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Dude, Where's My Beer?

Local "Beer Dude" Phil Kuhl gives us the lowdown on Sheffield's Beer School.
Friday Jan 16, 2009.     By Stacy Warden
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Phil Kuhl, the "Beer Dude" Phil Kuhl knows his brews.

Before assuming the esteemed title of "Beer Dude," Phil Kuhl was just another one of Sheffield's beer-lovin' regulars. He'd been frequenting the Lakeview joint for about four years before becoming one of the bar's beer buyers. At the time of his hire, Sheffield's was considering a bout of intense renovations. The crew was planning on putting more restrooms in the rear of the venue. But Kuhl had a better idea. "Bathrooms don't make you money...when was the last time you heard someone say, 'oh man, did you check out the bathrooms at that place?!'" He had a point.

In place of the restrooms, Kuhl suggested opening another bar. Not just your typical old bar in the back, but a bar that would serve as a platform for innovation and education. The idea was inspired in part by the number of beer connoisseurs who already frequented Sheffield's. These guys were constantly asking the bartenders questions about the frothy stuff in their glasses, Kuhl recalls, "…And the bartenders would always say 'I don't know! Why don't you ask the beer dude?'" The bar in the back would ensure that Kuhl was always on site to provide prompt answers. His own passion for beer also started with the unfamiliar: "I would always buy what I didn't know, and then I'd keep the bottles of my favorites, so I could remember them."

Beer School
The opening of Sheffield's Beer School was an opportunity to start from scratch. "It was just like opening a new bar," Kuhl says. And the concept was simple; the small space would be modeled after a classroom. On the back wall, a large chalkboard hangs above a square of wooden benches, while a vintage school desk rests above a number of a high-top tables near Beer School's entrance. The rest of the space is filled with all the usual suspects; empty cans and bottles of interesting imports and local favorites, Art Deco-inspired beer prints and a small staff of beer junkies. Ninety-five percent of Beer School's brews are unique to its space, meaning you won't find them in Sheffield's main bar. Kuhl keeps around 50 different bottles in stock and six rotating favorites on tap. "It's a completely different atmosphere back here," he says.

Sheffield's Beer School is still in its baby stages – it opened 18 months ago - and people are still learning about the place. "A lot of people don't really get the concept at first," says Kuhl. But as soon as it clicks, they're hooked. Kuhl has already built a crew of regulars, many of whom stop in just to chat with the Beer Dude himself. And there's a good chance they'll catch him on most nights, as the back bar is Kuhl's second home. In fact, he spends more time there than he does in his own apartment. When he does get a night off, he can usually be found at the Long Room or Local Option, just a couple of his favorite beer joints. Lately he's been traveling the states, checking out different breweries in hopes of bringing back even more beer knowledge for his thirsty students.

Sheffield’s hopes to attract a large freshman class with its inaugural Beer School Beer Festival on Saturday, January 17. From 1-4 p.m., the bar will host representatives from over 15 different breweries—as well as many rare beverages to sample. Tickets to the festival are $40 and include 12 drink tickets and complimentary passed appetizers. Call (773) 481-2949 for tickets (only 100 are available).

 

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