The Orland Park Prairie 021617
22 | February 16, 2017 | The orland park prairie life & arts opprairie.com Rock Bottom celebrates 10 years with anniversary dinner, more Rock Bottom brewer Iain Wilson (second from left) poses for a photo with three of his former assistant brewers, (left to right) Jason Cook, Rebecca Grant and Ray Gonzalez. Photo submitted With the assist Make no mistake: Iain Wilson has things covered when it comes up to brewing for Rock Bottom in Orland Park. But his job undoubtedly has been made easier by the assistants he has had over the years. The 10th Anniversary Dinner held Thursday, Feb. 9, welcomed back each of his former assistants still working in the brewing industry, with their price of admission being a keg of beer apiece to share with everyone at the event. The Orland Park Prairie caught up with three of them to find out what they are up to now, what they brought, and what it was like being part of Rock Bottom’s history and anniversary celebration. As they appeared on the menu, they appear here in the order they worked for Rock Bottom Orland Park. Rebecca Grant Where now? Off Color Brewing in Chicago Brought what? Off Color’s Bare Bear Finnish-style sahti Experience in OP? “It was my first brewing job. It was great.” Coming back? “It’s great to see people who I haven’t seen in a long time and celebrate.” Ray Gonzalez Where now? Rock Bottom Chicago Brought what? Rock Bottom Warrenville Saison Experience in OP? “Working with Iain was a great start to my career. … A lot of my techniques are Scottishinfluenced.” Coming back? “It’s so cool. I’m saying ‘hi’ to everyone I know. I feel like I’m home.” Jason Cook Where now? Rock Bottom College Park Brought what? Rock Bottom College Park Altbier Experience in OP? “I feel like I learned [a lot].” Coming back? “Iain has a big following here. It’s awesome to be back here.” Bill Jones, Editor The past few years of La- Grange Road construction took their toll on Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery, like any other business along the thoroughfare, but General Manager Berta Higgins said she had no doubt she would see this day. “We never thought we wouldn’t last,” she said. “During that construction, we were 5-10 percent down in sales, but we were planning to ride that wave.” Ride it they did, and this February Rock Bottom Orland Park kicked off a series of celebrations, starting with the Feb. 1 tapping of the Powerhouse Pale Ale, designed to celebrate the establishment’s 10-year anniversary. Higgins started just a few months after the opening, but she is joined by four servers, a brewer and a manager who all have been there since the very beginning. “It’s amazing,” Higgins said. “It’s great to work with people who have been with our company for that long, because it means they care about the company.” To celebrate the occasion, Rock Bottom has announced an already-underway series of 10 tappings over 10 weeks, with proceeds from two going toward charitable causes; a slate of events surrounding the annual Fire Chief Ale; and an anniversary party slated to take place March 22. But none of those events are likely to be quite as elaborate or bombastic as a 10th Anniversary Dinner held Thursday, Feb. 9, which drew nearly 100 guests, marking the biggest turnout since the restaurant’s famed bacon dinner. Celebrating with a meal, family For most of its 10 years, Rock Bottom has thrown three or four dinners a year that pair brewer Iain Wilson’s libations with the plates of executive chef Shawn Murphy. With more than 20 in the bank, diners have plenty of opinions when it comes to their favorites. From baseball to bacon, Oktoberfest to successful invasions of England, Pat Rodgers, of Tinley Park, said he has been coming to the dinners for roughly seven years, having missed only the first two of three. He said “good beer and food” are what have kept him coming back, and he was delighted to see an old favorite of candied bacon kicking things off Feb. 9 alongside the welcome beer of an Erik the Red. “I would pay a lot to have candied bacon on a regular basis,” he said. Roberta Higgins said the dinner was designed to be something of a “greatest hits” collection. “Almost everything is an item that was popular in other brewer’s dinners,” she said, noting in particular the pairing of a beer-braised short rib on a chipotle and parsnip purée with the Fallen Angel Belgian Dubbel that was a Brewpub Shootout winner for best food and beer pairing. “A lot of them are classics.” But Wilson said he was most excited for the dessert of a triple chocolate stout cheesecake from when the restaurant first opened. He said it was taken of the menu six or seven years ago. “It caused an uproar,” he said. Rodgers said as much as he likes revisiting favorites, he also has enjoyed being surprised by the dinners over the years. He is not “a seafood person,” in general, but he has found a few he loves through the dinner. “It gets me out of my comfort zone, somewhat,” he said. His wife, Ann, noted the dinner has had a similar effect on her beverage selection. “When I met him, I didn’t ever drink beer,” she said, noting she has learned since then how well beer can pair with certain foods, similar to wine. “Now, I enjoy it.” But as much as Pat and Ann Rodgers may enjoy the food and beer pairings, it is even more of a thrill to learn with whom they will be sitting at each dinner, which they said has always changed. “We always meet people,” Pat said. “The beer is probably the main thing, but it’s such an eclectic group of people that come in here.” The people are important to Wilson, too, which is why he decided there was no way he could be part of a 10th anniversary celebration without welcoming back his former assistant brewers. In particular, he asked the ones still working in the brewing industry — Rebecca Grant, of Off Color Brewing; Ray Gonzalez, of Rock Bottom Chicago; and Jason Cook, of Rock Bottom College Park — to bring a keg of their beer to the party. Meanwhile, Higgins made sure the four servers working that evening were the four originals, including the mother and daughter duo of Karen and Jenny Cooper, of Homewood. Karen knew a manager and came to Rock Bottom from another restaurant the day it opened. She brought Jenny with her. Karen said the afternoon before the dinner she was simply “proud” to be part of the restaurant’s history and its celebration, and Jenny agreed. “There’s 95 people coming here tonight, and those same people come here on a weekly basis” Jenny said. “It’s like a Cheers.” “We’ve spent more time with these people than our families,” Higgins said. “It’s like a family,” Karen added. 10 years and counting Berta Higgins has been with Rock Bottom for a total of 13 years, having started with the franchise’s Warrenville location. But she has been with Rock Bottom Orland Park nearly since its inception, and she said little has changed since it opened a decade ago, save for a renovation. “The feel of it is still pretty much the same,” she said. Echoing her earlier comments about the importance of the people, she said the customers are truly who made Rock Bottom what it is in Orland Park. “The regulars that we have, being that place people can go and be comfortable and get good beer,” she said when asked what kept the restaurant afloat for a decade. Higgins said coming up she is most excited about the Fire Chief events, which benefit the 100 Club of Chicago — a cause the Orland Park business has championed for the past seven of its nine years involved in the Fire
opprairie.com life & arts the orland park prairie | February 16, 2017 | 23 Chief program. “For me, it’s the most enjoyable one,” she said. “It’s really giving back to the community and people who help the community.” Iain Wilson said the event he has been most anticipating for the anniversary happenings also is one yet to come, but in his case it is much more bittersweet. On March 1, the restaurant is set to tap the XXX Triple IPA, a recipe by assistant brewer Andrew Mikal. The beer was supposed to be the first tapping of a “10 tappings in 10 weeks” promotion for the anniversary, but Mikal recently was diagnosed with cancer. So, the tapping — which is to feature Mikal’s recipe — had to be delayed but now also serves as a charity fundraiser for Mikal, which is why Wilson considers it the “most important” of the events. The restaurant’s next pairing dinner also is penciled in for May and is to feature an Asian theme, with all of the beers being lagers, made in collaboration with Gordon Biersch. But before Rock Bottom gets there, its staff is taking a month or two to reflect. Wilson said, for him, sticking with the same company for 10 years was a no-brainer. “I pretty much get left alone to do whatever I want with brewing, as long as I don’t go completely crazy,” he said. For Higgins, the past decade simply has been a blur. “It flew by,” Higgins said. “I can’t believe we’ve been here for 10 years.” What’s next? A look at the continuing celebration King of Hearts Tapping 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16 The next of the 10th anniversary tappings, with an offered pairing of a chocolate dessert for the post-Valentine’s Day event. Fire Chief Tapping 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23 A charitable tapping, with beer and a glass for $6, a split-the-pot raffle, bagpipers, and 20 percent 10 Beers in 10 Weeks for 10 Years When brewer Iain Wilson was asked for input on the 10th anniversary celebration at Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery in Orland Park, he said he wanted to tap 10 beers in 10 weeks to celebrate the occasion. As it turns out, he is as sentimental as he is ambitious, as the lineup ranges from old favorites to new twists, and even includes a special charity tapping for assistant brewer Andrew Mikal, who recently was diagnosed with cancer. Wilson gave The Orland Park Prairie a rundown of the 10 brews, alongside their past and planned tapping dates. Feb. 1 — Powerhouse Pale Ale Wilson started on Feb. 1 in 2007, and this is the house pale with which Rock Bottom opened the same year. Feb. 7 — XX Dry-Hopped Pilsner This beer was featured prominently with the intermezzo of the 10th Anniversary Dinner, held Thursday, Feb. 9. Feb. 16 — King of Hearts Imperial Red A favorite of guests at Rock Bottom. Feb. 23 — Fire Chief Ale This beer is brewed annually as part of a series of fundraising events held at Rock Bottom. March 1 — XXX Triple IPA of food sales donated. XXX Triple IPA Charity Tapping Wednesday, March 1 Another charitable 10th anniversary tapping, in this case to raise funds for assistant brewer Andrew Mikal, who recently was diagnosed with cancer. Fire Chief Chili Cook-off and Silent Auction 6 p.m. Thursday, March 2 A $10 fee includes samples of the chili prepared by local fire departments and/or districts (while supplies last), and a pint of Fire Chief Ale. The Band of Brothers bagpipers are to perform. And guests can see which firefighter or local supporter takes home the first-place trophy. A silent auction also is to take place and close at 8 p.m. Anniversary Party 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 22 For $35 in advance or $40 at the door, patrons get admission, two drink tickets (beer or wine The beer is made with the recipe of assistant brewer Andrew Mikal, who was diagnosed with cancer at the beginning of the year. The tapping is to serve as a charity fundraiser for him. March 9 — Devil’s Thumb Belgian Golden Strong Wilson’s Devil’s Thumb is an awardwinning brew, and the anniversary celebration will give patrons another chance to find out why. March 16 — Naughty Scot Anniversary Ale A 90 shilling/wee heavy, the Naughty Scot is another brew with which Rock Bottom opened. It has since become the brewery’s traditional anniversary beer. March 22 — X Dark Mild This tapping will be part of Rock Bottom’s official 10th Anniversary Party. March 30 — YFB (Yellow Fizzy Beer) An Asian-style rice lager, named for Wilson’s popular response to people asking what type of beer he enjoys most. April 6 — Crystal IPA Rock Bottom’s rotating IPA for April is set to conclude the 10 tappings in 10 weeks. only), appetizer buffet for three hours and entry into raffles. Music is to be provided by Faith in the Fallen, with proceeds benefitting the 100 Club of Chicago. Day of Tips 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday April 1 Firefighters save lives, put out fires and take orders. Guests can come out and support local firefighters, as they pair with one of the Rock Bottom servers, wait on guests and donate their tips to charity. Dishing on the Favorites A closer look at three of the nine dishes featured Thursday, Feb. 9, during the 10th Anniversary Dinner at Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery in Orland Park. The soup course was cited as a favorite by some guests of the 10th Anniversary Dinner held Thursday, Feb. 9, at Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery in Orland Park. It featured smoky bacon, smoked corn potatoes, carrot celery and onion, sautéed in butter, seasoned with thyme, finished with a cream and butter, topped with a fresh parsley, celery leaf and bacon salad. Photos by Bill Jones/22nd Century Media LEFT: A beer-braised short rib on a chipotle and parsnip purée, topped with beet and arugala salad, and a Fallen Angel reduction, served as the entrée for the dinner. BOTTOM: The beer mustard sauce of the Scotch egg was infused with the same Off Color Bare Bear Finnish-style sahti served alongside it.