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Chicago craft beer explodes—and Chicago Craft Beer Week almost keeps up

Eleven days of beer events featuring more snifters than one human should ever have to handle.

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The number of craft breweries in Chicago continues to grow exponentially. Over the past year, the newcomers I've written about for my Beer and Metal column—just a fraction of the total—include Temperance, Penrose, DryHop, Une Annee, Transient, Forbidden Root, Middle Brow, and Cahoots. This expansion demonstrates the difference between a bubble magicked up by financial-sector legerdemain and organic growth driven by an actual product that real people want—and it guarantees that the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild's fifth annual Chicago Craft Beer Week, which runs from Thu 5/15 till Sun 5/25, will be more than a rehash of last year's extravaganza.

For better or worse, Craft Beer Week hasn't added events at the same rate that Chicago has added breweries: CCBW Web director Jonathan Surratt (you may know him as @beerinator on Twitter) estimates it'll involve a mere 500 or so, at more than 400 bars, brewpubs, restaurants, shops, and other venues. Both totals are relatively modest increases over 2013.

Chicago Craft Beer Week ostensibly exists to put great local beer under the noses of people who might not otherwise know it's there, but that focus is hardly complete—the Founders night at the Grafton Pub on Fri 5/16 and the Brewtality festival at Reggie's on Sun 5/18, for instance, aren't so much about promoting Chicago beers as they are about entertaining Chicago beer nerds. Other events are devoted to new local breweries (Buckledown, Ten Ninety), specific beer styles (sours, Belgians), or sports that pair non­disastrously with alcohol (bowling, dodgeball).

The following list, assembled by my esteemed colleague Julia Thiel, can only scratch the surface of Chicago Craft Beer Week, but it ought to give you some idea what to expect. I've put together a much longer list in my capacity as an official "guide" to the week, and you can browse it at the CCBW website (or via the CCBW app). Philip Montoro

Thursday 5/15

General admission tickets to Craft Beer Week's official kick-off event, Beer Under Glass, have been sold out for weeks now (though VIP tickets are still available). Beer in Your Glass, however, looks like a good alternative: Emporium Arcade will feature a plethora of Illinois brewers, including Solemn Oath, Half Acre, Revolution, Pipeworks, Off Color, Local Option, Penrose, Metropolitan, Temperance, BuckleDown, Brickstone, Ale Syndicate, 5 Rabbit, Une Annee, and Haymarket. They'll also be releasing Goth Syrup, a Solemn Oath beer exclusive to Emporium Arcade Bar and Bangers & Lace. 5 PM-2 AM, 1366 N. Milwaukee.

Friday 5/16

Star Lounge hosts a beer dinner entitled Unicornucopia: Deuce, which apparently involves "the second-annual Harvesting of the Magical Beast." In the realm of things that actually might happen, Co-op Hot Sauce and Big Fork Bacon Sausage founders Mike Bancroft and Lance Avery will create a total of four dishes, each served with a Pipeworks beer. 7-9 PM, 2521 W. Chicago, $45, $70 VIP (includes a pack of goodies).

Saturday 5/17

Part circus, part craft beer festival, the Lagunitas Beer Circus includes burlesque, carnival rides, "large-scale art," and entertainment from Mucca Pazza and Redmoon Theater, among others. And beer, of course: the cost of admission includes four beers (from the new Lagunitas brewery, presumably). Proceeds benefit Rock for Kids. Sat-Sun 5/17-5/18, noon-5 PM, 1843 S. Washtenaw, $40.

The Drinking & Writing Brewery's annual Beerfly Alleyfight is "a pairing of homebrewed beer, home-cooked food, and homegrown art." Local artists will interpret each food and beer pairing "as they see fit"—through interpretive jazz dance, for example. Noon-5 PM, 737 W. Randolph.

Sunday 5/18

The Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer (FOBAB) every fall is one of the best beer events Chicago has to offer. But the great thing about it is also one of the most frustrating: the sheer number of high-gravity beers. Haymarket's Mini-FOBAB is a smaller version of the event: 15-plus wood- and barrel-aged beers, most of them brewed at Haymarket. It'll feature FOBAB medal winner Clare's Thirsty Ale Imperial Stout (aged on raspberries for six months in Woodford Reserve barrels) among many other offerings, including Nina's Quadrupel (two years in Templeton Rye barrels). Two sessions: 1-4 PM and 5-8 PM, 737 W. Randolph, $55.

If you're feeling hard-core, go to the early session of Mini-FOBAB, stop for dinner to sober up, and then head over to Reggie's for the second session of Craft Beer Brewtality, presented in collaboration with Chicago Beer Geeks. They'll be pouring some unusual beers, including Three Floyds Blakkr, Stone Cali-Belgique IPA aged in red-wine barrels, 4 Hands Madagascar Barrel Aged Stout With Vanilla Bean, Pipeworks barrel-aged Date Sugar Yeast Magik, and Revolution 4th Year Beer. Those attending the second session can stay for a performance by Japanese metal band Coffins. 4-7 PM and 8-11 PM, 2105 S. State, $30, $40 with the Coffins show.

Monday 5/19

Just how does barrel aging affect the flavor of beer? The Barrelling Down Division tapping may help you taste the difference. Small Bar Division and Jerry's Sandwiches will each have barrel-aged versions of one Perennial stout on tap, alongside the unaged version: Perennial 17 at Jerry's, Perennial Sump at Small Bar. Stick around at Jerry's after the tapping for Creative Minds on Tap, a panel on the role of branding, design, and marketing in the culture of craft beer featuring Lagunitas founder Tony Magee, author and consultant Randy Mosher, designer and illustrator Phineas X. Jones, and others. Tappings at 6 PM, panel at 7 PM, 1938 W. Division (Jerry's) and 2049 W. Division (Small Bar).

Tuesday 5/20

Guys Drinking Beer and the Green Lady celebrate the breweries of Saint Louis and downstate Illinois with the third annual South of 80, a tapping featuring beers from Urban Chestnut, Destihl, Triptych, Little Egypt, 4 Hands, and Rolling Meadows. 7 PM, 3328 N. Lincoln.

Wednesday 5/21

The New Brewer Showcase (which is exactly what it sounds like) at Andersonville Brewing Co. (formerly known as Mary's Rec Room) will include beer from 350 Brewing, Aquanaut Brewing, Bucket List, Ten Ninety, Rude Hippo, and Transient. 7 PM, 5402 N. Clark, $25.

Thursday 5/22

Fireside's Beasts of the Barrel tap takeover boasts a bounty of barrel-aged brews from Temperance, Off Color, Founders, Allagash, Central Waters, and other breweries. 6 PM, 5739 N. Ravenswood.

Friday 5/23

The Fountainhead celebrates the history of local craft beer with It Comes in Waves, an ongoing tapping of beers from what they've deemed the first wave of local(ish) breweries (Goose Island, Two Brothers, Three Floyds), the second wave (Metropolitan, Half Acre, Revolution), and the third wave (everything else). There's also the "microwave," beers brewed by chef Cleetus Friedman in collaboration with local breweries. Tue-Sat 5/20-5/25, 1970 W. Montrose.

Saturday 5/24

With nearly 60 breweries, most of them local, the second annual West Loop Craft Beer Fest rivals Chicago Craft Beer Week's opening event, Beer Under Glass. There'll also be food for purchase from Little Goat Bread, Flip Crepes, Fumare Meats, Saigon Sisters, and other local establishments. Ticket price includes 20 tasting tickets; VIPs get 25 tickets, early entry, and access to special pours. 1-5 PM (noon for VIP), Clinton between Lake and Washington, $50 ($75 VIP).

Middle Brow Beer Company, which brews recipes by the winners of homebrew contests, is holding a homebrewing competition with a twist: each category of beer (session, Belgian, stout, and "anything goes") will be paired with a course from ManBQue catering. Attendees vote on finalists in each category; the overall winner gets a cash prize, and the beer will be brewed and distributed in Chicago. 2-5 PM, Cobra Lounge, 235 N. Ashland.

Sunday 5/25

Today is the last day of Links Taproom's Battle for Lake Michigan, a contest between Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan whose winner will be determined by which beer kegs—there will be 11 on tap from each state—kick first. Because the bar's digital menu displays how much is left in each keg, you can track their progress. Thu-Sun 5/15-5/25, 1559 N. Milwaukee.

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