Taste Fest 2020

Steam Hollow Brewing Company’s Doug Luehrs pours a draught beer Saturday during the Kankakee County Chamber of Commerce’s sold-out Taste Fest held at the Manteno brewery.

This column usually would be reserved for a write-up of a New Year’s Eve party I would be taking part in at The Hoppy Pig. This is one of my favorite parties of the year and always a good time, and I look forward to ringing in 2022 with you at the Pig, should that party take place next year.

I love New Year’s Eve as a holiday. It is the only holiday that celebrates a calendar and a clock and that’s about it. It also celebrates hope. For this column, I wanted to do a year in review of some of the beers I enjoyed from 2020.

Some of my first check-ins on Untappd were when Grapes & Hops had MyGrain Brewing from Joliet at the start of the year. I have been to MyGrain before and enjoy their beer, so having a place nearby to check out some new stuff was a great opportunity.

They later would get Metal Monkey Brewing — which I’ve been to before — so I went to check that out.

I always think of the Revolution Deep Wood Series release as a winter time, year-end thing, but they usually save the biggest drop for January. On the app, I have a check of Cuvee de Grace and the gold medal-winning Ten Year Beer from the middle of January. They will release another drop at the start of 2021, which will be Apple Brandy Ryeway and a TBA collaboration. It’s probably going to be bonkers, so look out for that.

At the end of January, I went on a little trip around the western burbs to Alter Brewing, Ike and Oak Brewing, Skeleton Key Brewing and Pollyanna Brewing. I returned to Ike and Oak during the summer because it has a huge, beautiful patio area.

For Valentine’s Day, Sam and I took a little trip around Chicago that included Maplewood Brewing and Off-Color Brewing, which was a delightful little date trip.

In March, Brothership Brewing launched in Mokena, which feels like 100 years ago at this point. I was shocked as I scrolled through my Untappd to remember what happened this year. What a time to launch a brewery.

Just after stopping in Brothership, Derek Yarno and I took a big trip further north around some breweries in the western burbs such as More Brewing, Noon Whistle Brewing, Two Hound Red, Dry City Brew Works and Elmhurst Brewing. That was an all-day event that saw the last of carefree and maskless times.

There is a big break from March 20 to April 11 in my timeline, as I am sure a lot of you also have. For a while after this, I would venture out sparsely. When I would go out, I would want to make it worth the trip and get everything all at once.

I see in my Untappd, I would check in the beers I would pick up from The Open Bottle in Tinley Park. As I have mentioned before, I usually get a mixed six pack or two from them. You can buy anything in the store in single cans or bottles.

During the summer, I tried to tackle tasks I had left unfinished. Clean out the basement, clean out the attic and work on a beer cap map I got as a gift years ago and never finished.

I bought some Abita Purple Haze, Shiner Bock and Lone Star beers and then rifled through Derek’s bottle cap collection to get some of the more out-of-the-way places. It is not totally full — places such as the Southeast, Upper Midwest and Southwest still are empty.

Probably the first beer I had inside again was at Brickstone Brewery the day before the Fourth of July. I had their Cerveza de Peidra Ladrillo Mexican lager. I enjoyed this beer and that occasion immensely.

Restrictions lifted during the summer, and I ventured back out during that time, though not often and always wanting to be outside when possible.

The next occasion was a beer on the patio at The Hoppy Pig in July. The Hoppy Pig started getting in beers from Almanac Beer Company and Off Square Brewing that I hadn’t had before, and I thought this was worth the journey out of the house.

Derek and I spent an evening opening ancient bottles from his cellar — not “the good stuff,” but he had bought a bunch of discounted stuff from Liquor World. We found some beers from Dogfish Head and Southern Tier and The Bruery that had gone bad.

When they were fresh, they might have been good. We had a laugh while opening, smelling, recoiling, pouring, giving each other an “Are we really doing this?” sort of look, sipping nervously, gagging and then pouring the beers down the drain.

For our anniversary in August, Sam and I took another short trip up to the city, went to some places she wanted to go (I promise) and then ended up on Off-Color Brewing’s patio with their Beer for Stuff bucket.

Then, we ended with dinner at Goose Island Brewhouse for some excellent food and beer to complete a lovely, though strange, anniversary. It’s been 14 years, and this has been the oddest one yet.

Just after this, we put everyone in the car and took a trip down to Emancipation Brewing in Fairbury. They have an awesome outdoor space, where Penny was able to run around near a corn field, and we had some great beers at picnic tables in their backyard. That was the peak of summer time vibes.

At the start of September, there was a Dinosaur Park Drive Thru event in Lombard. The dinosaurs were animatronic, life-sized and there was a radio companion audio guide. It was a great time and we stopped at Ike and Oak for lunch and then Miskatonic Brewing on the way back because both places are very kid friendly and have large outdoor seating areas.

Then, the biggest trip of the year took place Oct. 12, when Derek and I drove to as many breweries as we could get to. We went to Arrowhead Ales, MyGrain Brewing, Will County Brewing, Metal Monkey, Wolfden, Buffalo Creek Brewing, Tighthead Brewing, Ravinia Brewing, Burning Bush Brewing and Midwest Coast Brewing and got a ton of to-go crowlers, growlers, bottles or cans and had a sort of backyard blow out with all Octoberfest beers.

I never will forget the guy at MyGrain saying to us, “What, are you going around collecting as many Octoberfest beers as possible?” This was exactly what we were doing.

Just after was the Great American Beer Festival awards, then Goose Island’s Media Night Zoom call this year, which was a big time. Revolution’s Deep Wood Series releases have speckled my fall semester here with trips to the city to get a curbside pick-up. One time, I stopped in at Pilot Project Brewing, which is an awesome place that deserves its own column sometime soon.

On a trip back from the apple orchard, Sam, Penny and I stopped at Off Square for lunch, and I popped into Windmill Brewing for some to-go beer and quickly checked out their operation.

Things really have slowed down since then, with only sporadic and quick trips to The Open Bottle. We have tried to be as careful as possible. No one in our house has gotten sick so far. We have known several families that have had bouts of COVID, but luckily no one has had to be hospitalized.

The holiday season has been different. My extended family usually gathers in large groups during the holidays, and that won’t happen this year. FaceTime with the California Rileys takes place quite often now. I picked out my Christmas beer and got gifts for the bonfire groups I am part of. These gatherings all have shifted to Zoom calls as well.

This year, at this point, looks a lot brighter than 2020, though the same thing could have been said at the end of 2019. The constant here is craft beer has been the occasion to celebrate even the most minor of things — such as a trip to the dinosaur park or the apple orchard, or a bonfire in the backyard with a small circle of friends appropriately spaced apart.

If you pay attention to history, there always have been difficult moments. Some have been a lot more trying than these times, and beer always has been a constant. So, raise a beer to 2021 in the hopes better times than these will prevail.