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.
Farmhouse ales, or Saisons, have always been my favorite beer style — since my first experience with the funky French brews at the Hopleaf in Andersonville.
Saisons are typically a mid-range ABV pale ale originally brewed in the autumn or winter months for farm workers in France as part of their daily allowance (about 5 liters per work day). It kept them cool, refreshed and happy, just as the Egyptians brewed their “liquid bread” during pyramid building.
Saisons brew at much higher temperatures than even Belgians, between 84-95° vs. 64-75° in the fermenter. The yeast’s ability to ferment at such high temperatures made it easy to brew and ferment through the hotter summers months. Along with other ingredients like wheat, orange zest, coriander and ginger, Saisons generally have bright, pungent, peppery aromatics with plenty of effervescence.
Saison Dupont is the most reputable of the French labels. But many have been produced in the US for years with a slightly more pale edge, including Ommegang’s Hennepin, Jolly Pumpkin’s Bam Biere and Boulevard’s Tank 7 — all top-notch beers in the style.
Early in my Saison journey I discovered Les Sans Culottes from Brasserie La Choulette. Brewed in the Saison style, it’s a farmhouse blonde with a funky, grassy nose and a champaign-like bouquet — cleaner and crisp — with a barely tart and fruity finish. The brewery dates back to 1885, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that it was bought and revived to its current state and importing status.
I first had the beer “with no pants” at The Map Room Beer School under professor Greg Browne, brewmaster at Mickey Finn’s in Libertyville. Now I pick up a bottle every few months at West Lakeview Liquors at Hoyne and Addison, where the selection of farmhouse ales is nearly unbeatable.