Monday, December 20, 2010
Last Night a Brewery Saved My Life
I've always loved good beer, but somewhere along the way, great craft beer became a full-time obsession. Two European tours in 2004 and 2005, with extended stays in Bruxelles, Belgium, set the wheels into motion, but it was probably discovering Chicago's West Lakeview Liquors that really sealed the deal. Half Acre's 'On Photon' party last Saturday night was the magical culmination of this beer love.
Entering refuge from the seemingly sub-zero outdoor weather, the inside of the brewery was illuminated by thousands of white Christmas lights and subdued light-filled balloons, which reflected magnificently on the metal fermenters, giving the place an appropriately heavenly vibe. Lucky patrons who were able to score an elusive $40 ticket (I lined up an hour-and-a-half early for mine) were able to gorge on a mind-blowing selection of beer and food. DJ Major Taylor kept the hits-a-rollin', playing lots of functional party faves delivered with panache.
The first thing on my agenda was to score a fresh Double Daisy Cutter, which Half Acre brewed up especially for this party. DDC was an outstanding beer, amplifying every great aspect of Daisy Cutter and knocking it out of the park. I'll definitely be in line for some of this on Wednesday. Next order of business, check out the Pipeworks table to try some Abduction, a great Russian Imperial Stout, which benefitted from barrel-aging. These guys are running a kickstarter campaign to get their operation running at a commercial level. As of this writing, they're only $3000 away from their goal of $30,000, so if you've got some change in your pocket, toss it their way. Before heading upstairs for some food, my friend Mike and I grabbed a liquid sandwich in the form of Pipeworks' Pastrami On Rye, an rye ale which tasted much like it sounds.
Upstairs, it was time to feast on chef Bill Kim and the Urban Belly / Belly Shack's fine culinary treats. The shrimp and chorizo taco with tomatillo cilantro was delicious, as was the Belly Dog with curry mayo and crispy shallots, followed by a spicy smoked sausage stew with napa cabbage and rice cakes. I'm a major fan of Korean food and it was a real treat to see a fresh twist in party-friendly form. Outstanding.
Palate suitably cleansed, it was time to return downstairs for a glass of Revolution's Double Fist, a great double pale ale that really packed a punch. After catching a powerful whiff of 3 Floyds' Hell's Black Intelligencer, I made a mad dash over to their table before it was gone. This thick, black oatmeal stout was brewed with Intelligencia coffee, which had a very strong coffee aroma and flavor. An absolutely delicious coffee beer. I should note that Half Acre's Big Hugs is also an outstanding coffee stout, but I didn't drink any on this night, because there were so many untried beers and time was running out. Luckily I managed to make it just in time to try Cigar City's José Martí Rye, which was great, but I think the great conversation and laughs compromised my tasting integrity. Attempted a re-evaluation, but it was gone.
On to the Short's table, to try their Freedom of '78, a guava beer brewed in collaboration with Half Acre. This IPA, brewed with a ton of Ecuadorian guava, was a refreshing taste explosion that I really hope to drink more of. I returned to the Shorts table for Bludgeon Yer Eye, a great black IPA with a bit of stout flavor. I'll definitely be looking for more Short's in my future.
Seeking solid nourishment, I returned back upstairs for some Derek's Dogs to try a white sausage cooked in Daisy Cutter and a smoked kielbasa. Awesome.
At this point, dessert seemed like a good option, so I went out for some Nice Cream, who make seasonal ice cream in small batches, using organic ingredients from local farms. I had a double-dipper of burnt caramel and salted chocolate.
Returning from my ice cream break, local favorites Mucca Pazza, brought the proceedings to a frenzy with their New Orleans-style circus punk marching band. Two thoughts occurred: 1) This is the best party I've ever been to and 2) I am drunk. Made a point to drink some water and eat some more of Bill Kim's wares before returning for some more Double Daisy-Cutter and Simon Shorts porter from Half Acre.
Time was running out, so I made a point to try Flossmoor Station's Grandma's Sleigh Ride, which was a Belgian-style spiced red ale, aged in a bourbon barrel for six-and-a-half months. This was a fantastic last beer of the night, a small sip of which was poured in honor of the recent passing of the immortal Don Van Vliet.
I wish there had been more time, because there were so many beers that I didn't have time to try. Much credit goes to Half Acre for running what was a world-class class party. Everything was very smoothly run. Lines for beer were very short, an ample amount of portable bathrooms were supplied, there was lots of water was on hand, the music was rockin', the lighting design was fabulous and everybody was just nice as could be (except for the dickhead that gave me a shove and took my glowstick that I was gonna give to my daughter).
Thanks to Half Acre and all collaborators, my wife Bridgette (for letting me buy this ticket for my birthday), Mike Broers for the company, West Lakeview Liquors and Beer Advocate (for the continuing education), Goose Island barreler John Laffler (for enduring my fan-boy questions) and Philip Montoro at the Chicago Reader, whose writing and blogging is helping spread the gospel in Chicago.