The week before Chicago Craft Beer Week officially kicked off, a few new friends and I jumped the gun with a beer gathering at one of Chicago’s newest and still undiscovered BYOs — BadHappy Poutine Shop.
As I watched this crew pile in — Paul Schneider from Chitwonontap.com, Joe Barley from recently launched Solemn Oath brewery, Jay from StockyardPalate.com and prolific gustatory Tweeters @TedwardBouillon and @MikeMcKenzieCHI — it was clear that these guys don’t come around unless they come heavy. Bottle lined up quickly and we all took a deep breath. We had some work to do, and we hadn’t even ordered the poutine yet. Which poutines did we order? All of them. All of the poutine.
If you’ve never heard of poutine, it’s essentially a bed of thick-cut fries, cheese curds and gravy and hails from our northern brethren in Quebec. BadHappy riffs on this righteous foundation in a variety of ways. These are those ways.
Da’ Local — featuring house sausage, sharp cheddar curd, hot giardiniera, pepper and onion gravy, was an early favorite. The giardiniera lights up your palate and the sausage smooths it over with plenty of fat. Cut the fat with a bright IPA or a summery bitter brew and you’re off to a great start. We cooled down with Khloros from Solemn Oath, full of lemon and orange rind with a nice sharp finish.
Thelonious — a veg/vegan basket with shredded BBQ mushrooms, cheese curd or soy, southern cabbage carried a moody, earthy flavor that paired really well with some of our heavier beers, like Goose Island Bramble Rye Bourbon County Stout, Stone Imperial Russian Stout, and the Dock Street Saison (a sour).
The Pilsen — piled high with beef picadillo, taco curd, cilantro and onion, roasted chilies, tomatillo salsa, la lengua gravy — and the One Hot Asian with viet-pork patties, headcheese, jalapeno curd, dikon and carrot, and kimchi sauce demanded the fiery finished of Hop Henge an experimental imperial IPA I acquired on my recent Deschutes visit in Portland, Oregon and the official 2012 Symposium IPA from the San Diego craft beer conference held just a few weeks ago, and retrieved via Joe Barley.
HappyFace — braised veal cheek, garlic curd, chicken fried sweetbreads, braised kale, foie gras gravy — and RedNeck, covered in BBQ pork, mac-n-cheese, fried okra, Carolina cole claw, and PBR gravy put us all over the edge. At this point, we each went our separate ways in terms of brews. Boulevard’s Rye on Rye came out as well as a Dogfish Head’s Burton Baton imperial IPA. For the rest of the night, we covered the spread in terms of beer styles and variations on a poutine theme. But nothing, even the impromptu beer floats, could prepare us for our final meal.
The gals of BadHappy, a bit sauced themselves by this point, put together a dessert poutine that shall go nameless for now. A healthy pile of fries was covered in ice cream, chocolate sauce, whipped cream and sprinkles and then set loose into the world. Such is the way of BadHappy, with it’s vices and virtues in skewed proportion. I’m pretty sure that after you witness an evil of this order, your next step is human trafficking.
Perhaps the most beautiful beer event of the year, every year, Beer Under Glass gives Chicagoans the chance to sample dozens of local brews, a few microbrews from around the country and some of the city’s best food under the translucent glory of Garfield Park Conservatory.
Only a matter of months since a hailstorm devastated this massive greenhouse on the far west side of Chicago, the conservatory has been largely restored. Various climate-controlled rooms, including conditions like an arid dessert and a tropical jungle make it possible to sip a 4oz pour from Chicago’s Metropolitan brewery, take the long way around the world, and wind up at 5 Rabbit brewery only a hundred yards away.
Beer Under Glass is a craft beer geek’s summer solstice in Chicago. It typically marks the end of a chilly spring. But this year, summer was even more evident as the sun beat down on the patio and cascaded through the glass ceilings, a fine tropical mist in the air all around. Beer Under Glass also ushers in another seasonal miracle — Chicago Craft Beer Week. With more craft beer events being held than ever before, it only seems fitting that we make our pilgrimage out to Garfield Park, like the sparrows returning to Capistrano, before we spread out over the city in search of new and rare Chicago brews.
I was especially happy to see Andres Araya and Randy Mosher from 5 Rabbity Brewery pouring 5 Lizard beer after a wintery hiatus. This Latin-inspired witbier with passionfruit and spices is refreshing, dry and slightly tart — a perfect summer beer. But the big news for 5 Rabbit was the announcement that they signed a lease. With the flurry of best-intentions from up-start brewers in Chicago, it’s encouraging to see an honest-to-god lease get signed. They’ve staked claim to a 25,000 sq ft facility in Bedford Park in an old industrial area near Midway Airport. Soon, we’re going to need a brew bus that tours the outer ring of the city.
Solemn Oath (their site just launched) was pouring their first batch of Khlöros, a light Belgian white with some zing from orange and lemon peel, coriander, and some summer stone fruit. Like 5 Lizard, it had that perfect amount of spice and dryness to keep you thirsty for more. Also on tap for the first time was Oubliette, a sharp Belgian pale ale and Ultrahighfrequency, a bold, well-hopped American Red with a solid caramel malt backbone. These guys are coming out strong, having just opened their taproom, hosted a launch at Bavarian Lodge and getting revved up for their event at Standard market in Westmont, IL.
As I made the rounds, other beers of note included Goose Island’s Scarlet, a just-tart-enough saison with some bright, sparkling texture, and Bourbon Country Stout, which is proof these guys are going to produce more and more of this epic beer. Janna (@JannaMestan) from Haymarket was pouring her own bourbon barrel aged concoction, a stout full of vanilla and roasted coffee notes that would stand up against some of the best in the city. And Greg Browne from Mickey Finn’s was pouring his Gudenteit Hefe Weizen, which more than 8 years ago was my first example of that unmistakable banana and clove aroma — it brings back memories.
This was also the first sighting for Chicago’s new craft beer journal, Mash Tun, produced by Ed Marszewski of Lumpen Magazine and Proximity lore. Ed and family also own Maria’s Packaged Goods and Community Bar in Bridgeport, which became an instant destination for rare and special beers. Hundreds of copies of Mash Tun were scattered around the event, and Ed sat behind stacks of them like a proud librarian in the south garden greeting excited passersby who were more than impressed with the publication’s first issue. More on Mash Tun later this week.
Finally, the crowd slowly filled in to the west garden toward sunset, which opens into a piazza-style patio and a lawn that seemingly goes on forever, rolling westward the way Lake Michigan evokes an ocean heading east. As the sky dimmed into orange and red, we took our last few sips, reunited with our friends and soaked up those fading summer rays before busting out the front doors into the happy open arms of the food trucks.