Addison Ashbaugh | Beer Buyer, Sheffield's Beer and Wine Garden

Addison is arguably the nicest person in the Chicago beer scene. He practically sweats good vibes. I mean, he genuinely struggled to come up with anything to say when asked what frustrated him about the craft beer industry. And not out of politeness, but out of a genuine lack of hard feelings. 

He's also seen the industry from nearly every vantage point in the past few years -- he's been on the brewery side (Tallgrass Brewing Company), the distributor side (Lakeshore Beverage) and now, he's in retail as the beer buyer at Sheffield's Beer and Wine Garden. He's also the best karaoke'er I've ever seen. And I grew up in China. 

We get to our five questions on a dark and rainy day at Sheffield’s back bar as Addison gets up and down to pull samples of beers I just have to try, because that’s what he loves to do -- share beer with people.

What are you drinking?

I'm drinking North Coast Scrimshaw. Outside of Germany, it’s probably one of the most classic, underrated Pilsners. In the the 70’s when people wanted to order a beer they’d just say, "give me a beer" and for me, as far as the craft scene goes this is one of the greatest examples of "just a beer." It’s one that you can drink on and it’s not going to fill you up too much. You can have food with it. Or you can just drink it all night and not get hammered. That’s really what it’s all about for me when drinking beer all day long, every day is to not get… drunk. You have to function.

What’s something we can’t Google about you?

I used to compete in the air guitar circuit. Rolling Stone flew me to South Padre island to compete in an air guitar competition. My brother and I hosted a competition at the bar I worked at and a few months later one of the other local bars had one and everyone was like, “you should totally enter!” I was like, “I guess so.” I ended up winning that competition with a song called The Devil Stole the Beat From God by the Helicopters -- it’s all shredding. My friend was bartending at the time so during part of it, I ran and jumped up and slid across the bar and as I’m shredding, he just opens up the Jack Daniels and pours it down my throat. So then Rolling Stone wanted me to go out to South Padre island for this competition and I won second place.

How do you explain your job to your mother?

What I would I love to tell her is that I just drink beer for a living. That’s what I tell people all the time. But inside of that, it’s all relationships. It’s fostering new relationships with new breweries to give them a spotlight so people are exposed to good beer here in Chicago. But it’s also about holding onto the old standards that I grew up drinking and then ones that do really well in the bar. I guess I’m curating a palate of beer and beer standards that lend to people’s tastes in and outside of their comfort zones.

I’m also a manager here so it’s up to me to educate the staff and give them something they maybe haven’t tried yet and then at least a sentence description that they can share with their customers. I’m partly an event planner too - we do, on average, five to six events a month. I want this to be a place that industry people can come to because one - they can drink something that’s like, "Shoot, this is on draft? Awesome!” and two because they can pour their beers here and bring the rest of their co-workers or distributors and enjoy themselves, eat some good BBQ and drink some good beer.

What makes the beer industry so special?

I think that there’s a lot of cool upcoming breweries and with Chicago being a big city, we’re able to get a lot of the great beers that other cities aren’t able to get because there’s such a demand for craft beer here. That’s what's neat about it. It’s local but also people from throughout the United States are sending beer to one area. We’re one thirsty town. We’re a hard working town and we like to drink hard too.

Also, I got to meet you through craft beer. I think the culture craft beer keeps is a little left of center. We’re rockers, we’re stoners, we’re nerds, we don’t follow the mainstream. I think that’s what craft beer does -- we’re just this explosion of not status quo.

I like that good beer brings good people together. It’s open ended. Take 3 Floyds. The state of Indiana, with their new law has discriminated against anyone who basically isn’t a white, married Christian. So 3 Floyds basically said a big “FU” to them and made a collaboration beer with Big Freedia who’s transgender. It’s all about acceptance. That’s what craft beer does -- it’s all across the board so we accept people from all across the board.

It’s a lifestyle.

What makes the beer industry so frustrating?

That’s tough man. <long pause>

I think good beer takes time. It’s like learning to be a chef, or learning a trade. Not everyone’s beer is good right out of the gate but I think that being complacent about the quality and standards of your beer can be the most frustrating thing. That goes for startup breweries and breweries that have been around a long time and haven’t reinvented the brewery and vision. For example, New Holland just reinvented Mad Hatter. The IBUs are a little higher and it’s Citra, but they just didn’t want to be complacent.

It's also people being complacent about trying new things. You can drink beer to get drunk -- that’s the goal, right, that euphoria it creates? But can you have a conversation about a Miller Lite or a Bud Light? No. But you can have a conversation about some barrel aged beer. While you’re drinking it and rallying around friendship, there’s a conversation to be had about the beer itself. That’s what I like about beer -- it has a story. Beer is the reason we’re no longer nomads, beer built the pyramids. It’s one of the first things we made and it’s our basic right. Did that answer your question?