I think everyone can agree that what makes Chicago a great beer city is, well, the beer. There’s a ton of it made here. There’s arguably a better selection of out-of-town beer here than anywhere else in the country. And I’m from San Diego.
Coming in a close second, however, are the talented, determined people bringing the beer to you. I’m not just talking about brewers here, I mean the people who own, manage, buy beer for, and serve at all the rad bars and restaurants we love to go to. With that mind, I’m starting a new series here on Sob Stories. Every month or so, I will corner a significant person in the beer business and ask them a handful of questions over a beer. For this post, I sat down with Ria Neri, the beer buyer for Bangers & Lace as well as a few others. Really, I emailed her because she is in another country right now. Ria has been a very strong supporter and amazing friend to us here at SOB. Here are some of her thoughts on the craft beer industry not only in Chicago, but throughout the world.
What got you in to the craft beer world and what do you feel was your draw to it?
Once upon a time beer was yellow, fizzy, bland. Then a friend brought me to the Hopleaf, where I had a fancy-looking goblet filled with iridescent copper-red liquid they called Dekoninck. Caramel, toffee, fruit, spice? This was Belgian beer. It was like a whole new world of flavors opened up for me. I was drawn to the process. When I found out I could make it at home–or attempt to–I was intrigued.
What are some of your favorite styles of beer and how do you keep your beer selections interesting?
Saisons can be earthy, funky, fruity, spicy and/or hoppy. I love the flexibility of the style. I’m also curious about “historical” beer styles–gose, grodziskies and the like. I appreciate the unique stylistic interpretations from breweries. I’m always eager to showcase the creativity they put forth into the art of brewing beer. I am, in turn, rewarded with a list that is always interesting.
Outside of the local market, where are some of your favorite regions for beer and why?
I don’t really have a favorite region, though I have always loved taking the Michigan brewery road trips in the summers. Nostalgia and beer have always been a great pairing.
Where do you see the Chicago craft scene a few years from now?
I think it can only get stronger from here–and by that I mean the quality, not the quantity.
What to you makes a successful craft beer selection at a bar?
You travel all over the world. What places outside of the U.S. seem to have a great craft following?
I think France and Spain are getting their fair share of newer artisanal breweries. There seems to be an emphasis on the American hoppy beer profiles there, whereas in the States we are saturated with the style. I haven’t been to Scandinavia, but I hear they are a beer tour de force.
With the success of the bars you purchase beer for, what obstacles come up when you are creating you lists?
There was a time when great and unique beers were few and far between. Availability was an obstacle. However, the opposite is true nowadays. We now have the luxury of many great beers within our reach at anytime. That other side of the availability coin, ironically, has become an obstacle towards curating a unique beer lineup. It takes a bit of more time along with careful calculation of what makes the list.
What is the perfect number of draft lines at a bar in your opinion and why?
Between eight and ten. It keeps everyone–the breweries, bars, and beer lovers–focused. When I say this, I expect such a bar to have a constant rotation.
What are some of the factors that help you decide which beers to buy?
Oh wow, cue the sappy music for this one….An honestly-made beer dedicated to the artistry of the craft. A beer that pays homage to tradition–the classic and historical. It has to feed the senses, good or bad, as long as it stirs up conversation. Or what could be simply a nice, refreshing, flavorful beverage after a long day’s work. These all factor in to what makes the list.
What are your plans for the future in craft beer and how do you hope to help it grow?
Share. Learn. Share more. The world is big and there’s plenty of room for great beer. I hear Paris could use a few good beer bars…