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.

Hopslam in Chicago

Tim wrote about his impressions of this year’s Hopslam when it was actually contemporary. He saw Ashley’s tweet about the tapping, and I saw that Sheffield’s was having a tapping party on Facebook. Hooray for beer and social networking!

I won’t give a full review of Hopslam, since Tim took care of that, but I wanted mention a few things about the beer and the bar.

Beer Release Events Are Awesome

Tim attended one at Ashley’s and my Hopslam release was hosted at Sheffield’s. There’s something about the feeling of a crowd together, all excited about the same thing. It’s the reason I like going to movies at midnight the day they open or going to live sports. There’s something about the crowd and shared emotion that makes the event or product itself much more enjoyable.

Beyond the crowd, I enjoyed having a theme for my drinking. Back in Sheffield’s “Beer School” bar they had, in addition to Hopslam, Hell Hath No Fury, Winter White and Two Hearted from Bell’s. It was like being back in Michigan for a night. When I was there for the tapping of Vrienden, a collaboration between New Belgium and Allagash, they also had a New Belgium Trippel and IPA along with Allagash Black and White. While aimlessly exploring an extensive tap list is fun (and usually the way ago), sometimes a more limited, focused and curated experience is awesome as a change of pace.

Sheffield’s Is Awesome

Sheffield's in Chicago

Sheffield's front bar. Photo by Media Fury

This isn’t news or an original thought. Sheffield’s is on Draft Magazine’s top 100 beer bars in the US and comes in at an A- on Beer Advocate. Still, sometimes things just need to be said. The beer list is constantly changing, especially the Beer School Bar. The bar tenders all know and, more importantly, truly enjoy beer.

They also have beer focused events fairly often. To kick off my beer-a-palooza weekend,  I’m going to a five course Texas BBQ dinner paired with beers from Founders. They do a fair amount beer tappings and even road trips, including annual pilgrimages to Two Brothers and to Three Floyds for Dark Lord Day. Throw in the awesome barbecue food, you’ve got my favorite bar in Chicago.

I Don’t Appreciate Bell’s As Much As I Should

I lived the first 24 years of my life in Michigan. Bell’s has been relevant and even top dog in the craft beer scene since I started thinking, “maybe there’s something better than Bud Light…” I’ve never harbored any ill-will toward Bell’s, but when I saw it in the stores next to Arcadia, Founders, New Holland or Shorts, I would almost invariably pick one of the smaller guys.

Being out in Chicago, it’s amazing how excited people get about Bell’s releases. The Chicago Beer Society Listserv I subscribed to was flooded with messages about where you could go to get Hopslam on draft or pick up a case or two. This was totally shocking to me. Back in Michigan, an average party store still has a couple six packs of Batch 9000 and Hell Hath No Fury, etc. Here in Chicago, it’s a mad dash to grab it before it’s gone.

Bell's Beer

A selection of beers made by Bell's

Moving away from Michigan has definitely helped me appreciate Bell’s more. They have tons of different beers (and an incredibly impressive selection of stouts) and almost all of them are anywhere between Very Good and I Could Die Right Now And Be Happy.

I’ll credit it to a mixture of expatriate nostalgia and appreciation borne from seperation, but now when I see Bell’s on draft, I’ll snag a pint (especially Two Hearted). I usually have at least on variety of Bell’s in the fridge at any given time. In getting excited to try new breweries, I let Bell’s fall by the wayside, but that’s not fair to them or, more importantly, to me.