Beer is good.
5, 000 beer lovers attest to that today at the second annual Chicago Beer Fest at Navy Pier. Held in the airplane-hangar-sized Festival A Room, Beer Fest brings together more than fifty beer vendors—as well as four local bands—for four hours, all for just under forty bucks (tickets were $10 more for day-of sales). “Summer is beer season,” says Rick Cromer, cofounder of Beer Fest. Cromer is a native New Yorker, where the original Beer Fest was held three years ago. “The Chicago crowd is more interested in the beer—in learning about the beer,” Cromer explains. “The New York crowd is more rowdy.”
The diverse, predominately 25-40-year-old crowd in the afternoon session (an evening session was available) drifts around tall bar tables and red curtained vendor stands, elbows up and six-ounce glasses drained. Little Johnny, the band playing at the far east end of the hangar, is just loud enough to give Beer Fest a party feel without interrupting the love between connoisseur and brewmeister.
The major breweries, like Miller, and the major distributors, for beers as varied as Guinness to Pacifico, share the vast space with the imported beers and the quality, hand-crafted beers, which range from Tomos Watkin to Yesterbeer to local favorite, Goose Island. “Beer is four basic ingredients: malt, water, hops and yeast,” explains Adam of Goose Island. “Yeast is our secret weapon.” He goes on. Brewmeisters, like Adam, love to talk about their craft. Several refined tasters think that craftsmanship is missing at Beer Fest. “The exhibit is lacking more vendors with a lot of education in what they’re serving,” says beer lover Towanda Robbins. “They’re like, ‘Here’s your glass—drink.’”
Which isn’t such a bad thing for many people. The crowd is social, curious and fun—there are no obvious over-indulgers. But there is an element of love missing from the vendors. Most pourers are simply pourers—rented workers in tux shirts and bow ties or young women donning the company’s paraphernalia who don’t know the difference between an ale and a pilsner. You have to work to find the love.
A personal favorite is He’Brew, “The Chosen Beer,” and its assortment of handcrafted beers, especially the hoppy, refreshing pale ale. A stout man and woman serve the throngs, their love of beer reddened into their cheeks. Behind them the poster reads, “Christ, that’s good beer.” (Robert Duffer)