Beer Week 2015 (Chicago)

crop2Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

This weekend seemed especially apt for taking a break from cocktails and trying some local beers. Saturday Chicago dyed the river green and let luridly green bands of 20-something drunks loose to rove the city (mostly its bars, but some get lost) in overcrowded trolleys. Invariably some happy leprechauns will end up caterwauling down my block singing/shouting incomprehensively. An angry leprechaun may start a fight that ends up on the front hood of the parked car in which you’ve taken refuge. Overindulgent leprechauns—which seems all of them—will leave parts of green get-ups and curious splatters on sidewalks.

It’s not my favorite day of the year, so I was happy to escape and have a much smaller celebration at home.

We’ve done this beer exchange before, and, last time, I was so scientific and systematic. This time, I went to my favorite liquor store and picked out four big bottles (bombers) from the aisle labeled “Midwest Breweries.” All the breweries were small, all but one in Chicago, and most were unusual varieties of ale. Here are the bottles I sent:

Enkel, an abbey style ale by Une Annee Brewery: The most conventional and plainly (almost generically) labeled of all the ales I sent, this beer sits solidly in the Belgian monastery style, and the brewery, which is only a couple of years old, focuses on just Belgian and French ales. A little less alcoholic than their other offerings, they tout Enkel as an ideal accompaniment to a meal.

Bam Noire, a dark farmhouse ale by Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales: Largely a French style, farmhouse ales can be tart or sour, but, uncharacteristically, this beer uses darker, burnt malts. It’s really a marriage of two types of ales. Jolly Pumpkin was the only non-Chicago brew I chose—it’s from Michigan—and it’s also the one you’re most likely to find outside Chicago.

Can’t Someone Else Do It?, a double India Pale Ale from Spiteful Brewing: As I’ve discussed with my brother, I’m perhaps the only person on the planet not crazy about the IPA craze. I like hops, I do, but this style seems to focus so exclusively on hops that many versions lack any sort of subtlety or nuance. That said, I haven’t given up and know my brother likes them, so I chose one from a “nanobrewery” in town. Plus, I like their labels, which are more than a little surreal.

Pipeworks G&T, a gin and tonic inspired ale by Pipeworks Brewery: What makes this ale “Gin and tonic inspired” is the inclusion of spices besides hops, some botanicals and citrus. I thought I should send at least one outside-the-box selection, and Pipework seems perfect for providing that. They are super-small, and a new self-made and hand-distributed beer seems to come out every week. I haven’t been able to keep up, but I’ve liked what I’ve tried… and loyal readers of this blog will know of my history with gin and tonics.

Here are Jonathan’s Reviews:

JbmbeerThe best part of beer week is that David sends me everything that I need. The doorbell rang early in the week and when I opened it, there was a box full of beer. In this case it was four bombers (a term for oversized bottles of beer I recently learned) to go with the list that I had been sent earlier. All I had to do was assemble my tasting panel and I was ready to go, Fortunately, my son Josh was around and my neighbor Rob is always ready to try the drink, or in this case beer, of the week. So without further ado, here is the list in ascending order:

  1. Pipeworks G & T Ale. As David has described, G & T really means gin and tonic. I could taste those flavors, although they are subtle, but actually wished they were more prominent. The thing that really made me like this less (I liked all the beers so this is just an order of which I liked the most) was the odd mouth feel. That may be a wine term, but this beer had an odd viscosity that distracted from the flavor. My fellow tasters did not mind, and I think it rated higher with them.
  1. Bam Noire Farmhouse Ale. This beer had a wild yeast quality that gave it a welcome sour taste. It was complex, tasty and defied categorization. The body was really nice and it had a deep color that was also pleasant. Beers rarely live up to the label and/or web site description but this one came close. If it were part of a blind test I would have sworn this was a German beer.
  1. Une Annee Abbey Ale (Enkel). I still have questions about the brewery name and the beer name – is it an abbey ale or an enkel and what the heck is an enkel? Add to that the label description that talks about a “brett” taste and I was really confused. Brett, as it ends up, is a negative for wines and a positive for beers. It describes a leathery taste that I must have completely missed. But I loved the beer, it was smooth, had a complex flavor and a really nice color. The other tasters thought it too subtle, but they still liked it.
  1. Spiteful Brewing Can’t Someone Else Do It Double IPA. They had me with the label that was an illustration of two creatures (sloths I suppose) with shirts that read “sloth life.” The description suggested that the right amount of procrastination is always useful in getting someone else to take care of chores—a fantastic life lesson unless you are the one who gives in. David and I differ about IPAs. He feels hops are overused and I think they sing a song of flavor. This beer had the perfect combination of flavor and body to accompany any meal, especially the pizzas we paired it with. I recently tried a white whale beer (the heavily pursued Bell’s Hopslam) that was excellent, but this was better. Josh and I split this one and I wished I had stolen his share.

Jonathan’s take: I hope that my selections offer as much variety. The best part was the massive differences is each of these beers.

David’s take: I liked all of these beers and for different reasons, but, surprisingly, the beer I want to try again is the double IPA, which seemed especially good.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

I have already picked NC beers from some of my favorite breweries. I also found one that I had never heard of but it has an historical context. Last time I avoided IPAs, but this time I am going to try to make David like them, or at least one of them that is my favorite. Now we just need to get them shipped so he has time to taste over few days time.

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.