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Friday, June 12, 2015

Step Right Up: Lagunitas Chicago Beer Circus

The juggling was mesmerizing. The painted faces were bright and eye catching. The music was entertaining. Even the tents, with their spikes jutting against the blue sky, playfully added to the atmosphere. I saw pink elephants before the drinking even started! 

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of visiting the 2nd Annual Chicago Lagunitas Beer Circus with Mr. K and a couple of adventurous friends. It was a perfect celebration of beer, oddities, and fun. It was a great way to welcome the late-to-arrive spring. The beer was flowing with short lines and the food trucks were well stocked. It was a well-organized and laid back event with a great crowd, memorable entertainment, creative costumes, and delicious beer. It was an inventive way to raise money for PAWS Chicago.

We waited in line entertained by the musicians playing and the performers practicing. While we waited in line it was hard to miss the towering, rotating, metal, three-tiered stage in the middle of the circus. They were manually hoisting up drum kits and equipment. They played a bit of punk and metal to entertain the crowd. The line to get in moved quickly. We were handed our color-changing beer cup. Our wristbands were snapped on with four drink tickets for convenience and easy access. We were greeted by a pink elephant, stilt walkers, and a man riding around on a penny-farthing. We soon realized that the tower rotation was driven by workers pushing a treadwheel at the base.

The set up was perfectly suited for the large crowd. They had entertainment on both ends and some in the middle. Acts walked around in full costume interacting with the crowd. With the tent set up, there was plenty of shade to get out of the sun. The grass near the fence was a perfect spot to sit under a shade tree and relax. The bathrooms were plentiful and clean (an important detail commonly overlooked). Water stations were placed by tents and beer trucks for much-needed hydration and cup cleanser/refresher between beers. Everything was spread out to accommodate the crowd. I didn’t feel like there was 4,000 people there.

Beer trucks and stations lined the perimeter with their standard selection and seasonal treats. A specialty tent with firkin pours, guest brews, and special infusions was set up near the middle. The lines were short, the service was quick, and the 10 oz pours were perfect for a day of drinking. Bitter IPAs, rich stouts, and flavorful fruit infusions were on the menu.

The food trucks were lined up against the fence serving up gourmet fare like tamale, cupcakes, pasties, egg dishes, sandwiches, kebabs, lobster rolls, dumplings, rice balls, bacon cupcakes, and bacon brownies. The lines for food were short for the most part, though the lines built up near the end as the crowd got hungry and the news spread about the delicious lobster rolls and the tasty Asian cuisine.

This wasn’t just a beer and food event though. While the beer was a pull, the performances were equally, maybe even more so, exciting. The music was upbeat ranging from heavy metal to 60s R&B. 90s grunge and 80s punk evened it out. With the volume and the stage placement, the bands playing simultaneously didn’t interrupt each other. One tent had two stages with poles and platforms for performers to dance with the music. The acts alternated stages. The tent on one of the ends was set up for the oddities and circus performances. A man hammered a nail through his nose, a Viking picked up weights with this ears. People on stilts looked on as performers swung from hooks in their backs. The shows were performed in a constant stream. The tower in the middle had a platform swinging from its side with a full drum kit and a wild drummer on a wild ride. At one point the platform was switched out for a piano hanging on a thick metal chain. A woman sat on the top of the piano head banging like something out of a heavy metal lounge act. These musicians flew through the air hypnotizing the crowd.

The costumes were inventive. Stilts and nunchucks were tools of the trade. There was a mix of Oopma Loompas and ring leaders, nipple rings and Hawaiian shirts, Jesus in a Pretzel and tattooed strongmen in tights. Some costumes were so well done that the only thing separating them from the staff performers was the silver wristbands.

As the event neared the end some food ran out, some hand washing stations lost their water, and some booze tapped out. Surprisingly though, few people staggered out of there. Everyone had a good time and left with as much energy as they started with. It was a great crowd and a memorable event. I can’t wait until next year!

...just the ones I tried.
  • Daytime Fractional IPA
  • Cherry Kronik with French Oak Chips
  • A Little Sumpin' Sumpin'
  • God Damn Pigeon Porter (Spiteful Brewing)
  • Lagunitas IPA
  • Crimson Snapper (Pipeworks Blood Orange and Honey Imperial IPA)
  • Dogtown Pale Ale
  • Bring ear plugs. The noise isn't unpleasant, but can get uncomfortable
  • Get food early and often.
  • Take advantage of the water stations. (Not just to rinse your cup!)
  • Prepare for unpredictable spring weather, use sunscreen and bring sweater.
  • Dress up! Even if it’s not your thing, do it. A little hat or a funny mustache will add to your experience.

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