The Great Chicago Fire — A Homebrewing Creative Team Starts Simmering

by Michael Kiser

The creativity of Chicago's beer scene, and more specifically, its homebrewers, is astounding. A couple weeks ago, a few young guys got together, hatched a plan and hosted one of my favorite events of the year, complete with a theme, well-executed food pairings, and homebrew recipes that would rival many a brewery startup in the city. Who are these guys? They are Sam Jorden and Mikey Litchfield of Potluck Creative (and the guys behind the masks of BYO Bandits), lead by their close friend and experienced homebrewer, Rob Brennan.  

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In about a month's time, this inventive trio pulled some long nights and even longer brew days to create four separate homebrew recipes and food pairings based on the history of the Great Chicago Fire. As the legend goes, Mrs. O'Leary's cow started the fire that ripped through the city in 1871 with a simple kick of the barn lantern, igniting over three square miles and killing hundreds. While devastating, the fire was also an unexpected rebirth for a city poised to become one of the 20th century's greatest architectural marvels. You might say a similar metaphor has played out in Chicago's beer history, with decades of buyouts and acquisitions clearing the ground for another kind of uprising — but I digress. 

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Potluck riffed on this fiery legend with four beers and food pairings:

The Barn — a Belgian saison, paired with a savory pastry and sharp fruit paste
The Cow — a milk stout aged with Ugandan vanilla bean, paired with hearty mac and cheese
The Smoke — a smoked porter with home-smoked 2-row malt, paired with an equally smoky sausage 
The Fire — a hybrid pale ale aged with habenero, paired with a malty, corn-based mexican stew

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Every beer showed an impressive amount of restraint, and was shockingly exact in its intention. Rob really dialed these recipes in, staying on the lighter side of flavors so as not to overpower with any one direction and leave room for the food to work its magic. 

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As a branding agency, Potluck also knows how to tell a great story. Recently they've produced top-notch video work for Journeyman Distillery in Three Oaks, Michigan, and a promotional video for Dose Market's latest "Harbor Country" theme. They put those same creative talents to work here, turning a humble homebrew shareout into an event to remember. 

From the hand-signed invitation coasters, to the process videos documenting the making of each beer, the audience was well-engaged and immersed in the concept. The entire gathering felt well-considered and thoughtfully produced. I wanted to hi-five these guys every 5 minutes. And once the main event was over, the night continued as rare bottles of Bourbon County, Dark Lord, and Firestone Walker emerged like skyscrapers from the ashes. 

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