Mark Spence has been producing with the Bruised Orange Theater Company in Chicago for years, and while we first met during one of his headier shows, it's the group's ongoing "I Saw You" at Town Hall Pub—where they act out personal ads in the form of the characters they imagine wrote the original "scripts"—that's made a lasting mark on the city's comedy and theater culture. In the past few years, Mark's gone deep into beer and homebrewing, and has developed one of the most trusted palates in my circle of drinking buddies. We met up at one of Mark's favorite spots, Smallbar Logan, to snap this epic pic during Chicago's polar vortex. The man is nothing if not dedicated.
What's your favorite style of beer?
My palate seems to be changing right now. For the longest time, it was an American Pale Ale. Now, I find myself reaching for anything that doesn’t feature the citrusy American hop profile. Right now, classic British and German styles are my favorites.
What's in your fridge right now?
My kegerator is full of homebrew, my main fridge has bottles of a different homebrew, Surly’s Hell, Darkhorse’s Boffo Brown, and Left Hand’s Sawtooth.
What was the first beer that clued you in?
Avery’s IPA. It was early summer at the Long Room, probably `03 or `04. I had already started migrating away from domestics, frequenting Resi’s or Huettenbar as often as I could afford to do so. I told the bartender I was in the mood for something different, he said they just tapped the Avery IPA. I’d never tasted a beer like that before, and I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since.
What's your most memorable beer moment?
Up until recently, it was drinking the first homebrew I ever designed. But, that’s been replaced with quiet nights drinking with my parents over the holidays. My mom and dad raised my brother and I to always try new foods, and developed an adventures palate in us at a young age. Later they introduced me to different wine, whiskey, gin, etc, but those nights I was able to introduce them to sours, pilsners (my father’s favorite), porters (my mother’s favorite), barrel aged beers, and winter warmers were fantastic. A great beer is like a great album, the joy of sharing it matches the original experience itself. Hopefully that night will start a new tradition for years to come.
Favorite watering hole?
Small Bar Logan. I love everything about it, off the beaten path Chicago neighborhood bar vibe, huge beer garden, good food and knowledgeable, friendly staff. I used to work with manager Parker Kincaid at Virgin Megastore. He’s one of my go to guys for new beers. I trust his palate as much as I trust anyone else’s. Half Acre Tap room is a very close second, again great beer, beautiful room and kick ass staff. A bar staff goes a long way with me. I’ve been turned off a few beer bars because of unnecessary stereotypical beer snobbery have turned me off. There are too many great bars in the city to have to deal with that shit.
What was your greatest beer hunt? Where's it taken you?
I’m lucky enough to have a job that allows me a little travel on someone else’s dime. I take this opportunity to experience different cities beer culture, as well as their public transit system. That being said, I’ve enjoyed watching Nebraska’s beer scene develop from afar. I’ve basically spent my whole life in two places, Chicago and Nebraska, and I still have a deep sentimental attachment there. Luckily that sentimentality has helped me find great brewers there like Lucky Bucket, Zip Line and Nebraska Brewing Company. Nebraska Brewing Company’s barrel aged, bottle conditioned lineup is fantastic; I either put in orders with my parents when they visit or make sure I have luggage set aside to bring some back when I visit.
What's a brewery on your wishlist?
Well, I’ve found myself pricing trips to Prague lately, if that is any indication. I find local brewery recommendations through the Prague sub Reddit and salivate as I look at their lager lineups.
Nerdiest thing you've ever done in beer.
Almost three years ago now, a friend and I started something on Tumblr called “Febrewary” where we drink a beer we’ve never had every day in February. We in turn follow each other’s journey and make note of specific recommendations, or just enjoy a month long celebration of discovering new beer. Living so close to Fountainhead has been a huge help in this pursuit, you begin to appreciate bars that switch their taps with regularity. Something that I learned pretty quickly the first year was how Pales and Stouts dominate the market. About half way through the month, I hit a wall with the styles, and then the beer hunting really begins.