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We’re Crafty, I Swear

4 Apr

oscarSpring is trying to get into gear here in Chicago however, it was 72 degrees yesterday and is snowing today so I guess that means things are normal and right on track for April. Sigh. Literally 24 hours ago, I was sitting at the lakefront with my hubs after riding over on our two-wheeled vehicles, enjoying a road pop while the sun was warm enough that I removed my jacket. Today however, wool coats and boots prevail. To brighter days though, eh?

Some friends and I started She’s Crafty, a ladies’ beer club in Chicago (only, so far) which meets at least once month. We all have full time jobs and hobbies, so it’s hard to devote the time we should do to promotion, coming up with new event locations and ideas, networking, etc. but the good news is that we’re growing! In about 18 months, we managed to pick up two more regulars and three more semi-frequent attendees, which is better than the odds. The other lady beer groups in town are also national, super organized, and do a lot of ticketed events. Their reach is bigger and their whole system feels much more professional than probably ours does, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. We haven’t had any arguments, blowups, issues, or problems to speak of and thanks to a standard welcome policy, I’m told those who join us are excited to do it and most come back. We even managed to scoop up a lady who doesn’t enjoy beer but apparently just likes to hang out with us.

motorNaturally with all planning, some people heavy lift more than others, which happens in every group and organization under the sun. Some really enjoy taking the reigns and dealing with the the minutia, and some frankly, just want to be told where to be and when so long as there’s beer waiting. That’s been challenging for me personally, but it’s the best hobby I’ve ever had and it’s really exciting to see it grow. Two of our girls (not even in the founding five!) met up one evening to participate in bar trivia and named themselves “Team She’s Crafty”. I have to admit that I think I got a little verklempt when I read that. Our buttons have become our calling cards and when they’re handed out, it’s not uncommon to get a new follower or two on Facebook within a day. The more we meet, the more I’m convinced that not having a ticketed or even Very Official style is our selling point. Lots of ladies just want to hang out and enjoy delicious beers with each other, period. No more, no less, thu
s furthering the second credo of: “Keep It Simple, Stupid”. We don’t want to become the kind of ladies’ group that gives them a bad name, and we want the freedom to nip poor behavior in the bud before it festers (a group killer, no doubt).

We don’t have a Grand Plan going forward into 2016 or beyond, we pretty much come up with our events about two months out from each one, once we plot our personal schedules and review the places we want to go (and vetoing places no one wants to deal with getting to) then just see how it plays out. Some breweries and bars are amazing and welcoming, IMG_20160219_162542some seem like they are then our group shows up and are a surprise to the staff, and yet others never respond to our emails or calls at all. There are enough bars and breweries opening in Chicago every month that we’re not running low on places to visit, which when I think about smaller towns, realize that we are incredibly fortunate. We try to plan events with many factors in mind: Decency of beer list obviously, realistic start time, location convenience for those who don’t drive, finances (and methods of payment. We have a ton of cash-only bars around here and they are a pain), plus, of course the second most important element: fun. Our bottle shares are some of the best events we have and something we try to do at least three times a year, everyone looks forward to those.

So there you have it, the State of the Union of She’s Crafty Chicago. Nothing bad to report, and a few good things happening. That’s pretty much ideal, right? Now if we could only get our website built…

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So Much Beer, More Than Enough Time

19 Dec

FOBAB, aka, the Festival of Barrel-Aged Beers, is an annual Chicago beer nerd (and those who hang onto them) hot ticket tradition. Tickets go so fast, you either have to have a few phones and computers going at the same time to score some, or you have to know someone. Or, you have to volunteer to work some part of the event and are paid by free entry to one session. Which is what my cheap friends and I do, because really for some hours of schmoozing, helping, and walking around (and pizza), it’s a pretty easy score.

This was my first year working and/or attending. My club has done it before and raved about it, so with my back… back… I decided I could handle it and signed up. When you apply, they need to know if you’re BASSET certified and if you aren’t, you take a test. If you don’t want to pour beers, you can skip that part and just sign up for whatever interests you (merch, welcome, ticket taking, ID checking, gopher, heavy lifter, etc). Pouring, they say, is always the best gig. You get to drink while you do it (“discreetly because we’re ” WINK WINK “not allowed”), you get a feel for how the rooms are set up and flow, and there is some choice people watching. But, there’s also a lot of standing, no break, and no time to chill once the crush begins. My back isn’t completely…back… so I opted to work registration. Turns out, that’s mostly standing around until it’s time to hand out glasses and guidebooks. Once those are gone, I was sent to coat check to help some Chicago cops raise funds. After of one of their 13 years old daughters went on to me about Hozier for a solid 10 minutes, I excused myself to “check on a friend in a room who needs some help”…and I never went back. I’m sure they were just fine without me.

But let me back up a bit. The overall flow of events is this: The organizers send out a Facebook request for volunteers. You pick which session you want to work and which session you want to drink, as well as which job you want to do. Then you attend an “orientation” which truly is nothing but free pizza and beer from Revolution while the organizers kind of tell you where to be and when, sort of tell you what to wear, and hint at timelines with a vague whiff of organization. It was about nine minutes of information (wherein mine wasn’t covered in print or via the mic). Things seemed shaky from the get. They didn’t improve. A week or two later, you show up to work, ask someone where to go, get a wristband and t-shirt, then wait to be put into action.

One of us worked Friday night so she could attend the Saturday night session with the other three of us who worked Saturday day sessions. Those of us who showed up to work checked in and then waited for a while. Some were already running around doing important jobs, some were standing around waiting. I was one of those. Eventually, I was placed behind a table with dozens of boxes full of dozens of tiny mugs that had guide books placed in them, to be handed to incoming boozers like batons in a relay. Some of us were plucked from that job and sent outside to check IDs and wristband the oncoming storm. Fortunately, I dodged that job twice. Chicago was hovering comfortably between 32-33 degrees with rain-snow-slush-snow-rain-snow, so when asked, I put on my biggest eyes and slightest grin and looked around. It worked, I wasn’t called.

After the books were handed out, about half an hour before last call, I made my way to coat check to help hand coats back. It was an unorganized, inefficient system with too many cooks and no kitchen (cops were in charge, did I mention that?). The Hozier conversation happened and right as I was on my last nod to, “I WANNA MARRY HIM SO BAD”, people began to funnel out. Slurs of lost tickets and jacket descriptions (“It’s black and puffy”) began to come at us. Bodies flew around the racks in an attempt to help. I just stood there, there was no system and no direction. I offered my tested method, thanks to many years of working coat check at a few restaurants, but they weren’t interested. So I went back to standing there, and dodged bodies.

Soon, I noticed an absolutely wasted man lean on his female companion who wisely set him on the ground then sat down next to him so he could lean on her. He was smiling, but he was seconds from puke and/or pass out. Shortly after him came a young man in his 20s, eyes slitted and knees giving out then popping back into position repeatedly. He leaned and sidestepped until he found station on a friend’s shoulder. Behind him came a man who looked identical to him in stature and condition, plus 30 years. I stood there, watching them barely stand there, swaying, pointing aimlessly, desperate to gain purchase on the arms of their coats and miss over again. Suddenly, I got very sad and very anxious. My heart began to race and I started to plan the quickest way out of my corner.

I made up the slight lie about my friend in the other room, excused myself, and went up to the volunteer room where I grabbed my phone and send Dylan a text. I told him what I’d seen and that for some inexplicable reason, it shook me. I could only assume it was because introvert me was about to barrel (ha ha) headlong into the exact same crowd, fresh and ready to get absolutely hammered. I can’t handle vomit. Out of control drunks make me exceedingly nervous. What had I signed up for? How many more were down there, waiting? So I stayed in the volunteer room until more helpers from my session began to show up. I took that as a good sign and went to meet my friend, who really did exist, at her pouring station. She handed me a few beers, we got caught up, and then it was time to clean. I helped her break down, then we went back upstairs to change into our street clothes to ready ourselves for the drinkin’.

They kept us upstairs for an hour or so with no information, which created all kinds of confusion and chaos. Why wouldn’t they let us downstairs? Would we be able to get in to get drinks before the public, as promised last year? Would our stuff be ok in the volunteer room, now that the night crew showed up and the whole volunteer population has doubled? Eventually, with some false starts and bad information, we were led downstairs and into the main room. We headed straight for the Goose Island BCBS booths where all four of us got different things. Mine was the best, as it happens, though I don’t think it can be purchased. Naturally.

From there we wandered around, enjoyed some BarricAle (several breweries follow the same recipe but produce vastly different results due to environmental variables) and lots of coffee stouts, sours, fruit beers… I can’t even tell you everything we had. Click on the link at the very top, that’s a good breakdown of what’s there and there’s a brewery map with every brewery listed. We had some great pourers who pointed us in the directions of kegs that were about to blow, some folks poured full glasses (about 3 oz) and others poured sippers. Some let us chat them up, some were not into that at all. Ultimately, by the time last call came, we were done and happy to go. I can’t imagine hanging on until someone shoves you out the door. By that point, they may as well pour you into a gutter.

My anxiety? Largely unfounded. Or… I got drunk…but I didn’t see anyone nuts until it was time to leave when no cab or Uber was safe. Yes, there were unsavory piles on the sidewalk here and there, but I didn’t witness it in action. Few were leaning against walls in misery nor were there many bodies laid out on the ground. Maybe like, two. Kegs blew, last call heralded, we grabbed our stuff and caught a cab down the block towards pizza and good old reliable, non-barreled Surly Coffee Bender.

While working I found myself thinking I probably wouldn’t do it again. It was disorganized for the volunteers and as far as fun goes, pouring really is the best way to do it (but not in the sour or cider room, it was a thousand degrees in there). Registration is ok but overstaffed and the risk of going outside to work in bad weather isn’t worth it, so next year if I do it, I will pour. PS – that BASSET cert is to cover FOBAB’s butt. No one asked to see the results. But by the time it was over, I was already thinking of which job to do next year. Being with my friends was the best part though, this is nothing to do alone, there is way too much to share and talk about. It is about 80% men to 20% women, and it is very white. At one point the DJ played Sweet Caroline and predictably, the room went up into that ridiculous “so good! so good! so good!” chant that occurs with the song these days, and my girls and I stopped in our tracks to cringe. Very, very white.

The draw of FOBAB is simple: some of the best breweries in the area made one-off kegs never to be repeated and most either never bottled or very rare. It truly is a once-a-year experience in many senses. Most that are there, are not there for the 13.5% beers only, they really are there to try incredibly interesting and unique, downright exciting, beers. It’s not a bar in the traditional sorrow-drinking way. Thankfully.

It takes an entire year to plan and I don’t envy the team one bit. I thought about offering to help, but it seems rather closed and frankly, they already have people in positions to do the jobs I think they need the most help with (and no one wants to hear that). So instead, I volunteer, I spend my seven hours trying to help however I can, and in exchange I get to drink some amazing, worth more than the $65 entry fee, barrel aged beers.

crafty

She’s Crafty, at FOBAB

She’s Crafty, And She’s Just Your Type

21 Mar

I am one of those people who gets a wild hair up her rear and you might as well punch out, go home, take a nap, make a sammich, and call me in the morning because: I got this.

About a year ago, the Chicago winter was releasing its grip and friends began to crawl out from under their blankets. We gathered for BYO brunch which turned into a trek down to one of the best bars (and restaurants) in Chicago, Three Aces. Seriously, this place is in my top 3 Must Visit List for tourists and locals alike. I love everything about it (except for its nuclear bunker-like cell service, pro tip: sit near the windows for a little bit of signal and the outlet you’ll need when your phone spends two hours struggling to make contact with the outside world). As my girl Sabrina and I were sipping our very dark 10 oz goblets of something heavenly or another, we talked about how there were no good girl groups around town for beer appreciation. Sure, there are always plenty of girls gathering to booze it up but very rarely is it anything educational or informative. Most often anything attempting that devolves into giggling or tears before the night is over and I wind up not wanting much to do with the association, thanks.

Well, ok, that’s not entirely true. There are a few national organizations that I won’t name here, but one in particular someone told me to reach out to so I did. It took them two weeks to reply to me and when they did, it was the VP who said that the Pres was very busy with work and wasn’t planning any events anytime soon. Being the pushy opportunistic jerk that I am, I asked if they were in the market for new blood (read: competent, dedicated blood) to which the VP responded that while yes, that would be handy, the Pres wasn’t very willing to surrender the controls at that time. Ok then. I’ll make my own club with lots of events and cool chicks. Done!

Logo finalIntroducing… She’s Crafty: Ladies’ Anti-Temperance League, Chicago. That’s the link to our Facebook page but of course we have a proper website in the works and when it’s up and I’m happy with it, I’ll link it here. The goal, dear ladies, is to give us a place to meet and talk about beers, try ones we’ve meant to, ones we have no desire to, encourage others to get curious, and talk about why it mattes. Having spent the better part of my life in the service industry and having teamed up in this endeavor with a few others who have as well, we have access to a lot of the local breweries and a few have even reached out to see if we’d like to do a few events with them. We have friends who are cicerones and some who are studying to be. We have both amateur and professional brewers who are always happy to talk about it. Most of all, we are a cool group of girls who want to get together and share our love of all things delicious beer.

So with that, my friend, I humbly request that you pass us around. But you know, respectfully and gentle-like. We’re everywhere. Besides Facebook, you can find us on Twitter (@ShesCraftyChgo), Untappd (ShesCraftyChicago), Instagram (shescraftychgo), and in order to get hold of us via email, send something to ShesCraftyChicago@gmail.com and we’ll respond promptly.

AND if you have a connection to a brewer or brewery and you think they might be into what we’re doing, please send them our way. We’re always looking for more locations and event ideas, every suggestion is welcome. Off we go!

Tis the Season

31 Dec

….for completely ignoring your beer blog. Wow. Sorry, everybody. Hopefully you weren’t holding your breath…

I had some great beers this year, but I have to admit that since moving from Cleveland and not having my own kitchen to consume and photograph, or car with which to fetch new beers to try (for Science), sampling and careful consideration has definitely fallen by the wayside.

I didn’t even drink many Christmas beers this year, how sad. I did have some noteworthy ones though and they are, in no particular order courtesy of my Untappd drinking history:

Serendipity by New Glarus (each batch is different, kind of lambic but not as tart and in large format)
Berghoff Winter Ale (tastes like St. Nick’s tears from laughing too hard)
Stir Crazy Winter Ale (caramel, chocolate, coffee. Very solid)
Deschutes Jubelale (no notes, just that it was on nitro pour and “deeeelicious”)
Surly Brewing’s Misanthrope (sour, had it at the brewery in Minneapolis)
Lift Bridge Brewery and Stillwater’s collaboration beer, Farm Girl Saison (everything he does is great)
New Glarus Moon Man (no notes, but I ordered it a lot so it must be good, creamy IPA I think)
Founders Brewing Breakfast Stout (you cannot go wrong with this ballsy stout)
Rivertown Brewing Co. Pumpkin Ale (not sweet like Pumpking, very balanced)
Solemn Oath Brewery’s Oxford Comma (I gave it five bottlecaps)
Central Waters Brewing Peruvian Morning (“tastes like brownies, oh mama”)
Stillwater Cellar Door Saison (brewed with sage, unfiltered, crisp AND creamy, somehow)

This list goes back to March of 2013 and there are countless others that I forgot to check into along the way, but that should get you started.

And with this halfassed entry, I leave you to celebrate New Years however you see fit. Me? I’ll be taking a disco nap then trudging through the snow to one of my haunts. If I drink anything interesting, I’ll report back. Probably. Happy New Year, friends.

The Longest Break

2 Feb

Unintentional! I promise, I never meant to take this much time away from you (or beer). I moved from Cleveland two months ago and only just started working. March is going to be, and I promise you this, the Renaissance and Rebirth of this silly little journal. I’m within short walking distance of a spectacularly-stocked beer and booze store and while the single bottle selection here isn’t as plentiful or great as in Cleveland, I will certainly make due. I have a list going and it is long. Give me until the first week of March and I’ll be right back with you. Promise. Thanks for hanging in there.

xoxox,
Penny

Shame

29 Dec

I forgot about this.

That’s a lie, I didn’t. I’m just really bad about documenting beers because I’m too busy out drinking them. With that said, I’ve got a little list of beverages to write about and I’m going to do it soon. Promise. No, really, I promise. Christmas beers – Ohio is full of them, many bad, a few good.

Sigh, I know you don’t believe me and I don’t blame you but stick with me here, it’ll happen.

Beer Pole. Er, Poll.

31 Mar

 

Nine people have viewed this blog since publication and none of you have voted. Just do it.

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