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Monday, November 19, 2018

Craft beer, corporate beer, and Master Cicerones: drink it all in with Brewmaster

Posted By on 11.19.18 at 01:05 PM


The goal of the documentary Brewmaster, director Douglas Tirola says, "is to tell the story of the craft beer boom." It encompasses more than craft beer, though: it also follows Drew Kostick, a New York lawyer trying to start his own brewery, and Brian Reed, a trade brewer for Tenth and Blake who's studying to become a Master Cicerone. Tenth and Blake is the craft and import division of MillerCoors, and while it includes several craft beer brands—including Pilsner Urquell, which provided funding for the documentary—the company isn't exactly a microbrewery. (Whether craft brands owned by megabreweries still qualify as "craft" is a topic for another day, though the Brewers Association says no.)

So while the documentary includes interviews with craft beer luminaries like Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head), Garrett Oliver (Brooklyn Brewing), and Jim Koch (Boston Beer Company), it's really a story of the beer world, not just the craft beer one. It's coming to the Music Box on Tuesday, November 20, for a one-night screening that includes a Q&A with Tirola and Reed, along with local brewer and author Randy Mosher and Ray Daniels, founder and director of the Cicerone Certification Program, who both appear in the film. I talked to Tirola and Daniels (separately) about the film and the Cicerone Certification Program, which, like Daniels, is based in Chicago.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Urban Renewal Brewing’s cofounder says the controversial name ‘has nothing to do with urban redevelopment’ policies

Posted By on 08.01.18 at 06:00 AM

  • Urban Renewal Brewery

The cofounder of Urban Renewal Brewing says he hopes critics "can see the bright side" of the name of his new establishment.

On Monday, Block Club Chicago published a short feature about the brewery under the headline "Small But Mighty Urban Renewal Brewing Plans To Grow In Ravenswood." Some Chicagoans responded by taking to social media to express outrage about the "tone-deaf" name of the brewery and the name of its IPA—"Razed."
James Moriarty, the cofounder and head brewer of the seven-month-old Ravenswood facility (and not to be confused with Sherlock Holmes's fictional rival), says urban renewal wasn't meant to refer to the mid-20th-century public policy in which federal funds were used to raze neighborhoods for redevelopment. About 23,000 families in Chicago—disproportionately poor people and people of color—were displaced by urban renewal programs between 1950 and 1966 according to a study released by the University of Richmond earlier this year.

Moriarty says the term was instead meant to specifically refer to the renewal of the 4,500-square-foot facility at 5121 N. Ravenswood. (Metropolitan Brewing had previously operated out of the space for years before moving to Avondale in 2017.)

"There's the opportunity for the negative side of the term to come out, but people don't need to look at the bad side of our interpretation of [urban renewal]," says Moriarty. "It has nothing to with urban redevelopment, necessarily. Hopefully, people can see the bright side of what we're trying to do, and not harp on the past."  Moriarty, who says he's been living in Chicago full-time for about a year, claims he was unaware of any specific controversy about the name and also notes that the Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce didn't have any problems with it. "Everyone knew the idea was supposed to be we were renewing this old brewing space and the community has been very supportive," he says.

He adds that picking a name was "a challenge" because so many names were already trademarked. His first choice, Wicked River, had been taken by a distillery in Tennesee. "With 6,600 breweries in the U.S., it was a challenge to come up with something." Urban Renewal was the last name on a list of 30 names he submitted for a DBA. "Once it came back clean, we committed to it," Moriarty says.

Urban Renewal Brewing isn't the only brewery whose name has generated controversy recently. Less than a week after a brewery in Lakeville, Indiana, announced it was naming its beers "Flint Michigan Tap Water," "Black Beer Matters," "Mass Graves," and "White Guilt," the Lakeville Brew Crew apologized and in a statement said, "the list of beer names has been wiped clean."

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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Can a Division Street cocktail bar truly capture the spirit of Nelson Algren?

Posted By on 06.13.18 at 06:00 AM

Algren on Division Street - ART SHAY
  • Art Shay
  • Algren on Division Street

Eater Chicago recently broke the news that, to quote the headline, "A Nelson Algren-Inspired Bar is Coming to Wicker Park from Bar Deville's Team." The story details how the new place, the Neon Wilderness, to be located near the Polish Triangle, the convergence of Division, Milwaukee and Ashland, will serve high-end cocktails such as the Polish Broadway, an old-fashioned with Żubrówka vodka. The mixologists behind the plan are award winners, and Eater Chicago's Ashok Selvam seemed upbeat about this addition to the near northwest side's high-end cocktail possibilities. I imagine it would lend some much-needed balance to the stroller corridor/brunch-spot and bro-sports-bar scene that thoroughly gentrified Wicker Park/Bucktown has degenerated into.

But this Algren scholar could only groan at the thought of an "Algren-inspired bar."

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

How a mead that hasn’t yet hit the market exploded in popularity

Posted By on 06.12.18 at 06:00 AM

Boneflower's award-winning Cherry Apple Inception - COURTESY BONEFLOWER MEAD
  • courtesy Boneflower Mead
  • Boneflower's award-winning Cherry Apple Inception

Boneflower Mead, located in northwest Indiana, has a rating of 4.7 out of a possible 5 on Untappd, a social networking app for beer aficionados that allows them to rate what they're drinking. The rating is impressive for a fledgling meadery—but so is the fact that Boneflower, which has yet to sell a single bottle of mead, has more than 150 reviews.

Aaron Schavey, who cofounded the meadery with Geoff Resney, a friend and former colleague in the air pollution testing business, has been making mead for about two years and giving it away for almost as long. After being introduced to what he calls "the first mead that really blew me away" a couple years ago he started looking for quality mead to buy and, finding limited options, decided to make his own. For guidance he bought a book on mead-making by Ken Schramm, whose eponymous Michigan meadery had made that first fermented honey beverage that impressed Schavey, a boysenberry mead called Madeline. Online forums for mead-makers and talking to meadery owners also helped him learn.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

When craft beer went corporate: Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out tells how Goose Island's sale transformed an industry

Posted By on 05.29.18 at 06:00 AM

Josh Noel's book Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out: Goose Island, Anheuser-Busch, and How Craft Beer Became Big Business, from Chicago Review Press
  • Josh Noel's book Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out: Goose Island, Anheuser-Busch, and How Craft Beer Became Big Business, from Chicago Review Press

"There wasn't a single moment when the chummy, jovial craft beer industry became a battlefield of 'us versus them,'" Josh Noel writes in Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out: Goose Island, Anheuser-Busch, and How Craft Beer Became Big Business (Chicago Review Press). "It happened slowly. And then, seemingly, all at once."

The line isn't an introduction to his subject matter (it actually comes near the end of the book), but it does encapsulate it fairly neatly. Noel happens to be discussing the attempts of the Brewers Association to define craft beer—which has become an increasingly thorny question as more craft breweries have been bought by global beverage companies (often referred to as Big Beer). In the early years of the craft brewing renaissance, he says, the term was never really defined. "Craft beer was the underdog. It was flavor. It was creativity. It was peace, love, and collaboration. Everyone was included—except for Big Beer. There were no wrong answers. But when there are no wrong answers, there are no right answers, and the Brewers Association sought to correct that."

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Friday, May 11, 2018

Chicago Craft Beer Week is no more; all hail Illinois Craft Beer Week

Posted By on 05.11.18 at 06:00 AM

  • Photography by RJ

After years of focusing its annual May celebration on Chicago and its suburbs, the Illinois Craft Brewer's Guild now includes events across the state. Accordingly, it's changed the name of the event to Illinois Craft Beer Week.

According to ICBG executive director Danielle D'Alessandro, "As a statewide organization with over 230 breweries located across the state, it just seemed to make sense to expand to a statewide celebration of all the amazing things our breweries are doing." Events are still being added, but Alter Brewing in Downer's Grove is hosting the first annual Backyard Brew Fest to celebrate the breweries of the western suburbs. "It's not just about the beer, the liquid, it's about the community and the social experience," says D'Alessandro. "This is a way to get people throughout the state excited and engaged."

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Monday, May 7, 2018

Speed Rack’s season-seven finals bring some of the country’s best bartenders to Chicago

Posted By on 05.07.18 at 06:00 AM

The crowd at the southeast regional competition for Speed Rack season seven - SPEED RACK
  • Speed Rack
  • The crowd at the southeast regional competition for Speed Rack season seven

When Boleo bartender Mony Bunni competed in Speed Rack Midwest in 2015, she failed miserably. She was in the process of opening the bar Queen Mary at the time, and the annual all-female speed-bartending competition took place the day before the bar officially opened. "My head was all over the place, and I ended up forgetting citrus in two of my cocktails onstage, failing in front of everyone," she says. "It just broke my soul a little."

The next year, she says, she went into Speed Rack season six "with a vengeance." She not only won the midwestern competition (one of eight regional contests), but went on to become the first bartender not from New York City or California to win the national finals. "I grew up here; I bleed Chicago," she says. "The fact that I was able to be the person to bring that first title back, that was everything to me."

Bunni's win also helped bring the Speed Rack national finals to Chicago this year for the first time; the event takes place on Tuesday at Revel Fulton Market, with bartender Katie Renshaw of GT Prime representing the midwestern region. Lynnette Marrero, who founded the event with Ivy Mix in 2011, says that they'd already taken notice of the food and drink scene in Chicago and the fact that the James Beard Awards bring lots of people to the city each spring. "Then Mony won, and it was just kismet," says Marrero.

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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The new Chicago Style cocktail conference emphasizes thinking as much as drinking

Posted By on 05.01.18 at 06:00 AM

The founders of Chicago Style: Sharon Bronstein, Shelby Allison, and Caitlin Laman - ANJALI PINTO
  • Anjali Pinto
  • The founders of Chicago Style: Sharon Bronstein, Shelby Allison, and Caitlin Laman

Chicago Style, a "forward-thinking" cocktail conference taking place next week for the first time, was born from conversations—and the goal of the event is to create more. Founders Shelby Allison (co-owner of Lost Lake), Caitlin Laman (beverage director at the Ace Hotel), and Sharon Bronstein (vice president of marketing for the 86 Company) are friends who often discuss their jobs and the beverage industry in general. "That's how this conference came about," Laman says, "from Shelby, Sharon, and I talking about our regular experiences, and the topics [we wanted to highlight] are the things we talk most about right now."

It took one more conversation to get them to pull the trigger, though. "Sharon and Caitlin and I had been daydreaming about doing a conference together, and we had dinner with Lynette [Marrero], the founder of Speed Rack [a speed bartending competition for women]," Allison says. "She mentioned that Speed Rack might be looking to move from New York for the finals, and we said, 'You should have it at our cocktail conference.' Then we created it." And so, for the first time in Speed Rack's seven-year history, the national finals will be held in Chicago.

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Monday, April 9, 2018

How a warehouse foul-up led to Fortuitous Union, a high-end rum-whiskey blend

Posted By on 04.09.18 at 06:00 AM

Turner Wathen and Jordan Morris - TED WATHEN/WHITNEY MORRIS
  • Ted Wathen/Whitney Morris
  • Turner Wathen and Jordan Morris

Nearly eight years ago, Jordan Morris, now 32, and his friend Turner Wathen, 35, began planning a business to bring the best, purest rums they could find to the U.S. "We're looking for rums that are unadulterated," Wathen says. "No sugar, no caramels. We like the purity of rum." They identified a 12-year-old rum from Trinidad that they loved, bought some, and had it shipped to a warehouse in Louisville where—due to a mistake—it got mixed with whiskey. Their pure, unadulterated rum had been adulterated, and Wathen and Morris would have to figure out what to do about it.

Whiskey practically runs in Wathen's veins: his family has been making the spirit for five generations, starting in 1788 and continuing through Prohibition as one of the few companies licensed to sell medicinal whiskey (since then, Wathen says, "we drank and sold ourselves out of all our assets"). Morris's background is also in whiskey; he's worked in liquor stores, led bourbon tastings, and written whiskey reviews for the online magazine Whiskey Wash. So perhaps it's fitting that when the two decided to start importing rum, whiskey inevitably found its way into the mix.

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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Watch a bartender turn a perfect pairing—queso dip with a michelada—into a cocktail

Posted By on 03.29.18 at 05:54 AM

When bartenders Adrienne Stoner (Lost Lake) and Elizabeth Mickiewicz (EZ Inn) meet up to chat, it's usually over queso dip at Lonesome Rose in Logan Square. So when Stoner decided to challenge her friend as the next participant in the Reader's Cocktail Challenge series, she had no trouble picking the ingredient: Mickiewicz would have to make a cocktail with Lonesome Rose queso dip.

Procuring the dip was the easy part. Mickiewicz stopped by the restaurant and got two orders of queso dip to go—one to experiment with and one to eat. "It comes with cilantro and tomato," she says. "You can add black beans and chorizo, but I opted out for this challenge."

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