On Saturday morning, I climbed aboard an outbound Metra and headed west in search of friends and beer. An hour later I arrived in a strange, exurban land where the weather was nearly 20 degrees warmer than the Loop. Matt, my photographer, chauffeur, and best friend from high school, picked me up at the Geneva train station. After a short drive along the Fox River, we arrived in St. Charles.
We were there for the Tri-City Craft Brew Festival, located in downtown St. Charles’ Lincoln Park (once you get west of the Fox River, you’re apparently allowed to start recycling Chicago park names with minimal confusion). It was a beautiful afternoon full of craft beverages, many of which were brewed in suburban Chicago. In honor of the event being for the Tri-City area (Batavia, Geneva and St. Charles), I present three takeaways from the event:
1) Home brewers know what they’re doing
I found some of my favorite beers from the event at the home brewing tent. The Wingnut APA from the Wingnut Brew Club, for example, was a refreshing and flavorful complement to a warm summer day. While pouring my beer, a club member explained that they meet every third Saturday to brew beer together as a group. Much like yesterday’s bowling leagues, brew clubs like Wingnut seem to function as both hobby and social circle for their members. Plus, based on what I tasted, a group of passionate amateurs who put their noggins together is a great recipe for a tasty beer.
2) I get it, you make an IPA
Nearly every brewery had two beers available to try, and many chose to make one of the two an IPA. Look, I get it—no style is more synonymous with American craft beer than the IPA, and breweries want to appeal to the hop nuts who frequent these festivals. For those craft beer drinkers who are merely casual IPA fans, however, seeing a lineup that leans so heavily toward IPAs can be a bit of a letdown. Furthermore, going a different route is a great way to differentiate yourself among a crowd of breweries. Whether it was the surprisingly malty Geneva Pale Ale (Stockholm’s take on the APA), Crystal Lake Brewing’s middle-of-the-road Fox Focker red ale, or Hopvine’s Urban Tumbleweed (a traditional Hefeweizen), many of the beers that made the biggest impression on me were those that stood out in a sea of hoppy sameness.
The breweries that did bring an IPA at least worked to stand out a bit. Energy City Brewing in Batavia, for example, brought the Hop Nawi. It’s a New England IPA that lived up to the style’s juicy, citrusy reputation. Personally, my favorite IPA adaptation at the festival was 2nd Amendment, a red IPA from Gun Craft that effectively balanced a darker malt with IPA-level hops.
3) Duck Duck Goose
One of the day’s biggest revelations had nothing to do with beer. Instead, I had my eyes opened by free samples of BBQ duck pizza, courtesy of Maple Leaf Farms. Unfortunately, the fourth generation duck farm was only giving away samples. They were, however, kind enough to provide a few more for us when we expressed interest in buying a mini pizza. Their products can be found at Mariano’s, among other Chicagoland locations. I encourage you to give it a try for yourself.