A Study in Excess: My 38th Birthday Beer Week.


The Saturday before my 38th birthday involved early reservations for eight at Publican in Fulton Market. The more people I brought, I figured the more delicious meat-centric stuff people try. Although, when you show up with eight people, you don’t get to dine in the farm animal stable. But I think drinking Navaja at the long, communal tables situated under the gargantuan paintings of overly-fattened pigs is fun. So is the community bathroom sink, which reminds me of the public water fountain in Smith Park.

I’ll attempt not to describe the luscious banquette set before us, lest I detract from any Yelp five-star reviewer. That place is incredible and I feel massive sorrow if you have not been there.



After Publican, I hosted a bottle share involving thirty friends whom I invited, five or six additional people whom I did not invite, and one dude who I specifically did not invite, and I have no clue how he keeps getting in to my parties. Nothing under roughly 10% ABV was opened. This event involved no palate cleansing, and minimal glass rinsing, barely any food, with roughly 80% of the conversation completely erased from my mind via fermented sugar water and oak barrel resin. I did a lot of things wrong and found out that age thirty-eight involves two-day hangovers.



My top three favorite beers of the night:

2015 Three Floyds Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Lord – Variant Muerte

Waxed up in deep maroon, aged on ancho and guajillo peppers: “liquid raisin with cinnamon and very slight pepper and mild soy sauce”, to quote my friend Adam’s review on Untappd

Bruery Terreux Black & Blue BBLs

A blend of 30% sour stout, and 70% imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels with blackberries and blueberries added


A collaborative effort between MoRE Brewing in Villa Park, and Mikerphone: an Imperial Vanilla Rye Stout with lactose, yielding two whole Tahitian vanilla beans per 22oz bottle

To put that in to perspective, our most recent home brew Shadow Man, a vanilla milk stout, used 3 vanilla beans for 5 gallons of beer. Each bean cost us $9.



Also included in this night were a hand numbered, waxed sparkly green, Willett Whiskey Barrel Aged Behemoth Barleywine, 2017 Chocolate Rain, 750 ml bottles of both KBS and CBS, 18th Street Bourbon Barrel Aged Bitches Bank, Floydivision, some hazy golden fluid from Noon Whistle, Jai Alai, Revolution League of Heroes, Microphone Allman Joy, Imperial Smells Like Bean Spirit, and Pale Pauper, Lazersnake, Begyle Quagmire DIPA (about as piney, resinous and dank as one bastard could ever dream of), and I can’t remember what else besides a bunch of mass-produced, back-sweetened cider that I promptly drain-poured the following day.



Everyone told me they had a blast, so that’s good. I’m sure I had a blast, too. I highly value friends and I understand “friendship” to be a range, spanning depth regarding time known, experiences shared, and trust built. There is an array weighted in loyalty which is concentrated for me on certain individuals. But I consider almost everyone I’ve met a “friend”, and personally I don’t feel it cheapens the term. Internally I know who I hold in high regard and who I don’t; who I can trust with information and who I can’t.

I give people breaks even if they are dicks. Some people don’t really have basis for what they’re doing in life until they actually feel acceptance from someone else. My goal in life has been to become friends with everyone in the world, and if people aren’t weirded out by that, assuming they believe my motives, then they are mostly invited to my bottle shares.



I spent the final 90 minutes of the night talking in my kitchen with one of my favorite songwriters of all time. Accidentally moving in to the same apartment building as this guy, three years ago, was the coolest thing to happen to me since I accidently sat next to and had a beer with John Hall at the bar at Goose Island Clybourn.

Anyway, I don’t remember any of the conversation in my kitchen (which also involved a nice fellow who is currently in the band Saves the Day). The only thing that helps to offset the fact that I blacked out and frustratingly can’t recall anything from the dialogue is that I have somehow randomly obtained (my version of) privilege to write about 90s emo guys in my kitchen, the original League of Heroes, aka my 1998 version of craft brewers, that would have made my 18 year-old geek self’s head explode.

I’m not going to lie, it’s still surreal and my head still almost explodes every time I get to converse with this dude after twenty years of fandom and now, being neighbors. I tried to take a secret picture of him but the camera noise on my phone went off and I dropped it on the floor. I do recall that part.


I was useless all of Sunday and Monday. After work Tuesday I met up with my friend at Revolution Brewpub and without a doubt ended up chomping an Hombre Burger. My firm gives every employee their birthday off as a paid holiday. I had been planning for weeks to take Wednesday, my actual birthday off and go to an 8:00 AM open brew day at Dovetail, a German traditional style brewery in Northcenter, where they were mashing in for a Lambic, and performing pump-out from a previous day’s brew from their Koelschip into wooden barrels.


My alarm woke me up at about 7:00 AM to another grinding hangover and an unearthly force urging me to simply roll back over and fall asleep. The night before consisted of four beers at Revolution, and a follow-up at my place featuring Bitches Bank, Sea of Hell, Elle, a foudre aged saison from Jackie O’s, and Marz Golden Boy, a white stout brewed with pretzels and Dominican cocoa nibs.

An open brew day at Dovetail versus the longing desire for slumber sparked one of the more conflicted internal battles I’ve experienced. It ended in compromise; I slept until 7:35, skipped showering and threw on my hoodie. After a stop at Dark Matter Star Lounge, I made it to Dovetail by 8:15. I felt guilty that I was late, but quickly learned I was the only person who showed up for the tour.

There was an even bigger challenge than my original, heroic act of crawling out of bed. Since I was the only person on the tour, I felt pressure to uphold conversation with both the social media lady (who is a Level Three Advanced Cicerone), and the head brewer/owner of Dovetail, all while feeling like a massive alien was in the process of perforating my skull and splitting it apart from the inside.

No hiding beneath shadows in a crowd with my blood shot eyes, dysfunctional brain, and stumbling, non-sequitur speech patterns. No, I had to formulate thoughtful questions and maneuver my pained body around hoses, gauges and barrels, all the while acting excited. And I was excited…but even on a good day, my version of excitement comes along with zero physical or facial revelation. On a typical, completely sober day, if you told me you had won the $120 million Powerball, it would pain me to force out a reciprocal level of excitement to even match the idea you had won a $5 scratch off at White Hen.


Anyway, my Dovetail experience was incredible. They’re the only brewery in Chicago that has a Koelschip – a giant pan, physically set at the highest point of production that acts to spontaneously enable fermentation of the wort. For one, increased surface area and proper ambient temperature help to cool it down. The windows are opened and random yeast spores and other microorganisms are allowed to freely drift in and fall into the wort. Dovetail sits mere feet away from the L track, and the CTA Brown Line passes right outside the window of the Koelschip room. I’m fascinated by how funky that Lambic will turn out.


I wanted to go swimming in that vat of wort and spores.




I witnessed the mill in action as well as the mash-in for the Lambic. They use horizontal lagering tanks they pulled from a dairy farm as to help spread the surface area for cooling. A copper vessel they use came from the pilot plant at the world’s oldest brewery, Weihenstephaner in Germany.

The vessel is 108 years old, and when they found in an old barn in the Bavarian countryside, it was cut in half. They had to hire a copper welder from MillerCoors to come down and piece it together and add fittings. The boil kettle is direct-fired, meaning when they decoct, they boil with fire to get a Maillard reaction.


I got to sample an open-air fermented Kriek that the Dovetail brew master had been aging on whole Ballantine cherries for over seven months. It was amazingly tart, hitting me in two different waves of cherry-goodness, and it wasn’t even fully carbonated yet. He told me that I was the first customer to ever taste a commercially brewed, spontaneously fermented beer in the history of the city of Chicago. So if all of this craziness wasn’t enough, that statement alone made my 38th birthday.





After drinking coffee that conflictingly enough, wasn’t brewed very well, checking out the (decorative) Lauter Grant behind the bar inside the sleek, scintillant taproom, I decided to take off after about two hours. A lot of brewing is basically downtime, and brewers are notoriously known for being extremely awkward. These facts coupled with my hangover equated to an exodus-focused mindset.

After being asked if I’ve drank Dovetail beer in the past, lying about the idea that I had, and then claiming, “I forgot” after being asked “where at?”, I decided to fake an incoming phone call from work and subsequently saunter out to the sidewalk.




That one day, my birthday, as of this writing, has been the only day for roughly the past seven months to be higher than 50 degrees outside. I decided to leave my car in Northcenter, flame up a Partagas Black Label Gigante Maduro 60-ring gauge, and walk ninety minutes to original Kuma’s Corner in Avondale.



Call it over-hyped, say what you will about the heavy metal soundtrack, imply anything you’d like about a Schaumburg location; it’s fucking ALWAYS remarkable to munch a High on Fire, temperature medium with pretzel bread, roasted red pepper, prosciutto, grilled pineapple, chili paste, and sriracha. Combine that with an 18th Street Defiance Alliance, a dry-hopped Kolsch brewed specifically for Kuma’s, and you’ve got a blog post that defies even the highest and most violent riptides of self-indulgence.


If you’ve hung in this long, I thank you. I now weigh 300 pounds.


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