If anything “ales” you, and you are a beer lover, then the 2nd Annual Chicago Ale Fest would have been your instant cure. On Friday, June 17 and Saturday, June 18, 2016, beer and ale enthusiasts flocked to Chicago’s famous Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park (301 South Columbus Drive) to celebrate American craft beers. Guests sampled over 200+ American craft beers featuring 100 different brewers from around the US. Along with live music, and food offered for purchase from some of Chicago’s favorite restaurants, this event was definitely an experience worth attending.
As I have just completed and published my review for the 1st Time Out Chicago Donut Party, I am pondering once again why it took Chicago so long to hold a festival for much loved American craft beer? With a nation, as well as our own home city, obsessed with beer and ale, it was about time a festival was held! Of course, the venue to host this festival was a no-brainer: Buckingham Fountain, a beautiful 1927 structure replica of the original at Buckingham Palace in England. With the gorgeous backdrop of the Chicago Skyline, it was the perfect setting.
A friend who appreciates American craft beer as much as I do attended the event with me. At first, with so many breweries, deciding where to sample first was a bit overwhelming. The Ale Fest also had a specific focus on summer seasonal beers, so we did have some guidance!
Local Chicago and Illinois breweries took over a large portion of the available brews to taste, and included favorites 5 Rabbit Cerveceria (Bedfork Park), Begyle Brewing Company, Berghoff Brewery, Finch’s Beer, Goose Island Beer, Lagunita’s, Half Acre Beer, Moody Tongue, Revolution, and Two Brothers.
I really enjoyed the 5 Rabbit sample, 5 Lizard Passionfruit Wit, which was a creamy and refreshing wheat beer a dash of spiciness complete with subtle passion fruit flavor. I remember how much I love the papaya version, and if you like to drink beers with exotic fruits, then the Passionfruit Wit is for you. Begyle and Moody Tongue Breweries were also impressive. Begyle’s Tough Guy Brown Ale packed a punch on our taste buds and satisfied our love of robust, flavorful dark stouts with coffee and cocoa notes. Moody Tongue’s two choices of Applewood Gold (American blonde ale) and Steeped Emperor’s Lemon Saison, also were lovely to drink, hence the name “moody tongue!) The Apple Gold produced crisp, light and refreshing flavors of peachwood and apples. The saison carried flavors of meringue pie and Meyer lemons, along with a nice, dry finish.
Other popular Chicago breweries that my friend and I loved were the new Finch’s Beer Co. and of course, the beloved, Goose Island Beer Co. Finch offered Chimera IPA, an American IPA, brewed with simcoe, centennial, and Columbus hops, with an intense aroma and flavor of pine and juicy citrus. It was delicious and highly drinkable-a nice summer beer. The other, Sungasm, a Belgian style pale ale, was not to my taste. Half Acre always impresses me with their popular Daisy Cutter (a great summer American pale ale), as well as Lagunitas Brewing with their IPA, Aunt Sally, Pils, and Lucky 13. As for Goose Island, these beers never cease to impress. The extensive sample list consisted of 4 Star Pils (American Pislner), Illinois (American Imperial IPA), Halia (Farmhouse Ale), Sofie (Farmhouse Ale), and my absolute favorite beers at the fest, the Bourbon County Brand Stout collection! There were 2013 and 2015 American Imperial Stouts. I cannot begin to describe the thick richness of these stouts-what an impression!
As for national brews that impressed us, there was Traveler Beer Co. from Vermont with Illusive Traveler’s Grapefruit Shandy (I am not a fan of grapefruit-too tart, but the flavor was very nice), Abita Brewing Co. from Covington, Louisiana (the lovely and powerful tasting Big Easy American IPA), the much-loved Bell’s Brewery from Kalamazoo, Michigan (what a fantastic, subtly spicy Mango Habanero Oberon!), Crispin Cider from Colfax, California (the pear cider is light, crisp, dry and refreshing), Dark Horse Brewing Co. (Marshall, Michigan), which had an unusual, yet delicious Tres Blueberry Stout, Gigantic Brewing – Portland Brewing Co. (absolutely divine Slip Into Darkness Schwarzbier), and of course, Founders Brewing Co. (Grand Rapids, Michigan), which always impresses, especially when it’s a sample of their Rubaeus Raspberry Ale.
At the beginning of the festival, I also had the opportunity of interviewing two very distinct brewing companies and go “behind the scenes.” The first was Chicago’s one and only, Goose Island. Earlier in my review I raved about the three magnificent and rare Imperial Stouts they had tapped for sampling (2015 Bourbon County Brand Proprietor’s Stout – American Imperial Stout, 2105 Bourbon County Brand Stout – American Imperial Stout, and 2013 Bourbon County Brand Stout – American Imperial Stout).
Auchentoshan Single Malt Scotch Whisky, the only whisky featured at the Ale Fest, was featuring beer and whisky cocktails with Auchentoshan Distilled Different Single Malt Scotch Whiskey. There were two mixed cocktails to drink: Lemon Tell You Somethin’ Honey (Auchentoshan American Oak, honey syrup, lemon juice, and Belgian witbier) and It’s Better to Be Hoppy (Auchentoshan American Oak, Aperol, fresh grapefruit juice, Fee Brothers, lemon bitters, and American IPA). Both cocktails were perfect refreshing summer drinks for a warm summer evening in Chicago. Auchentoshan American Oak Scotch Whiskey is aged in 100% bourbon oak barrels. It is the only single malt Scotch in the world that triple distills every single drop making for a smooth spirit that is not your typical Scotch, and is encouraged to mix in cocktails. I am a super fan of whisky and single malt scotches, so of course, I had to sample, and it was a good thing that I did!
In addition to the endless American craft beers to try at the festival, my friend and I also perused the food kiosks, which included Gourmet Goodies (great chocolate and fudge), Empanadas Restaurant, Taco in a Bag, Taco Factory Burger Bar, Brew Foods, and my favorites, Copper Oven Pizza and Gayle’s Best Ever Grilled Cheese. One thing I regret not trying: the pretzel necklace! The salty pretzels would have nicely complimented so many of the beers and ales. The sizes of the necklace choices varied.
I had a fantastic and satisfying experience at the Chicago Ale Festival. Realizing it was only the 2nd annual festival, I kept asking myself why I did not attend in 2015. Well, I also told myself that I should not forget to attend next year, the year after that, or the year after that…
Photos: Jennifer Lunz
For more information on the 2nd Annual Chicago Ale Fest, and future information for 2017’s Winter Ale Fest, please visit the website.