Chicago Beers

20140226_191524_resized-1Proposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Here’s a second week of beer, this time from Chicago, home of the polar plunge.

Chicagoans have a thing about people who claim to be from Chicago and are actually from Chicago-land (read: suburbia). It’s easier, we all know, to say you’re from Chicago the city than to admit (and explain) what BFE town you really inhabit. I notice, however, that—quite hypocritically—Chicagoans are quite willing to call those BFE’s “Chicago” when it comes to beer.

I chose beers from ChicagoLAND, featuring those breweries that most Chicagoans have decided to adopt for this—and only this—purpose. I drew the line at Indiana, but just barely. Here’s the rundown:

Ticklefight Barleywine (Solemn Oath Brewery): Solemn Oath is actually in Naperville, a god-forsaken place, but they’re a bold, and adventurous brewery, introducing beers in various styles and then moving on. The best, they promise, will return, but they mean to try as many new brews as they can. I didn’t know much about them before choosing this beer—maybe for its name—but barley wine is a style I love, potent and rich.

Heavenly Helles Lager (Church Street Brewery): Home is Itasca, Illinois, west of the city, but let’s forget that. Not loving this style, I found this beer listed at the best in a taste test of Chicago lagers. I also loved their origins, which began when a son decided his engineer dad, needed a hobby and suggested home brewing. It’s a relatively new concern—2012—but Joe Gregor, the dad, traveled widely in Germany and meant to give this beer his particular love, featuring “Unique malt complexity” and “a straw-colored clarity.” That means almost nothing to me but sounds good.

Domaine Du Paige (Two Brothers Brewing Company): The two brothers of Two Brothers, Jim and Jason Ebel, started as home brewers and their company is 100% family owned. Domaine Du Paige is a French Saison inspired by their time in France, described as “toasty” and “caramel,” but it’s only one of a very diverse family of beers. I actually hoped to send Jonathan Cane and Abel, one of my favorite Rye beers, but their whole collection is interesting.

Over Ale (Half Acre Beer Company): Now Half Acre is in Chicago, actually not too far from where I live. I’ve tried nearly all their beers, and, even when they’re outside my tastes, I enjoy their efforts. They describe Over Ale as “A styleless wonder,” but a more precise description of the beer is a brown ale with less roasted malt character. I’d call it a session beer. Though at 6% ABV and in tall cans, it offers enough to make someone quite happy.

Eugene Porter (Revolution Brewery): Revolution is a place in my (sort of) neighborhood but almost impossible to visit because of the hipster crowds that crowd oldsters like me out. Part of the problem is that their food and ambiance is quite good too—bacon fat popcorn and a long mahogany bar—so getting there is difficult. Eugene Porter is named after my personal hero, Eugene V. Debs, a man who ran for president from prison in 1920 (Vote for prisoner 9653!). It’s uses Belgian malts and is black, black, black—intense.

5 Grass Hoppy Ale (5 Rabbit Brewery): Actually Bedford Park. 5 Rabbit Brewery takes its inspiration from Atzec mythology, and 5 Grass (Macuilmalinalli) is a god of excess, that, according to the website, “reminds us that all living things form a grand community that is counting on us to do our part as thoughtful, caring stewards and good neighbors to all life.” Okay. It’s a pale ale, supposed to be smooth and drinkable, and posses “the fresh outdoorsy aroma of the desert” along with sage, rosemary, and Tasmanian pepperberry.

Like Jonathan, I regret omitting breweries, Goose Island, probably the most commercially successful of the microbreweries in Chicago (they call themselves “Chicago’s Craft Beer,”) and Three Floyds in Munster, Indiana, which I’d consider the premier brewery in the Chicago area, with complex and flavorful offerings that are consistently masterful. But, alas, I had to draw a line somewhere.

beerbgoneHere’s Jonathan’s Review:

A few years ago I read a book by Garrett Oliver called The Brewmaster’s Table. Oliver is the brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery and the intent of the book is to match beers with food. It is so much more, though, including a history of beer, explanation of methods and mostly a fantastic description of beer styles. It inspired me to try different beers even if they felt out of my taste zone. I had hoped that this two week experiment would do the same. That goal was accomplished.

Like David, I feel inadequate describing the microbrews and the subtlety of their flavors, but I can tell you what I like and what leaves me indifferent. I will also rank these beers from least favorite to favorite, although in one way or another I liked all of them.

6. Heavenly Helles. I guess lager is just not my thing either. It is described punnishly as a “righteously good beer” and it is good. Where it did not live up to description, was in its crispness, and being spicy and floral. The flavor was mostly monotone to me with little differentiation from first taste to last. I do have to say the color was fantastic.

5. Domaine Dupage. You would think that a beer made by Two Brothers Brewing had to be tailor-made for the brothers’ blog. It also had an instant appeal as a style of beer rarely encountered (French style country ale) in a market flooded by different versions of a small group of styles. The problem was that it promised a sweet start with a cleansing hops finish, and while the first part was there the second never appeared. It also noted that it was particularly good with food, and that in fact was so. I drank the last part with some garlic heavy white pizza and they paired very well. Just one more note: I collect caps from different beer and the cap from this brewery is one of the best I have ever found. Love their logo and that they advertise themselves on the cap (what a concept).

4.  Tickle Fight American Barley Wine. This was the most intriguing when I first unpacked the box. I have seen, read and heard of barleywine but had never tried it. It is strong at almost 11% alcohol, but that doesn’t cover up the subtlety of taste. The effervescence, slight sweetness and lingering hops taste are all extremely interesting. Would love to see what Garrett Oliver’s advice for food pairing with barleywine is because it is definitely a beer that would enhance a meal. Alas, I leant the book to someone and it never came back.

3. Over Ale. This is the first one that I tried, and I made an overt effort to enjoy it without reading how the brewery described this ale. My guess was that it was a brown ale (it is a caramel color) or American ale. It ends up they describe it as a “styleless wonder” and that is what it is. No matter its description, it had great body and a smooth taste that was consistent from one sip to another. If this is a Chicago Ale, I would love to have more.

2. Eugene Porter. The label, or design of the can in this case, is similar to People’s Porter one of my favorite NC beers so I was favorably inclined. I also love porters in general and this lived up to my expectation. Porters have great body and balance and this beer exemplified those qualities. A lot of beers of this and other styles claim caramel and chocolate notes but don’t meet those promises. This one does. A really dark porter, it had mellow and melded flavors in perfect balance. My only regret is that I did not save it for the perfect 70 degree afternoon we had today. It would have been a great complement to the weather.

1. 5 Grass. There is a home experiment where you can taste a small piece of paper and gauge a predisposition to certain preferences. David’s son, Ian, sent our family the test many years ago and it explained a lot about the preference differences between my sons. I am just guessing, but I think the same differences would be true between me and my brother. I love India pale ales and pale ales whereas he questions why they are so dominant. The notes on this beer talk of deserts, pine flavors, unusual hops, and all sorts of spices. I didn’t get that. What I did get was the crispness of the style, the added florals of the hops and the perfect mix of flavors that the best of the cocktails we have tried have exhibited. IPA’s are a fantastic beer to pair with food (spicy food in particular) and 5 Grass holds true to that. It’s also darn tasty just by itself.

eugeneJonathan’s take: David sent an incredible spectrum of beers. I hate that I had to rank them, but am happy that I got to drink them.

David’s take: It’s been a fun two weeks. Though I’ve tasted many of these beers before, this tasting made me wonder if I’ve given them my full attention, the attention they deserve.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

David described a sling in his introduction to A Sling of Sorts #2. That brought to mind a drink I have heard referenced so many times, but have never tried – the Singapore Sling. There are differing theories to the history of the drink and also different recipes. I am going to leave it up to David to choose what recipes he wants to try.

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