Thursday, October 30, 2014

Alpha Beer Showcases Local Beer and Brewers in Chicago

As a kid growing up in the Upper Midwest, there was no destination as awe inspiring as Chicago. From the skyline to the traffic to the shabby looking trains, Chicago was the pinnacle of big city living set on the same lake that looked very different north of the Windy City. As an adult still living somewhere in the Midwest, Chicago’s mix of culture, food, architecture, and the arts still ranks it as a top destination for a getaway. But there was one thing that Chicago hadn’t (until recently) done well at all, brew beer.
It’s tough to fault Chicago for their choice of awful cheap beer from their northern neighbors as the city does everything else so well. There ( in my opinion) is nothing better than sharing a Chicago Deep Dish Pizza. The goodness from a cracker crust layered with cheese and sauce ON TOP is equaled by very few other creations. Chicago Dogs, with their combination of mustard, relish, onion, pepper, and pickle, are my favorite late night “4th meal”.  Chicago food, along with that iconic skyline and blue collar attitude, is some of the best (and most unique) in the world. But who wants to wash that down with an Old Style?

It makes me hungry everytime
I have set off multiple times in Chicago in recent years searching for some good local brews. This past summer, while walking through the wonderful Lincoln Park neighborhood, I thought we had finally found a spot that would quench our Chicago thirst. The establishment was a corner bar, with classic charm. We pulled up a stool and looked over the beer menu and were disappointed by a menu full of the regulars from St Louis, Milwaukee, and Chicago’s Goose Island Brewery ( I won’t get in to the whole argument of local not local with Goose Island, but I’m looking for the independent brewers).WHERE WAS ALL THE CHICAGO BEER?!
AJ Hudson's, a must stop for beer lovers
A few months later I finally found Chicago beer at AJ Hudson’s Public House (just up the street from the other Lincoln Park bar that we struck out at) at one of the best beer events that I have attended, Alpha Beer. Alpha Beer, the creation of The Local Tourist, is a world tour of beer from A-Z. This event is a tribute to Theresa’s (the founder of the Local Tourist) mother. Every Friday after work her mom and the passengers on her Metra train would bring a different beer for tasting to finish the work week to eliminate the Ground hogs Day feeling you get with drinking the same old same old every week. Theresa took this ritual and turned it into an event, not only for local and regional craft beer celebration, but also for an introduction to those people who may have otherwise stuck to the bigger brands. Bringing in as many local brewers to explain their craft and answer any questions attendees may have only reinforced the point that this wasn’t all about drinking 26 samples of beer, but also about understanding why drinking local tastes better and supports the community.

The lineup, sorry Z
Alpha Beer is a twice a year event (spring and fall) and just celebrated its 13th tasting. Event number 13 (which I attended) included selections from breweries in Chicago, out state Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, and beyond. The offerings from these breweries ranged from pale ale to maibock to pomegranate porter with a cayenne pepper finish. All of the beers on the list were offered in the bar as well as in the event room, making AJ Hudson's a must stop for beer lovers heading out for a night (or morning for Premier League matches) in Lincoln Park. 

What made Alpha Beer special compared to other beer events was the inclusion of brewers as well. 3 local brewers from Berghoff Brewing Company, Temperance Brewery, and Ten Ninety Brewing were on hand to describe their featured brews and answer questions for anyone. They also continued the tradition that we've found nationwide of drinking together and generally caring about each others product. No competition, just collaboration for the betterment of local beer. 

I had finally found and tasted Chicago beer. Yes I could have gone to any of the tasting rooms that have popped up all over town, but unfortunately I have yet to have time to do that. What Alpha Beer did was give me more incentive to fill in that Chicago void for me. Not every beer there was my favorite flavor, but they all did have flavor unlike the beer that Chicagoans have been subjected to since the Great Fire (the way cheap Milwaukee beer made itself regional since everything in Chicago had burned down). If you are looking for a reason to make an escape to Chicago in the fall or spring, make sure you check out the Alpha Beer schedule and get some tickets for a wonderful event. If you're going to the Windy City any other time of the year, say no to the big boys and wash down your deep dish with something local, because Chicago is finally brewing some great beer.

Note: I attended Alpha Beer as a member of the press and therefore entered for free, but as always the opinions expressed are completely my own.