The Blue Chip Casino was host to an IPA-lover’s paradise on Thursday evening, where brewmasters from 11 local breweries showcased their handcrafted brews to media members and selected guests in preparation for the Eighth Annual Blue Chip Brewfest in May.
“Tonight we invited the media to come try the beer, and also to enjoy the food pairings that Blue Chip’s executive chef, Nicholas Manning, helped create and make for the upcoming Brewfest,” said Toni Antonetti from P.R. Chicago, who helped organize and publicize the evening’s event. “Chef Nic makes the food in response to the beer, so he works together with the breweries to come up with a recipe that compliments the beer.”
Manning has been with Blue Chip since June, but has been a top chef for multiple casinos throughout the Midwest in recent years after graduating from culinary school in Germany.
“We’ve got everything form Korean noodle salad to corn bites, and tonight is one of those nights that I really get to be creative,” said Manning. “At Blue Chip, each restaurant here has its niche, and each chef has to stay in that restaurant’s given lane. But tonight was an opportunity for us chefs to play around with new recipes, like the pablano pork belly or the grilled shrimp with grapefruit.”
One of the more creative dishes that Manning featured at the event was what he called a “Sante Fe Chicken Lollipop.” paired with Greenbush Brewing’s 400 Divine Rabbits, the dish is simply a southern-spiced fried chicken leg with the meat pushed all the way down to one end of the bone for some easy-dipping action.
Not every brew was paired with a custom recipe, though. Take Revolution Brewing's Anti Hero, for instance - a beer that has been immensely successful in the area recently, and offers a unique flavor that can easily standalone as a substitute to a light dessert.
“Our Anti Hero is really our mainstay, and it’s currently the best-selling IPA in Chicago as well as the entire state of Illinois,” said Andy Kapshire, one of the representatives from the Chicago-based brewery. “It’s got a great malt flavor that people love, and it’s just blown up since we launched it.”
Off Square Brewing from Crown Point was also at the preview night, showcasing its wide range of style and creativity.
“Right now, we are doing everything from german styles, to a barrel-aged program, and we’ve also done some milkshake IPAs which are very popular,” said Rod Mackenzie, who’s been with Off Square since they opened in downtown Crown Point last June. “We want to spread the word about good beer, talk to people who are interested in good beer and what goes into brewing it.”
The milkshake IPAs that Mackenzie mentioned, called Pink Cowbells, are among the brewery’s - and the area’s - most popular, as many local liquor stores have even put the strawberry-flavored IPAs on their shelves. Mackenzie also mentioned another one of their creative favorites, Bold Betty, which is a split between their original batch of Angry Betty and an espresso blend from Dagger Mountain in Valparaiso.
At the event, rivaling Off Square for their knack for innovation, was Burn ‘Em Brewing, who’s own Matt Zakrzweski was there representing their Kreamed Corn blend, an IPA mixed specifically to embrace Indiana’s land-of-corn stereotype.
"It’s one of my favorite beers to have with a meal, just because it really compliments everything,” said Zakrzweski, though Manning decided to pair it with his own Chorizo Mac and Cheese Bites.
As the night went on, and glasses were filled, refilled, and continually topped off, conversation quickly grew in passion and richness. On full display was the energy these brewmasters carried for good craft beer, and sharing that love with media representatives who came to listen, eat, drink, and admire.
Indeed, perhaps these Brewmasters were simply seizing the opportunity to share such relaxed and intimate conversations on craft beer, the likes of which may be harder to find come the actual Brewfest event on May 5 at Blue Chip. Last year’s sold-out event attracted more than 2,500 beer-enthusiasts, and much of the same is expected for this year’s Brewfest as well, which means that representatives from these local breweries will be on their toes every second of every minute.
Still, most of these brewmasters wouldn’t have it any other way, and simply love the buzz that Blue Chip has allowed to culminate around good craft beer.
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