I’ve re-written this post a few times mostly because the opinions of strangers on the Internet keep causing me to question my entire appreciation for beer as a hobby. it doesn’t help that I’m fatter, poorer and more insulated than I was upon entering craft beer. Ya’ll are trying to break me, I get it. Also, I’ve sprinkled some photos into this post. Some are iPhone shots and I’m sorry about that. They aren’t the same as my real camera but I didn’t want to miss out on some of these moments.
There was an opportunity that sort of just came about a few months ago. My family doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, my friend Chris who has over 2K rates on RateBeer had a birthday on Thanksgiving and both of us had 5 days off from work. I’ve never been to Chicago and had a few RateBeer friends en route to the windy city that I only knew from email conversations and forum posts. The goals of this trip were simple:
- Take a road trip across states I’ve never been to with a great friend who appreciates beer as much as I do
- Meet trading partners in every state we passed through
- Visit breweries and brewpubs and buy beer outside of our distribution area
- Explore Chicago and buy some Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
The trip started with this huge stout tasting I’m doing in January. Last year, we received the BCS release in January and I had to trade for bottles to get it. I wanted to go to the source and get the bottles upon release and in a non-marked up price. Some stores near me were selling 1 Bourbon County Stout bottle for $12. Chicago would be the cheapest place to buy it.
Highway to Chicago
It’s Interstate 90 west pretty much the entire way to Chicago. I probably paid $15 in tolls along the way and drove 3 hours in a snow storm at the northwest tip of PA. The all wheel drive Golf + Blizzak tires meant I could drive in the unplowed passing lane most of the way and didn’t feel a single slippage of the car. We stopped at a few beer stores and eventually made our way to Cleveland after 12 hours. There was a two hour delay in western MA after my tire pressure light came on. A shop diagnosed it as a faulty sensor and to keep an eye on tire pressure. Luckily, we never had an issue for the rest of the trip.
We pulled up to Great Lakes Brewing Company and tried some beers. Their pretzels were awesome! After that, it was off to Fat Heads brewery to get fresh Head Hunter and try their other beers. I met up with the RateBeer guys who were hosting us that evening. We got to their place at midnight and had Jackie O’s beers plus some local ciders and Hill Farmstead Saisons that I brought. It was a great time but we didn’t end up going to bed until 6AM. I was up at 8AM making coffee. I brought my grinder and chemex with me and some Geisha beans from Blue Bottle. My goal of visiting local cafes on this trip was thwarted but it did save me some money.
We pulled into Chicago upon a view of the skyline and a $4 toll around 2PM on Thanksgiving day. Traffic was light and we arrived at the AirBNB apartment I rented for 2 nights. We both cracked a heady topper and then took a nap. Then it was time for a Thanksgiving dinner at an Irish restaurant. They were doing the regular T-day fare for a fixed price and it was 2 blocks from Hopleaf which opened at 6. We had some beers at Hopleaf and called it an early night. The 15 hours of driving + 2 hours of sleep wednesday night was really hitting us hard. And we had to be up at 4AM for Black Friday at Binny’s store across from Goose Island which gets the most of Bourbon County stout each year.
Binny’s wasn’t too crazy. We arrived at 4:30 on Friday, were 102 and 103rd in line. Some Goose Island marketing people interviewed us as well as a guy from West Virginia. A few guys I knew drove pretty far. Sean T who I trade with often from TN drove 8 hours for the release. Lots of neighboring states were represented obviously. One guy drove up from Ohio and had to drive 9 more hours I think to Minnesota once he got his beer. Intelligentsia gave out coffee to the first 105 people and Goose Island gave out glassware to the first 200.
We got into the store around 11AM and were able to pick 3 BCS. I went for Coffee + Coconut + Backyard Rye and my buddy did the same. We went to another beer store and I grabbed a case of Bourbon County + a 4-pack of Barleywine and then we did lunch at Whole Foods. Then it was back to Binny’s to take part in the BCS Raffle. Chris was the only person who’s number was called twice. He walked away with King Henry and BCS Vanilla for $63 including tax. I shopped for beer and bought some bourbon and beers I can’t get where I live and we went back to the apartment to unload the car.
At 1:30, our tasting at Goose Island brewpub started. It lasted over an hour and I met 5 people who I knew from Hill Farmstead’s Collected works, RateBeer Admins and general traders I know from the web. Actually, it was pretty interesting to have people all morning and for that week coming to me saying they recognize me from the beer blog or that we did a trade at some point. No one spit on me or kicked me which is always nice. One guy did want to take picture and that got weird and I turned it down. Most of you realize I know very little about beer and write here to document my adventures, not to be treated like someone who knows what they’re talking about so let’s keep the pictures to a minimum please.
The tasting was fun and we had food at Goose Island afterward. Then it was time to hit a few stores where I just punched in “beer store” on my iPhone and drove to them because I hate calling stores because it’s just adding more work for the store and didn’t find any more Bourbon County variants. I did buy a 4-pack of regular at each store I visited to show patronage which is why I came home with 2 full cases of regular. Prices were $19 – $25 on average.Then Chris and I went to Half Acre Brewing and then to Revolution. Both of those places are doing great stuff and the beers were exceptional.
Exhausted and beat, we went back to the apartment again to take an hour nap and get ready for dinner at Chicago Cut steakhouse. I had the porterhouse and chris did the delmonico with asparagus and white fish with a cream topping. Mine was served rare with no additions. The wine was remarkable and they gave Chris a chocolate cake since I put in the reservation notes that it was his birthday dinner. The food was excellent but the dining experience and service fell short. $115 for a single steak and I expect not to be bumped and pushed by wait staff and have my glass sit empty for over 10 minutes. That’s acceptable in a Waffle House but not here. Still, we had an awesome time.
Departure from Chicago:
We let Chicago at 10AM after stopping at a few more beer stores. I hit a Whole Foods in the south loop at 9 and they said beer geeks were lining up at 6AM. When we arrived, Backyard Rye and regular BCS were left so we got one each. Then it was time to hit 3 Floyds in Indiana but first, I stopped at White Castle. I didn’t know these were even real restaurants. I admit, it wasn’t good at all, barely could I finish the cheese slider but now I can say I went to a White Castle.
There was a line 50 deep at FFF in Munster. They opened at noon, we sat down and ate and I did 2 beer trades with people. While we were waiting in line, two car guys asked me about my Golf R and wanted to sit in it. It’s strange how many people love this car. I love it too but it’s still strange. Opening up my trunk to trade with a guy, a beer geek stopped by and wanted to trade some of the heady topper and Chris finally handed the guy his phone number so they could trade when we get back to New Hampshire. Poor Chris, he doesn’t trade that much and now has two new guys that want to swap beers on this trip.
I didn’t realize we were still in Central time because i plugged in the address of my friend in Albany who was doing a tasting and offered up his couch and we were going to arrive at 3AM. Crap
The Long road back to New Hampshire:
There were no snow storms or tire problems on the trip back. We cancelled a few brewery and store visits and rolled into Eerie PA around 10PM. It was at this point that Chris and I had to make a decision. He was exhausted and there was a nearby hotel for under $100 a night. We could stop here for the night and still have 9 hours to go tomorrow (sunday) or drive straight through. We went to a brewery in Eerie and then to a local bar. At 12:30AM, I decided to buy 4 red bull drinks and push through.
Our trunk weighed down, the car feeling very small after being in it for so many hours and I turned on some dub step and started driving. I was tired and my brain was on auto-pilot. It was at 7AM on the MA / NY border that I pulled off at a toll plaza, set my iPhone for 60 minute timer and closed my eyes. Despite the sun being out, I could not go the last 2.5 hours without falling asleep. We finally arrived at Chris’ place at 11AM, split up our beers and then I drove 2 hours north to my place. I was fine the rest of Sunday, I worked on my second job that evening and caught up on some day job tasks. Went to sleep around 9PM and took Monday off from work to further recover.
Trip in Review:
Overall, this was an awesome trip with a good friend. I know we were getting tired of each other in that last leg and Chris really underestimated how much we’d have to hunt for the beers we did get. I probably won’t do it again next year but who knows. I’m certain if I go again, it’ll be by myself.
Now I have all of the beers needed for the tasting in January and I had 50 new ratings in 5 days and some new in person trades with very cool people.