Attending the American Beer Classic Saturday at Soldier Field was like being part of some ultimate drinking game.
For $60 (in advance), each entrant was given a booklet holding brief descriptions of the 110 craft brewers from around the country who had booths set up there, with 90 on the actual grass field and 20 on the concourse just past Gate 1.
The rules: Get each of 24 squares on the back of the book marked off per each 2-ounce sample you try. Upon finishing that, turn in vouchers to get up to 24 more 2-ounce pours in your pilsner-style plastic glass.
You had four hours to consume your 96 ounces (six pints for those of you trying to do the math in your head) and could play from noon until 4 p.m. or from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m.
Yet, I was not in the mood to imbibe at that level. I could say it was because, while one of the pourers marked my book with a heart, another wrote “Balls,” and another drew a phallus in one of the squares. But it takes more than childish Sharpie doodles to offend me.
Maybe I was just overwhelmed by getting to walk on the same field as Jay Cutler does to earn his living. On second thought, I went to the Legends Football League game Friday and for some reason the Chicago Bliss reminded me more of Cutler than walking on allegedly hallowed Halas ground.
Still, having 110 breweries to choose from was a daunting task for a guy like me who has a hard time making up his mind as it is. My senses were on overload, too, from the piped in pop tunes being played on the field and especially the live band playing inside the concourse. With all the concrete-caused reverb, I thought this must be how fish hear music when they hold underwater concerts in aquariums.
Along with the above excuses, I had my fill of competitive filling of my pie hole the prior Sunday at the Tap House Grill in Oswego, where I had been challenged to eat a 1.5 pound triple deck hamburger slathered in a half pound of cheese along with a pound of fries.
Task accomplished – in less than a half-hour I might add – for my effort I was to receive a T-shirt. Having made it through the week without angioplasty – or eating any more red meat – I am still waiting for my rightful reward.
So at the beer fest I sampled in moderation and went window shopping. Or booth shopping, I guess.
No fest is complete unless it has vendors selling temptingly unnecessary merchandise, and this was no exception.
I never did find out who was hawking the most brilliant item of the day – pretzels strung to form an edible necklace. Imagine how this could be adapted to Irish fests, with corned beef hanging around everyone’s throat.
On second thought, that might not be a good idea if wolfhounds are present or in warm weather, neither of which was an issue Saturday.
Speaking of Irish, Cacao Sweets & Treats of Grayslake had cupcakes made with either Blue Moon, raspberry wheat, or Guinness. And Tim McNamara was offering his Bridge and Troll Art, elaborate bottle openers, quite a few of which were adorned with Guinness logos.
Stocky and in a Sox stocking cap, McNamara looked every bit the Chicagoan, which contrasted nicely to Keelan Rogue Andrews in a booth next to McNamara’s. Andrews sells flask, wallets and card holders he decorates with fabric from old neckties, suits, shirts and kilts. His business website notes he lives in Lakeview and is from Oregon – Portland probably. I would have guessed either as, in addition to what he makes, he is skinny, was wearing big glasses, and has a handlebar mustache.
If there is craft beer or retro brew present, I refer to such folks as hopsters.
To that end, Katie Rains of Chicago was selling earrings made from beer bottle caps. These were the dangling kind, not the plugs some hopsters prefer which stretch earlobes in that oh-so-appealing faux tribal way.
Along with browsing, since this story is for an Irish site, I attempted to find some Irish-like brews, too.
I settled for some ciders, including a refreshing blueberry one from Vander Mill of Spring Lake Michigan. There was a Chocolate Honey Buzz from Chicago’s Wild Blossom Meadery, a drink I should have if I try to watch the overrated dragon-lair soap opera Game of Thrones again to make it more interesting.
On the even less Celtic side, I had a root beer beer from Milwaukee’s Sprecher, which would be a good way to get the kids to nap. There was Oval Beach Blonde Ale from Saugatuck Brewing, which seems to be named after me, if I had hair.
And Pig Minds Brewing being right next to the Horny Goat – well, based on information included in this story, make your own joke.
There also was a beer made from hemp, but I forgot where I tried it. All I know is I went to Manny’s for a corned beef and pastrami sandwich after the afternoon shift, and had the potato pancake, too.
I can’t remember where I tried the Sugar Shack beer made with maple, either, but that’s because the name brought back memories of the dancing I did to pay my way through med school.
In fact, a good many beer or wine names these days could also be handles for exotic dancers.
Case in point: My buddies from the Village Vintner have a beer called Coconilla Stout.
Judging by the reaction of some of the drinkers, her g-string would have been filled with singles.
That’s to say, the beer created a buzz. I saw a couple people shaking the hand of brewmaster Steve Boyer over this beer. A waiter from the Millrose in Barrington had me take a picture of him and his girlfriend in front of the booth, posing with their favorite beer of the day.
And Will White from Kansas was all excited, saying the chocolate and vanilla porter was the best of the 300 or so samples he claimed he had that day. I hope he was exaggerating. His poor girlfriend was taking notes or keeping track for him.
White heads his own group, the Midwest Brewers Guild, and he was going to tell all his buddies about this beer and maybe blog about it too.
“I like how it felt it my mouth, and the head on it. It poured perfect. And the flavor was sweet, malty, and a bit of hops, too, which you don’t get that often in these types of porters,” he said of the Coconilla.
Hey, White’s a big hops fan. His other favorite of the day was the 90 Minute IPA from Dogfish.
In case he forgets, I will email him a link to this story.