OLD TOWN — Fifty years ago, legendary Chicago journalist Mike Royko brought together 11 friends to sample 22 beers so he could prove the difference in quality between foreign and domestic brews.
Royko’s Beer Test was meant to prove how bad American national brands were.
“America’s beer tastes as if it is brewed through a horse,” Royko wrote.
Royko’s panel — a mix of people who didn’t know what beers they were tasting — seemed to agree. The lowest-rated beers were the major American brands like Schlitz and Budweiser.
The late journalist’s experiment will be restaged at Royko’s Beer Test 50th, happening 1-3 p.m. July 30 at Old Town Ale House, 219 W. North Ave., where Royko used to be a regular.
A panel of 11 local craft brew experts and enthusiasts and Royko’s son, Sam Royko, will convene to taste and rate 11 local and national lagers and discuss how far the industry has come in 50 years, said Liz Garibay, executive director of the Chicago Brewseum.
The Chicago Brewseum is producing the event with Newberry Library and Pocket Guide to Hell, with support from Bill Savage.
“It was ridiculous and fun, and that was Royko, so we thought it would be fun to do a modern interpretation of his test,” Garibay said.
Attendees will also be able to taste the various beers and vote on the “people’s choice” winner, Garibay said.
Royko, who died in 1997, wrote thousands of columns across his 30-year career for the Chicago Daily News, the Sun-Times and the Tribune. Known for his wit and sense of humor, Royko won the 1972 Pulitzer Prize for commentary.
The event will have food, music, finds from the Mike Royko Papers collection at the Newberry Library and readings of Royko’s work, Garibay said.
Speakers include musician Hope Arthur, actor Gary Houston, journalist Rick Kogan, scholar Bill Savage and Better Government Association CEO Andy Shaw.
“It’s an old truism that one cannot talk about Chicago literature without its literary journalists: [George] Ade, [Finley Peter] Dunne, [Ben] Hecht,” said Savage, a Northwestern University professor who has taught classes on Royko’s columns. “It’s the absolute truth that one cannot talk about Chicago literature without talking about Mike Royko.”
In the 50 years since Royko’s beer test, the industry has completely changed, Garibay said.
The beer industry was dominated by bigger breweries in the ’70s because Prohibition had wiped out the small beer companies, Garibay said. The last local brewery from that era, Peter Hand Brewing Company, which was featured in the original beer test, closed in 1978.
The opening of Goose Island in 1988 ushered in the next wave of breweries in Chicago, Garibay said.
“We went from not having too many breweries in Chicago in the ’70s to now having a brewery at almost every corner,” Garibay said. “So, we’ve changed significantly.”
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