When a child turns one year old, the birthday party isn't really for them — it's for the parents. It's a reason for family and friends to get together, slap each other on the back, and offer some reassurance that it all gets easier from here on out. Good job, well done, this is all normal, they'll say. But really, everyone knows it doesn't get easier, it just keeps being hard in different ways. But by the time the kid turns five the gloves come off, the parents start drinking again, and it's all bouncy castles and balloon animals. Now you're cruising.
Last night, two of chicago's best celebrated their anniversaries. Solemn Oath turned one year old, gathering close friends and family from around the country at the Bavarian Lodge is Lisle, Illinois where they first launch a year ago almost to the day. Those responsible for raising them, literally and metaphorically, stood in the crowded bar under a ceiling hung as low as a VFW and toasted to a year well done. There were raised glasses, plenty of hugs, and tears running down faces and collecting in beards.
Wes from Windy City, one of Chicago's bulldogs when it comes to building craft culture across dozens of accounts in the city and suburbs, sat quietly as the SOB crew gathered behind the taps and said their thanks, one at a time, with a sincerity and gravity not often seen among young businessmen and brewers in such a popular and booming scene as craft beer. It's easy, when everything around you seems instantly successful, to imagine that your own success was inevitable. But as many will likely soon learn, nothing, even the continued growth of craft beer, is guaranteed. It requires relationships, shared values and an openness to a growing and broadening audience. In other words, it takes a village.
To honor their first fledgling year, SOB served two cask ales in addition to a half dozen taps, including Snaggletooth Bandana, a hugely aromatic IPA full of grapefruit, pineapple, and over-ripe mango. All that citrus and bitterness is smooth as silk on cask, slowly drying your palate to a desert-like haze.
At the end of the night, the SOB crew returned the favor by honoring Alan Taylor, inheritor of his father's Lodge, who renovated and re-positioned the bar as one of the western suburbs heaviest anchors in craft beer. Alan was the one who took a chance on SOB even before they brewed their first batch, based on character alone. They presented Alan with a plaque that's been hanging in the SOB taproom all year, reading "What Good Shall I Do This Day?" commemorating that first launch party, and the many events they've shared together since.
Meanwhile, in the Ravenswood neighborhood of Chicago's north side, another Chicago brewery, Half Acre, was celebrating its fifth anniversary. From crawl to walk to run, this brewery has created a culture, and an unsurpassed reputation for a party. Taking over three floors of the Ravenswood Arts Center, the building pulsed with the sound and sights of an inferno. No heartfelt announcements here — just wall to wall dancing, drinking and exotic cars and motorcycles.
Half Acre's parties serve as an example of the largesse these brewers are willing to share with the fans that help them realize the dream of a craft industry with no bounds. Coming in at round 5% market share in Chicago, craft beer has created dream jobs for many, but has clearly only begun as we work to catch up to the curve of the nationwide movement. Only a few short years ago, the Craft Brewers Conference landed in Chicago for the first time, and Chicago Craft Beer Week was barely a murmur in the city. Three years later, it's quite possibly the most participatory week on the city's calendar, whether you're unwittingly enjoying a $4 craft pint at your neighborhood bar, or shouting from the rooftops with the city's most ambitious brewers. We're growing up fast — and it might take more than a village to get to the next phase. It'll take this whole damn city. Reach high.