A Celebration of Real Ale
Each of the past 10 years on the first Saturday of March a small group from our home brewers club, The Forest City Brewers of Rockford IL make an annual trip into the Windy City (that’s Chicago, by the way) for a beer festival that is unique and intimate. It is the Day of The Living Ales – A Celebration of Real Ale presented by the Chicago Beer Society.
For these 10 years this event has been held at Goose Island’s Wrigleyville brew pub located on Clark St. just a few doors from Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. In the rear storage area the beers would be stored to settle and kept at the optimum temperature. The storage room was then opened for the festival.
In the early years there was just one session in the evening consisting of 500 attendees. If you were claustrophobic this was not a place you would like to have been (Hey buddy, Is that a roll of quarters in your pocket or are you just glad to see me? HA!). A few years back CBS split the event into two sessions consisting of an afternoon and evening at 250 attendees per session, making it much more comfortable and enjoyable! Sadly, Goose Island Wrigleyville closed in September of 2014 creating a scramble to find a new venue that was a suitable place to host after 10 years.
Cask-conditioned beer, often referred to as ‘real ale’, is brewed from traditional ingredients and allowed to mature naturally. The unfiltered, unpasteurized beer still contains live yeast, which continues conditioning the beer in the cask (known as ‘secondary fermentation’); this process creates a gentle, natural CO2 carbonation that allows malt and hop flavors to develop, resulting in a richer tasting drink with more character than standard force carbonated keg beers.
OK, so I hear some of you “But I don’t like beer if it’s warm & flat…” anyone not used to real ale’s true texture and proper serving temperature can easily be misled when sampling poorly kept real ale. Assuming that all cask beer is supposed to be warm and flat with some undesirable off flavors is just not the case; a well-kept pint is cool, refreshing, packed with malt and hop aroma and flavor.
Real ale is served without any extraneous gas, traditionally by manually pulling it up from the cellar with a hand pump (also known as a ‘beer engine’). The introduction of atmospheric air by the manual pour or ‘pull’ instead of CO2 or nitrogen requires for the beer to be consumed quickly to avoiding spoiling. This is the traditional way of brewing and serving beer; only a few decades ago did filtered, pasteurized, chilled beer served by gas become the norm. Another way to look at this is like our high school and college days, when a kegger went flat and stale very quickly because we were pumping air instead of CO2 to dispense it. Modern cask containers called a firkin (10.8 gal) are fast becoming popular in the US as it is very portable, can be setup virtually anywhere and can be consumed rather quickly so it is less likely to spoil due to the smaller amount of beer.
The 2015 event was eventually decided upon to be held at Bottom Lounge on W. Lake St, Chicago. Having never been to Bottom Lounge we had no idea on what to expect. Our apprehensions were put at ease immediately as soon as we went to the upstairs portion of the bar where the firkins were quietly resting in a well decorated and perfectly climate controlled environment with plenty of elbow room for the 250 afternoon attendees.
I have included the full lineup of breweries that participated (in alphabetical order) and the real ales they proudly poured for us. I did not get to sample every one of these fine beers but managed a real valiant effort to get through most, some of my favorites I made sure I had more than a couple samples. After the list I will comment on the ones that stood out to me, along with the winners of this friendly competition.
5 Rabbit Cerveceria, Bedford Park IL 5rabbitbrewery.com
1. 44-55 Scotch Ale 6.5% abv
2. Barrel Aged Vida y Muerte (“Muerzen” style ale) – With dulce de leche, cinnamon, tarragon. Aged in oak barrel. 5.2% abv
Crystal Lake Brewing Co, Crystal Lake IL crystallakebrew.com
3. Lakesider (American Märzen) – Chewy malt with an underlying hint of pine/floral hops. 5.3% abv
4. Slalom King (American IPA with Rye) – Bold citrus aroma and flavor along with a firm maltiness, and a bit of dry rye spice. 7.5% abv
DESTIHL Brewery, Bloomington/Normal/Chanpaign IL destihl.com
5. Tripel with Pomegranate, Blueberry, and Cranberry 11% abv
Emmett’s Brewing Co. West Dundee/Palatine/Downers Grove IL emmettsbrewingco.com
6. English Brown (Northern English Brown Ale) 4.7% abv
7. English Old Ale 8.7% abv
Flossmoor Station Brewing Co. Flossmoor, IL flossmoorstation.com
8. Anglo American Mild (English/American Mild Hybrid) – Higher ABV & American Hops; Medium malt flavor with hints of toasted oats, brown & crystal malts. Very low spicy & earthy hop profile 5.2% abv
Forbidden Root Brewing Co. Chicago IL forbiddenroot.com
9. Sublime Ginger Radler – Wheat with ginger, key lime juice, honeybush and lemon soda. Dry-spiced with fresh ginger & lime peel 3.2% abv
10. Sublime Ginger with Peaches – Wheat ale with ginger, key lime juice, honeybush and peaches 3.8% abv
Goose Island – Clybourn gooseisland.com
11. Cran-Bruin (Flemish-style brown ale) – With cranberries, aged in oak for 11 months 5.2% abv
12. Dark Mild (English style) 3.8% abv
13. Iron Sickle (Belgian-style table beer) – Mixed Sacc/Brett/Lacto fermentations 3.5% abv
Goose Island – Fulton gooseisland.com
14. 6297 (Green Line with Experimental hop #6297) 5.4% abv
15. Azteca (Belgian/Mexican spiced beer) – Rich sweetness, and finishes with a dry tea character. Faint pepper rounds out a nuanced cocoa base. 7% abv
16. Earl (Green Line with Earl Grey tea) – Biscuit with faint notes of bergamot and citrus. 5.4% abv
17. Fleurkin (Saison with hisbiscus kombucha and hibiscus) – It’s been almost 4 years, with some modifications we present a lighter version of Fleur with a harder rose color and growing tart/acidic finish. 6.5% abv
18. My Shout (Sparkling Ale) – Easy drinking and soft with a dry smooth finish. 5.0% abv
Half Acre Beer Co, Chicago IL halfacrebeer.com
19. Lead Feather Black Ale – Toasted coconut and vanilla bean 5.9% abv
20. Mango Habanero Space IPA 6.7% abv
Haymarket Pub & Brewery, Chicago IL haymarketbrewing.com
21. Winter Warmer – Old Ale meets Imperial IPA, dry hopped with Citra. 10% abv
Illuminated Brew Works, Chicago IL ibw-chicago.com
22. Kallisti (Golden Ale) – Calypso hops and a razor-thin grist conspire to create a beer made only for the most beautiful. 7.4% abv
Imperial Oak Brewing, Willow Springs IL imperialoakbrewing.com
23. Abbey Obscuro (Belgian Stout) – Dry-spiced with Cacao nibs, Chipotle peppers, Vanilla beans, Cinnamon 8.5% abv
Lakefront Brewery, Inc. Milwaukee WI lakefrontbrewery.com
24. IPA with Belma Hops (American IPA) 7.0% abv
25. Saison with Hibiscus & Chamomile 5.2% abv
Metropolitan Brewing, Chicago IL metrobrewing.com
26. Habanero Krankshaft Kolsch – Delicate Cologne style beer. We added fresh habanero peppers because we aren’t German and don’t have to follow the Reinheitsgesundheitmeinfräulein. Hopefully they provide some extra gemütlichkeit. 5% abv
27. Heliostat Zwickel Lager (Dortmunder/Pils hybrid) – Zwickel style lager conditioned in a cask. Includes plenty of hausgeschmack for the Stammtisch. 5.7% abv
28. Pat’s Irish Red 4.5% abv
29. Yorkie Bitter 4.0% abv
Off Color Brewing, Chicago IL offcolorbrewing.com
30. Apple Blossoms – Gose w/apple blossoms and chrysanthemums 4.5% abv
31. Bare Bear – Sahti w/juniper berries and wine staves 7.0% abv
Revolution Brewing, Chicago IL revbrew.com
32. Brixton Bitter (English-style Ordinary Bitter) 3.7% abv
33. Winter Woman (Imperial Brown) – Big, hoppy, brown ale 9.0% abv
Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery – Chicago rockbottom.com
34. Mouldy Toad Brown (Brown Ale with cacao nibs) 6.8% abv
35. Snow Cat (Belgian White IPA) 6.6% abv
Rock Bottom -Lombard
36. Chilsner (Chili Beer) – Light, Spicy, Golden Beer, dry-chilied 5.5% abv
Rock Bottom -Orland Park
37. Erik the Red – Irish Red Ale (Malty Irish Red with subtle lemon pepper hops for balance) >6% abv
38. Victim of Illusion – Imperial Golden Stout (Dark gold / light copper colored Imperial stout with cacao nibs, coffee, oats, and smoked malt) <6% abv
Rock Bottom -Warrenville
39. Doppelbock 8.7% abv
Solemn Oath Brewery, Naperville IL solemnoathbrewery.com
40. Billy No-Mates (Irish Stout) 5.0% abv
41. E-Ville (Dry-hopped American Brown Ale) 6.6% abv
Temperance Beer Co, Chicago IL temperancebeer.com
42. Dubbel Stubble (Belgian dubbel) 7.2% abv
43. Restless Years (pale ale with rye) 5.8% abv
Three Floyds Brewing Co, Munster IN 3floyds.com
44. Cimmerian Sabertooth Berzerker (Double IPA) 10% abv
45. Yum Yum (American Pale Ale) 5.6% abv
Tighthead Brewing Co, Mundelein IL tightheadbrewing.com
46. Coffee Boxcar Porter – Cold steeped coffee concentrate in cask 5.6% abv
47. Irie IPA – Dry hopped in fermenter 7.8% abv
My personal favorites were:
5 Rabbit Cerveceria / 44-55 Scotch Ale 6.5% abv – I have a soft spot for Scotch Ales and this one was done well, exhibiting a maltiness and good smoked peat flavor.
Goose Island, Clybourn / Cran Bruin (Flemish style brown ale) – This is one of my favorites of the festival a real nice sour that was paired perfectly with the cranberries. I returned to this one many times…WOW!
Goose Island, Clybourn / Dark Mild (English style) – This is what real ale is meant to be malty, soft, low carbonation with a low profile hop presence; real nice beer from the guys at Clybourn.
Goose Island, Fulton / Fleurkin (Saison with hisbiscus kombucha and hibiscus) – Another good sour from the GI people. I must admit I was hesitant when I saw hisbiscus as a flavor but it worked well here.
Half Acre Beer Co. / Mango Habanero Space IPA – I saw the mango & habanero and jumped at this. Although a well done IPA I thought it was light on both the mango and habanero.
Haymarket Pub & Brewery / Winter Warmer – This was blended nicely and the citra was a nice touch. I had a number of samples of this and it grew on me.
Imperial Oak Brewing / Abbey Obscuro (Belgian Stout) – The cacao, chipotle and vanilla made an interesting combination and had more pepper heat and flavor than any of the habanero beers, overall a good beer.
Mickey Finn’s / Pat’s Irish Red – A decent Irish Red but would have been better with some more maltiness.
Metropolitan Brewing / Heliostat Zwickel Lager – As I raised my glass to my nose there was a strong sulphur aroma and I hesitated on taking that first sip but man am I glad I did as this exhibited a nice German Pilsner flavor.
Off Color Brewing / Bare Bear – This was an interesting beer for the crew at Off Color. I can’t say it was one of my favorites it but I also cannot say I disliked it, as I said interesting.
Rock Bottom, Chicago IL / Mouldy Toad Brown – Nice brown ale reminiscent of an English Brown that exhibited cask conditioning well.
Rock Bottom, Orland Park IL / Victim of Illusion-Imperial Golden Stout – The name was spot on, a stout that was a dark golden. Mouthfeel was thick and a real nice smokiness that blended well with the coffee and cacao on the palate; another of the top contenders on my list.
Rock Bottom, Warrenville IL / Doppelbock – A well done Doppel that I believe really benefitted from the cask conditioning. I could drink this all afternoon or until the almost 9% abv caught up with me! I made sure I had a few samples of this also.
Temperance Beer Co /Dubbel Stubble (Belgian dubbel) – Nice drinking beer here. Restless Years (pale ale with rye) – A good pale ale, the rye gave it a peppery/spiciness that really complimented the hops.
Three Floyds Brewing Co / Yum Yum (American Pale Ale) – Good American Pale Ale with a great grapefruit flavor, not too much or too little; as Goldilocks would say, “Ahhh, this ale is just right”. I had to visit this one a few times also.
Tighthead Brewing Co / Coffee Boxcar Porter – I have had other coffee porters that were bottled and really like them so I when I saw this on the list I knew I had to try it. I was not disappointed as the coffee and cask conditioning made this beer extremely enjoyable…and yes, I sampled a number of these also.
So that was my opinion. Attendees were asked to vote for their favorite Real Ale of Chicagoland. There were 2 categories, beers over 6% abv and those that were 6% and under, let’s take a look at the results of what the other festival goers thought.
Over 6% category Favorite Beer: Revolution Brewing / Winter Woman Champion Beer: Imperial Oak Brewing / Abbey Obscuro
6% and under category Favorite Beer: Goose Island Clybourn / Cran-Bruin Champion Beer: Half Acre Beer Company / Lead Feather
Golden Tut Award Tighthead Brewing Company / Irie IPA
The Golden Tut Award is awarded by Day of The Living Ales cellar staff from a list of nominees submitted during the professional brewers session (which is held earlier in the day) to the brewery/beer that best exemplifies the overall cask ale experience.
The Chicago Beer Society has already decided to hold next year’s event once again at Bottom Lounge based on the rousing and positive endorsements from festival attendees. The date will be Saturday March 5th 2016. I have that date blocked out on my calendar already and hopefully I will see some of you next year.
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