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!

Am I Spoiled?

I’ve been living in Chicago for just about 3 months now, and I’ve more or less figured out where in my neighborhood I can go to belly up and have a pint or three.  I have a few awesome multi-taps around me like Sheffields or Local Option and neither Goose Island tap house is too far.

A Standard Selection of Taps

photo by flickr user JanetandPhil

Beyond these destination beer bars, I’ve noticed that almost every bar has tab options beyond the standard American macros. I’ve grown accustomed to many of the standard imports (Guinness, Smithwicks, Becks, Heineken) in my 3 years of going to the bar, but beyond these Chicago seems to have a class of pervasive micros. Almost every bar that I’ve been to has both Boston Lager as well as the Sam Adams seasonal offering. Most also have at least one of either Fat Tire or Magic Hat #9 or even both.

Recently, I’ve notice that I tend to turn my nose up at these at these ubiquitous beers.  To be honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of #9 or Boston Lager, but I think a good bit of my disregard for for the others is some sort of mix between overload and plain ‘ol snobbery. I remember trying Two Brothers’ Domiane DuPage at Firkin and Pheasant and really, really enjoying it. When I was thinking of beers to compare it to, the one blindingly obvious one was Fat Tire.

I honestly think Domaine DuPage does a better job balancing the sweetness and roast of the malt, but if I step back, I bet a lot of my preference comes down to liking the less well known beer better.

It’s like the paradox of the greatest indie band ever, as soon as it forms it’s less awesome than it was before since people (the members) know about it.

So am I right shoving aside the common, tested brews in favor of something less well known? Or am I simply punishing legitimately earned success?

Beer Review: Two Brothers Cane & Ebel

Two Brother's Cane and Ebel

Cane and Ebel by Two Brother's

I was at Binny’s looking for a nice 6-pack to go along with the 12 pack of PBR I was bringing over to my friend’s house for a football game.  I still feel out of place looking through craft brews in Chicago. There are a lot more and very few of my standard Michigan beers. This is, overall, a good thing, but when I was just dropping in to make a quick purchase en route, I kind of wanted to go with something dependable.

Then I saw Cane and Ebel. It’s an American Pale Ale made with Rye that clocks in at 7% ABV and 68IBUs. It’s described by Two Brothers as:

Dry but with a creamy touch of Thai palm sugar and the spicy tang of rye, all balanced by loads of our wackiest new hops we could lay our hands on.  Yep, it’s an original. And it’s no sin.

Despite the brewer’s claim that it’s an original, I bought it because it reminded of Founder’s Red’s Rye (quite possibly my favorite “standard” beer), and rye is one of my favorite non-standard ingredients.

The beer pours a dark, reddish brown with a thick, creamy head that laces its way down the glass. There’s plenty of citrusy, grapefruit hops in the nose. The beer is smooth with a good mouthfeel. The grain bill manages to stand up to all the hops, and the rye gives it that unique, spicy flavor that gets me every time.

I’d definitely order this at a bar or pick up another 6-pack.