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Monday, June 9, 2014

Kegs for Kidneys 2014

Beer fests are fun.  I think that might be the most straightforward statement I will ever write for this blog.  Ever. I mean, what wouldn't be fun about spending a few hours in the company of fellow beer geeks (please don't make me answer that)?  You are given the chance to sample a wide range of new and (hopefully) interesting brews, chat up the people who create those new & interesting brews (or at the very least the people who clean the steel tanks after those beers are brewed and honestly, brewer assistants are people too!) and are usually outside in the fresh air (and geeks of all species should take every opportunity that presents it self to get out into the great outdoors, even if the great outdoors is just a covered parking lot.)  But I'm not sure if any one else has noticed that beer fests, once some what elusive and scattered, have now become almost a  weekly event.  In the last three weeks since Chicago Craft Beer Week, I have counted seven different beer fests being conducted in the greater Chicago region alone.  Granted some were better than others.  Really, a beer fest that counts Blue Moon as a craft offering should not even bother landing it's invite in my event calendar.  I do have some standards. (they're low, but they do exist.)  This is exactly why last Friday's Kegs For Kidneys Beer Fest sponsored by Fischman Liquors & Tavern was so special.  Yes, there was not a drop of Blue Moon or ShockTop in sight, but more importantly, it was a chance for the beer community of Chicago to support an extremely worthy cause.  And when given the opportunity to drink good beer AND feel like I am doing good for others at the same time, that makes for one incredible evening for everyone involved.  So this week's post is going to follow a slightly different format.  Instead of writing about one local beer that you can run out and buy, I'm going to given you a run down of my top five beers from this fest. They are in no particular order (although I did have a favorite of the night.  See if you can figure it out and leave your guess in the comments.)

#1 Temperance - When Life Gives You Melons Session Pale Ale 5% ABV

This was my first beer of the night.  Walking in to the slightly crowed outdoor tent, with a semi square outline of jockey box after jockey box lining the outer edges, I sought out Temperance's offering like a heat seeking missile.  On April 29th of this year, thirty five women (gathered by the good gals of Hail to the Ale) from all aspects of Chicago craft beer got together at Temperance to brew session Pale Ale that was dry hopped with German Hull melon hops. On June 6th, one solitary female beer blogger enjoyed drinking the hell out of it.  So I like to think that it sort of came full circle.  The color was a slightly cloudy (which I attributed to the coldness of the keg) straw yellow color with a light off white head and shallow, delicate lacing.  I could taste the soft melon note immediately.  It was followed by a light bitterness that one associates with a fruit rind.  The drink finished with a bit of citrus which offset the fruitiness nicely.  Truth be told, I am not a huge fan of melons, but I found this Pale Ale very refreshing.  The finish was soft and the mouthfeel sweetly dry.  You can still find this session Pale Ale on tap at various places around the city.  Much like that always elusive date with the head cheerleader in high school,  I suggest that you seek it out while you are still able to.

#2 Transient Artisan Ales Maigre Berliner Weiibier 3.1% ABV

Berliner Weiss.  Are their any two more glorious words to hear on a sweltering summer's day?  OK, maybe "Marie, would you like a second glass of Berliner Weiss" are a pretty awesome set of words too.  Transient Artisan Ales is a rather new brewery focusing on producing mainly sour beers in the Chicago area.  We have needed someone to step up and take over this niche here in the Second City for a long time now.  And luckily for us, Transient seems to be more than up to the task.  The beer poured a clear, pale yellow color with hints of light green and visible carbonation.  Maigre smelled amazing.  There was a brightness to the nose that sometimes can get muted on other Berliners.  The ale tasted of fresh squeezed lemons with a delicious, refreshing tartness from a note of green apples.  To me, some of the best Berliners are simple ones where the brewer lets the trueness of the flavors shine. This was definitely one of those Berliners.   Honestly, I would drink this beer all summer if given the opportunity.  And at only 3.1 % ABV, I could probably carry on a semi intelligent conversation while doing so as well.  Win, win people.  Win, win.

#3 Lake Effect Brewing Pateque Saison 5.5% ABV

This was the beer that almost wasn't.  All night long people were buzzing about this amazing watermelon Saison.  I love Lake Effects.  I think that they produce some very solid stuff and am always happy to get to try something new from them.  Lake Effect, which is located about ten minutes away from Fischman's, was kind enough to bring two different Saisons to the fest. The first was named Shimmering Lake and is currently in bombers for sale.  Shimmering Lake was a citrus forward, slightly barnyard funky, dry ale and is definitely something that I plan on buying this summer.  I know this because when I finally made my way to the Lake Effects section of the fest, they had just run out of the Pateque Saison and I had to make due with it's non watermelon sibling.  But do you want to know just how cool the Lake Effects guys are?  Do you?  Well, when the keg kicked, Clint Bautz (part owner and head brewer) jumped in a cab to the brewery, grabbed a keg and raced back to the fest just so everyone could get a shot at tasting this delightful beer.  I, for one, am very thankful that he did (and special thanks to Christian Burd for seeking me out in the crowd.)  The beer poured a soft, watery pink hue.  The nose was lovely; slightly sweet and fruity from the distinct watermelon character, but with a bitter edge.  When I tasted it, the bitterness reminded me of a watermelon rind.  The mouthfeel was dry and light with a refreshing quality that just screamed Summer.  I sincerely hope that Lake Effects considers brewing this beer again before the end of August.  I think this might be the one that puts them on the Chicago must have beer map.

#4 Slapshot McLaughlin's Red Eye Coffee Porter 5.8%
 Full disclosure, I didn't get to try the Slapshot offering listed on the fest's lineup.  Once again I severely misjudged the average beer geek's drinking prowess and missed out on Baby Kola Rare IPA.  Luckily, they brought a second keg of one of my favorite coffee porters ever (although, I'm pretty sure that Lake Effects Clint would have shared that cab if you had asked, Steve Miller.  Just saying.)    I adore the nose on this porter.  Often with coffee porters, you get a Folgers sort of scent from them.  McLaughlin's sports a true espresso nose with a depth of flavor on the scent alone.  Slightly sweet while still having that roasted bitterness from the coffee beans.  It's the type of beer that I could sniff all day and be happy even if I didn't get one sip.  I did take a sip, however. More than one truth be told.  The 30 IBUs are very well spent in this rich porter.  There is a clean, french pressed espresso quality to the coffee note that elevates this porter over your routine coffee flavored beer.  A very slight chocolate note and an earthy hop quality are layered into the flavor profile as well, but there is absolutely no mistaking this beer for what it is.  A red eye, coffee forward, little piece of goodness.  The almost full mouthfeel and long, roasted finish round out a surprisingly low ABV porter.  I barely missed the baby kolas at all.

#6 Local Option The Exorcist Domestic Stout 8.5% ABV
When I first read the name of this Stout, I thought that Local Options was calling it a "Demonic Stout", not a Domestic Stout.  I would like to suggest to the good people of Local Option that they should consider adopting the term Demonic Stout  in any case, because this beer is so sinfully good that the Pope himself might let out a string of expletives that would make little possessed Regan McNeil herself blush.  Normally I don't try to judge a beer's head (or lack there of) from a pour from a jockey box at a fest because so many things are out of a brewer's control.  Often beers that have lovely, full heads with amazing retention come out like sad, bald old men from an improper pour at your typical fest.  I don't know what deal with a crossroad demon Local Option had to make to get the head on this beer, but it must have been a doozy.  The guy who poured it for me gave my tasting glass a two go pour (dumping foam, re-pouring tilted at an extreme angle while trickling more liquid into the glass.)  I appreciated his thoroughness but will still left with at least two generous fingers of thick, chocolatey tan head to settle. I would absolutely love to see this Stout poured into a proper glassware.  In my mind, the lacing would be angelic.  Most likely because of the full head, I didn't get much of a nose off of my beer.  A bit of sweetness from a milk chocolate base (without any milk sugar sweetness present) and some roasted grains, but not much more scent-wise.  The taste was thankfully fuller and wonderfully complex.  Beyond the expected sweetness of the chocolate and lightly charred roasted grains,  I found an earthy, wet hoppy presence that grounded the sweetness in a secure fashion.  There was a subtle note of dark fruit. (mainly raisins and dates) which lent a chewiness to this full mouthfeel stout.  The creamy, tongue coating aspect of the beer felt a lot heavier than the average 8.5% ABV stout often showcases.  I hope that whoever's soul was traded for this recipe at least got the first pour from the keg.

These are just a handful of the beers offered (and imbibed by your's truly) at this year's Kegs for Kidneys Fest.  According to my scorecard, forty three different beers, covering just about every sort of style that you could wish for, were offered.  Some I loved, some I didn't, but all were appreciated.  One of the things that I love about the Chicago craft beer community is that it's a Community with a capital C.  The owners of Fishman's Liquor & Tavern put together this fest every year with one purpose: to raise funds for the National Kidney Foundation Inc.  Gus & Shanna  have a special connection to this charity since their gorgeous little nice, Izzy was diagnosed with a solitary kidney in 2007.  And sure, the Karamaniolas family could donate privately or create a small tavern based event to benefit this charity, but instead they reached out to the craft community here and offered everyone an opportunity to do some good.   And from what I could see last Friday night, the result was almost overwhelming.  Patrons donated rare bottles & collectable swag to be auctioned off.  People from all aspects of the brewery world donated their time to pour beer, chat up patrons and make a huge event run as smoothly as your average neighborhood block party.  It was a pretty special night.  I highly recommend that you plan on checking it out next year.  But please don't drink the Baby Kola before I get to it.