One year ago, there was Toronto, and it was good. I met fellow Ratebeerians for the first time, was introduced to AleSmith (and much more), and experienced <A hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/images/features/Bathtub%20of%20Life.jpg>the bathtub of life. Though Toronto lacked the quantity of something like the GABF, it more than made up for that with the tremendous quality of the beers.
This year there was Chicago, and it was the major leagues, showing that Toronto was nothing more than a AA game. I had already been on vacation for the week leading up to Chicago – touring Wisconsin brewpubs for the most part – and I was in the right state of mind for the weekend. After picking up my cousin Jeff from the airport, we came downtown, called Volgon, and discovered that the early tasting had already begun. We went over to Volgon’s room, where we joined him, Oakes (Josh), and MRomero548 (Mark).
The idea for the afternoon was lighter beers, and that idea was successfully implemented – for about 3 beers. After that, we jumped to such summery beers as Dreadnaught, Pipkin Bourbon Barrel Stout, and Avery Ten. Surprisingly enough, the afternoon’s favorite turned out to be one of those lighter beers, the New Glarus Solstice Wheat. Solstice generated ratings of 4.6, 4.5, 4.2, and 4.2 from our judges, scores that in sufficient quantities would place it firmly in the upper echelon of beers, and easily would be the top rated for its style (Josh even rated it above his beloved Denison’s Weissbeer!). I envy those of you who can get it – the two bottles we consumed were from my Wisconsin travels, and I didn’t save any to take back home.
After a brief dinner stop, Jeff, Volgon, Mark and I cabbed over to the Hop Leaf, where many RateBeerians were either already in attendance or arrived soon thereafter. TAR (where more than one person has the same name, such as with TAR (Jeff), I refer to that person by RateBeer handle), npdempse (Nick), BigBadBear63, Indra, hey_kevin (Kevin), ChimayBabe (Emily), marinaro500, krisbierjaeger (Chris), Hopscotch, thedm (Matt), Hotstuff (Cindy) -- the list went on. The Hop Leaf had a great selection of drafts and taps – I would have been content to stay there all night, especially because they had space for the group to sit in one section.
We made a brief stop at a crowded Sheffield’s, where we found joey_capps, Radek, and GermanBrews76, before heading over to The Map Room. We stayed there a good long while, but apparently, while my mind was willing, after several days of intense tasting my body wasn’t, so I called it an early evening. From what I understand, the group did make its way to Clark Street Ale House to conclude a wonderful night of bar hopping.
Saturday cousin Jeff and I gave a ride to Kevin down to Indiana, home of Three Floyds – PsychProf and hoppygrrl joined us there, as did hopsrus, jsquire and half of TannerTavernboys (and I’m sure others I’m forgetting – for example, I know Jokes and iwantalambic caught up with us at some point during the weekend, but forget when/where)). Three Floyds is not a brewpub – it’s a brewery that lets folks buy and sample their products on tap (they also do growlers and bottles there). We sampled the beers they had on tap, plus several other beers that marinaro500 and other folks brought to Three Floyds rather than that night’s tasting – Thirsty Dog’s Siberian Night Imperial Stout, Piece’s Dysfunctionale and Top-Heavy Hefe-Weizen, an unfortunately off version of DFH’s ApriHop, and a few others. Floydicus was a great host – in addition to making his place available to us all, he also provided us with 2 bonus treats – a bourbon cask-aged Dreadnaught and a keg of last year’s winter seasonal, Dark Lord Imperial Stout.
The 2 ½ weeks that have passed since that afternoon has not diminished my love of Dark Lord – it became the first (though hopefully not my last) 5.0. It’s a black hole of a beer, allowing a seemingly infinite amount of flavor to fit within its edges. You may pray that you’ll win the lottery, but I pray that Three Floyds will make Dark Lord again this year, that they will bottle it for the first time this year, and that it will be available in the DC area.
After Three Floyds, we went to Flossmoor, back on the Illinois side of the border, where we were joined by aofoxxy and her friend Heidi. We sampled all that Flossmoor had to offer, and ToddA was kind enough to pull out some special reserves of Flossmoor’s top beers, including the Imperial Eclipse Stout, a winter seasonal, which is Flossmoor’s Dark Star aged in bourbon barrels. The afternoon flew by so quickly – we zipped back up to Chicago, grabbed a bit of food (literally, as Jeff and I hit Whole Foods for victuals on the walk from the Cass Hotel to the Claridge), and went to the weekend’s main event, the Saturday night tasting.
About midway through the evening, joet and his wife finally arrived, giving many of us the opportunity to thank him in person for all he’s done for RateBeer.
Unlike last year, we didn’t vote on a best beer for the weekend, but I’ll throw one out anyway – Belle Vue Selection Lambic. This beer was one of several amazing Belgians that ToddA was kind enough to contribute from his private stash. There was only one bottle to sample, so it has generated only 9 reviews. I gave it a 4.1, which was the second-lowest of the ratings (Radek, you saved me from ignominy), but the top 7 scores were 4.8, 4.8, 4.7, 4.6, 4.6, 4.6, and 4.5 – even though it wasn’t my favorite, I recognize it for the world-class Lambic it is.
When the hotel threw us out of the room we had rented, we went up to hopsrus’ hotel room. Somehow, the two bottles of La Folie that BigBadBear63 and I were ready to try never made it upstairs – we still have no idea what happened to them. I again went to bed relatively early (~1am), but things continued until 4:30am.
The next day, those of us who didn’t have to leave town early met at Goose Island for a last hurrah. More beers to sample, farewells to impart, and one more special event – Josh recorded his 3000th Ratebeer rating, a Southampton Double Ice Bock that TAR was nice enough to provide. It was a fitting end to a glorious weekend in which I personally tried 44 new beers, including 9 beers that were in the top 50 and 11 that I rated a 4 or higher.
I hope to see all of you next year, wherever the 2004 Summer Gathering takes place. You can be sure that I’ll do everything I can to be there. With the way the site has grown, it may be that next year’s gathering will make Chicago seem like AA.