What We Drank (and Ate) at This Year’s Uppers and Downers

Uppers and Downers, now in its fifth year, has expanded to include dinners, tap takeovers, and cocktail competitions. Here we share some of our favorite moments from this year’s incarnation of the weeklong beer and coffee celebration in Chicago.


Photos courtesy of Stephanie Byce of Good Beer Hunting

Uppers and Downers is a celebration of collaboration, bringing together roasters and brewers to create interesting new coffee beers. Now in its fifth year, the celebration, which just took place in Chicago but will travel to London in May, expanded to include a weeklong series of events and tastings to learn more about the intersection of beer and coffee. The event began as a collaboration between World Barista Champion Stephen Morrissey and Good Beer Hunting (GBH) founder and creative director Michael Kiser, and was organized by GBH Experience Director Hillary Schuster.

Uppers and Downers is a celebration of coffee beers and pushes roasters and brewers to think beyond the typical coffee-and-beer pairing.

The week began on Tuesday, February 20, with an Irish Coffee Competition, which was held at Thalia Hall and was judged by Michael, Letherbee Distiller Founder Brenton Engel, and myself (a surprising honor!). Bartenders and bar managers from some of the best cocktail bars in the city came together to craft their own versions of an Irish coffee using Powers Whiskey and a Peruvian coffee from Counter Culture Coffee. Some competitors went traditional with their drinks, adding new elements or updating flavors, like the thyme-infused drink with toffee from Moneygun, with others reinventing the drink and creating whimsical and interesting new concoctions. The winning drink, which came from Mark Phelan at Revival Food Hall, featured a passionfruit cream and a grating of tonka bean, and was featured at the main event on Saturday.

An Irish coffee made by the team at Moneygun, who opted for a more traditional take on the cocktail but with more aromatic and updated components. All competitors were given a Peruvian coffee from Counter Culture Coffee.

On Wednesday, folks were welcomed to tour a number of roasteries and coffee training centers around the city, including Metric Coffee, Passion House Coffee, Intelligentsia Coffee, and Counter Culture. The event, which was sponsored by Oatly, began with a live demo from La Marzocco showing attendees how to make their own espresso. From there, the tour brought folks all around the city to learn more about coffee roasting and to taste coffee.

The roaster tour at Passion House Coffee, which is right next to Metric Coffee. Attendees learned about the roasting process and tasted coffees from local coffee experts.

Thursday brought folks to the Publican Anker, where folks could taste non-coffee beers before Saturday’s main event—playfully called the Decaf Preview Party. All the brewers showcasing coffee beers on Saturday were invited to bring their non-coffee brews during a tap takeover. Attendees were able to drink beers often not available in Chicago and taste signature brews from breweries like 4 Hands Brewing Co., Brewery Bhavana, Burial Brewing Co., Cruz Blanca BreweryGuinness, and Prairie Artisan Ales.

The tap takeover, playfully called the Decaf Preview Party, featured non-coffee beers from participants, allowing them to showcase offerings usually not available in Chicago.

On Friday, attendees gathered for a beer dinner, pairing local Chicago chefs with brewers to craft a unique dining experience. The dinner was divided into five courses, and the proceeds of the dinner went to the Pilsen Wellness Pantry, an organization providing mental health and community services.

Many agreed that one of the surprise highlights of the week was the beer dinner, where chefs were paired with brewers to present a five-course meal.

All these gatherings led up to the main event, a showcase of coffee beers reflecting the partnerships built between roasters and brewers. The main event was broken up into two sessions and hosted at Thalia Hall, and attendees were greeted with swag bags and their own glassware to reduce waste. The walls were lined with coffee folks pulling shots, brewers pouring coffee beers, and experimental collaborations, like an exploration of coffee terroir expression in beer with 4 Hands Brewing Co. and Goshen Coffee, where attendees tasted four beers side by side brewed with two different iterations of two coffees—one version using the natural process, the other version using the washed process.

Each attendee of the main Uppers and Downers event got their own glass and was welcome to taste over 30 coffees, beers, and coffee beers being offered at the event.

The event wrapped up with a Hangover Party at Hopewell Brewery, where participants were invited to speak on a live recording of the Good Beer Hunting podcast. Attendees enjoyed biscuits from Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits and reflected on the week’s events, talking about how they approached the collaborations they were part of, what the best event was (many agreed it was the beer dinner), and thinking about the future of coffee beers.

Justin Doggett of Kyoto Black talks about his coffee background and his business, and how Kyoto-brewed coffee pairs with beer, at the Hangover Party at Hopewell Brewing.

Many of these themes will carry on into conversations and dialogues in the event in London, and for now you can look forward to seeing the folks at Good Beer Hunting at this year’s SCA Global Expo, featuring more interesting and wild coffee beers for attendees to enjoy.

About Ashley Rodriguez 413 Articles
Ashley is the Online Editor for Barista Magazine. She's based in Chicago. If you want to share a story or have a comment, you can reach her at ashley@baristamagazine.com.