Good Beer Hunting

Uppers and Downers

Uppers & Downers [update] — The Finest of Grinds

And here we thought we'd be pitching our hearts out to move the last of the tickets to Uppers & Downers, but with a full week to go, we're sold out of over 500 slots to one of the most unique beer festivals in the country. We're almost there and the grind is almost over. And we can't wait to celebrate with you all. So today's update might have a little bit of giddiness in its tone. Sorry for partying. 

image from  La Marzocca Home

image from La Marzocca Home

First, let's talk about the multi-roaster espresso bar. Given our long-standing fascination with coffee roasting, it seemed to us like the most obvious thing to do — bring together a number of world-class and culturally significant roasters, the same way we'd invite our favorite brewers, to help us tell the story of coffee and beer. Intelligentsia, Mad Cap, Gaslight, Counter Culture, Sump, Dark Matter, and cold brews from brewery collaborating roasters like Quasar and Goshen. But the more you coffee folks heard about this element of Uppers & Downers, the more apparent it became how rare such a thing is. In an interview I did with Jordan Michelman, co-founder of (one of the biggest coffee beats in the world) he could only recall a couple of similar occurrences at coffee industry events and a Ted conference. It just doesn't happen.

So for all the amazing things happening on the beer side of Uppers & Downers, we've become sort of retroactively amazed to be doing something so unprecedented, not only in the beer world, but for the coffee industry at large. And for that, our co-collaborator, Stephen Morrissey of Intelligentsia Coffee, needs to take a huge amount of credit. His concept of lining up six identical (and stunning) La Marzocco - GS3 espresso machines and having each roaster pull shots of their best espresso is proving to be an unsung hero of the event before we even begin. It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance to try amazing espressos side-by-side. I'm pretty sure this is where all the brewers will be hanging out. Blame them for the lines. 


Secondly, what would an event like Uppers & Downers be without some tunes. But rather than just put an iPod on shuffle and bore you to tears with Stephen Morrisey's penchant for the Irish fiddle (damn the Irish are a melancholy bunch), we reached out to our friends Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot of Sound Opinions. Masters of the mixtape, and lovers of both beer and coffee, they're creating a custom playlist that evokes both the upper and downer side of the event — and possibly slipping in some secret messages like any good mixtape does. We're sort of school-girl excited about having our favorite podcast and music show hosts involved. 

Alright, on to the beers. Some amazing updates from Chicago and St. Louis in this one. Cascara, peaberry, barleywine, and saison — this update is an much educational as it is mouthwatering.  

4 Hands Brewing + Goshen Coffee
This St. Louis duo is bringing their sought after coffee stout, Bona Fide, made with an eponymous Columbian cold brew with bold, chocolatey notes. But they're also bringing an experimental beer just for Uppers & Downers called French Press. If you're already thinking about the rich, oily, dark roasts so often associated with a French Press coffee, stop it. Instead, imagine a saison washed in a red wine barrel with a Goshen peaberry cold brew. Peaberry is an outlier in most of the coffee world due to its unique growth pattern. Coffee beans actually fertilize and grow in pairs inside the cherry, and the competition for space creates the flat-sided bean we're all familiar with. Peaberries come from a single-fertilized cherry, and account for roughly 5% of all cherries harvested, and their increased density requires a completely separate roasting process. These beans often carry a soft citrusy note. 

Photos by Tim Bottchen

Perennial Artisan Ales + Sump Coffee 
Another St. Louis collaboration from brewer Cory King (Perennial and Side Project) and Scott Carey of Sump, who makes some of the best espresso these lips have ever touched. They've collaborated before on the aptly-named Sump Imperial Stout using Columbian beans from the La Dorada Farm in the region of Totoro, Cauca. They're hauling this up for Uppers & Downers, of course, but they're also making a new blended beer just for this weekend. King and Carey are taking a 2013 vintage of Vermilion, an English-style Barley wine, and blending it with Kenya AB Gatuyaini beans from the Othaya Farmers Cooperative Society. The toffee, caramel, toasted pecan sweetness, and fruity hop profile should bring some unique vibrance to the Light Bright category with a cocktail-like headiness. 

Photos by Tim Bottchen

Virtue Cider + Mad Cap Coffee
Building on their experience of making a cascara cider for our summer "Origins" event, cider maker Ryan Burk and MadCap co-founder, Ryan Knapp, are back with an updated blend of a naturally fermented cider steeped in the cherry fruit of the coffee bean, which lends a tart, bright-red, hibiscus-like quality to the drink. 

Off Color Brewing + Quasar Coffee
John Laffler is blending his imperial marshmallow stout brewed with graham crackers, cocoa nibs, and vanilla beans with a cold brew extraction called Dark Star from Chicago start-up Quasar Coffee. On the other end of the spectrum, Laffler is blending one of his most successful beers, a slightly funky, bright, citrusy farmhouse ale called Apex Predator with Quasar's Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, which typically offers it's own blend of citrus and earthiness. This one-off batch will be called Flower Pouncer.

Yeah, we're sold out. But watch for some follow-on events being announced in the next week or so, including a sampling with our competition-winning homebrewers, a  couple of rad tapping events from Solemn Oath at Map Room and their own tap room in Naperville, and a few others already taking shape. Uppers & Downers is gearing up for a great year, and our grand finale is proving to be more of a launch party for a concept that GBH and Intelli love getting up in the morning for. You know, unless we're feeling all cozy. 


Have thoughts you'd like to share with the author, editor, or subject of this article? Drop us a note, and it may be included in our next News + Updates post. 

Words + photos
by Michael Kiser

additional photos
by Tim Bottchen