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A trip to Chicago

It’s December, which means it’s time for the Session! For this installment of the monthly beer blogger get together, Beers I’ve Known gives us the topic “Beery Yarns”:

sessionThis month I’m going to give you plenty of scope for originality by setting a wide-open theme. I want to hear your beery tall tales, yarns, recollections (in a Grandpa Simpson stylee) or otherwise, delivered in the manner that you befits sitting around a log fire, favourite beer in hand.

Sit down, dear readers, and listen to how I fell in love with the beer community. Oh, I was already immersed in it, but this is the story of how I became irrevocably devoted to it, the trip which cemented in my mind the kind of warm, welcoming spirit of kinship that’s present in brewers everywhere.

The year was 2009. I was sent to Chicago for a conference, and due to a misreading of the schedule I had some time before and after. My wife came, and we shared our anniversary by walking until her pregnant feet were aching, later taking in a recording of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. In a park a man with a camera asked me to sing the Mario theme for what he claimed was a school project, but let’s be honest: I’d have done it even if it wasn’t.

The nachos were so big. The plate never seemed to empty. I eventually had to give up.

The nachos were so big. The plate never seemed to empty. I eventually had to give up.

Then she went home to do real work and I stayed behind to meet Neil Gaiman and eat nachos at Goose Island. I picked up free books (did you know they just give them out at library conferences?) and went to a bar with a group of librarians I met on Twitter. All in all it was a very fine trip.

I found myself with a full day after the conference ended before I flew back home. I was a beer blogger — having joined Ethan’s Beer-O-Vision blog — alone in a city: what else would I do? I decided to tour the local breweries. I sent a message to Metropolitan Brewing, introducing myself as a homebrewer and asking if I could stop by.

They were very nice, especially considering I had invited myself down. I was essentially interrupting their work by asking them to show me around, but instead of tolerance I was given warm friendship. They went into their cooler and returned with bottles of Krankshaft, Dynamo and Flywheel. I saw their fermenters, named after Klingons. There was an awesome bull’s head made out of an old keg, my picture of which seems to have disappeared somehow (it’s on their website, of course).

When I was getting ready to leave, Doug asked me what my plans were for the rest of the day. I didn’t really have any: maybe dinner at the Hop Leaf again? Oh, he said, if I had time I should check out Half Acre! Then dinner at the Rock Bottom Brewpub. I said my goodbyes, then walked a few blocks before sitting on a stoop and looking up Half Acre’s phone number.

“Uh, hi,” I said. “I’m a homebrewer and was just at Metro, and they said I should go see you, so… could I come over?” Without hesitation I was told sure! Come on down.

Once I saw the Naked Raygun sticker I knew these guys were all right

Once I saw the Naked Raygun sticker I knew these Half Acre guys were all right.

They didn’t know me. I was just some dude from Buffalo. But I got there (during construction of their taproom) and wound up essentially hanging out with them as they brewed. I was given pours of each of their beers as we stood and talked. At one point the person brewing had to take a phone call and asked me to watch the boil. I found myself in charge of a batch of Over Ale! Sure, I just stood there for maybe two minutes and watched it boil, but it was still a thrilling responsibility.

They asked me if I was going to open a brewery. “Oh, no!” I said. “This is just a hobby.” (pregnant pause)

As I was leaving I asked if I could buy a pint glass from them: I had been drinking from a 16 oz nonic style with their logo on it, which looked pretty damn cool. Don’t worry about it, I was told. Just take the one I was holding.

On my way to Rock Bottom I listened to Ken Grossman’s 2009 National Homebrewing Conference keynote and reflected on my day. I wasn’t even a brewer: just a beer loving homebrewer. I had been taken in and given private tours and samplings by two breweries which probably had better things to do. Rather than keep a competitive aloofness, I was actively encouraged to visit other breweries.

That trip singlehandedly shaped my perception of how breweries should be. They may be making the same product in the same place, but they aren’t competitors. They were friendly: really, really friendly, between themselves and with me. It was a relaxed atmosphere, where they made damn good beer but could have fun doing it. I hadn’t fully realized it until now, but that day is largely responsible for how I see Community Beer Works interacting with other breweries and with you reading this. Come see us, then go check out Flying Bison. Next year, go see Big Ditch and ask Matt about that time I steamrolled him in Risk.

Brewers are the friendliest people on the planet. I learned that in Chicago.

One comment on “A trip to Chicago

  1. Beers I've Known on

    A great story, particularly in the telling and leaves the requisite warm glow required for this time of the year. If I’m ever in your part of the world will be sure to drop by! Thanks for taking part 🙂

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