Craft Beer Lovers Warm Up to Winter Brew

By Patty Wetli | Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tap that--meet Mabel, Metropolitan Brewing's draft-pouring robot. Credit: Patty Wetli

“Who drinks Miller Lite anymore?”

Certainly not Derek Lindskog, one of the lucky 525 craft beer lovers who snagged a coveted ticket to the inaugural Winter Brew, held last Saturday at DANK Haus.

A joint effort of the Lincoln Square Chamber of Commerce and the Square Kegs Home Brew Club, Winter Brew was, by all accounts, a smashing success. “We were hoping for 200,” said LSCC’s Katie Kraus. “We sold out in a week and a half.”

“People connect over a good beer,” said Lindskog, himself a home brewer. “I think one of the best things about Chicago is the food scene, and now the home brewing and craft brews.”

Patrick and Kate Kasch, a couple of self-professed beer lovers, couldn’t agree more. “You come as strangers and you meet a bunch of friends you’ll never see again,” said Kate. “It’s a great thing to bond over.”

The pair gave the organizers thumbs up for a well-ordered evening–”We’ve been to some disastrous first-time events”–and the choice of venue. “I’ve never been in this space before,” Patrick said of DANK. “It’s fun to walk around.”

Representative from participating craft breweries were equally enthusiastic. “The crowd is very nice, friendly and considerate. They truly seem interested in tasting beer, not like at other beer fests,” said Tracy Hurst, co-owner of Metropolitan Brewing. Not that she needed to draw more attention to Metro’s brews, but Hurst brought along “Mabel,” a draft-pouring robot of sorts that proved to be one of the evening’s most popular attractions, if only because people were likely waiting for her to blurt out “Warning, Will Robinson.”

“I’d be willing to bet a quarter have beer blogs,” Rog McGuin of Half Acre said of attendees. “It’s a really understanding crowd of Chicago craft beer fans. They’re discerning and educated, really appreciative beer drinkers. It’s really rewarding to be part of that.”

DANK Haus provided an elegant back drop for Winter Brew. Credit: Patty Wetli

Spread over two floors at DANK, Winter Brew also featured Square Kegs first ever home brew contest. “We had 475 entries,” said Rich Forsythe, Square Kegs founder, which translated into more than 1,000 bottles of beer to sample and judge, counting multiple brews per entrant. “We knew there was the love of beer, but we didn’t know what to expect.”

Forsythe already has an expansion plan swirling in his head for 2013. “I could see doing two sessions,” he said. “It’s great to sell out but we hate to turn people away. We want to be able to accommodate everybody.”

Among those not in attendance: the home brewers judged third-, second- and first-place finishers in Square Kegs Best in Show competition, which made for a slightly anti-climactic awards presentation. Third place went to Dustin Davidson for his chocolate peanut butter stout; second place to Mark Gres for his wood-aged Dziadzia (pronunciation unknown); and first prize to Greg Irving’s Tiffani Amber Thiessen, an American amber ale that begs the question of whether Irving is a pseudonym for Mr. Belding.

As winner, the alleged Irving will have his beer produced by Broad Shoulders Brewing, a new craft brewery set to open in July in the South Loop. Head brewer Frank Lassandrello, who earned his stripes at Goose Island, aims to ferment the Amber Thiessen in December and offer pours at next year’s Winter Brew.

Brewer Matty Kemp works the taps for Revolution Brewing. Credit: Patty Wetli

“I don’t have my federal license yet, but I wanted to be involved somehow,” said Lassandrello, whose in-laws live in Lincoln Square, which he calls “my home neighborhood.”

Looking back on his early days at Goose Island, Lassandrello says, “It’s impossible for me to anticipate this level of interest in craft beer nine years ago. Goose Island gave the movement a launching a point, it taught Chicagoans to expect more. Now that [craft beer's] officially arrived, it’s inspired the entire city to become involved. Things have taken off so quickly, and it’s all supported by people in the city–the whole community from consumers to distributors to bars and retail.”

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