members consist of allied trade companies, such as material suppliers and equipment fabricators, or contract brewers who have their beer brewed inside or outside Illinois. The ICBG is actively recruiting members to ensure a well represented industry for all of Illinois.
In June, the membership elected a Board of Directors who met on July 8th to set the direction of this organization and to elect officers. The Board of Directors and officers are as follows:
Bill Sugars: Libertyville Brewing Co, Pres
Shawn Quigley: Glen Ellyn Brew Co,
Rick Westervelt, Secretary
John Hall Goose Island Beer Co.
Jim Montesantos: Founders Hill Brew Co
It was decided that the initial focus of the ICBG would be threefold:
t Promotional- efforts which allow members to promote beers through various means; festivals, fund raisers, press kits, co-op programs with suppliers, etc.
i Educational- provide opportunities for brewers to further their brewing knowledge, and educate consumers about the character of craft beers as well as responsible drinking of all alcoholic beverages.
e Legislative and Regulatory- which will allow the guild a voice in addressing all issues which affect the regulation of our industry.
Those interested in finding out more about this organization can call President Bill Sugars (847/362-6688) or any of its officers.