What Makes a Good Beer Bar?

We’ve discussed beer bar rankings in this space before. Of course, at the end of the day, these rankings are ultimately subjective. Some of the things I value in a beer bar are probably different than what someone else values. So, what do I value?

  1. Selection. For a beer bar, this always has been and always will be the #1 criterion. You can’t be a beer bar with only 15 choices. Good selection can manifest itself in different ways, as well (emphasis on local beers, emphasis on international beers, emphasis on a particular style, etc.). However, a wide variety is always important.
  2. Knowledgable Staff. This can be a semi-controversial topic. Some people simply don’t care if the staff knows anything, as long as they can get their beer. Some people want the bartender to know every last thing about every beer. I’m somewhere in the middle. As long as the person serving me knows the name and brewery for everything that’s available, I’m OK. Knowing the style for everything is good, but not crucial. It’s a bonus if they know the location of every brewery.
  3. Atmosphere. Again, there is a range of preferences here, but somewhere has to at least be inviting and “feel like a beer bar.” It can be a pub-type, it can feel like a brewery taproom (warehouse-style), but it has to have that intangible feeling of being just right.
  4. Events. It’s not necessary to have something every week, but it’s really cool when there are beer releases and brewery events held in a beer bar. It brings the beer community together, and makes for a very enjoyable time.
  5. Service. Yes, I’m separating the staff’s knowledge from their ability to efficiently serve. One of my favorite beer bars of them all (Ashley’s) is notorious for having terrible service, but the selection and knowledge make up for it.
  6. Clientele. This one is a little less crucial. Sure, it’s nice to have some other patrons to chat with, but if that’s not the case, so be it.

What am I missing? Surely these aren’t the most important factors to everyone out there, right?

Goose Island: Lincoln Park

Goose Island Clybourne

Goose Island Brewery via Malted Barley and Hops

I live about a block away from a Binny’s, so I thought the John Leinenkugel event would be very convenient. Fortunately, I checked the event details early enough to realize that it was in the Lincoln Park Binny’s. Being new to Chicago, I fired up Google Maps to find the best way there, and to my delight, I saw that it was right across the street from the Goose Island Clybourne Brewery and Taphouse.

So after Binny’s I headed across the street with the smell of malt and wort in the air. I’m not sure living in that smell would be great, but as someone who has been homebrewing-deprived, it was beautiful.

Map to Goose Island

Right between the Red Line stop at North and the Brown Line stop at Armitage

The bar itself seems much older (in a good way) than you would expect from a brewery with a 22 year history. My bartender immediately suggested I try the R.I.P. Ale, a rye pale which, if you have followed the beers I’ve reviewed lately, is obviously up my alley. The service was friendly and fast, and the bartenders were always quick with a taste or to explain a beer. The food smelled amazing, but my budget was for beer only.

I tasted a few of their beers, trying to focus on the ones that I don’t see that often in the stores. I thumbed out some quick reviews as I was drinking them:

  • Partial Eclipse – 5.5%: dark belgian wit brewed with Chicago Brew Society. Spiced with Szechuan peppercorn, coriander, Seville oranges, and star anise.

Notes: spices nice in the nose, not overpowering in the taste. Flavor dominated with malt and wit taste with a bit of the spice lingering through the end

  • Oatmeal Stout – 5.1%: A classic English style stout with an aromatic blend of oats, chocalte and roast malts.

Notes: poured like motor oil out of the cask tap with almost no head. The taste is velvety and sweet with a hint of stone fruit. It finishes with a very strong, but appropriate acrid note from the roast barley.

  • R.I.P. Ale – 5.8%: “Mad Brewer” Jared, balancing caramel and rye malts with Chinook and Nuggett hops, crafted this crisp, dry autumnal ale.

Notes: copper color, citrus hops and a nice spice from the rye.