The Best Thing I Swallowed on Sunday

Wherein I find new draft beers that I have never tasted at work each Sunday and decide which one I like best. This is a highly subjective process based on nothing but my whimsy on any given Sunday.

Episode 9
August 3, 2014
Once again, it's another episode with a clear victor thanks to the arrival of a great Belgian beer on our taps. It's not often when Boon Kriek shows up on draft, so like Liefman's Goudenband of last week, I was very excited to include it in this week's edition. This classic, spontaneously fermented and aged cherry ale was joined by relative newcomer Solemn Oath/Stone's Pyrros red farmhouse ale and Boulevard's Two Jokers Double-Wit.

Like most Sunday's there were lots of new things on today thanks to a busy Friday and Saturday. Boulevard's Smokestack Series has provided some amazing beers, and Two Jokers Double-Wit is no exception. This is a big Witbier in every sense of the word. Its ABV stands at 8%, but Boulevard's bold use of spices really accounts for the “bigness” of this beer. This beer has the classic hazy Wit color with a big, foamy head. The nose is somewhat tart with slight hints of bread. This medium bodied ale is initially sweet, but then very spicy, with lavender being the strongest flavor in the mix of orange peel, coriander, cardamom, and peppercorn. As the beer's temperature raised, however, the flavor did start to taste somewhat chemically—not like acetone or diacetyl, but some hard to place chemical.

Solemn Oath and Stone teamed up to create Pyrros, a red farmhouse ale that clocks in at 6.6% ABV. Pyrros has a carmel, reddish color with a nice head. It has a medium body, supplies a hoppy kick up front, with a nice maltiness in the finish. The addition of rose hips adds a nice floral touch to an otherwise tart finish. Pyrros is something I could definitely drink a lot of.

Finally, we arrive at the best thing I swallowed on Sunday, Boon Kriek. Open fermentation and two years aging in oak with cherries produces a superior beer. Which is why this lambic is rarely to be found on draft. Although the photo does not do Boon Kriek's beautiful color justice, rest assured that this beer exhibits a wonderful dark cherry hue with a soft, pink head. It has a soft body and is lively. For a cherry lambic, this beer is of the rather mild variety. The characteristic funkiness of the wild yeast is scarcely to be detected, and it is not overly sweet. While some might not appreciate such a mild lambic, Boon Kriek suits my flavor preferences, which lean away from overly tart and aggressively sour ales.  

Poor Light and Incompetent Photography Result in a Bad Picture of Two Jokers Double-Wit, Boon Kriek, and Solemn Oath/Stone Pyrros

Episode 8
July 27, 2014
Normally, I have a tough time determining a clear winner in this "contest." Today is an exception, as one world class beer stood far above what I would consider average to underwhelming beers. The beers in question are Evil Twin's The Porthole, Liefman's Goudenband (the hands down victor), and Sierra Nevada's collaboration with 3 Floyds, Chico King.

The Porthole, Goudenband, and Chico King
Evil Twin has made some amazing beer, but The Porthole is not among them. This saison/farmhouse ale is 7% ABV, holds a good head, and has a golden, hazy/sedimenty color. The aroma is fruity sweet. The body is fairly light, and it tastes dry, somewhat sweet, and has an effervescence that wipes any lingering flavors from the tongue. This beer is about average in my scale of saisons, meaning it's not terrible, but also not worth going out of the way for.

Liefman's Goudenband ranks among the world's greatest beers, so I was super excited when I saw that this was on tap at the Hopleaf to commemorate Belgian independence day (July 21). Apparently not many of our customers realize what an amazing thing it is to have this beer available on draft! This Flemish brown (Oud Bruin) is 8% of deliciousness. This beer has a nice head that dissipates quickly. It is plum colored, and has a nose that hints of dark fruits. Goudenband is mildly sweet, funky, and vinegary all at once. Without a doubt, Goudenband is the best thing I swallowed on Sunday.

Sierra Nevada teamed up with twelve breweries to celebrate Summer Beer Camp. Among those breweries is Indiana's 3 Floyds (let's face it, Chicagoans have usurped 3 Floyds. It's a Chicago brewery). They came up with a solid pale ale called Chico King, which is 6.5% ABV. Chico King is dark amber, has good head retention and a clean nose. It is on the malty side of the pale ale spectrum, but is nonetheless a good, but not great, beer.

Episode 7
July 20, 2014
This episode incorporates my tasting of a fruit beer and two IPAs. The breweries in question are Destihl, Dark Horse, and Revolution.

Strawberry Blonde, Ollopa Eert Dekoorc, and Citra Hero

Destihl's Strawberry Blonde is not my favorite, although I generally dislike fruity beers. Several of my coworkers disagree with me on this beer, so it probably just boils down to differing tastes. In any case, Destihl's Flanders Red is a work of art, so I'm not suggesting that they don't make excellent beer. This beer pours light amber with a nice fluffy head that leaves good lacing. There is a strawberry aroma. This beverage is sweet, light to medium bodied, and syrupy. The finish is somewhat dry with a touch of bitterness.

Dark Horse from Marshall, Michigan brings a single-hop version of Crooked Tree that uses Apollo hops to great effect. Ollopa Eert Dekoorc might spell Crooked Tree Apollo in reverse, but there's nothing backwards about this IPA. This beer is malty amber in appearance, holds a good head, and has an orangey floral nose. Very hoppy, but also with a nice maltiness.

Revolution's Citra Hero won the day as the best thing I swallowed on Sunday. Citra Hero is a fantastic single hop version of Anti-Hero, whose showcasing of the citra hop is greatly appreciated. It's golden, with that amazing aroma that anyone who loves the citra hop will immediately recognize. Some people might be sick of hearing about citra hops, but those people are idiots. There's a reason Zombie Dust is so damn popular, and its name is citra hops. While Citra Hero is not quite Zombie Dust, it is still a great IPA that you will not want to miss.

Episode 6
July 13, 2014
Another Sunday of great beers from three great breweries: Jolly Pumpkin, Lost Abbey, and Evanston's recently christened Temperance. On the menu are the superb iO Saison, Witch's Wit, and Greenwood Beach Blonde Ale. Suffice it to say, it was rather difficult to select the best from among these excellent candidates.

iO Saison, Witch's Wit, and Greenwood Beach Blonde Ale

Jolly Pumpkin never fails to create something quite uniquely interesting, much like Tomme Arthur from Lost Abbey. These two breweries always have things that are well worth drinking. iO Saison (6.8% ABV) is perhaps my favorite Jolly Pumpkin beer and turned out to be the best thing I swallowed on Sunday. The hibiscus and rose hips are responsible for the pinkish color and very floral aroma of this saison. This beer is fairly tart, with hints of funkiness that linger into a very dry finish.

Witch's Wit is another excellent seasonal beer from Tomme Arthur's Lost Abbey. This beer is exactly what a Witbier should look like: cloudy yellow with a solid head of foam. The aroma, like many of the flavors present in the beer, is subtle. There is an initial suggestion of sweetness, followed by coriander and orange citrus, and then a dry finish that hints of white pepper. This is a very drinkable, light-bodied ale at 4.8% ABV. While I did like Witch's Wit, I wouldn't call it my favorite Witbier, as the dry finish wasn't expected. Perhaps I just assume that this style is supposed to be more refreshing and don't appreciate Arthur's twist.

Finally, I ended on a lighter note with Temperance's Greenwood Beach Blonde Ale, a sessionable blonde containing loads of pineapple goodness. This beer is honey colored and holds a short-lived head of foam. The aroma of pineapple is unmistakable, and it is absolutely the predominant flavor in this light ale (4% ABV). With its pineapple flavor and clean finish, this blonde is perfect for summertime

Episode 5
July 6, 2014
Today's episode involves three new beers that are all exceptional and interesting takes on their particular styles. First up is another hard to find beer from 3 Floyds, Backmasking. Next came an unusual saison, Ridgy Didge, which is a collaboration between Brooklyn and Australia's Mountain Goat Brewing. Finally, Great Divide turned up today on tap with Rumble, an oak-aged IPA.

Backmasking, Ridgy Didge, and Rumble
Once again, we had something from 3 Floyds that was new to me, meaning I probably missed getting a taste of it last time we had it on draft. Backmasking is an oatmeal stout that clocks in at 5.9% ABV and 32 IBU's. As you can tell from the above image, Backmasking is a dark beast with a decent head of foam (photograph taken several minutes after pouring these beers from the tap). The aroma is somewhat sweet. Like any oatmeal stout, Backmasking starts out sweetly before releasing its dark, malt-roasted bitterness, with a nice assist by the addition of hops. There is little carbonation, nor is it a very heavy-bodied stout. Thus, it is exceptionally drinkable.

Prejudiced by my preference for light, flavorful saisons, I selected Brooklyn's collaboration with Mountain Goat Brewing, Ridgy Didge, as the best thing I swallowed on Sunday. Ridgy Didge (8.4% ABV) is as unique in its use of ingredients as it is delicious. The brewers used interesting ingredients from the southern hemisphere, including Tasmanian pepperberries and lemon myrtle, along with Australian hop Super Pride of Ringwood and Brooklyn's Belgian yeast. This is a dry, hoppy saison with a peppery, lemony kick that blends just the right amount of sweet and bitter.

I was having trouble deciding what my third selection would be this Sunday, when a fortuitous change of tap handles bestowed something completely new and interesting from Colorado's Great Divide. Rumble is an oak-aged IPA that dances along the borderline of being a big beer (7.1% ABV). This seasonal has a big head and a dark amber appearance. Its aroma is slightly earthy, with hints of pine and citrus. This is a very clean IPA in the sense that the hops are not overly pronounced, and the finish gives off very nice and subtle hints of vanilla and caramel.

Episode 4.1
June 29, 2014
Back in the saddle and going strong after last week's debacle. This installment of the best thing I swallowed on Sunday is all about variety. I selected three beers that couldn't be more different from one another: Solemn Oath's None More Black, Destihl's Flanders Red, and 3 Floyds' Space Station Middle Finger.

Space Station Middle Finger, Flanders Red, None More Black

Solemn Oath's black farmhouse ale, None More Black (7.5%), provides a pleasing hop kick (80 IBU) alongside a smooth, sweet saison yeast profile. Solemn Oath brewed NMB with roasted and de-bittered black barley, then dry-hopped it with Simcoe hops for a piney, resinous aroma. I'm generally a fan of saisons and love this imaginative twist on the style.

Destihl has put Normal, Illinois on my radar with their sour ale, Flanders Red (6.1%). This full-flavored sour is neither too tart nor too sour. The malty, caramel/biscuit finish really complements the initial sweet/tart flavor. I was really torn about selecting this week's winner from this field of great beers, but Flanders Red is the best thing I swallowed on Sunday.

The final Sunday beer is 3 Floyds' Space Station Middle Finger (6%), a bright, citrusy pale ale that "deserves to be in orbit," whatever that means? In any case, this is another amazing beer by 3 Floyds that belongs in the Pantheon of great American pale ales. The floral aroma and citrusy hops--maybe Simcoe-- define this beer. But the bitterness and toasted malts provide an almost biscuity finish. It is light-bodied, low carbonation, and supremely drinkable. Space Station was a very close second as the best thing I swallowed on Sunday.

Episode 4
June 22, 2014
Thanks to having a bit too much fun after work Saturday night, combined with little sleep, I was in no mood to perform my Sunday ritual. Until next week, gentle reader.

Episode 3
June 15, 2014, aka Father's Day

Great Plain Jane, Naked Rabbit, When Life Gives You Melons
This episode is all about the collaboration pale ales, probably because it's summer time and everyone is making them. In my book, this is a good thing.

Half Acre descibes Great Plain Jane as a hoppy session ale. It is a great example of a light, hoppy, sessionable APA. This is the end product of a collaboration with Maine Beer Co., brewed the day after a beer dinner at the Hopleaf involving both breweries. This is a thoroughly enjoyable beer to drink, and the influences of both breweries are evident. There's that great flavor and balance of a Maine pale ale, combined with a predominating sweetness, both in the nose and taste, that characterizes many of Half Acre's beers. This was the best thing I swallowed Sunday--the perfect beer after a shift in 88 degree weather. I would highly recommend that you head over to Half Acre or anyplace else serving Great Plain Jane.

5 Rabbit again makes it onto my Sunday list, as they have produced some great beers so far this summer. Naked Rabbit is their collaboration with Norwegian brewery Nøgne Ø (naked island in Norwegian). This crisp pale ales combines southern mango with northern juniper to good effect. The juniper does a great job of masking the sweetness of the mango, and adds an interesting mouthfeel and aftertaste. Speaking of juniper, we had a keg of Half Acre's Pony Pilsner aged in gin barrels, which also provided a strange sensation. Sadly, the keg was blown by review time.

The final beer of the day, When Life Gives You Melons, debuted during Chicago Craft Beer Week, but I just hadn't gotten around to trying it. This is a pretty cool beer, which I enjoyed, especially because it also had a very unique aftertaste that's difficult to explain. In any event, this was another fairly light pale ale that goes down well on a hot evening. This beer was brewed at the end of April at Temperance in Evanston, and involved 35 women who are active in Chicago's craft beer scene. At its debut, the proceeds were donated to Dress for Success, a charity dedicated to helping women in need.

Three Sessionable Pale Ales. Not a Bad Way to End a Shift.

Episode 2
June 8, 2014

Paletas Series #4: Mango

5 Rabbit makes it back into my contender list this past Sunday with their Paletas (Spanish for popsicle, which if you’ve ever had a popsicle in Mexico, or Pilsen for that matter, you know that these are very fruit centric concoctions) Series #4: Mango. This wheat beer has a hazy wheaty appearance--go figure--and a sweet nose. It is tart and delicious, and at 3.5% ABV, I could’ve drunk it all day long without losing it.

Peeper Pale Ale, Sitting Pretty

Maine Beer Company’s Peeper Pale Ale is amazing. I know the term balanced gets thrown around quite a bit when it comes to pale ales, but Peeper is perfection in a glass. Apparently, Maine creates this taste of heaven one barrel at a time using four malts and four hops. It’s light, finishes with just the right amount of hoppiness, and is super drinkable. 5.5% ABV.

Harvest Single Hop IPA

But the best thing that I swallowed this Sunday was Sierra Nevada’s Harvest Single Hop IPA, which uses an experimental hop, Yakima #291. This beer smells fruity and floral, and tastes amazing. The most appealing aspect, to my mind, was the somewhat peppery aftertaste. At 6.5% ABV, you could easily throw a few pints back.

I was also excited about the much-anticipated return of Dogfish's Festina Peche, the start of my love of the Berliner Weiss. However, I've had way too many over the years to include it in my Sunday tasting of new draft beers. I'll end with a parting shot of Maine Beer Co.'s Peeper.

Episode 1
June 1, 2014

The new beers on tap that impressed me this day were:
Surly's Bitter Brewer is a very sessionable pale ale using Warrior and Glacier hops. Very hoppy, but solid pale ale that I could drink all day. 4.1% ABV.

Allagash Victor is an interesting fusion of beer and wine. About 200 lbs. of red Chancellor grapes were added directly to the mash. Combined with Belgian yeast, this beer is light and refreshing with a really distinctive flavor that appealed to me a great deal as I sipped it. 9.3% ABV. Victor was the best thing that I swallowed this Sunday.

5 Rabbit Yodo con Leche
This imperial porter has lots of interesting ingredients that combine to make a creamy, delicious ale. The only reason it didn't win is probably because it was 88 degrees, which isn't exactly imperial porter drinking weather. 8.2% ABV.

Honorable mention to Two Brothers Fathom, a barrel-aged sour that's the best thing I've tasted from these guys in a while. 6.5% ABV.