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Monday, April 29, 2013

Tyranea Brewing Co.'s Rocky's Revenge Bourbon Brown Ale

  • Style: Brown Ale
  • ABV: 5.75% (before portions are barrel aged.  Conflicting info on it post barrel aging.)
  • Season: Year Round
  • Ease to locate:  Distributed in most liquor stores in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana & Minnesota.  Here's a link to their beer finder (click on "Distribution" and then the state you're interested in)
  • Color: Medium brown with maple syrup overtones.  There's an orange tint when held to the light
  • Head: Three fingers with large clumps of lacing
  • Aroma: Sweet with caramel and chocolate malts.  Hints of brown sugar and a bit of dirt
  • Mouthfeel: Moderate and smoother than it deserves to be
  • Finish: Short and sweet
  • Food friendly:  Works well with any sort of barbecue.  Also, try it with a semi sweet marinated chicken or a vegetable casserole. Serve it with salty cheeses like Parmesan or Asiago

"Deep in the darkest depths of Rock Lake, prowls a great Saurian known today as Rocky."  This is the beginning of the legend of Rocky as it is retold on the label of Wisconsin's Tyranea Brewing Company's Rocky's Revenge.  If you continue to read the some what good god, will this story ever end so I can drink my beer???  lengthy story, you eventually learn that a Saurian is neither a character out of a Tolkien novel nor an over sized  Russian, by the way of Sweden, muscle head named Dolph.    It's actually just a fish.  Talk about a false build up.  On a more interesting side note, did you know that Dolph Lundgren actually has a masters in chemical engineering from the University of Sydney?  AND received a Fullbright Scholarship to MIT in 1982?   Consider your mind officially blown.
                                                                                    You don't get your own theme music for graduating from MIT

Rocky's Revenge is a semi barrel aged brown ale.  Barrel aging is ever so trendy in the craft beer world now.  I'm pretty sure that  if you offered a barrel aged version of what might just be the absolute most vile beer on the market,  gaggles of twenty-something bearded guys in hoodies would line up for a bottle.  This particular brown ale is only semi aged, meaning that a portion of the ale is aged in oak barrels.  The percentage is not reveled by Tyranea Brewing, but if I had to guess, I'd say less than 20% of each batch is aged in bourbon barrels.   Personally, I didn't find the beer to be significantly elevated because of the bourbon, so why bother if it wasn't just to claim their slot in the whole boozy beer trend?  Give me a well done and tasty brown ale any day over fancy gimmicks and trendy methods any day. 

 The head does remind me of a certain fictional boxer's hair cut.  The 80's were not a kind fashion decade.

 My Rocky's Revenge poured a medium brown color, reminiscent of fresh maple syrup.  It was slightly hazy and glowed softly with amber tints around the edges when held to a light.  A billowy three finger head formed, plump with a light beige cushion of bubbles. Large clusters of thick lacing hug the sides of the pint glass.  The head settled down eventually to a surface of peaks and valleys for most of the drink.  I could smell the malts without even trying.  Whiffs of sweetness, predominately caramel and light chocolate, practically leaped out of the liquid as I took a sniff.  It was defiantly one of those brews that smelled just as it
appeared, syrupy and sweet.  The first few sips backed up the aroma.  Sugary notes of caramel and chocolate malts are mixed with softer sweet flavors of brown sugar and vanilla.  It was certainly one of the sweeter brown ales that I've ever tried.  A slight bitterness of hops crept in on the back, but it was like Stannis during the Battle of Blackwater.  Too much wildfire and too little smoke baby.  A stronger hop presence might have helped to balance out the syrup aspect.  The bourbon note was restrained and offered a bit of buttery booze to the brown ale base.  There was no heat from the spirit and I feel that this was a good choice made by the brewers.  I think the bourbon helped the most in the mouthfeel department.  It lent the ale a fuller mouthfeel with a smooth and comforting, if not way too short,  finish.  Good carbonation over all, but not in the least bit creamy.

Nice lacing.  Or as we say in Mother Russia, kрасивый кружевной

Well, I don't say that exactly.  My mother is Mary and she's not really into lace

I would serve Rock's Revenge brown ale with food that can stand up to the malty sweetness of the beer.  A good bet would be shredded chicken smothered in North Carolina barbecue sauce. The tanginess of the vinegar, the hint of sweetness from the brown sugar and earthiness from the Worcestershire sauce will compliment the malt bomb brown ale perfectly.  Alternatively,  try it with a vegetable lasagna, extra points if you roast the vegetable first to get a bit of chard action going on.  Go a bit heavier on the Parmesan cheese and use the added salt flavor to balance out this brew.  I don't know if I would seek out Tyranea Brewing's Rocky's Revenge again if given the opportunity.  If your palate is dominated by an aggressive sweet tooth, this might just be the right brown ale for you.  If you aren't the type to lick the maple syrup clean from your plate of pancakes, you might want to look elsewhere. Brown ales are a dime a dozen, and I personally prefer a better balanced version of this (and just about any) style of beer.   But does a bourbon aged brown ale have a place in the increasingly inflated world of spirit aged craft beer?  Um, yeah.   If Dolph Lundgren can go from MIT to starring in a less than life-like version of a plastic action figure, I truly believe that there is a place for everyone in this universe.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Bell's Brewery, Inc.'s Porter

  • Style: Porter (D'oh!)
  • ABV: 5.6%
  • Season: Year Round
  • Ease to locate: Very easy in the following states-AZ, ND, MN, IA, MO, IL, WI, IN, MI, OH, KY,  (hang on, I need a breather...) PA, VA, NC, SC, GA, AL, FL and Washington DC.  Here's a link to their beer finder
  • Color: Solid dark brown with no hints of other tints
  • Head: Two finger head with lovely small patches of lacing
  • Aroma: Scents of dark chocolate, coffee and some roasted grains.  Hint of dark fruit layered into the scent.
  • Mouthfeel: Moderate  with a good amount of carbonation
  • Finish: Medium with some welcome roasted bitterness that linger
  • Food friendly: Yes.  This would be delicious with any sort of barbeque or grilled beef.  Think hearty but not too heavy.  Serve it with buttery cheeses like Swiss or Brie

Porter and Stouts are often unfairly delegated to winter season imbibing.  Come Spring (and Spring will come, even if the weatherperson is calling for a rouge snow shower in Chicago.   But what does she know?  She spends her days pointing at an imaginary map while trying to come up with a new way to describe news that a normal person can figure out for themselves just by sticking their heads out a window. )  Anyway, come Spring most people gravitate towards lighter beer.  And I mean lighter in in body, not LITE beer.  Please never, never, never confuse the two.  Because if you do, the terrorist win.  As soon as the temperature warms up and the patio grill gets a decent Spring scrub down, many beer fans break out seasonal styles such as Bocks, Wits and, the rightfully increasingly popular, Saisons.   I'm guilty of this too.  I've got a DuPoint Saison bomber sitting in the  pantry in my basement elite and luxurious (if you live in a trailer) beer/wine cellar just waiting to be enjoyed on the first really warm day.  But are we missing out by overlooking our wintertime friends?  Should porters and stouts be stored in the attic with the giant plastic Santa and "smells just like the real thing as long as you think evergreens are supposed to smell like Lysol" artificial Christmas tree?  (Word to the wise.  DO NOT store your beer in your attic regardless.  It's hot up there.  Beer is like people who live in Minnesota.  They aren't fond of temperatures that don't turn your nose red.)   

                                                                                                          Poor Jerry really needs a drink

I think that we may be doing a disservice to our friends of the dark in hue variety.  Porters are especially tasty with barbecue foods.  The sweetness of the molasses and the tanginess of the tomatoes in a Kansas City style mop sauce work brilliantly with a lighter Porter, such as Bell's Brewery's Porter.  I think that the key to finding the right sort of food friendly, summer welcoming sort of porter is to locate a beer that is simple in flavor and lighter in body.  You'd think that this would be an easy task.  But the funny thing about creating something that is straight forward  in design, it takes a fair amount of work to achieve delectable simplicity.  When you have very few details to brood over, the notes that are there must be relatively perfect.  And there lies the rub. 

Don't just dismiss a Porter like this because it's 90 degrees in the shade. A simple Porter can be your best friend while you are sweating over a grill.  Mainly because your real best friends are inside the house enjoying the air conditioning
My Bell's Brewery Porter poured a dark, solid brown.  There was no hint of any other color present, even around the edgings or when held up to a light.  A two finger, deeply off white head formed.  The foam exhibited great retention, lingering around in a springy layer for a good majority of the drink.  Lovely, tall lacing crept up the sides of the pint glass.  I could smell moderate notes of dark chocolate and fresh brewed coffee.    Behind the chocolate and coffee was the scent of grains and a lighter hint of dark, chewy fruit.  The beer tasted very much as it smelled.  The first character I noticed was the chocolate and coffee, although neither was exciting or exceptional in flavor.  Toasty grains followed as well as the ever so slight taste of prunes.  Pretty much as one would expect from your all around, general sort of porter.  It struck me as being a solid beer without any pretension or airs. The moderate mouthfeel was just about perfect for food.  It wasn't so heavy that I couldn't taste the meal I was enjoying but not so slight in heft that I wondered why I was even bothering to drink a Porter with the meal in the first place.  The brew had a good amount of carbonation present to help give the shorter than expected finish a desirable effect when eating.

Heat stroke is no joke.  Better make sure that you have a back up Porter to keep hydrated. 
On, second thought, make sure that you have a back up for your back up.  Barbeque safe out there, people

 Sometimes a beer is just made to be eaten with a meal.  What may just be an OK brew when sipped all by it's lonesome self, becomes something pitch perfect when drunk with the right combination of flavors on the plate.  Bell's Brewery's Porter is such a beer.  I drank my pint with a barbeque chicken pizza crisped up on a pizza stone on my trusty grill.  The molasses and brown sugar in the sauce melded with the bitterness of the porter's chocolate and coffee notes.  Yet the beer wasn't so enchanted with it's own flavor profile that it worked against the red onion or cilantro on the crust.  I could also see this porter being delicious with just about anything smothered in a Kansas City sort of sauce (here's a great recipe, try it with a whole cut up chicken or some grilled, pulled pork.)  Bell's Porter is exactly  as simple as it's name.  It doesn't pretend to be anything that it's not.  And, if you ask me, that's exactly what makes it such a beautiful and simple summer option.

Monday, April 15, 2013

New Glarus Brewing's Totally Naked

  • Style: Pale Lager
  • ABV: 4.25%
  • Season: Spring/Summer
  • Color: Pale golden yellow; no haziness
  • Head: 2 fingers with wonderful sticky lacing
  • Aroma: Sweet with biscuit, toast and a bit of citrus
  • Mouthfeel: Light in body, but plenty of carbonation
  • Finish: Short and pretty one note
  • Food friendly: Hell, to the yes.  It's a pale, session lager.  A beer like this would be great with something spicy, such as Mexican food or with heavier dishes such as Italian meals.  Serve with with an earthy cheese like Camembert   

For those of you not in the know (or who have never Googled this page by name) I apparently share this name with a porn site (didn't know, too late to change it, maybe it'll work in my favor someday)  So this is a throw away to any of you who have stumbled upon my little page randomly.  Cause I'm afraid that this as good as it's gonna get.

Purity.  It seems like a good thing, doesn't it.  We want our water to be pure from chemicals so we buy expensive filtration systems that make unfiltered water look and taste like, well, water.   We want our vegetables to be pure from  pesticides so we buy organic, even if we end up leaving most of the sack of grapes rotting uneaten in the fridge.  And now we can buy our beer pure from additives.  At least we can, if we live in Wisconsin (or know a guy willing to schelp a a six pack or two across state lines for you.)  New Glarus Brewing, located and distributing in Wisconsin only, offers a lager that is free from added chemicals and additives that they call, appropriately enough, Totally Naked.  This, to clarify is not a suggestion on how to imbibe this malt beverage (although, how you personally spend your Saturday night is of course, completely your business.  FYI- drawn curtains are your friend.)   It's a pale lager and at 4.25% ABV, certainly very session-able.  Session-able is another one of those code words that float around.  Session beers are traditionally 5.0% ABV or lower and are beers that one can drink in succession during a sitting.  However, if you are ever at a tasting event, surrounded by a gaggle of beer geeks, and want to have a little fun, just ask a few of them to define a "session" beer.  Then stand  back and watch the foam fly (be sure to cover your drink first.)  Because, like many seemingly innocent things in the beer world (such as inquiring as to the difference between a porter and a stout or whether bombers are a grand idea or a complete and utter rip off)  the average beer geek has very strong opinions about exactly what is session-able and what is a session beer.

Session beers are probably a good idea for the clothing optional crowd.  Probably not a bad idea for people who stumble upon clothing optional crowds too

My Totally Naked poured a pale golden color, very straw yellow in character.  It was extremely clear with no hint of haziness.  A pure white, two finger head formed and took it's sweet time in settling.   Wonderfully gorgeous, sticky snow white clumps of lacing stuck to the sides of the pint glass. There wasn't an abundance of aroma, but that's to be expected from the style.  I could smell sweetness with bits of biscuit and a slight note of toast.  There were lost of pale malts basically.  A hint of citrus was present which helped to brighten the aroma considerably.  That taste was rather pure in flavor.  The sweet pale malts shined brightest, just as they did in the aroma.  Not quite a malt bomb, but there was no mistaking it for anything but a pale lager.  The taste of grains were off set with the mild hop notes of citrus and a flora.  The mouthfeel was light and crisp with lots of carbonation to help the brew go down easy like any good session beer.  The finish was short to medium with a dryness on the tail.  It was an easy to drink, very simple, yet still enjoyable,  beer.
Lovely lacing.  According to Tim Gunn, lacing is very "in" right now too. 

Some beers are notoriously difficult to pair with food.  Totally Naked is not one of those beers.  If you have food in front of you, it will work with this brew.  Personally, I think that this would be a great option for most ethnic foods.  You could confidently serve this with Spinach Enchiladas knowing fell well that the beer's pale malt sweetness would compliment the spiciness of any enchiladas sauce.  Or if you're feeling a bit Italian one night, toss together a dish of Ziti with Sausage and Fennel.  Of course the beauty of a session, low AVB sort of beer is that on a warm Summer's day, you can always kick back in a chaise lounge, pop open a few, crank up some good music on your IPod (and by good music, I mean stuff I like.  Anything else, use your ear buds accordingly) and just chill.

Pure as snow.  Well, hopefully it's a lot purer than snow once you think about it.

Purity, just like Chinese food, is all about your state of mind.  Personally, I'm pretty good with eating just about anything in a Chinese restaurant as long as it's never actually explained to me what I'm putting into my mouth.  Beer falls into the same category for me.  Would I have enjoyed this simple, straight forward session brew any less if it had contained some additive that is spelled with more letters than your average city in Wales?   I doubt it.  But is a nice thought that you can kick back and enjoy a beer that may be a bit healthier for you than your average brew.  Heck, since it's a session, have two.  Just keep the pants on everyone, OK?  Or at least remember to close the curtains.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Spiteful Brewing's Burning Bridges

  • Style: Brown Ale
  • ABV: 7.5%
  • Season: Rotating (I purchased my Batch 10 in March 2013)
  • Ease to locate: Chicagoland only, so far. Try your local bottle shop or Binny's (or trading with somebody.)   Better yet, take a trip to the Windy City!  We're lovely (if not rainy, windy and cold) in the Spring. But we have beer, so it's all good.
  • Color: Dark oaky brown
  • Head: Two & a half fingers with virtually no lacing.  Settles quickly, but doesn't disappear
  • Aroma: Not much of a nose.  A bit malty with caramel, chocolate and roasted notes.  A slight hop bitterness as well.
  • Mouthfeel: Medium. Minimal carbonation, yet smooth and a bit dry.
  • Finish: Moderate with a grapefruit presence on the tail
  • Food friendly: Not as much as the average brown ale.  Try with grilled meats or sweet sausage.  Try it with nutty cheese like Colby or Asiago.

I love learning the story behind brewery names. Sometimes they're funny (Clown Shoes Beer)  Sometimes they set a location (New Glarus or Great Lakes.)  But the best names give you a bit of insight into the brewers themselves.  Spiteful Brewing is a small (how small?  Let's just say that I'm pretty sure that their dog is their delivery driver), relatively new Chicago brewery started by two childhood friends.  The fact that they named their brewery after the "spiteful" childhood hockey incident tells me a lot about them.  These are two guys who not only have a sense of humor, but have a long history together.   We aren't going to have another 5 Rabbits incident on our hands here.  But if we do, at least this will involve hockey sticks and not witchcraft.  Fingers crossed.

                                                                This is basically what I think happened when the Spiteful crew met for the first time.  Hair and all.

I've been meaning to try a Spiteful beer for a few months now, but have kept getting distracted by other offerings on the shelf (oooo look, something shiny!  Squirrel!)  I finally got around to grabbing a bomber of their brown ale, Burning Bridges,  last week.   Every time I looked at the bomber, I got the uneasy feeling that the flame on the label was glaring at me.  With this in mind, I cracked open the bottle ASAP before any more nasty shiny squirrels got in my way.

Looks like a porter, drinks like a brown ale.  Sort of.

My Burning Bridges poured a dark, oaky brown color.  It looked rich and inviting, if not a bit dark for your average brown ale.  A two and a half finger head initially formed, but settled quickly to about half a finger of beige foam.   There wasn't much in the way of lacing, but a spongy layer of foam did stick around for most of the drink.  I couldn't detect much in the way of aroma at first.  It was a bit sweet with notes of malts and chocolate on the nose.  As it warmed a little, I could detect some roasted elements and a smidge of nuttiness as well.  The taste, however, didn't disappoint.  As simple as the nose was, the flavor profile more than made up in complexity.  Notes of yeasty bread  and almost crunchy toast hit me first.  There was a strong bitter hops presence as well.  The hops seemed to be strongest with notes of citrus, but I could sense some pine qualities working back up too.  The sweetness that I smelled on the nose emerged as elements of caramel and chocolate, helping to nicely balance the other flavors.  The mouthfeel was medium with very soft carbonation.  It was smooth and bit dry.  The finish was also medium, with a note of grapefruit on the tail end.

Would a little lacing kill you guys? 
I would pair Spiteful Brewing's Burning Bridges with foods that would benefit from a good mixture of bitter and sweet.  As the weather warms, try it with freshly ground hamburgers on the grill.  I also think this would make an excellent companion to barbeque pork or chicken    Or serve Burning Bridges with this one pot dish of Italian sausage, potatoes and chicken.

No lacing, but this kept me company for most of the pint

The thing that I like best about brown ales is it's ability to play well with others.  If anything has proven American Brown Ale's innate diversity as a style to me it's been comparing Spiteful Brewing's Burning Bridges and last post's review of   Avery Brewing's Ellie's Brown Ale.   Avery's brown ale was sweet and light.  Spiteful's brown ale was rich and hoppy.  I didn't expect much from either and was surprised by how much I like each of them, although for very different reasons.   I'm looking forward to trying another offering from Spiteful Brewing.  Even if their label with the dead teddy bear freaks me out a bit. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Avery Brewing Co's Ellie's Brown Ale

  • Style: Brown Ale
  • ABV: 5.5%
  • Season: Year Round
  • Ease to locate: Pretty easy to find in most liquor and bottle shops across in the US
  • Color: Reddish brown & slightly hazy
  • Head: Generous 2 & 1/2 finger head with great lacing
  • Aroma: Sweet with caramel, chocolate and brown sugar notes.  A bit of nuttiness as well.  It's a beer that smells just as it looks
  • Mouthfeel: Light in body, yet still rather creamy for a brown ale
  • Finish: On the short side
  • Food friendly: Yes.  I could see this beer pairing nicely with some good old fashion barbeque.  If you want to serve it with cheese, try to play up the nutty notes with an Asiago or Parmesan 

Once people get an idea in their heads, it's very difficult to get them to change their minds about something.  Wine should always be corked.   Eggs are bad for you.  Glee is a well written, heartwarming show about teenagers.   When in reality, a twist off top is a better capping system to keep your wine from being oxidized.  An average egg contains just 70 calories and 6.9 grams of muscle building  protein.  And Glee  is just a sorry excuse for light FM TV starring actors who could almost collect Social Security.  I realized recently that I hadn't yet reviewed a canned beer.  In my mind, beer from a can is just sort of brew from the wrong side of the tracks.  There's something about putting beer in a can that makes me think that it's lower in quality than it's bottled counter parts.  It reminds me of childhood summers when my parents would fill the basement sink with ice and cans of Old Style for parties.     I didn't want to drink it then and don't want to drink it now.
    Instructions on how to crush a beer can on your head for Dummies (although, you'd think those are the exact people who would instinctively know how to do this properly)

If course, these preconceived notions about canned beer are just plain and simple prejudice on my part.  I know that beer stored in a can is better protected from sunlight, oxidation and destruction from blunt objects.  Canned beers leave a smaller carbon footprint because they weight less, which results in less fuel needed to ship.   All of these are valid reasons, but still, in my mind's eye, I see a can of beer and just automatically think of John Belushi in Animal House.  But even as we speak, there is a grass roots campaign to free the world (and by the world, as usual, I mean me) from the racist views against cans.  I expect to see people across the country (and by that, I mean shut ins and bored office drones)  changing their Facebook profile photo to a picture of Jesus drinking a can of beer at the Last Supper (because you know that the Son of God would be a craft fan.)  I hear that Sean Penn and Angelina Jolie are planning a rally at the Sam Adams brewery as we speak.

Once the beer is in the glass, I would not suggest trying to crush it against your forehead.  Use a friend's head instead.
My can of Avery Brewing's Ellie's Brown Ale poured a ruddy brown color, shading more rust in tint towards the edges of the glass.    It was slightly hazy and almost sweet looking.   A  huge ivory head formed and settled quickly to a 2 & 1/2 finger layer which stuck around for a good portion of the drink. An almost solid ring of thick lacing adhered to the sides of the pint.  I could smell the sweetness of the malts immediately.  Mixed in were notes of caramel, chocolate and a bit of brown sugar.  The taste reflected the aroma note for note.  At fist sip I could easily pick out the sweetness of the  honey and chocolate malts used to brew the ale.  A mild set of hops (Bullion for bittering I believe and and and Steerling for aroma) were used to give the beer a bit of depth and counteract the sweetness level.  A note of brown sugary molasses crept in towards the back of the sip.  Avery Brewing's website lists Munich and  Two-row Barley malts in the ingredients and I attribute the ruddy color and the almost creaminess of the mouthfeel to their presence.   The mouthfeel was not lush or full by any means, but there was a softness to the way it coated my mouth that was completely unexpected.  There was moderate carbonation.  Truthfully speaking , there was a lot less fizziness than I usually expect from a brown ale, but I didn't feel that the stingy amount of bubbles detracted from my enjoyment of the brew at all. The finish was short and sweet, slightly hoppy with more brown sugar on the end.   

Lacing porn.  You know you love it.
I would serve Ellie's Brown Ale with some good old fashioned barbecue without a second thought.  The sweetness of the beer (especially the brown sugar element in the aroma and taste) would work wonderfully with barbecue ribs on the grill (and why do I love the linked website here?  Because they state that if you boil your ribs, the terrorist win.  Ron Swanson couldn't have put it better himself.)  I could also see this as a staple with something like this sweet potato and chick pea curry.

For anyone who says that canning beer screws with it's ability to create a decent head, remind them that you need to POUR it into a glass first
I'll admit that I wasn't expecting much when I popped open the tab on this can.  Honestly, the can has been sitting in my fridge for a while now, being passed up again and again for more exciting brews (I'm looking at you, Pipeworks!)  The fact is, Ellie's Brown Ale was a pleasant, and a bit humbling, surprise.  It's always a good thing when a beer can catch you off guard and change your point of view on a whole style of packaging.   I'm holding firm on the belief that that Glee sucks though.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Argus Brewing's California Steam

  • Style: California Steam (Lager)
  • ABV: 5.4%
  • Season: Year Round
  • Ease to locate: Midwest mainly.  Here's a link to their beer finder.Oddly enough, it's NOT available in California. 
  • Color: Hazy orange amber color
  • Head: One finger head that dissipated very quickly.  Like a blink and you missed it sort of quickly
  • Aroma: Very mild smell.  Some light caramel, pale malts and a hint of citrus.  No hops at all on the nose.
  • Mouthfeel: Light with moderate carbonation
  • Finish: Medium finish with a stale sort of hop note on the end
  • Food friendly: Well, it's not unfriendly.  Try it with simple foods like hot dogs on the grill or sloppy joes on a weeknight.  It could be paired with sharp cheeses like Cheddar or tangy varieties such as Munster. 

If you are a beer geek, it's a pretty exciting time to be in Chicago right now.  There seems to be a new brewery or brewpub opening every few minutes here (I'm positive that at least three will have opened and won some medal somewhere by the time that you are done reading this post.) What I like about the beer scene in Chicago is that we don't seem to have one single defining style.  Revolution makes some wonderfully hopped stouts & porters.  Metropolitan harkens back to the old German ways of the lager.  Half Acre just hops the hell out of everything it sees like the Easter Bunny on a drunken bender.   And Pipeworks?  Well, who the hell knows what Pipeworks will come up with next?  Maybe it's in our water or maybe it's in the weirdly fascinating (while simultaneously nauseating)  reflection of the city off our magical Downtown bean, but there's something about Chicago breweries that compels them to take chances.

Argus Brewery, located on the Southside of Chicago, is a brewery that I wasn't very familiar with before trying this particular beer.  I was at my local liquor store looking to fill an empty space in a mix sixer and came across their California Steamer Lager.  Steam beer  (AKA California Common) is a type of American lager that brews with a special lager yeast which needs warmer temperatures.  In the 1800s in California, the wort was cooled in shallow primaries.  California being, well, California, the hot weather and lack of available  refrigeration helped to adapt a yeast that worked great under warmer conditions.  Anchor Steam is one of the better examples of California Common lagers (and since Anchor Brewing has copyrighted the phrase "Steam Beer" they are the only ones legally able to call their lager Steam Beer now.)   So since I had never heard of Argus Brewery before and had no idea what a California Common was before this (AND there was an image of a steam engine on the label!)  I had to give it a shot.  OK, yeah, I was sold as soon as I saw the train.

California dreaming.  For instance, I'm dreaming of a larger with a nice head

My California Steam poured a gorgeous, glowing orange/amber color.  It was slightly hazy with bits of yeast floaties swirling around inside.  A one finger, white head formed and just as quickly dissipated, leaving behind a thin, spotty film.  There was really no lacing to speak of.   The scent was mild to say the least.  It took some work, but I could detect some sweet caramel and pale malts on the nose.  There was a just the barest hint of citrus under the malt profile (this came out slightly as the beer warmed.)  I couldn't smell any sort of hops at all.  Honestly, the scent was rather common and non-distinguishable from any other basic lager that I've ever  had.  I cold taste the sweet caramel and malts immediately at first sip.  The zesty citrus note popped out after the malt profile.  For a beer with no hop presence on the nose, it was rather bitter in flavor.  I found the hop notes to be heavy handed for a larger and almost stale in taste.  The mouthfeel was light and only slightly carbonated.  I really would have liked more fizz in this beer to balance out the bitterness.  The finish was medium with the stale hop presence emerging again on the tail end.

Pretty color, yes, but like many things in California, all looks and no substance.  For an example, go to certain bars in LA, close your eyes and point

I lived in LA for four years.  I'm legally allowed to make California Blonde jokes.  They do make you get a permit though

I would pair Argus Brewing's California Steam with simple, almost family friendly food.  Hot dogs on the grill.  Chipotle Sloppy Joes on a week night.  Or try to make your own Black Bean Veggie Burger (not as difficult as you might think.  But yes, just as messy as you can imagine.)  I'm the first to admit that I'm not a huge lager sort of girl.  But if you put a really well made one into a glass in front of me, especially on a sunny summer's day, I'll happily drink it with out a complaint.  This, unfortunately, is not one of those sort of lagers in my opinion.    I want a lager that offers more than just a malt bomb.  Give me one with a layered, well thought out nose.  Follow that up with a bit of complexity in the flavor profile.  Or at least give the poor beer a decent head and a bit of lacing.  California Common had none of these attributes.  Was it drinkable?  Sure.  But there are so many other local well made lagers out there (check out  my review for  the Metropolitan Alt .)    Life is too short for just OK beer.  Even if there is a train on the label.