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!

ROAD TRIP: Chicago

When our rag-tag trio of brewing and drinking compatriots split up and mostly departed Ann Arbor, MI (Nathan moved to Vail, CO, Paul to Chicago), it didn’t mean that our exploits in the beer world had come to an end. On the contrary, it opened new doors for our exploration.

The Route

The Route

I recently strode through one of those doors, taking a road trip from Ann Arbor to Chicago to visit Paul. The travel itself was about 5 hours worth of Interstate 94, but I had other plans. As you can see on the right, I planned to stop at nearly every brewery within a reasonable distance from the highway on my route – with detailed instructions written out (it’s always risky to put too much trust in cell phone navigation apps).

So, shortly after 11AM on one fine Wednesday, I left town heading West on the highway, hoping to make it to Dark Horse Brewery in Marshall, MI around noon. I got there shortly after my target time, and grabbed a Reserve Special Black Ale. I (quite foolishly) forgot to take any notes on it, or if I did, they’re long-lost by this point. It was back the the road.

Dark Horse Brewing

Dark Horse Brewing

From Marshall, it was a relatively quick trip to Battle Creek, where I stopped for lunch at Arcadia Brewing Company. Though I’d been there before, it had been a couple years, and much longer since I’d gotten food there. I was surprised then, that a place priding itself on the brewing of authentic Britsh-style ales would also have semi-authentic barbecue comprising a big part of their food menu (along with wood-fired pizzas). I ordered a pulled pork sandwich that came with a choice of several sauces, including chipotle BBQ, Carolina, and Kansas City.

Arcadia Nut Brown Ale

Arcadia Nut Brown Ale

Unfortunately, their beer selection was limited on that day, and I was unable to try something new, having to settle for a brew I’d tried on previous occasions. I went with the Nut Brown (fall seasonal), which was solid as always, but a disappointment because I was looking to expand my horizons.

After taking my time with the meal (and ordering water instead of a second beer, of course), it was back to the road, and I passed up the highway in order to take a back route to Kalamazoo, where I’d stop at Bell’s Brewing and the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange – which, while not a brewery, has “beer” right in the name, so I couldn’t pass it up.

In my effort to stay sober, I decided to make Bell’s a carry-out only stop, and I popped into their general store for a 6-pack of their Batch 10,000 – the last in their numbered batch series. The store itself was pretty cool as well, with Bell’s souvenirs such as T-shirts and hats, along with a cooler stocked with Bell’s beers, and even a homebrew section. I regret not walking around the corner to visit the Eccentric Cafe, but I didn’t have the time.

Going around the corner the other way led to the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange, which had opened just a couple days earlier. Without really knowing what it was (you should really have made it a bit more clear on that since-updated website, folks) I was pleasantly surprised to find a really cool setup for a multi-story restaurant and bar inside what was otherwise an office building.

Kalamazoo Beer Exchange

Kalamazoo Beer Exchange Entrance

Kalamazoo Beer ExchangeKalamazoo Beer Exchange Interior

Since I would be unable to stop into The Livery in Benton Harbor (which didn’t open until 4PM), I planned to get my fix of one of their beers at KBE, but some sort of snafu led to ending up with something else – it tasted like a Belgian Dubbel or Tripel – that didn’t meet the description of anything that The Livery brews. I had no problem, as it was delicious, but I’ll never know which beer I actually ended up drinking there.

From Kalamazoo, it was a long trip before another stop, which I finally made a mere 6 miles from the Indiana border at a tasting room for the Round Barn Winery and Brewery. Not wanting to do any tasting of my own, I was intrigued by their house-made spirits, and since they didn’t have a great beer selection available for purchase, I picked up a half-pint of their Whiskey.

Shoreline Brewery Setting

Tommy used to work on the docks...

From there, it was on the Michigan City, Indiana, where I would eventually end up at a brewery that looked like it was set in a Bon Jovi song. With lakeside factories pumping out exhaust in the background, Shoreline Brewery sits near the banks of Lake Michigan. The building itself seems to be some sort of defunct factory, and it was tricky getting to the taproom area.

Shoreline Brewery

Shoreline Brewery

My intention was to pick up a growler from Shoreline, but since I didn’t know what they had available, I inquired with the kind young lady tending bar what was available. Once she told me they had a barrel-aged series on special, I was hooked. That one of the choices was a barleywine only sealed the deal. I purchased a growler of the beer, and got back on the road.

After an ill-fated stop in Indiana to visit a brewery that had shuttered its windows for good (thanks for mentioning it on your website, guys, or at least disconnecting your phone), I made my way to the final brewery stop of the day: Three Floyds in Munster, Indiana.

Three Floyds

Three Floyds

Three Floyds

Three Floyds

By this time, I has grown pretty weary of my travels (and as you can see, night had fallen since the ast time I stepped foot inside a building), so I made quick work of purchasing a 6-pack of Robert the Bruce, a Scotch Ale that I’d never had, despite it being one of the more popular offerings of Three Floyds. With a couple quick pictures of the pub area and one of the brewery, I was ready to finally get on to my destination: Chicago.

In all, it was a good time, and though I had planned it well, there were some hiccups along the road. If I were to to it again, I’d certainly try to ensure I wouldn’t be flying solo the whole time.