What is a Beer Tapping event?
Beer tapping events are a fine thing; fresh, local and rare craft beers are offered to the public at a location with a liquor license. A valve/tap which controls the release of beer is affixed to a new keg or barrel, and the flow of beer can then begin! A beer tapping event often means that the beer being tapped for the first time at the bar/restaurant, or it can even be the first tapping by a brewery of a brand new beer for the forthcoming season. You can find a complete Introduction to Beer Tapping here.
Beer Tapping in Oak Brook
On a Wednesday night in the Chicago suburbs, local craft brewery Big Shoulders Beer Company presented three of their fine craft beers at the biggest beer bar in the suburbs, a.k.a. Old Town Pour House in Oak Brook. Pour House devoted three of their 90 draft taps to the three beer on offer from newly established Big Shoulders. Newly established does not mean that they are new to this – launching their third beer comes a full four years after the original big batch of brewing, and celebrates a firm arrival as they expand from Chicago proper to the ‘burbs. Owner Rich Szydlo was on hand to chat with us about craft beer and his journey to this beer tapping event.
Big Shoulders Beer Company
Big Shoulders started after owner Rich Szydlo brewed a special wheat beer for his sister’s engagement party. The beer’s reception was great, and having been into home-brewing for some time, Rich decided to brew with a larger output and find a brewery to help him scale. “I was looking at places to brew in Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Minneapolis… and came close with a couple of places…” says Rich. “But the issue with finding a contract brewery is that, being a small brewer, you can’t really commit to a large batch because you don’t know where it’s going to go or how it’s going to go. So it really was difficult to find a fit. It took a while to find the right setup to be able to do it, and we eventually found one right here up in Zion, IL, so we’re brewing locally, which is great.”
After establishing a base in Zion, Rich built a number of good relationships with Chicago establishments. Howells & Hood was the first place to pour his first release, the Hopapalooza IPA last June, and he soon developed a second brew, the Crosstown Wheat, which came out last September. “For us, we’re brewing food-friendly, session able, approachable styles,” Rich shares. “When you want to have something with dinner and over there courses, my beer is going to go with that, it’s not going to fill out your palette, it’s going to go with your food and be easy with dinner. And the success that we’ve had with places, are places that serve good food, and more restaurant types.”
Why Oak Brook?
Looking to build upon a strong local following in Chicago, Rich wanted a place that he could entice some regulars along to, and with his distributor and various craft beer communities in the area, a beer tapping in Oak Brook was a great choice. The newly opened Old Town Pour House in Oakbrook Center has been steadily reaching out to the local beer crowd, and the two business joined forces to spread word of Rich’s current beers and a brand new flavor – a winter wheat he just completed last month. “We’ve done well in the city, and wanted to make a push out to the western suburbs – I’ve spent time out there, have friends and family there, its somewhere that’s just as big of a market – there’s a ton of little breweries opening up out there, so i think the market is definitely interested in craft beer, not just city people.”
Named in honor of Chicago’s annual music fest, Lollapalooza, this brew uses Summit hops; “thats’ where i get that nice candied orange peel flavor”, says Rich.
This one pays homage to the infamous ‘crosstown classic’ games of Cubs vs Sox, and aims to satiate those who like a citrus not to their wheat beers, but don’t want to have to resort to adding lemon slices. “We take a traditional hefeweizen recipe but we use a little bit more American hops, because they have a little more citrus to them, then we put the lemongrass in there, and coriander to balance with a bit of earthiness. So here’s all these flavors that people want, but done within the beer. That’s the thought process there.”
Windchill Winter Wheat
Chicagoans are a rare species, in that the word windchill is an everyday term, and has real impact on your choice of outerwear for most of the year. Rish’s thoughts; “Winter beers are warming and comforting but they also get very heavy… So that influenced my creating process there, something influencing the darker flavors, but not as filling because it’s a wheat beer.”
Rich also shared a little preview of what is coming next for Big Shoulders, and the latest additions in their subtle Chicago branding… “My next beers will be a Copper Rye called Augustus, which links to a copper statue from the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, and our single hop IPA will use Summit hops and so will be linked to the tallest point in Illinois. So yeah, a thoughtful local history lesson to it!”
Have you attended a great beer tapping event before, or plan to attend one soon? Tell us below…
by Lee Jarvis.