Today marks the start of Chicago Craft Beer Week, an 11-day celebration of local and regional breweries taking place from May 17 to 27. The annual event is now in its third year and features hundreds of festivities taking place at venues all across the city. This year’s theme, “Chicago: A City of Neighborhoods,” invites drinkers to explore the city by trying new spots in various areas. The goal is to open people up to places they might normally overlook through a common interest—beer.
"We want you to go out and try to find something new, go out and explore a new neighborhood and find a new beer experience," said Jonathan Surratt, one of the chairmen on the Chicago Craft Beer Week committee.
The idea for Craft Beer Week (CBW) came to be after Surratt and friends took notice of the event's popularity Philadelphia. As a group of beer enthusiasts who were each involved in the industry in some way, they believed they could find similar success bringing it to Chicago. With the support of almost all of the local breweries and the driving force that is the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild, the inaugural year in 2010 saw roughly 45 events thrown during the week.
Last year, CBW was outsourced to a group from New York who ran and oversaw all operations. The number of events also rose to nearly 70, but the majority of them were “pay to play,” which required venues to pay in order to have their events listed on the web site and the public to pay to attend. This year, Surratt and the original committee are taking back control and have expanded the lineup to an impressive 250 activities while trying to keep a large number of them free. “We decided to bring it back to a volunteer group and to try to bring it back to Chicago,” Surratt said.
As the number of things to do has quickly expanded, so too has the participating areas for CBW. In addition to splitting the city into nine neighborhoods, this year will also bring the celebration to the suburbs for the first time—spanning from Libertyville to Joliet. While the events are numerous, Surratt says he wants to keep them as “real” and genuine as possible while not overdoing it at the same time. “The worst thing we could do is oversaturate the schedule so that bars and restaurants don’t actually get the chance to get a full crowd,” he said.
The festivities kick off tonight at the Garfield Park Conservatory with “Beer Under Glass,” a night of fun inside the Conservatory sipping local brews and tasting small plates from restaurants. Half Acre will throw a “Party at the Dock” Friday evening with beer and food provided by Big Star and Belly Shack at Montrose Beach. Other exciting events include the 6th annual “Beerfly Alleyfight” on Saturday, May 19 at Haymarket Pub & Brewery. Artists will pair beer and food with homegrown art to see who can come up with the best combinations.
Trolley crawls will take place on May 21 to 23 as drinkers tour Chicago’s best craft beer bars and sample rare and special brews. Attendees will learn some things too as a representative from the Chicago History Museum be on board to provide facts about Chicago’s beer and tavern history. Numerous Tap Takeovers will invade bars, with some featuring breweries outside Chicagoland such as the Perennial Artisan Ales night at Fountainhead on May 21. Capping off CBW will be the grand opening of Revolution Brewing’s new brew house in Avondale on May 25, where they’ll be pouring 28 of their beers as well as hosting a number of food trucks out in the parking lot.
With such a large lineup planned for the coming days, it’s easy to forget that all of it was put together through the hard work of volunteers and a committee of five people. Surratt describes it as a second job but is just happy that CBW seems to be helping the effort of opening new eyes to the beer world. “Things have changed so much in these three years ? people are accepting beer a lot more. People are getting educated a lot more about beer and it’s starting to rub off on local [businesses],” he said.
And while Chicago Craft Beer Week has already come a long way since its inception, the committee is still aiming higher to rival the beer weeks found in cities such as Philadelphia, San Francisco and San Diego. “Next year, with a good media push we’re going to be able to be right up there with the best in the country."
· Chicago Craft Beer Week [website]