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

Friday, September 26, 2014

Pipeworks Brewing Paradisiac Imperial Wit

Clearing out my early summer stock of Pipeworks, I realized that I still had one of their Witbiers sitting in my fridge. Paradisiac is perhaps the least witty of Pipeworks' Wits of the spring and summer of 2014. This is an Imperial Wit (9% ABV) containing strawberry and kiwi. This beer drinks more like a pale ale than a wit, so they really took some liberties with the style, even by Pipework's normal standard of making weird beers. This batch was bottled at the end of June, for anyone who cares about such things.

Paradisiac is surprisingly clear, though still hazy. It's golden and has a big, long-lasting head. While it has an obvious Wit yeast aroma, this is about where the similarities with a Witbier end. It's very effervescent and has a very light to medium body. I suspect that Pipeworks went heavy on the pilsner malts. There is almost no hint of the adjuncts (coriander and orange zest, aka the usual suspects for a Wit); especially absent are the strawberry and kiwi. The finish is lingering bitterness (Falconner's hops). It's very refreshing, but not at all like a Wit.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Spiteful Brewing Alley Time Pale Ale

Spiteful Brewing has been around since 2010, although its beers have become more widely available in Chicago in only the last year or so. Now that this is the case, it seems appropriate to include them in my list of reviews.

Spiteful IPA has received lots of accolades, and rightfully so. It's an above-average IPA. But today, I'm talking about Spiteful's American Pale Ale, Alley Time (6% ABV). Using only Simcoe hops and Pilsner malts, this beer is surprisingly pleasant. It has a hazy golden color with a solid head that holds well. Alley Time has a nice hop aroma, with a bitter start and malty finish. There's a lot going on in this pale ale. It's rather bitter, but then has some really interesting flavor notes that blend well with the hops and malt profile. This is definitely something you should pick up at your local retailer.

Beer Advocate beat me to the punch on reviewing Spiteful. In addition to Alley Time, BA also reviewed the Spiteful IPA in the latest edition. The guys at BA gave both beers high marks, which makes sense to me.

Speaking of Beer Advocate, I have the feeling that these guys, despite publishing a magazine filled with articles celebrating the diversity that is beer, aren't very comfortable with some aspects of the explosion of new ideas and breweries. They frequently write cranky articles critical of current trends in the rapidly evolving culture of American micro and nano brewing. In just the latest issue, the editors complain about the rise of collaboration beers as well as how new breweries often crowdfund to raise capital. And don't even get me started on Andy Crouch. That guy hasn't written a nice word about beer in I don't know how long. He's quickly becoming the Andy Rooney of Beer Advocate. First off, who cares? Nobody is a gate-keeper for how this very diverse industry is going to evolve. The bottom line is that only those breweries making good beer and who have enough smarts and luck to sustain themselves will survive. In the meantime, sit back and enjoy the show while you drink from the plethora of new beers available as a result of this frequently unconventional industry.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Best Thing I Swallowed on Sunday Episode 16

I know my multiple fans will be heartbroken, but I'm posting another truncated episode this week, without the fancy photographs to boot. Andersonville City Made Fest is to blame for my delinquency (Congratulations for carrying only locally brewed beers to the organizers!). This event brought a lot of people into the Hopleaf, and so I worked a few extra hours on Sunday night, cutting into my usual time for imbibing and photographing some beers. Not to mention, after bartending for several hours longer than normal this Sunday, I was mostly interested in drinking something more on the light and refreshing side. So it was a really convenient that Saison Dupont and Off Color's Apex Predator were on draft! These are both exception representations of the saison style and really hit the spot after helping so many others quench their thirst yesterday.

It's not often that Saison Dupont is on tap, so I couldn't resist having that as my first post-work beer. Out of the bottle, this beer pops like champagne. Off the tap, it is very lively, has a big head, and a light gold color. The aroma is a bit fruity. Saison Dupont has a light body that is quite dry, crisp, with a highly refreshing bit of tartness in the finish.

Since I have come to really appreciate the beers of Off Color, I thought it would be nice to follow up my Saison Dupont with Apex Predator by way of comparison. I must say that Apex Predator compares rather favorably with its venerable counterpart. Apex Predator is more hazy in appearance, but the flavor profiles, body, and deliciousness are quite similar in these two beers. Off Color's variation finished with a bit more sweetness, but it is dry and hoppy. I also appreciate that Off Color includes all the ingredients on its labels and website.

And with that, I conclude the latest episode of the Best Thing I Swallowed on Sunday. I shall endeavor to do better next week.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Bucket List Brewing

I first encountered Bucket List Brewing at the beginning of this May in Bridgeport. I was attending a beer tasting for new craft beer brewers from Chicago and environs. Bucket List was among the dozen or so breweries participating in Mash Tun's New Wave Brewers Bash. As far as beer events go, this is one of the great ones; nice vibe, not too crowded, and plenty of time to talk with the brewers about their beers. I thought that there were multiple good breweries, with a few standouts. Bucket List was among those exceptional breweries that day. Tai Hei, Bucket List's white IPA, was in my opinion (I was not alone in this view) the best beer I drank at the New Wave Brewers Bash.

I reaffirmed my opinion of Bucket List just a few weeks later during Chicago Craft Beer Week. Bucket List was again a standout, with a well-balanced rye farmhouse ale. They also had a fantastic and complex English brown ale called Hell Fire Club.

I knew I wanted to write about and document the current renaissance in craft brewing in Chicago, a place that is already established as a great brewing city. Even though a lot of good beer is brewed in and around the city, Chicago is on the verge of a massive expansion of its craft brewing industry. Dozens of breweries opened in 2013 and 2014, and there are plenty more in the works.

Having become acquainted with a number of these foundling breweries this spring, I came upon the notion of documenting the evolution of some of these new enterprises. Bucket List seems like an excellent choice for several reasons. First and foremost, Bucket List brews good beer, which is a prerequisite for being noticed in today's hyper-scrutinized craft beer scene. Bucket List is, in addition, well-connected to Chicago's craft beer brewing community. They are able to use these connections to save on equipment and other essential costs. Finally, market conditions are favorable to new craft brewers. Although it might seem like everyone is drinking craft beer right now, it only comprises about ten percent of the overall beer market in Chicago. There are still plenty of new consumers out there waiting to be converted. And Bucket List Brewing is but one of multiple new breweries vying for Chicago's beer consumers' attention.

Kevin Salvi outside the Arrogant Frog
Kevin Salvi came upon the idea for starting Chicago Brew Bus on August 18, 2010. He had just returned from a family vacation in Mexico and was riding the Milwaukee Avenue bus to Revolution when it hit him. Why not operate a bus that takes groups on tours of Chicagoland breweries?  Chicago Brew Bus made its maiden voyage ten months later after Salvi purchased a used bus on E-Bay. Through operating Brew Bus, Salvi made connections with lots of people involved in Chicago's brewing scene.

For instance, Salvi eventually started providing transportation for the monthly meetings of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild. And through this event, he made the most important connections for someone attempting to start a brewery on a shoestring budget. But before we get ahead of ourselves, the business of taking people on tours of breweries also led Salvi to his next idea. At some point, he thought it would be cool if his Brew Bus tours were going to his own brewery. And thus, another Chicago brewery was born.

This is only the beginning of what will be a longterm project for me. My goal is to tell Bucket List's story; how it fails or succeeds over the coming years. There are many personalities who are guiding Bucket List, and we will meet them all. So more is to come.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Best Thing I Swallowed on Sunday Episode 15

Riot Fest was this weekend, and this year's line-up was too good to pass on. With a Three-Day pass in hand, I headed over to Humboldt Park for what turned out to be a great weekend. Rather than having access to several new beers via the taps at Hopleaf, I was forced to make do with the swill being poured at Riot Fest. Thus, I have a rather strange entry for this Sunday's episode. I assumed that I would be faced with the chilling prospect of having only macrobrews available, since this is generally par for the course at big music festivals. While I did drink a lot of bad beer over the weekend, there was fortunately one local craft brewery represented at the event.

The amazing Patti Smith
I avoided the flavorless lagers that are the typical macro fair, but that certainly didn't mean my choices were exactly brimming with much flavor. Newcastle Brown Ale (4.7% ABV) was sadly the best macrobrew available at Riot Fest (followed closely by Dos Equis Amber). This brown ale had a small head, a reddish-brown color, and very little aroma. There was a hint of caramel sweetness, although I was really stretching to find any flavor whatsoever. Flat and flavorless would be an accurate assessment. But there was salvation awaiting me on Sunday, as we crossed paths with yet another new Chicago brewery.

Newcastle Brown Ale, far less interesting than that guy's attire. Porta potties not included with purchase of beer.

All Rise Brewing, which is affiliated with the Cobra Lounge, was at Riot Fest. All Rise, which is new to me, brought the only two craft beers to this otherwise very eclectic event. Dizzy Blonde Ale, and their flagship pale ale Wonderbeer were flowing fast, based on how quickly the longish line was moving (and because Wonderbeer was sold out). Dizzy Blonde is a hoppy wheat ale that reminds me somewhat of Half Acre's Akari Shogun. All Rise produced what was very, very easily the best thing I swallowed on Sunday. Although it is hard to accurately gauge its color through a plastic cup, Dizzy Blonde looks dark-golden and flavorful. There was a nice head on the beer. There are some citrusy and piney hop notes in the nose, but this was hard to determine what with the many hours spent in wafting pot smoke. In any case, I was super excited when I actually tasted hops! Imagine that, a beer brewed with hops. Crazy. Thank you, All Rise, for being at Riot Fest. My only regret is that I didn't discover you on Friday evening so that I could've avoided reviewing Newcastle Brown.
Hey! Look at that. An actual beer!
Riot Fest is a nice blending of older bands and newer acts, which draws a very mixed crowd in terms of age. The weather was equally mixed over the weekend. There was a cold rain, there was mud, and then there was the perfect day for a music fest on Sunday. Friday night was chilly and wet, which made for some pretty unpleasant conditions at Humboldt Park. A late start and wandering around to get the lay of the land for the rest of the weekend meant that I only witnessed Jane's Addiction, which was the closing act that evening. Solid performance of Nothing Shocking, though I think the crowd could have done without Perry Ferrel's banter between songs.

Saturday was spent catering to my three-year old's musical tastes, or at least what I thought she might enjoy. We hit up Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas, who finished with a great cover of Le Tigre's Deceptacon! Then we wandered over to Me First and the Gimmie Gimmies before standing very far away from the stage to hear the Wu Tang Clan deliver a very tight set. After a short pit stop, the Flaming Lips gave a superb performance that was visually the most unique and beautiful of the festival. Finally, I finished out the night with Samhain, which played Initium, their first album released thirty years ago (damn I'm old).

Flaming Lips. A stage show that entertains children of all ages. Really glad I saw this happen.

Tegan and Sara kicked off my Sunday afternoon back at the fest with a solid and entertaining performance. Next up was Dropkick Murphys. These guys played a very strong set. The Cure and Weezer were the big closing headliners for Sunday, but it was Patti Smith who, at sixty-eight, stole the show, underscoring the fact that age is not a barrier to viability or relevance. Her performance was loving and powerful all at once. Smith's music and inter-song commentary imparted much wisdom and was easily the most moving performance of Riot Fest. I then caught a bit of Social Distortion before taking a ride on one of the Ferris wheels just after sunset. The skyline was amazing, and the crowd below looked massive. We arrived on solid ground just in time to grab some food, another Dizzy Blonde, and see the Cure. Robert Smith doesn't miss a single note, and the rest of the band sounded amazing. After forty minutes, I headed over to stand very far away from Weezer just to catch a few of the middle songs from the Blue album. Say what you will about Rivers Cuomo, the man has talent and they nailed the four or five songs that I heard. I finished the night back at the Cure, who played for over two hours. But all good things must end. Riot Fest was a lot of fun, and it's always nice to chat with random attendees while mingling together in some line or another. This was Riot Fest's ten-year anniversary, and I hope they will still be doing the same thing in ten years time. And cheers to Ray, who was kind enough to split a Tecate with us as we were walking to our bus Sunday night!

Closing out with the Cure. This photo fails to capture the awesomeness of their stage decor and lighting.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Off Color Fierce Berliner Style Weisse

I've been mighty busy these past few days. Sunday was Hopleaf's fundraiser, the beer extravaganza known as Kegs for Kids. The next evening, I was off to the formal launch of Marz Community Brewing down in Bridgeport. The team from Bridgeport always holds cool events, and this was no exception. Good food, good music, good vibe, great tour of Bridgeport, and of course, great beer! Then came Tuesday night's event: a tap takeover by Three Floyds and Pipeworks at Roots Pizza. Because I've already had all of the five Floyds beers that were available, I stuck with Pipeworks. I tried their Saison du Solei (a very citrusy ale with lots of grapefruit), Raspberry Truffle Abduction Imperial Stout (tasted like chocolate covered raspberries), and the Bicentennial Falcon (500th batch for Pipeworks!).

Why yes, that is a Marz Community Brewing glass. Thanks for noticing!

I don't think I was alone in being excited about the premier of Off Color Brewing way back in 2013. John Laffler and David Bleitner had already demonstrated that they could make beer well separately, so imagine the possibilities of them working together in their own brewery. Their initial concept was to brew variations of unappreciated German style beers, which sounded very interesting, though risky. Off Color wasn't looking to win any popularity contests with this direction. And I must admit, it's been hit or miss with the general public. Off Color's beers are not for everyone--though Troublesome certainly could be a popular beer. I personally like Troublesome and Scurry, but they were hard sells at the bar. Scurry has always been good, Troublesome has been less consistent. The last batch of Troublesome that I had, however, was amazing. And that's when I decided to buy Off Color's latest beer: Fierce.

Fierce is a Berliner Style Weisse that packs in a ton of flavor at 3.8% ABV. By now, everyone knows what a Berliner Weisse is, so I won't bore you with the details. Needless to say, Off Color has nailed the style with Fierce. And their label art is just as good as the beer. Off Color works with Nikki Jarecki, who uses metallic labels that produce unusual and interesting effects.

The beer itself has a very light, straw color. It's slightly hazy and very effervescent. The head is small, but persistent thanks to the unceasing carbonation. The sour funk really comes through in the nose. It is sweet and bready as well. It is tart and funky in all the right ways. Initially tart, light bodied, and refreshing, Fierce finishes with a lingering sour flavor. Laffler and Bleitner have really outdone themselves with Fierce.

Off Color has Great Label Art.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Best Thing I Swallowed on Sunday Episode 14

Keeping this one short and sweet, as Hopleaf was hosting Kegs for Kids from noon until five today. As usual, it was a successful fundraiser with over four hundred in attendance. There were tons of great things on draft, but after bartending an event with this many people, I was too wiped to do my usual due diligence. Thus, I settled on one unique beer that grabbed my attention: Founders Rübaeus.

But before going into greater detail about this raspberry ale, I'd like to mention some of the other great beers that I got a taste of. Three Floyds Big Tiddy Assassin was a surprisingly good Flemish-style red. Dogfish's Saison Du Buff and Evil Twin Femme Fatale Yuzu Pale were both outstanding. The Metropolitan Flywheel with mint and lime went fast, and for good reason; it was light with an interesting twist in the finish. I also had a taste of newcomer Empirical's Honey Hypothesis amber ale. It was really light and refreshing, and I look forward to seeing what else comes out of Ravenswood's latest brewery. I could go on with the list of greatness that was available at Kegs for Kids, but time and space are limited.

Founders Rübaeus is a perfect blend of sweet and tart. It's light, effervescent, and packed with raspberry deliciousness. It's color is a beautiful red, and the foam also has tinges of red. At 5.7% ABV, it's an easy drinker. While this is the best thing I swallowed on Sunday while at work, the best beer that I drank on Sunday is the Left Hand Milk Stout that I'm enjoying in my own home after a great, but exhausting, event.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Lake Effect Shimmering Lake Saison

Sticking with the drinking local theme of this blog, I'm reviewing Lake Effect's Shimmering Lake Saison (6% ABV). Lake Effect resides on Chicago's north-west side and is dedicated to using ingredients from states bordering the Lake (that's Lake Michigan to all you non-Chicagoans avidly reading my blog). In any event, this saison is hazy gold with a nice head and lots of effervescence. It has a classic sweet saison yeast aroma. The body is light, the initial flavor is sweet, then hoppy and dry. This is a solid, straight-forward saison without any gimmicks.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Shout out to 5 Rabbit

5 Rabbit started on shaky ground: they had a great concept with truly interesting ingredients that I thought would've made some good tasting products. But alas the end results often fell short, with a few exceptions. Vida y Muerte is one such example of a 5 Rabbit beer that I like. I've wanted to like 5 Rabbit, and I think Andrés Araya is a genuinely nice person based on one interaction with him several years ago at Hopleaf's release of Vida y Muerte. And Randy Mosher is, well, Randy Mosher. But they seem to have hit their stride after some internal turmoil last year. I've really enjoyed the Paletas series, Yodo con Leche, and their collaboration with Norway's Nøgne Ø, Naked Rabbit, is outstanding. But one of their standards, 5 Lizard, is darn near perfect this summer. It's currently on our tap lines, and several bartenders have been drinking it after work. With my curiosity aroused, I revisited 5 Lizard and was really impressed. The tartness is perfect in this wheat ale. Kudos to the team at 5 Lizard!

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Best Thing I Swallowed on Sunday Episode 13

Hopefully you're enjoying your Labor Day weekend. After a much needed camping trip during the week, I'm back and ready to drink some beers on your behalf, fellow worker. This week, we have two very different Belgians in the line up: Houblon Chouffe and newcomer Vicaris Tripel from Dilewyns. I also included Resurrection IPA from 4 Hands Brewing. 4 Hands has impressed me with several of their beers, which I only began drinking maybe at the beginning of this summer. In any case, let's move on to the review.

Anne-Catherine Dilewyns is the owner and brewer at Brewerij Dilewyns. I first became acquainted with Dilewyns and Vicaris thanks to her visit to Chicago earlier this summer.  She introduced everyone in the bar to her blonde and triple that day, winning over many new fans. Dilewyns' Vicaris Tripel returns to Hopleaf's taps, and is the first beer on my list this week. Like any respectable triple, this one hides a sizable amount of alcohol behind a wall of deliciousness (8.5% ABV). This beer is hazy gold with a nice head that dissipates rather quickly. It has a sweet banana aroma, and tastes sweet, with a bit of coriander spice in the finish. It also has a medium body. While it is a bit on the sweet side, Vicaris Tripel is still a solid example of this style.

Brasserie d'Achouffe, located in the Ardennes, began in 1982 and is currently owned by Duvel Moorgat. Houblon Chouffe (9% ABV) is described as a marriage between a Belgian Triple and an imperial IPA. It has a beautiful hazy golden color and retains a big head of foam, which leaves behind plenty of lacing. The aroma is earthy, while the flavor is very hoppy. The body is quite heavy, with a dry finish.

Houblon Chouffe, Resurrected, and Vicaris Tripel

Perennial and 4 Hands have put St. Louis on my radar as a place with good beer. After purchasing several of their beers over the summer, I was most pleased when Resurrected arrived on the taps this weekend. At 6.5% and with a lighter body, this is a citrus delight that I could drink by the gallon. This IPA is copper colored and holds a decent head. It is a single hop beer using mosaic hops, which are understandably growing in popularity. The grapefruit aromas of the mosaic hops are intense! This aromatic explosion carries through into the flavor of Resurrected, making it the best thing that I swallowed on Sunday.