wcs_2021_spotlight
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Behind the SmokeSpotlights

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Can you smell the peat and the sauce? Is your mouth watering to taste a bevy of cold, frosty brews while you jam to some of the best talent in country music? Well, get ready. Windy City Smokeout brings some of the best pitmasters and brewers in the world to Chicago for four full days of award-winning barbecue, craft beer, and live country music. Take a look behind the smoke, meet some of the talented folks coming to this year’s festival, and get your tickets today.

Christian Eckmann

Christian Eckmann

Pitmaster
Bub City
Chicago, Illinois

How long have you been a pitmaster?
I bought a secondhand vertical smoker in 2012 and was hooked. But I’m learning everyday. You learn from your mistakes, and take good notes on what you’ve done.

What brought you to Chicago?
I grew up in Libertyville, a suburb of Chicago. I worked in Basque Country in northern Spain for a year then came back to the city. Chicago has so many different international neighborhoods that feed the city. I love it here.

What is your favorite thing about being a pitmaster?
It’s a physical job, a true labor of love, and restaurants are like extended families. I love working with everyone around me.

What are you looking forward to at the Windy City Smokeout?
Getting back together with the barbecue community. It’s the best group of genuine people in the world. That combination of barbecue, music, and cold drinks on a hot day are going to make for a great time.

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Becca Galvin

Becca Galvin

Cidermaker
Virtue Cider
Fennville, Michigan

How long have you been a cidermaker?
This September will be my two-year anniversary at Virtue. I started drinking hard cider in college, and my university was close to a few cider taprooms. I wanted to pursue fermentation post college, and eventually that led me to Virtue.

What makes Virtue Cider unique?
The environment is always dynamic. I love learning new things, and there are always opportunities for that here on the production team. I think it is amazing that so many creative and artsy humans get together here to make such a great space to visit and work in.

What is your favorite thing about being a cidermaker? 
I love working on the small batch projects we do. Recently we spent the day cutting strawberries as a team, and it was a blast. Summer is fruit season, so we get to work more hands-on with the ingredients that go into our ciders. Second favorite thing is obviously tasting bourbon barrels.

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Burt Bakman

Burt Bakman

Pitmaster
Slab
Los Angeles, California

How long have you been a pitmaster?
I’ve been playing with fire for a majority of my life, but more intensely over the last decade. But we often don’t use the term pitmaster because it alludes to us being masters, when we all consider ourselves students for life.

How did you first get into barbecue?
I first got into barbecue when I was a young boy, and my dad would let me fan the flames at family barbecues. I have been dancing with the flames ever since. Our love affair only grows as time goes on.

What makes your barbecue style unique?
While I’m known to many as a central Texas barbecue guy, my styles and methods sprawl past many borders. Having been born in Zimbabwe, grown up in Israel with Russian parents, and married to an Argentinian, I’ve learned there is more than brisket, salt, and pepper. I think my relationship with the process is unique. And I’m here to tell everyone to develop their own relationship with the process and the flames.

What’s your favorite thing about cooking barbecue?
My favorite thing about cooking with fire is the constant changes and evolution. The process. The weather. The meats. Controlling the airflow. But my favorite thing about running a restaurant has to be the people and the memories customers share with me.

What are you looking forward to at the Windy City Smokeout?
What I love about doing events and festivals is the opportunity to watch those participating and learn from them. Hear some stories. And of course the challenge each event offers. New town, new crowd, new terrain, I’m here for it all.

Windy City Smokeout is unique because it’s in one of my favorite cities and in the parking lot of the United Center, where the legendary Chicago Bulls play. It’s what excited me about coming to Chicago — the culture, the energy. Chicago is a special place, and I’m always honored to visit it.

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Amy Mills

Amy Mills

Pitmaster
17th Street Barbecue
Murphysboro and Marion, Illinois

How long have you been a pitmaster?
I’ve been working at 17th Street Barbecue for 20 years and more involved in the cooking for the past 10 years.

How did you first get into barbecue? 
I grew up in the business, so barbecue sauce is running through my veins. I learned everything I know about barbecue from my daddy, The Legend Mike Mills.

What makes your barbecue unique?
Our barbecue is Memphis-style, dry rubbed and savory. A combination of our Magic Dust, barbecue sauce, and local apple wood makes it uniquely ours.

What is your favorite thing about being a pitmaster?
Our mantra is “barbecue is a culture, not a concept,” and the best thing about the barbecue biz is the extended family of which we’re a part and seeing the giant smiles on the faces of our guests.

What excites you about coming to Chicago for Windy City Smokeout?
We feel Chicago is our second city as we have such a great fan base there. We love taking our show on the road and bringing our barbecue to new fans and friends.

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Danny Beck

Danny Beck

Pitmaster
Pearl’s Southern Comfort
Chicago, Illinois

How long have you been a pitmaster?
I’ve been a pitmaster for over 25 years. I started cooking barbecue in Nashville at one of my first chef jobs and I’ve loved it ever since.

What brought you to Chicago?
I moved to Chicago to go to Kendall Culinary School in the early ’90s and I loved being in the city. It has such an eclectic and international dining scene. For such a large city it has a very small-knit dining community.

How would you describe your barbecue style?
I was born and raised in Kansas, so I love Kansas City style barbecue. We use all apple wood and that paired with our home-made dry rub gives our barbecue a really unique flavor.

What is your favorite thing about being a pitmaster?
I love being a pitmaster and getting to cook barbecue all the time. I love the smell of the smoke and seeing people’s smiling faces after they try some of our food.

What are you looking forward to at the Windy City Smokeout?
I love getting out of the restaurant and doing festivals and private events, it’s such a nice change of pace for us. Windy City Smokeout is always our favorite weekend of the year — being able to hang out and spend time with our barbecue family and the best pitmasters in the country makes for an amazing weekend topped off with the best in country music.

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Molly Ross

Molly Ross

Brewer
JuneShine
San Diego, California

How long have you been a brewer?
I’ve worked in alcohol production since 2013 and was formerly a cellar manager. I obtained the brewer title when I joined JuneShine in 2018.

How did you first get into brewing?
I love the hands-on style of work and the craft. I used to work customer service in private aviation and knew I wasn’t utilizing my strengths. Somehow I made a convincing argument that working with jet fuel was similar to beer, and someone fortunately took a chance on me. I’ve been in the industry since, growing through each department in production.

What makes your brewery unique?
We are making exactly what we want to drink. We are collectively writing the book on how to make the best hard kombucha. It’s very collaborative, creative, and the people here are very passionate about what they do.

What is your favorite thing about being a brewer?
There’s never a dull moment. You have to think critically, pivot quickly, and troubleshoot. You have to be active, sharp and creative simultaneously. The production team camaraderie is very strong and what I look forward to each day I come to work.

What excites you about coming to Chicago, one of the country’s top cities for craft beer?
I’m from outside of Chicago, so for me, it feels like going home. I love the culture and the endless fun.

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Quinn Fuechsl

Quinn Fuechsl

Brewer
Goose Island
Chicago, Illinois

How long have you been a brewer?
I did my first homebrew after getting a kit for Christmas. Now I’ve been brewing professionally for 8 years.

What is your favorite thing about being a brewer?
Sharing the beer we make with people who are excited to drink it!

What makes your brewery unique?
Goose Island is one of the original craft breweries in the country. We established bourbon barrel aging as a technique that can be replicated and developed into a true form of art.

What’s special about the brewing community in Chicago?
The community is truly one that supports and uplifts each other, regardless of your tenure or size.

What are you looking forward to about festival season?
Seeing what all of the other breweries are doing to celebrate a certain festival is always fun. We brew special beers for some festivals or bring certain rare beers for others – it’s always great to see what other breweries are bringing to the table.

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Jared Hayek

Jared Hayek

Brewer
Spoetzl Brewery (Shiner Beer)
Shiner, Texas

How long have you been a brewer?
I’ve been brewing for seven years at the Spoetzl Brewery. I started casually reading about brewing on my own, but when the Spoetzl Brewery hired me I truly began to learn brewing.

What is your favorite thing about being a brewer?
Everyday has the potential for new challenges and new lessons.

What makes your brewery unique?
We were founded in 1909 by European immigrants in a very small part of Texas and have been independent and family-owned ever since. We are fiercely proud of our small-town craft heritage and the unmistakable quality of our product. Every drop of Shiner is brewed in Shiner, Texas, a town of 2,000 very proud people.

What are you looking forward to at the Windy City Smokeout?
Everything! We love the food, music, and atmosphere of the festival and enjoy the unique spirit of a barbecue-style event in the heart of the big city. Just us and tens of thousands of our friends!

What excites you about coming to Chicago, one of the country’s top cities for craft beer?
One of my greatest joys is sharing our beers with people who love good beer. Chicago is an electric and diverse city with a strong food and drink culture. Chicagoans know good beer. We always look forward to this event and being able to share Shiner with people who appreciate quality, independent, and family-owned craft beer.

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