Monday, December 15, 2014

Lake Effect Brett Cerise

Brett Cerise is one of what I would consider to be Lake Effect Brewery's rather ambitious Brett Series. Essentially, Lake Effect has brewed a base session pale ale using brettanomyces yeast, which imparts a funky tart flavor. This series includes, or will include variations that utilize the following fruits: raspberry, cherry, and grapefruit. I randomly picked out a 750 ML of the cherry brett a few days ago, curious to see how this project is turning out.

Brett Cerise (5.5% ABV) pours with little head and leaves very little lacing. It is ruby red to orange and hazy in appearance. There is very little aroma, but I was able to detect mostly a tart, funky mustiness, with just the faintest hint of the cherries. The cherry became more evident as the beer warmed. The mouthfeel is crisp with little carbonation. Flavor-wise, it's very acidic and more citric than cherry. Neither the cherry nor the brett yeast really stand out. It's is very crisp, however, almost like a cider rather than beer. I wonder if Lake Effect perhaps jumped the gun on this one, rather than letting it settle and age together with the fruit for a bit longer? I'm pretty sure I'll try some of the others in this series. I feel like this beer has promise, but isn't quite where it needs to be. Kudos to Lake Effect for attempting to create something interesting and probably soon to be more in demand as funky and sour becomes more popular among the beer-drinking public. These beers will certainly appeal to some, and will also expand the palates of many curious new drinkers who are trending towards this style of beer.

Major update! We had the Brett Framboise on draft last week, and it is spectacular! Everyone who tried it was universally impressed. This is a major success for Lake Effect, in my opinion, as having locally made sours and lambics is going to become important if the current trends among craft beer consumers continue.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sierra Nevada, Beer Camp, and Neo Lexicanus

In June, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company invited Michael Roper and John Wider, co-owner and beverage manager at Hopleaf, respectively, to brew a beer in Chico. Neo Lexicanus, the fruit of their labor, made its debut at the Hopleaf on November 5. It's a lovely India Pale Lager jammed full of the hops available at the venerable Chico brewery. You should check out the photos of the massive hops freezer at Sierra, which are available on the Hopleaf's facebook page. But before I talk about Neo Lexicanus, I want to discuss Sierra Nevada's role in today's craft beer scene.

Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi founded Sierra in 1980. Next to Anchor Brewing, Sierra Nevada is the longest running microbrewery in the US. It is currently the second largest craft brewery by sales volume. Sierra Nevada can rightly claim to be one of the pioneering breweries that paved the way for those that followed.

Today, there are far more financial resources available to craft breweries willing to tap them. After all, craft beer is a growing and profitable market. Banks, investment groups, and even crowd-sourcing have all funded breweries or expansions. There's a reason that an investment group backed Southern Tier earlier this year to finance an expansion, or that AB/InBev purchased Goose Island in 2011 and Bend, Oregon's 10 Barrel Brewing this past month. There's obviously money to be made in today's growing market. But in 1980, no financial institution or investor was willing to back a pair of upstarts in their unheard of scheme to brew small batches of beer at a time when Anheuser-Busch, Coors, and Miller were practically the only game in town. Grossman and Camusi had to resort to scrounging through their own limited assets (Grossman owned a homebrewing shop that he sold for $15,000) before hitting up friends and family. By 1980, the two had collected enough funds to secure a space and install their brewing equipment--much of it repurposed, self-engineered odds and ends. Utilizing a ten-barrel brewing system, they set themselves to creating the west coast style, roughly 310 gallons at a time.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale debuted in 1981 and is the second best-selling craft beer in America. Back during my formative drinking years, Sierra was my go to option whenever there was only Coors or Bud Light available at a bar. Even though I had no idea that I was drinking a craft beer, I knew it tasted better and was therefore worth the extra couple of dollars. Everyone has had a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and it's often the only good option available when trapped in some beer desert. I would suggest that it is a gateway beer between macrobrews and more hardcore craft beer.

Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale is the original hoppy west coast pale ale with its Cascade hops. But it is also probably an afterthought to most drinkers of craft beer today. It certainly isn't a big seller at the Hopleaf, based on my experience. There are two types of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale consumers. The first category are the non-craft beer people who, dragged to a craft-beer venue by friends and feeling overwhelmed, latch onto something familiar. The second type of Sierra drinkers are the old timers who remain loyal to what was probably the only decent beer they could consistently get their hands on for much of their lives. In short, I don't believe that Sierra's flagship is being consumed in venues catering to hardcore craft beer drinkers, but rather by those hovering along its margins in bars that carry both macrobrews with a few microbeer options--although quite a few brewers swear by it. I have no research backing up my assertions, but can honestly say that very few people come to the Hopleaf looking to drink a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

Even though craft beer drinkers are perpetually searching for whatever's new, Sierra Nevada remains relevant to the beer scene. Sierra has done an excellent job of appealing to both mainstream tastes and more serious beer aficionados. While Sierra Nevada Pale Ale appeals to a more general audience, many of Sierra's beers are geared toward beer geeks. I really liked the Ovila Abbey Ale series, and Ruthless Rye IPA. Their experimental hop series is fantastic. Kellerweiss flows quickly from our taps whenever it's available. (Beer nerds would do well to remember their fledgling years and recognize that there are many, many new converts to craft beer who still seek out more familiar styles of beer, especially popular German beers). Sierra's beers are well-made and very much worth drinking.

But Sierra is about more than just brewing beers. Craft beer was, and still is, all about community. It sounds cliché, but I've witnessed the truth behind this assertion too frequently to discount it. Most breweries are incredibly generous toward their fellow brewers, whether it be sharing expertise, equipment, or ingredients. Ken Grossman and Sierra have nurtured the fledgling craft beer industry for decades, utilizing Sierra's success to promote local centers of microbrewing throughout the country.

Sierra's leading presence is evident in several ways, but one of the coolest things that the Chico brewery does is Beer Camp. This program brings together lots of breweries and excites plenty of beer drinkers. Probably the best-known element of Beer Camp is the extravagant tour across America that rolled through seven cities from the west to east coasts this summer. It was arguably one of the most exciting beer events of the summer.

But a lesser-known facet of Beer Camp exists. In addition to touring the land, Sierra Nevada brings a number of people to Chico, California where they are able to use the brewery's vast resources to design and brew their own beer. Among those lucky souls invited to Sierra's mothership were Chicago's very own Michael Roper and John Wider (disclaimer: Michael is a Detroit native, and John hails from the very lovely Garden State).

This duo teamed with eight others involved in the beer industry to come up with a beer style, then meet in Chico to brew it at Sierra's impressive facility. While this might sound pretty straight forward, it was much more difficult to agree upon a style. After a long email thread, the group settled on an India Pale Lager. It was summer, and they wanted something relatively light, but packed with flavor. For John, it was a no-brainer to create a hoppy lager, since Sierra has one of the largest caches of hops in the United States. According to John, "It would have been a sin to have access to all these hop varietals and not use them." Style in place, the team met in Chico and spent the day brewing their beer--from milling the grains to pitching the yeast.

Aside from the enormous hops freezer, which is truly a sight to behold, John was really struck by how green Sierra Nevada is. "Their grains are sold to local farmers. They recycle their greenhouse gas output. Their electricity is powered by solar power." This commitment to the environment solidifies Sierra Nevada's place at the forefront of the craft beer industry.

So how is Neo Lexicanus? It's a solid India pale lager that contains a variety of hops, but features Humulus Lupulus Neomexicanus. It pours golden and clear, has a nice head that lasts and leaves good lacing behind. The aroma is citric and very hoppy. The body is light, crisp, and eminently drinkable, though filled with an initial burst of hops. Neo Lexicanus is delicious and is, as of this posting, still available on draft at the Hopleaf.

John prepares to pour a pint of his creation.
My brief history of Sierra Nevada comes from Tom Acitelli, The Audacity of Hops: The History of America's Craft Beer Revolution.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Marz Community Brewing What the Pho Porter

I was listening to part of the ABV Chicago podcast last night, in which they reviewed five Pipeworks' barrel-aged beers. One of the things that the hosts of ABV said was that recently, they had been buying fewer beers from Pipeworks. They attribute this to Pipeworks' innovative spirit and the fact that they do not hold back any of their unusual beers from the market. Up to last year, you could go to a store and pick out just about any Pipeworks beer and be pretty happy, or even amazed. But of late, there were just so many things sitting on shelves that the ABV guys now wait to see what other people are saying about each beer before they purchase anything. Pipeworks is a brewery that is not afraid to experiment with beer. Sometimes this produces liquid gold, mostly it produces ok beers, but it also results in some lemons on occasion. This is the price of experimentation. I've also pulled back from just randomly grabbing Pipeworks off the shelf because a bomber runs from $9-$15, which can become expensive if you're just taking a chance on something. I'm not diminishing Pipeworks in any way. I still regard these guys as my favorite new Chicago brewery--some of their beers have simply blown me away (this is also the sentiment of the hosts of ABV Chicago). I just wish the ratio of great Pipeworks beer to ok Pipeworks beer was a little better.

Speaking of highly experimental Chicago breweries, I finally got my hands on a bottle of What the Pho Porter by Marz Community Brewing in collaboration with Chef Bill Kim. I was worried about how this one might go because it's based off of the popular Vietnamese beef broth noodle soup. I had also recently spoken with Tim Lange, one of the brewers at Marz, and he seemed bemused by this beer, as well as the Umami Imperial Stout that they brewed with Takeshi at Against the Grain in Kentucky for this weekend's Festival of Barrel Aged Beer (FOBAB). He's aware that these are unconventional choices, to say the least. But I also think he has confidence in his co-brewers and the products they're putting out. And in any case, I'm always game to try something from a brewery that has not let me down so far.

What the Pho Porter (6.5% ABV) was aged in barrels infused with ingredients designed to reproduce the flavors of pho. It pours black, with reddish tinting when held against a light. It has a very thick head that lasted until the beer was practically gone. The aroma is a combination of all the things that went into this beer, and then some. I personally smelled ginger, although this was not one of the ingredients in What the Pho. Somehow, I'm guessing the peppercorn and cloves, along with the anise, cinnamon, and sassafras blended together to make this aroma. The porter also smells sweet, although in a soupy, almost meaty way. As the beer warmed, it smells increasingly like pho. What the Pho has the typical medium body of a porter. It's smooth, and has little carbonation. It tastes sweet, like meat marinated in soy. There's also a tingly sensation that feels like ginger, although it's really just the peppercorns and cloves talking. The Sassafras, cinnamon, and anise account for the sweet flavors, with hints of licorice.

So I went into this beer with an open mind, having no idea what to expect from such an unusual take on the porter. I was somewhat concerned that the flavor would be too intense, or that the flavors would build into something overwhelming as the beer warmed. I also suspected that the flavors simply might not work, producing something that didn't taste right. These fears proved unfounded. Marz used a very creative cast of ingredients to reproduce what turned out to be a very unique and good beer. What the Pho is a more subtle exploration of flavors; it's not at all overwhelming to the palate. Although it certainly won't appeal to all, it will impress many beer drinkers.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Pipeworks Cinnamon Beer-D Ohs Imperial Cream Ale

Pipeworks recreates a bowl of cereal in a bottle and delivers it to you, although I wouldn't recommend drinking it on a Saturday morning while watching cartoons. You will lose the day. Cinnamon Beer-D Ohs is a dark amber that displays much clarity through a slight haze. It has a nice, albeit short-lived, head, but leaves behind nice lacing. The nose is sweet and rather boozy. As expected, the mouthfeel is soft and creamy. The flavors are malt, sweet bread, sugar, and vanilla. The 10% ABV is well-disguised by these flavors, so be careful kids. I felt as though I were reliving my childhood spent with a bowl of sugary, cavity-inducing puffed corn as I worked my way through this 22 oz. cream ale. While reliving childhood memories is not all that it's cracked up to be, Cinnamon Beer-D Ohs won't leave you with many regrets, although you might need a nap.

Pipeworks Harbinger of Doom Belgian Style Wit Bier with Elderberries

Does Pipeworks' Harbinger of Doom have the appearance of a Wit? No, it does not. It is not white, but rather amber. It is also mostly clear, though a little haze does blur things a bit. But Pipeworks likes to blur the lines between styles. Most Wits are cloudy and often have visible sediment. They also have fluffy heads that last forever thanks to the wheat malt base. Harbinger has almost no head, although it does leave some decent lacing. But don't be fooled by appearances, especially the appearance of a beer brewed by Pipeworks. Harbinger of Doom smells and tastes like a Wit. It has a sweet, fruity aroma with lots of lemon-citrus notes. It has a tart opening with some citrusy flavor, and then a bit of a spicy, even hoppy finish. Another weird take of the Wit by Pipeworks that somehow works. Go figure.

Fresh Hops in a Bottle: Lagunitas Born Yesterday & Deschutes Chasin' Freshies

We are at the end of harvest ale time. Fall is fading into winter. But the harvest brings lots of amazing beer styles, including beers with hops fresh from the farm. By November, all of the fresh hop beers that were going to be made in 2014 have already been brewed. I've generally stuck to drinking harvest ales on draft--how this type of beer normally arrives--so I thought I would give a few bottles a shot. My two selections are pretty random. The first, I chalk up to dumb luck. The second, I figured if I was going to get a bottle of a harvest IPA, I might as well find someone with the chops not to mess it up.

I was perusing my local bottle shop this morning when the owner let me know that he had just received a shipment of Born Yesterday. Intrigued, I grabbed a six-pack and read up on this wonder of a Pale Ale. On the labeling, it states that hops from the Yakima Valley were added to the beer, which was then bottled and shipped within twenty-four hours to provide customers with the freshest of fresh-hopped beers. So I had to do a little research to figure out exactly what this means in terms of brewing and logistics. Essentially, Lagunitas pulled off quite a feat. They got Equinox, Amarillo, and Mosaic hops from the Yakima Valley to Petaluma, California, and then dry wet-hopped this pale ale with about ten pounds of these fresh hops per barrel. Then the beer was bottled, kegged, and shipped. All this happened, mind you, on October 27th. If you lived on the west coast, you could purchase Born Yesterday on October 28th. I'm not sure when my six-pack arrived in Chicago, but it smelled like it was indeed born yesterday.

Born Yesterday is a big and rare pale ale (7.5% ABV). It's clear and golden, with a nice, tight head that holds well and leaves nice lacing. The hop aroma is immense; more like a big IPA. The smells are pine with some citrus notes--dare I mention marijuana, a close relative of the hop? The flavor is initially big hops (pine, citrus, with some peppery sensations) and then a nice, crisp and dry finish. The mouth feel is, in addition to being crisp, a little oily. Born Yesterday is super easy drinking and quite an achievement. Lagunitas really pushed the limits on supplying consumers with a super-fresh, wet-hopped beer. I'm impressed.

Deschutes, in Bend, Oregon, is much closer to the fresh mosaic hops that are showcased than Lagunitas. I randomly pulled this bottle off the shelf knowing that Deschutes would create a very solid harvest ale. And Deschutes proved my assumption right.

Chasin' Freshies (7.4% ABV) pours straw yellow and has super clarity. It has a nice head that didn't last, but left plenty of lacing behind. Chasin' Freshies did not provide the same intense hop aroma as Born Yesterday, but that's neither here nor there. The aroma is more dank, grassy, and even a bit fruity sweet. Kilned Bravo and fresh Mosaic hops created the beer's aromatic and taste profile. Chasin' Freshies has a clean, medium body without much trace of malts. This is all about the fresh Mosaic hops and is an easy drinker for those preferring a sharp bitterness in their IPA. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Best Thing I Swallowed on Sunday Episode 21

Today was a hectic one at the ol' office, so I'm keeping this episode short. Rather than talking about three new beers on tap at work, I'm limiting myself to just two. One beer absolutely blew me away, and the second actually surprised me quite a bit. Ballast Point's arrival in Chicago several years ago introduced me to the first West Coast IPA that I truly enjoyed--Sculpin. Today witnessed my introduction to another of Ballast Point's amazing beers. Victory at Sea Coffee Vanilla Imperial Porter is superb and has to be one of the best examples of the style. Just one whiff of it told me that today's competition would be a foregone conclusion. But this isn't to minimize the second-place holder. Lakefront's Rendezvous, a Bière de Garde, is very impressive and highly drinkable.

Can you guess which beer is which? Can you?

I had no idea that Lakefront had such a nice beer in them, so imagine my surprise when we tapped a keg of Rendezvous after blowing through their Pumpkin Lager. Don't get me wrong. I like Lakefront's beers, but I don't love them. They are solid but I never really crave them. This might upset some folks from Milwaukee, but it's how I feel. Rendezvous is a Bière de Garde that weights in at 7.2% ABV. For those who don't know, a Bière de Garde is a French version of a farmhouse ale or saison that is traditionally brewed along the Franco-Belgian border during the winter and consumed in the summer. The style can be more pale in color, although these beers tend to be amber colored. The French variation also is generally less hoppy and relies on a heavier malt profile for flavoring. Rendezvous has the clear amber color of a Bière de Garde, and has a fluffy, though short-lived head of foam that left some nice lacing. The aroma is malty-sweet. There's not a lot of carbonation, and the body is fairly light, with a soft mouthfeel. The flavor is obviously heavy on the malts, and is therefore a bit sweet. The finish was somewhat dry, which is more akin to a saison. Rendezvous was a solid beer and very enjoyable.

Victory at Sea Coffee Vanilla Imperial Porter is simply a great beer. How we ended up with a keg of this at the Hopleaf is beyond me, but I am extremely happy that we did. The aroma and flavors of this imperial porter were mind blowing. It pours black and has an everlasting cocoa-colored head of foam. The aroma is vanilla, chocolate, and roasted coffee. Vanilla, roasted malts, chocolate, and sweet coffee greet the tongue, while a nice bitterness rounds out the sweetness. The 10% ABV sneaks up on you, since the flavors are both intense and long-lasting in Victory at Sea--masking the alcohol almost entirely. I cannot write enough good things about Victory at Sea other than to declare it the obvious best thing I swallowed on Sunday.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Best Thing I Swallowed on Sunday Episode 20

Another Sunday has come and gone, and with it, three more beers have crossed my palate. Today is saison day for no other reason than there were multiple saisons on our draft list today. Only two were new to me, but I threw in Revolution's Coup D'Etat because I'd already reviewed the other two saisons that were available (Apex Predator from Off Color Brewing, and Saison DuPont). The first two saisons are collaboration beers, while Coup D'Etat is a solo project. All three hail from the great state of Illinois. And, as is normally the case, I enjoyed each of these beers immensely.

Imperial Black Saison, Stefon, Coup D'Etat
First up is Ten-Ninety's collaboration with Pollyanna Brewing of Lemont, Illinois. These two breweries teamed up to create an Imperial Black Saison. At 10.1% ABV, this beer fits the Ten-Ninety MO of making big beers. As you can see above, it is indeed black, and the foam of the head is chocolate in color. Dark malts are the key ingredient, but this beer is also fairly bitter at 50 IBU's. The aroma is very understated, but exhibits roasted malt notes. This farmhouse ale has a medium body and a dry finish that releases a fair amount of alcohol warmth. The initial flavor is of roasted malts and hops. But then notes of chocolate also reveal themselves to create a wonderful experience. This beer really impressed me, and Ten-Ninety has been an excellent addition to the world of good beer in Illinois. Imperial Black Saison is the best thing I swallowed on Sunday.

The second beer of the day is another collaboration beer called Stefon. Solemn Oath of Naperville joined forces with St. Louis' Perennial Artisan Ales to create this dark farmhouse ale. Stefon is a dark rye farmhouse ale conditioned with Brettanomyces that has an ABV of 7%. Like the Imperial Black Saison, Stefon is also very dark and has a cocoa colored head on it. There's a dark-fruit aroma which translate into the taste profile of this light-bodied ale. There's a really nice balance between the hops and malts. Hints of cocoa are also present, although I detected no tartness from the Brettanomyces yeast--perhaps that will come with age? In any case, Stefon is light and very drinkable. Solemn Oath suggests that this beers flavors will evolve with aging, so it might be interesting to grab a bottle and hold onto it for a few months to see what happens.

Finally we arrive at Chicago's own Revolution Brewing's Coup D'Etat. This is a French style farmhouse ale or saison that has an ABV of 7.5%. It is golden and hazy, with a good head and nice lacing. The nose is sweet and yeasty. The flavor is filled with fruit, but Coup D'Etat also has good spice and hop notes. The finish is somewhat earthy, and the mouthfeel is rather soft. This is a solid example of a saison.

This concludes episode 20. Stay tuned for next week's show to find out about what's good in Chicago!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Pipeworks Brewing Co A Midsummer Night Apricot Pale Ale

I'm somewhat tardy in cracking open this apricot pale ale. I beg your forgiveness, my failings are manifold. Midsummer Night was obviously meant for the rare hot day of this recently deceased summer; so perhaps I'm drinking this bottle as a lament to the summer that hardly was. Fall has arrived, Halloween is upon us, and soon the days will be short. This pale ale has a slightly hazy, golden color with a nice head with tiny bubbles. Very persistent carbonation and head. 8.5% ABV. This is exactly what a pale ale should look like. Fruity aroma of apricots is in the nose. At 8.5% ABV, the high alcohol content of this beer is immediately noted. But that's kinda one of Pipeworks' things, making big pale ales that go down way too easy. Very drinkable light to medium--almost creamy--body. It's so drinkable that I finished my bomber before I realized or had a chance to share it. Initially, the citrusy hops are very prevalent, almost to the point of burying the dried and pureed apricot. The fruit only becomes evident after a few more sips. Very bitter (citric acid) pale ale with a light malt body that gives off hints of apricot, before sending you off with a bitter finish.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pipeworks Brewing Co. North & Western Dry Hopped Saison Style Ale

Now that Pipeworks has foolishly given away their coordinates, you can bother them at the source all you want. All kidding aside, please don't interfere with their activities. I shared a bottle of this saison style ale when it first appeared. Delightful times, delightful times. Hoping to recapture that high, I scurried from random bottle shop to random bottle shop, hoping to locate another bottle of this aphrodisiac. Well, I went to one of two shops that happen to have a good selection of neato bottles that not many seem to have discovered. And there it was. North & Western Dry Hopped Saison.

North & Western is a golden amber colored saison with a nice head that leaves good lacing. The aroma is of saison yeast. There's a sweet saison opening, light body, and well balanced hoppy, dry finish. There are a lot of hops in this saison. What more could you want from this very straightforward saison? Now good luck finding a bottle of your own. . .

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Arcade Brewing Grapefruit IPA

I really liked Arcade's Mega Milk Stout, so I was looking forward to drinking another of their beers. The Grapefruit IPA, Arcade's second batch, was less impressive, in my opinion. Grapefruit IPA has a dark, murky amber color and a solid, persistent head. There's a very citrusy aroma, with sweet grapefruit notes coming through. The hop bitterness is accentuated by the grapefruit bitterness. Medium body. It's nothing special--not bad, but not great. Sessionable, but there's not much else to this beer after the initial hop/grapefruit bitterness passes. There are plenty of better options around (The Machine by Marz, Zombie Dust, or Half Acre's Heyoka, recent medal winner at GABF), but if Grapefruit IPA were the last IPA available, I would be ok with that.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Best Thing I Swallowed on Sunday Episode 19

Wherein I find three good things on tap that capture my attention and describe them.
Here we go!

I generally have a difficult time designating a "winner" among my Sunday selections because the beers I pick are always of high quality and offer something unique to beer drinkers. This is certainly the case today, as I thoroughly enjoyed imbibing all three of these beers. My selections are Poperings Hommel Ale Dry Hopped, Marz Community Brewing Jungle Boogie, and Jolly Pumpkin Fuego del Otono. Three great beers in three very different styles.

Dry-Hopped Hommel Ale

Hommel Ale Dry Hopping is a Belgian IPA from Brouwerij van Eecke in Watau (7.5% ABV). The van Eecke family has been brewing since 1840. The brewery is best known for its original Hommelbier, which I will review alongside this more recent release (2012). Michael Jackson considered the original Hommelbier to be a world class beer, and we shall see why. But first the Dry Hopping. This Belgian is hazy blond and holds a small, white head. The aroma is sweet and a bit fruity from the yeast. It has a low carbonation, soft mouthfeel and is medium bodied. The flavors in Dry Hopping are rather subtle, but there is a sweet yeast flavor that hints at peach. This is followed by a superb bitter ending.

The original Poperings Hommelbier (Bumblebee Beer) is a bit more sugary sweet than its dry-hopped version. I pulled an 11.2 oz bottle of it to compare with its younger cousin. It has the same hazy golden blonde color and holds a fluffy white head. It feels a bit more carbonated, and the hops tingle on the tip of the tongue and the back of the throat. The Brewers' Gold and Hallertau hops are muted (40 IBUs). Hommelbier is light and surprisingly refreshing, and more flavorful than the dry-hopped variation.

I know I just included Marz Community Brewing in the last episode, but we added Jungle Boogie to our taps this week. Marz has earned a second spot in my blog with this very interesting beer. Jungle Boogie weights in at 5.5% ABV and is a medium-bodied amber ale that uses Cascade hops for bittering and is dry-hopped with Mosaic hops, giving this beer a very balanced sweet, floral hoppy aroma. Amber colored and displaying a fluffy head, Jungle Boogie is a nice surprise and great twist on an amber ale. That twist namely comes in the form of rooibos tea, and this beer does not taste like any rooibos I've ever had. The flavor is initially Cascade hops bitter balanced out by a great sweet finish from the tea. There's not much of this available. From what I understand, only Maria's Packaged Goods in Bridgeport and the Hopleaf in Andersonville have any on draft.

Jungle Boogie
Last, we arrive at Jolly Pumpkin's Fuego del Otono, aka Autumn Fire (6.1% ABV). This has been on our menu for just about one week, so I was happy it lasted until I could review it this Sunday. Fuego is a hazy orange/amber Biere de Garde that has the general appearance of a pumpkin ale. It also holds a small head, at least on tap. The aroma is super tart, and the flavor is pretty much the same. There is definitely some nuttiness and a bit of spice in this beer, but tartness dominates the palate. It's medium bodied, with a fair amount of carbonation. The carbonation allows the acidity of the beer to fizzle on the tongue, roof, and back of the mouth. This tartness compels you to spend some time getting to know Fuego, which is a good thing to be forced into. Once you have recovered from the initial tartness, you begin to taste the other flavors that are present beneath the wave of acidity that defines this beer. Initially, the flavors are citrusy, but there are traces of caramel and nuts, and a bit of herbs. This is followed by a musty, woody tartness and a bit of vinegar. Overall, a very good sour ale from Jolly Pumpkin. Perhaps for the sheer intensity of flavor, I shall declare Fuego del Otono the best thing I swallowed on Sunday--although any of these three beers could've taken top honor.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

New Glarus Strawberry Rhubarb Wisconsin Wild Fruit Ale

This past week, the family and I took a quick drive up I-94 across the Wisconsin border to do a little apple picking at Apple Holler. If you have young kids, take them here. There is a big slide, things to climb on and around, a petting zoo with goats, and a hay-bale ride out into the orchard.

While all that's good fun for the family, I had ulterior plans for this outing. Anytime I'm in Wisconsin, it's time to look for New Glarus fruit beers. Fortunately, Apple Holler has a restaurant and gift shop that happens to carry Wisconsin beers, including Tyranena and New Glarus, of course. While Spotted Cow and a few others were available, I had my heart set on the 750ml bottles. My vigilance was rewarded when I spied two bottles of Strawberry Rhubarb, which I quickly snatched up.

I had never tried Strawberry Rhubarb, but heard or read that it was probably one of New Glarus' least drinkable fruit beers. I think that's probably more a matter of personal taste, but I have to agree with the detractors. Strawberry Rhubarb is too candy sweet for my palate, although I'm sure lots of fruit beer drinkers would really like that.

But let's take a moment to smell the roses before jumping into the beer review. We went to Apple Holler on Thursday, and couldn't have asked for a nicer day to be outside. Apple Holler is definitely kid-centric, but it is also really nice to walk among the trees under a warm sun. A pleasant time was had by all.

Wasn't that delightful! To the beer. Strawberry Rhubarb has a deep earthy red and hazy color. The head is thick; the aroma is pure strawberry, which is evident right upon opening the bottle. It is very sweet tasting as well, almost entirely strawberry. This beer has a very nice, soft mouthfeel and light body. There's lots of flavor for such a light, low ABV beer (4%). It's very tart, but not very sour. New Glarus is great at isolating and accentuating the specific flavors of the fruits in their beers. And this is certainly the case with Strawberry Rhubarb. Nonetheless, Strawberry Rhubarb is not as drinkable as other New Glarus fruit beers, in my opinion. It's much more cloyingly sweet than other New Glarus fruit beers. A small amount of Strawberry Rhubarb was enough to satisfy my curiosity. Not to worry, the rest was consumed by someone who appreciated the beer far more than I.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Pipeworks Zombie Gnomes Smoked Saison

Another great saison from Pipeworks. I know everyone goes crazy for their DIPAs and their Abduction Series stouts, and with good reason. But I really appreciate the saisons brewed by Pipeworks. They really impressed me with Catch of a Lifetime, and kept the hits coming with North and Western and Poivre Vert. So I buy pretty much any Pipeworks' saison I see.

My first reaction with tasting Zombie Gnomes (8% ABV) was "this is awesome." It has the classic saison look (although this style certainly is up for grabs these days). It's golden, effervescent and has a persistent foamy head. There's also the beautiful aroma of slightly sweet saison yeast with just a trace of smokiness.

Zombie Gnomes is light and dry. There's really great balance between the sweet, fruity start, the smokiness, and the hoppy finish. The smoke lingers slightly, but does not overpower the beer. While not as interesting as some of their other saisons, Zombie Gnomes is really well done and might be a good introductory beer for those interested in a less intense smokey sensation.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Best Thing I Swallowed on Sunday Episode 18

Welcome to Sunday Swallow, where I choose three interesting beers that are new to the Hopleaf's tap menu--or at least me. Another Bears game provided me ample time to consider my choices before the post-game rush. This week, I had a very tough time picking my favorite beer. There's always a lot of good stuff on tap, but today we had some very exceptional options. I narrowed my selections to Firestone Walker's Double DBA, L'Abbeye de St. Bon Chien by BFM, and The Machine pale ale from local hero Marz Community Brewing.

Double DBA, L'Abbeye De Saint Bon-Chien, and The Machine

Hopleaf was lucky enough to acquire a keg of Firestone Walker's rare Double DBA (Double Barrel Ale). Double DBA is an imperial special bitter that packs a punch at 12% ABV. Its appearance is dark amber and it holds a thin head with a bit of effervescence. The aroma is pure toffee, which comes from the generous use of malt. The flavor generally matches the nose, with a rich, malt-toffee sweetness. Double DBA provides plenty of alcohol warmth as it makes its way down the back of the tongue. There is a little effervescence in the mouthfeel in this full-bodied ale. There's a reason brewers like to age their beers in some sort of barrel--it makes them extra delicious. Double DBA sits in American oak, and the effects are wondrous. Had it not been for my next selection, Firestone would've carried the day.

We've had some really great sours on tap at Hopleaf over the past few months. Duchesse de Bourgogne made a return to draft after many years of only seeing it in bottles. As much as I would've liked to include it in today's review, I'm quite familiar with the Duchesse. Therefore, I choose another sour ale as her champion.

Even if I didn't really enjoy the flavor of L'Abbeye De Saint Bon-Chien as much as I did, I would have to award it today's top honor simply because of the sheer effort that went into making this powerful, flavor-filled sour ale. Brasserie des Franches-Montangnes, located in Switzerland, brews sour ales on occasion. The keg of Saint Bon-Chien currently on tap is a sour from 2010. After the brewing process, this beer is separated into eleven (!) different wine barrels where it ages for a year. Post aging, the barrels are blended back together for a delightful mixture of sour goodness. I allowed this to warm quite a bit before giving it a sip so that I could enjoy as many of the flavors it holds as possible. At 11% ABV, Saint Bon-Chien is stronger than your average sour by a long-shot. Even though I drank only a few ounces, combined with the Double DBA, I was feeling quite warm after this review. Saint Bon-Chien (named after the brewery's first cat, ironically named "Good Dog") has a dark, reddish-brown complexion. There is little foam or carbonation in this sour to speak of, which is not entirely unusual for the style. Saint Bon-Chien has the classic sweet funky aroma of a good sour beer. There is also a trace of wood in the nose. It is very tart and funky. The acidity works its way across the tongue and even hits the back of the throat. A lingering sweetness coats the entire mouth. Its much more sweet than the typical Flemish sour, which tend to exhibit oak, vanilla, or vinegar notes. Perhaps the wine barrels are responsible for this effect? In any case, this Swiss sour is great by any definition and is the best thing that I swallowed on Sunday.

I'm very excited about the last beer in this episode. Marz Community Brewing is a perfect example of the great brewing scene that is quickly evolving in Chicago. This is a collective of amateur brewers turned pro who are clearly rooted in Bridgeport with beers named after the iconic Bubbly Creek or simply The Machine (a reference to the powerful Democratic organization that has run city and state politics since at least the 1930s). The Machine pale ale is the brain-child of Tim Lange (each of the individuals get to create beers on their Psychobrew system), and he has every right to be proud of his creation. Lange blended Warrior, Amarillo, Simcoe, and Nelson Sauvin hops into one of the most floral pale ales I've had the pleasure of drinking in a long time. The Machine is clear, golden, and with nice head that dissipates quickly. The aroma of this pale ale is simply mind-blowing. It's so floral and hoppy. You steel yourself for what should be a bitter, palate wrecking hop bomb only to be greeted by a very friendly and highly drinkable beer. This is a plus, at least in my book. The flavor is rewarding, much like a cool breeze on a hot day. Light and drinkable doesn't even begin to do justice to The Machine. Don't make no waves--find this beer and drink it.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Arcade Brewing Mega Milk Stout

I walked into my local beer shop a few weeks ago looking for milk stouts--the significant other is breastfeeding an infant, if you must pry into my personal affairs. Maybe it's just an old wive's tale, but she's been craving stouts ever since the baby arrived. She's been digging Left Hand's Milk Stout, but I wanted to see if there was anything else to drink. Lo and behold! I found something brand new and very local. Arcade Brewing (founded in 2011) officially launched in early September, although they are sharing space and equipment with Ale Syndicate. Mega Milk Stout is the third batch.

Mega Milk is a sessionable oatmeal milk stout that weighs in at 5.3% ABV. It is black chocolate in color, and the head is a bit cocoa colored as well. It has a lovely sweet, roasty malt aroma. The body is pleasingly light, and the flavor is initially sweet. Not overly so, but just right. There's just the perfect amount of bitter in the finish to round out what is a great example of a oatmeal or milk stout. Also, the significant other really, really likes this and wants more.

New Glarus Serendipity

This is one of those beers that you cherish. First brewed in 2012, after a serious drought ruined Door County's cherry harvest and forced Daniel Carey, New Glarus' head brewer, to add apples and cranberries to the recipe. As the name suggests, Serendipity was a blessing in disguise. It was also one of the most sought beers of that year.

Serendipty has a dark red cherry color and pours with a thick head. It has a very intense fruit aroma. The body is soft and has very little carbonation. It is similar to apple cider. Cherry and apple dominate the palate, with a less pronounced cranberry. The oak aging mellows the tartness, and there is almost no sour funk present. At 4% ABV, this beer is packed with fruity flavor. This beer alone is worth a trip to Wisconsin.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Half Acre

Wood carving by Mark Wenger hanging upstairs in the Hopleaf. 

Pipeworks/Forbidden Root Cesi N'est Pas Une Biere

Just in time for the first cold snap of the fall comes "This is Not a Beer," an old ale brewed with oak, lily, Peru basalm, cherry stems, and most interestingly, pipe tobacco. Pipeworks, no stranger to unusual ingredients, collaborated with newcomer Forbidden Root, which consists of Robert Finkel, BJ Pichman, and Randy Mosher. Forbidden Root specializes in botanical brewing, so they too, know a little something about using uncommon ingredients--I think Mosher might have written a book or something about beer? All kidding aside, I purchased this beer more out of curiosity than desire to drink a beer brewed using tobacco. I'm generally not a fan of old ales and barley wines either. But with the drop in temperature, this winter warmer (8.5% ABV) was a timely choice.

As you can see, Ceci N'est Pas Une Biere has the look of an old ale. It's dark black, with a fuzzy head of foam that dissipated quickly. The aroma is malty sweet, with hints of woody mahogany. This sweetness carries over into the flavor profile--the cherry stems lend the same sweetness to beer as the fruit itself. Initially, it was very woody and earthy. As it warmed to near room temperature, the tobacco notes really started to come out. There is some serious alcohol warmth coming from this beer. This is an interesting take on the old ale and worth trying if you enjoy the style.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Best Thing I Swallowed on Sunday Episode 17

Thanks to the Bears v. Packers game this Sunday, I had plenty of time to plot my beer selections, what with the bar being almost empty most of the day. After some serious consideration, I settled on two relative newcomers to Chicago's beer scene (Ten Ninety Brewing Company out of Zion, Illinois and Empirical Brewing in Andersonville Ravenswood) and one that I simply could not pass up (Petrus Aged Pale Ale from Brouwerij de Brabandere). All three breweries have produced exceptional beers, but the Petrus Aged Pale Ale was easily the day's standout.

De Ogen Pumpkin Ale

All three of today's picks were on the sweetish side. First up is Ten Ninety's De Ogen (8.4% ABV). This is the Zion brewery's debut at the Hopleaf, and it is a fortuitous one. De Ogen is a reddish-brown pumpkin beer that has a full head that dissipates quickly. It has really great pumpkin aromas with all the right spiciness affiliated with pumpkin ales. The pumpkin flavor dominates the palate early, followed by sweetness, and then an odd, dry finish that is nonetheless pleasing. This is probably the most interesting pumpkin beer I have had this season.

Honey Hypothesis

Honey Hypothesis (6.7% ABV) also made its debut at the Hopleaf just a few short weeks ago. Empirical Brewing is brand spanking new to the city. If you want to read more about them, Phil Montoro has the details here. The long and short of it is that this brewery popped up out of nowhere. It was founded by Sumit Mehta and Bill Hurley, who hired brewmaster Art Steinhoff. I think it's going well so far. Honey Hypothesis is honey sweet (duh) with nice malty notes. There's also a light hoppiness on the tongue that precedes a caramel finish. This beer is very nice and is selling well.

Petrus Aged Pale Ale (7.3% ABV) is a standout beer and a rare treat to have on draft. This beer spends at least two years in oak, which mellows the sour tartness to perfection. Petrus has a light gold color and holds a nice head that quickly recedes, leaving nice lacing in the glass. The nose is fruity, and the body is very light and effervescent. Initially, Petrus Aged Pale Ale is tart, but finishes with an amazing sourness, making this the best thing I swallowed on Sunday.

Petrus Aged Pale Ale