When you live in a mostly frozen city like Chicago, you squeeze every last ounce out of the warm summer months. Companies let their employees out early on Friday for “Summer Fridays,” residents start haphazardly hanging out on their rooftops and somehow, every single bar city starts advertising their “beer garden.”
I’m not one to refuse to drink while sitting in a lawn chair on the sidewalk or a patch of grass in the backyard, but I can’t help but feel like their use of “beer garden” is pretty liberal. So what, exactly, is a beer garden?
According to Brian Hathaway, the beer expert for the beer delivery service Brewvana, it’s worth looking at the origins of the beer garden itself. “Beer gardens (or biergartens in German) originated in Bavaria, where breweries would plant gardens above their underground cellar in an effort to keep their fermentations cool,” he explains. “The beautiful plants and open-air space inspired breweries to curate these spaces into a communal area where beer and food would be served.”
Similar to the difference between saloon, tavern, bar and pub, the definition of what makes a beer garden a beer garden has loosened a bit since its origin. “Each country has now put its own spin on the tradition of enjoying a cold beer outside,” says Shawn Zipay, mixologist and purveyor of the website Cocktails with Class. “For example, in the U.K., beer gardens are family-friendly spots featuring swing sets and slides to keep the kids entertained while the adults enjoy a cold drink, and they’re normally created in the ‘backyard’ of the pub.”
In Japan, where space is at a premium, Zipay explains that many beer gardens “can be found on the rooftops of buildings, which make for great outdoor hubs where people can enjoy the view.” And in the U.S. and Canada, “a beer garden often doubles as an outdoor patio that normally features live music and entertainment.”
So even though you might expect a beer garden to have more space, perhaps accompanied by a few tables, an actual garden and a large selection of beers, “the modern beer garden is just any open-air space where you can drink beer and eat food,” Hathaway says. “In reality, the only stipulation of a beer garden is that beer is served outside.”
And at least in the summer, that’s good enough for me.