Breweries That Have Made An Impression

Between having a Binny’s across the street, Sheffield’s a five minute walk away and Local Option on my walk home from work, I’ve been able to really jump into the Chicago beer scene. The selection of beers is very different from what I was used to in Ann Arbor. It’s a big market, which can make it desirable for many brewers, but there’s a lot of competition.

There have been a handful of breweries that have stood to me since I’ve moved to Chicago. Some of them I just hadn’t seen before and others I’d just passed over for no good reason.

Lagunitas

Lagunitas Hop Stoopid

Hop Stoopid during my first brew day in Chicago

I’ve been constantly picking six packs and bombers of Lagunitas the past couple of months. After finally picking up a bomber of Hop Stoopid, I was hooked. They fit into my stereotype of West Coast brewers: big, citrusy hops and clean flavors.

Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ ale, a hopped up wheat beer, might become my go to summer beer. It has the “summery” notes that I associate with Oberon along with the great orange, grapefruit notes I get from Red’s Rye or Two Hearted. The only thing that could keep it from the top spot is the fact that it’s 7.2% ABV, which could knock me out a bitch more than I really need.

Every beer I’ve had from Lagunitas has been amazing. I’m looking forward to trying some more of their seasonal and limited release beers.

Beers I’ve had: Hop Stoopid, Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’, Maximus, Wilco Tango Foxtrot (Reviewed in a guest post on A Tale of Two Brewers).

3Floyds

Three Floyds

Three Floyds

I had heard of 3Floyds while living in Michigan, but I don’t remember ever trying any, and I don’t think they distribute to the mitten. They obviously have a reputation that preceded them, and the stories I’d heard from Dark Lord Day seemed pretty epic. Tim stopped there on this epic road trip to Chicago, which made me really jealous.

There may not be a bar and brewery more spiritually linked than Local Option and 3Floyds. They both really exemplify an independent, rock-and-roll, headstrong spirit, which leads to crazy beers and an awesome (if sometimes quite loud) atmosphere.

The latest 3Floyds beer I’ve been raving about is the Zombie Dust. I’ve had it on draft and from a firkin, and it’s an amazingly complex tasting yet simply made beer. It is an American Pale Ale that is hopped exclusively with Citra hops, which the bartender at Local Option described as, “a glass of orange juice with a big bag of weed.” Citra hops have an awesome mix of citrus, earthiness and floral notes. It makes for an awesome beer.

Sir Robert the Bruce is a top 5 scotch ale, and Gumball Head is right up there with Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ in whatever style you slot those beers in. Whenever I see 3Floyds on draft, I’ll usually order it, and I the only time I wasn’t blown away was with their Baltic Porter.

Beers I’ve had: Sir Robert the Bruce, Gumball Head, Alpha King, Arctic Panzer Wolf, Baltic Porter, Zombie Dust.

Two Brothers

Two Brothers Brewing

Two Brothers Brewing Co. - Warrenville, IL

I had never heard of Two Brothers before I picked up a six pack of Cane and Ebel (review). Since then, I’ve been picking up six packs regularly as they’re very reasonably priced and always very good. Not only does Two Brothers, but they also were instrumental in setting up Windy City Distribution, an independent beer distributor that has played a huge role in getting new and interesting beers into Chicago. Drinking a Two Brothers beer is doing double duty for the craft beer movement!

There isn’t a particular beer that stands out, as they have all been really good. Trying Domaine Dupage was a revelation. I normally avoid beers labeled as Farmhouse Ales. For whatever reason, most beers that are termed Farmhouse don’t have a compelling flavor profile to me. Domaine Dupage certainly does, though. The most similar, popular beer is probably Fat Tire. It has a really nice, complex malt profile, with just enough hops to keep it from being cloying. It is a very nice, sessionable beer, especially good during the autumn.

Beers I’ve had: Cane & Ebel, Ebelsweiss, Northwind Imperial Stout, Bitter End Pale Ale, Domaine Dupage, Long Haul Session.

How About You?

Are there any new breweries that you have been trying? Let me know in the comments!

Rare Beers Close to Home (Pt. 2)

This got split up into two parts. You can read part 1 Here.

Rare Goose Island Belgians

The details of the tasting at Sheffield’s are available here. The descriptions of the beers  are a little wordy, so click through if you’re interested in the official descriptions.

Goose Island Sisters Flight
Goose Island Sisters Flight

I got there at about 8:45 when the beers started pouring at 7. My friend and I both ordered the flight, but unfortunately they only had enough Lolita for one of us. Luckily for us, the staff at Sheffield’s is awesome. The Chief Beer Nerd brought out a bottle of Sofie for us and hung out for a while talking about the beers. It’s always fun to have someone knowledgable and passionate talk about something, and he sort of led us through the four main event beers. It was the next best thing to having the brewer there talking to us, and it really added something special to the event.

All five of the beers were very good, so this is really splitting hairs, but here are my official (not that that really means anything) rankings with some brief notes:

  1. Juliet
    • This beer wins out because not only was it delicious, but it was also something I haven’t tasted before. It had a dryness, not from the bitterness of the hops, but rather from tannins like you would find in a red wine. It had a hint of sourness to go along with a complex, fruity flavor. If you have friends who just drink wine, try finding a bottle of this and sharing it with them.
  2. Dominique
    • This one didn’t seem to get the same love as the others with its description being just one sentence. I guess it’s relatively simple: 1) Make a belgian sour 2) Put beer in a Bourbon County Stout barrel.  But what came out of this was anything but simple. It was a mix of the fruity, spicy notes of the belgian yeast and the smoothness, vanilla and very slight bourbon notes from the barrel. This beer was close to being number 1.
  3. Madame Rose
    • There was sort of a drop off at this level. This is still a very, very good beer. The balance of the vinegary flavor, the tartness from the cherry and the notes of the yeast was very well done. I think I mentally downgraded this a bit because I tasted a very similar but more mind blowing version of this beer made by a homebrewer in our local guild.
  4. Lolita
    • This beer might have been third had we gotten a full taste and if it wasn’t a bit too flat. I certainly don’t need my beer to super carbonated, but I feel a bit higher level would have helped brighten and separate the flavors. They got a bit muddled as it was. I was also hoping for a bit more of a funky flavor from the brettanomyces.
  5. Sofie
    • It’s sort of unfair to compare Sofie with the other sisters here. She’s a very well made Belgian Golden Ale. The yeast just imparts a hugely floral and fruity flavor that is backed up by a solid, but not heavy malt body. It’s good, but more standard.

I asked in a post back when I first moved to Chicago, “Am I spoiled?” Well… with both these places within walking distance of either work or home, as well as a Binny’s across the street, I can safely answer that question with: Yes, Yes, A Thousand Times Yes. I totally encourage you to keep your ear to the ground. Follow beer bars on Twitter or Facebook, sign up for their newsletters, visit often and talk to the bartenders. Whatever you need to do, find out about events. There’s no better way to get excited about beer than being surrounded by other folks who are just as excited as you are!

Have any of you had an awesome experience at a beer-centric event? Let me know in the comments.

Rare Beers Close to Home

The weather has changed and we’ve had four or five days straight of sunny days over fifty degrees. This has led me to start walking home from work most days. In addition to the weather, an advantage to walking home is that I can walk right by Local Option. I went there for the first time a couple weeks ago, and had some ridiculous beers.

Wednesday morning I got an email from the excellent Chicago Beer Society Listserv (viva los 90s!) with the tap list that Local Option would be having that evening. The relevant excerpt:

Founders Black Biscuit
Founders Breakfast Stout
Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout
Founders Double Trouble
Founders Endurance Ale
Founders Imperial Stout
Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout

I originally wasn’t planning on stopping in. I had some silly ideas of going to the gym, and I was heading to rare beer event at Sheffield’s later that night. All that said, as I walked by Local Option on the walk home, I was drawn in like a moth to the flame.

Local Option

Some of the Taps at Local Option

The place was packed with a wide assortment of beer nerds. There were the stereotypical befacialhaired folk wearing the shirt/hoodie of their favorite brewery; there were men and women still in fancy-pants work clothes; there were DePaul students in their craft beer adolescence with a chance to try one of the pinnacles of the movement. What I’m trying to say is that it was a diverse, excited crowd all waiting for 6pm when the Founders kegs would be tapped. I’ve mentioned this before, but like going to see a movie at midnight, going to special tappings and being immersed in a crowd that is buzzing with excitement for the same thing makes the wait nearly as exciting as the payoff.

I grew up in Grand Rapids and still have friends and family there, so I’ve been lucky enough to be able to routinely go to the Founders Taphouse. Between that and the Michigan Brewers Guild festivals, I’ve tried all but one beer on that list, the Canadian Breakfast Stout.

They were doing small pours (about 7-8oz) to ensure all beer nerds in attendance got the chance to try something from each 5gal keg. Even so, the Canadian Breakfast Stout was the first to kick – after only 25 minutes. Luckily, I got my glass and, as so often seems to happen at Local Option, struck up a conversation with some other folks who were trying the CBS. I’ll do a brief review of the beer:

OH MY GOD! THIS IS AMAZING!

I feel the better the beer, the less I’m disposed to analyze it and try to isolate flavors. When I drink something that is that good, I like to turn off the analytical side and just enjoy the experience.

So after my amazing beer and meeting a fellow homebrewer (bottle exchange coming soon), I left the bar and headed home to get ready* to taste some crazy belgians made by Goose Island.

…To Be Continued [Part 2]

*“Get ready” is a phrase which here means “lose by 30+ points to Tim in NCAA Football.”

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.