Urban Knaves of Grain (UKG) Club History

by Steve McKenna

Many club members have asked about the early days of the Urban Knaves of Grain. When was the club founded? Who served as presidents? When did our pub crawls and competitions start? Here, gathered from old newsletters, Internet sources, and the memories of individual members, is a short history of the UKG.

1991 and 1992:
Chris Campanelli teaches a homebrewing class at College of DuPage. The first group of students included Jay Kash, Jens Loeder, and Jim Hoeft. (Jay is still a UKG member; Jens and Jim are now brewmasters at James Page Brewery in Minneapolis.) The last class of each session was a pub crawl.

The following posting appears in the Homebrew Digest mailing list (an active listserver then, as now.):

Date: Thu, 25 Mar 93 21:45 CST
From: Contact info removed (chris campanelli)
Subject: new homebrew club forming

There's a new homebrewing club forming in the western suburbs of Chicago in DuPage County. The first meeting is scheduled for Friday, April 30th. For more info contact: Todd Williams contact info removed


Chris Campanelli Contact info removed

And again:

Date: Tue, 20 Apr 93 21:14 CDT
From: Contact info removed (chris campanelli)
Subject: DuPage County Homebrew Club

There's a new homebrew club forming in the western suburbs of Chicago in DuPage County. The first meeting will be:

Date: Friday, April 30th
Location: My house
Time: 8pm

If you plan to attend, contact myself or Todd for the address.

If the weather is accommodating the meeting will be outside so if you're a potato you might want to bring a chair. If it's indoors, those of you who are allergic to cats, beware.

Chris Campanelli Contact info removed

Todd Williams contact info removed

The first meeting was held on April 30 at Chris' house in Villa Park, and the weather didn't cooperate, so we met in the basement. About 20 people attended, many of them former students of the COD course; several are also Chicago Beer Society members. Its success was evident in the next month's HBD posting:

Date: Fri, 21 May 93 23:42 CDT
From: Contact info removed (chris campanelli)
Subject: DuPage County homebrew mtg

This is another call for all homebrewers in the western suburbs of Chicago, in and around DuPage County. The first meeting was so way-cool groovy that we think we'll do it again. The next meeting will be on Friday, May 28th. Same bat time, same bat station: Contact info removed. Starts around 8pm.

Yes, it is the Friday of the holiday weekend. Guess this will separate the men (and woman) from the panty wastes.

These were the only two meetings ever advertised in the HBD. A naming contest led to the name Urban Knaves of Grain, coined by Frank Dobner at the 3rd or 4th meeting. Officers were selected informally, by acclamation; Todd Williams became the first president and Chris became the newsletter editor. After the first couple of meetings in Chris' basement, meetings began to rotate between members' houses. In the fall, meetings moved to the new Weinkeller Brewery in Westmont (not without some reluctance, as Chris and Todd had both served time as brewers at the original Weinkeller Brewery in Berwyn.) Todd dropped out of the club soon after, and Chris effectively held both officer positions.

The first bulk grain purchase is organized at Fall 1993. Weinkeller meetings and conducted in January; we drive to Wisconsin to pick up sacks of Belgian malt and divide it up in the living room of John Isenhour's house in Aurora. Meetings move to brand-new Taylor Brewery in Naperville soon after. There had been trouble reserving Weinkeller's private room, forcing the last few meetings to be held in the bar, and Taylor's brewmaster and new club member Ed Bronson offered us the use of Taylor's front room. At the same time, meetings change from the last Friday of the month to the last Thursday. The first UKG pub crawl is held in February, a well-attended bus trip to Chicago Brewing Co., Sheffield's, Goose Island, Quenchers, Great Beer Palace, and Gingerman, all in Chicago. The first mention of the UKG's new name in the Homebrew Digest is in April, as the report of the winners of the BOSS Challenge, held March 26 in Lockport, shows medals awarded to UKG members Mike Montgomery and Chuck Taylor. Mike later wins 1st place for pale ales in the HWBTA national competition. Our first formal election is held in June, as Frank Dobner edges out Mike Montgomery for president in our most hotly contested election ever. Andy Patrick is elected newsletter editor. The second successful bus pub crawl is held in October, visiting Golden Prairie Brewing, Chicago Brewing, Goose Island, and Great Beer Palace in Chicago, and nd Brixie's in Brookfield. Russ Aceto's maple ale takes 2 place in the AHA's (American Homebrew Association) Specialty Quest Club-Only competition in December, our first medal in a club-only. The club now has 73 members; annual dues are $5.

1995: Don Alton, wins a Brewer-for-a-Day raffle prize at the Dec. 1994 meeting, helps brew an oatmeal stout at Box Office Brewery in DeKalb. Andy Patrick quits the newsletter and club in February, and Chris Campanelli resumes the editor's job. Naperville liquor laws force us out of Taylor (homebrew is banned at the February meeting, the last one held there). The March meeting is held at Weinkeller, and in April we move to John's Buffet in Winfield, where we have been ever since. The UKG's first BJCP exam is held in April at Taylor, organized by Chris Campanelli and Frank Dobner. Jim and Jason Ebel, Curt Czapski, Kevin Johnson, Steve McKenna, and Steve Piderit remain in the club to this day out of about 8 people who took that exam. The first UKG constitution and by-laws are ratified in the spring. The 3 bus pub crawl is cancelled due to insufficient turnout to pay for the bus rental, but some diehard members go downtown and do the crawl on their own. In June, Mike Montgomery is elected president; Chris stays on as editor, but is finally relieved when Jeff Kainz volunteers for the job in August. Mike leads a style seminar on pale ales at Taylor, with 23 members attending. Mike's American pale ale wins Best of Show at the Winfield Rites of Spring Competition on June 5, sponsored by Beer in a Box homebrew shop; UKG members win 20 of 27 medals and sweep 4 of 9 categories. The first competition conducted by the UKG, the Famous Urban Knaves of Grain, is held on Oct. 21 in conjunction with Famous Liquors in Lombard. There were 77 entries, and Jay Kash's Weizen took Best of Show; Steve McKenna organized. Dues are raised to $10. The club now numbers 74 members.

The first UKG Train Crawl is inspired by the opening of Founders Hill Brewery, completing a lineup of three brewpubs near train stations on the Metra BNSF line. It is held in February, with stops at Roundhouse/America's Brewpub in Aurora, Taylor in Naperville, Founders Hill in Downers Grove, and Palmer Place in LaGrange. The UKG logo and first T-shirt are created around this time by Pete Whyte, working from a photo of a mural that took up an entire wall of the Heidelberg Rathskeller in Elmhurst. (This building now houses McNally's, but the mural is gone). Our 2nd BJCP exam is conducted, with 5 takers, including current members Don Alton and Mark Knoebl (now brewing at New Glarus in Wisconsin). Phil Gravel's California Common takes 1st place in the final round of the AHA National Homebrew Competition in New Orleans, our first NHC individual winner. (Chicago Beer Society wins Homebrew Club of the Year at this NHC.) Chris Campanelli is elected president, and Jeff Kainz remains as newsletter editor. Jeff quits in midyear and Chris takes on the editor job once again. The first UKG board of directors is appointed. The club is incorporated with the State of Illinois with the help of homebrewer/attorney Dave Maki. We conduct the 2nd Winfield Beer in a Box competition on Sept. 7 at John's Buffet (Steve McKenna organizing); 81 entries; Marc Kullberg's Kriek wins Best of Show. The 4th bus pub crawl travels to the Siebel Institute and Chicago Brewing in Chicago, and Pavicevich Brewing in Elmhurst. Dues are raised to $12 per year.

The 2nd Train Crawl is held in February on the same route as the first. Two Brothers Brewery opens. The 5th bus pub crawl, on April 5, goes to Mickey Finn's (Libertyville), Flatlanders (Lincolnshire), O'Grady's (Arlington Heights), and Two Brothers (Warrenville). Mike Uchima's Dragon's Breath IPA wins Founders Hill Brewery's IPA-only competition and, with Mike's help, is brewed commercially at Founders Hill in July. Marc Kullberg's altbier takes 2nd place in the Kölsch & Alt category (behind a kölsch) in the NHC in Cleveland. Darrell Proksa is elected president, and Tom Oelrich VP/newsletter editor. Jason Ebel leads a style seminar on weissbier at Two Brothers, our first event held there. We conduct the 3rd Winfield BIAB competition (Mark Knoebl organizing); out of 67 entries, Duffy Toler of Headhunters wins Best of Show with a California Common. We host a booth at a Winfield beer festival and serve homebrew. Our 6th bus pub crawl, Sept. 13 to Chicago beer gardens, is poorly attended. We conduct the AHA's Weiss is Nice club-only competition in November at Two Brothers Brewery (Steve McKenna organizing); out of 48 entries, Bill Aimonetti of the Albuquerque Dukes of Ale wins Best of Show. A potluck dinner follows, beginning the tradition that lives on with the Drunk Monk Challenge. The December monthly meeting is held at Lunar Brewing in Villa Park, beginning another tradition.

The 3rd Train Crawl, Feb. 28 on the BNSF line, once again visits the Roundhouse, Taylor, Founders Hill, and Palmer Place, plus a new stop at Irish Times in Brookfield. At the April meeting we sample the results of the Yeast Common Denominator, in which club members brewed the same cream ale recipe using 11 different yeasts. First Big Brew, for National Homebrew Day on May 2nd: club members brew three batches of Barleywine outside Total Beverage in Naperville, and conduct a homebrew vs. commercial beer tasting inside. Our 3rd BJCP exam, on May 10, welcomes 10 new judges, including Shane and Laurel Coombs, John Mains, and John Kleczewski. Our first Social Night is held in June, at Palmer Place in LaGrange. Four UKG members win a total of 7 ribbons in the NHC (National Homebrew Competition) 1st Round. Darrell and Tom are reelected. The 4th and last Winfield BIAB competition (this time not managed by the UKG, but employing UKG judges) occurs in September. The first annual cider run, to Plank Road Orchards in Sycamore, is held on September 26. The December monthly meeting is once again held at Lunar Brewing.

The 4th Train Crawl on Feb. 13 visits the same familiar BNSF line stops from Roundhouse in Aurora to Irish Times in Brookfield. Our first signature homebrew competition, the Drunk Monk Challenge, is held following a blizzard on March 6, with Shane Coombs organizing and Joe Formanek as judge coordinator. Judging was conducted at Founders Hill and the party afterwards was at Two Brothers Brewery. There were 224 entries. Shane's Flanders Brown wins Best of Show and Mike Uchima's Dubbel wins Menace of the Monastery. Mike Uchima once again wins Founders Hill's single-style competition and brews his Apocalypse Alt there in April. At the AHA National Homebrew Competition in Olathe, KS, we tie for Homebrew Club of the Year with Oregon Brew Crew. Eight club members win 17 ribbons in the 1st Round, and Jay Kash's Maibock puts us over the top with a 1st place in the Bock Club-Only competition. Our total of 77 points (64 - 1st Round, 6 - club-only, 7 - 2nd Round) sets an all-time record which is utterly demolished a year later. For the first time, we host a hospitality suite at the National Homebrewers Conference. Darrell and Tom are reelected for their 3 terms. We enjoy a walking pub crawl in September, visiting Erik & Me, McNally's, Billy Biru's, and Danny's in St. Charles. In October, we unveil the results of the Hopsperiment: a dozen UKG members brew the same pale ale using different hops. Third December monthly meeting at Lunar Brewing.

5th Train Crawl is held on Feb. 19, on the Metra Electric line to Flossmoor Station in Flossmoor and Ida Noyes Pub at the U. of Chicago. Also in February, Rich Janevicius, winner of the MUGZ Land of the Muddy Waters competition in Quad Cities, brews his Raspberry Wheat at Blue Cat Brewpub in Rock Island. The 2nd Drunk Monk Challenge on March 4 at Two Brothers (Steve McKenna organizing, Joe Formanek again as judge coordinator) gets 276 entries. Pete Kapusta and Steve Gryszinski of Silverado win Best of Show with a Mead, and Mike Brennan of BOSS wins Menace of the Monastery with a Dubbel. Despite winning 21 ribbons for 87 points in the 1st Round of NHC, followed by 6 ribbons and 27 points in the 2nd Round, we finish 2nd for Homebrew Club of the Year at the NHC in Livonia, MI, behind the Kansas City Biermeisters who amassed a new record 136 points. But Joe Formanek single-handedly scored 50 points and won the Ninkasi Award for the highest point total of any brewer in the NHC. Shane Coombs is elected president, with Mike Uchima VP/newsletter editor. The UKG constitution is amended and the position of treasurer is created, to be filled by Darrell Proksa. December's monthly meeting is held at Lunar Brewing for the 4th year in a row.

The 6th Train Crawl is held Feb. 10 on the UP-West line with stops at McNally's and Fitz's (Elmhurst), Lunar Brewing (Villa Park), Glen Ellyn Brewing and Curly's (Glen Ellyn), and John's Buffet (Winfield). Our 4th BJCP exam is held Feb. 24, with 17 taking the exam. The 3rd Drunk Monk Challenge is held on March 24 at Two Brothers (Joe Formanek organizer, Steve McKenna judge coordinator). There are an incredible 504 entries. Nick and Nancy Edgington of B.E.E.R. win the beer Best of Show with a Dubbel; Bill Aimonetti of Albuquerque Dukes of Ale wins mead/cider Best of Show with a varietal Mead, and Mike Pelter of Duneland Homebrewers Association wins Menace of the Monastery with a Belgian Strong Golden Ale. In April, the UKG website moves to hbd.org, and the UKG listserver debuts. Fourteen UKG members win 28 ribbons and a total of 102 points in the 1st Round of the AHA NHC, but we enter the 2nd Round trailing QUAFF's 132 points.

Today, the UKG continues to meet regularly and boasts active membership numbers over 100. See our Meetings page for information about attending our next meeting.

Thanks go to Chris Campanelli, Frank Dobner, Darrell Proksa, Marc Kullberg, Joe Formanek, and Mike Uchima for their help in researching the club history.

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