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Monday, September 29, 2014

New Chicago Beers on the Scene at 2014 Logan Square Beer Fest

A Saturday or so ago I took the Blue Line down a few stops to visit this year's 2014 Logan Square Beer Fest.  It's a two year old fest held on the second floor of the Logan Square Auditorium. The location gives the gathering an almost high school gym assembly (with booze) sort of experience.  What excited me about this year's fest beyond it's smaller size was it's focus on local breweries.  It's the perfect sort of event for the younger guys who can easily get over looked at the larger fests which litter the Summer and early Autumn months (AKA Festival Season AKA Beer Geek O Rama Season AKA Ouch, My  Liver Hurts Season).

The local big four of Revolution, Lagunitias, Half Acre and Metropolitan were in attendance and at least three of them brought out a just released seasonal, or at the very least, some interesting spin on their beers.  Of the three that did, Metro brought it the hardest with a mind changing  firkin of Krankshaft that was infused with oranges and habenero peppers (I walked into the festival hating peppers in my beer and left with a completely different out look on life.  Was not expecting that.)  And Lagunitas, well, Lagunitas my friend, apparently you want to call yourself a Chicago brewery now.  How about you brew a beer or two that are unique to Chicago?   Laguintas was the one table I didn't even bother to fight my way towards.  Why push and shove for something that I can just as easily pick up at my local grocery store.

 I did happily brave the crowd for pours from breweries like Lake Effect, who poured the least caramel forward Marzen that I've ever had the pleasure of trying.  If they bottled their Marzen Pale Lager, I really think that Lake Effects could give Revolution's Oktoberfest and Metropolotian's AfterBurner a run for their Autumn in Chicago money.   Begyle didn't pull out any of their small batches as they had during other Summer fest and I'll admit, I was initially a bit disappointed by this.  Until brewer Matt Ritchey informed me that they did bring a keg of Hophazardly which was barely two days old.  Disappointment was quickly drown in concurrent  swallows of fresh, hoppy goodness.  It also severed to remind me that if you know what you are brewing, you don't need any tricks to create a great pour.  And Solemn Oath cranked the room's ABV% up a notch with their American Barleywine, Ticklefight aged in Woodford Reserve barrels. I'm not a huge barleywine fan, but Solemn Oath's Ticklefight was mellow and just boozy enough to act as a reverse pallet cleanser from a strongly bitter drinking day.

What I was most excited about that Saturday was the opportunity to try beers some some of the brand new breweries on the Chicagoland craft scene.  You may remember the name Middle Brow from a piece I wrote earlier this Summer on their dark Saison, A Life's Pursuit (click here if you need a refresher )  Head brewer, Nick Burica, worked with Lula Cafe (located directly under the auditorium floor that we were standing on) to create two culinary infused mixes of this delicious already food friendly Saison.  Since I had not yet had my mind blown by the habenero Krankshaft, I steered clear of the pepper influenced mix.  However, I happily dove into the Lula Mix #2 which Burica described as "weird and beautiful."  The 6.6% ABV Saison was aged for two weeks in a cask with yellow plums and cardamom to create an aromatically evolved version of A Life's Pursuit.  It was easy to appreciate how the spicy, citrusy, herbalness  from the cardamon and juicy fruitiness of the plums immediately complimented the bready malt forwardness of the original beer.  Sometimes when a brewer messes around with their original beer, the qualities that made that
beer special are buried under gimmicky additions.  Middle Brow got it right with Mix #2 by adding ingredients that highlighted the already successful notes withing their base beer. Their Abbey Inspired Farmhouse ale, Robyn, can currently be found on craft beer shelves in Chicago.  Burica randalled Robyn with Dark Matter Coffee (Barrel Aged beans, no less) to create a version of the ale with a coffee forward nose.  There were notes of brewed coffee mixed with fruity esters, a little orange citrus and a hint of green pepper. I could have sniffed this one all day.

Logan Square will soon be the home to Mercenary Brewery, what I believe to be Chicago's first combined brewhouse distillery. Such a wonderland is not yet open for business, but they were pouring their initial beer offering for the first time that afternoon.  The Charlatan is a 5.9% ABV Pale Ale brewed with Simcoe and Citra hops.  It poured a cloudy, light amber orange beer with highlights of gold around the edges.  The nose and taste were very similar, boasting a citrus heavy quality that was tempered by scents of passion fruit and mango. A dry, crisp mouthfeel rounded out the short finish nicely.  It was a solid APA from a just beginning baby brewery.  One of Mercenary's owners, Paul Megalis, informed me that they should be opening their brewpub/distillery before the end of the year and are hoping to release an IPA and a Porter by early 2015.  They also plan on reusing their in house barrels to create an on going barrel program for the just off future.  So keep your eyes open.  I'm predicting interesting things from these guys in the coming years. 
 Evanston's own Temperance Brewing had the unfortunate luck of being placed directly to the right of the stage.  The stage where a series of bands (including the one fronted by Lagunitas owner Tony Magee) played.  Loudly.  Like O'Hare runway deafening loudly.  Brewer Alex Lovingood withstood the ear drum shattering pounding to pour a series of beers (and apparently give away some very popular red coozies. I've never seen so many tasting glasses wrapped in insulated foam before.)  Yes, he had the expected IPA offering, but I was much more interested in the other two beers that he was serving.  Birdsong was a Saison brewed with French Saison yeast and honey procured from Michigan City, Indiana.  The juicy,
golden, straw colored beer tasted of stone fruit, bready yeast, sweet honey with a finish ending kick of pepper.  So lovely.  But as much as I enjoyed the soft loveliness of Birdsong, I was completely amazed by Temperance's Smittytown ESB infused with Michigan cherries.  Yes, you read that correctly.  An ESB with cherries.   And yes, it was beautiful.  And, yes, of course I had two glasses (it's like you don't know me at all.)  It poured a dark golden liquid with hints of red dancing around the edges.  The subtle tartness of the cherries complimented the dry bitterness and clean crispness of Smittytown's typical ESB character perfectly.  Before I had gotten my chance to try this beer myself, I had over heard a few people complain that they couldn't taste the cherries in the "cherry beer."  After my first sip, I considered hunting down those whiners and explaining the concept of layering to them.  I resisted, mainly because I wanted a second glass and I was afraid that Temperance would run out while I was away.   Most other breweries, when designing their Autumn line up, go one of two ways: a Marzen lager or a pumpkin ale.  Temperance has now thrown their hat in the ring with a third option.  This cherry infused ESB would make the absolute perfect beer to serve with Thanksgiving dinner this year.   Hook a girl up, Temperance.      

Transient Ales has gotten a lot of good press in the last few weeks.  Their Reserve Society released their first set of sours during a huge, can't miss event (which I did.  Because apparently I'm an idiot and did not buy the membership when I had the chance.  Because I'm an idiot.  It's a vicious circle, folks.)  With an at least one hundred name long waiting list (or so I've been told) threatening to keep me in the pit of regret for a good long time, so I was very pleased to find Buckley and his owner, Chris Betts, manning (dogging) a table at this fest.
Transient was pouring their Gose, named Salaruim, that I had the good fortune to try at a different fest in August.  This made choosing a glass of Wayward, their APA with Brett, so much simpler to make.  Wayward was a hazy straw yellow color in my tasting glass.  I could smell the abundant aroma of Brett as Chris handed me my glass back. Let me tell you, the ability to detect that sort of distinct Brett aroma in a unventilated room of sweaty beer geeks should give you an idea of the detailed nose on this beer right away.  A lighter scent of citrus was layered under the gorgeous funk.  The taste contained a heavier citrus presence than the nose.  I could easily pick out notes of orange, lemon and grapefruit from the Brett character.  A crisp and light mouthfeel balanced out the tartness of the ale.  I couldn't help but start pairing this extremely easy drinking sour with food in my head.   A savory roasted chicken, it's cavity stuffed with roasted lemons and basil, would be just about heaven with a glass or three of Wayward on the side.  Buckey, in his infinite wisdom and advanced culinary palate seemed to agree. He also seemed to really enjoy a good scratch behind the ear.  

September in Chicago is a crazy craft beer sort of time of year.  Fest after fest, event after event, tapping after tapping all seem to happen on the same day.  Every weekend.  It's as if we all suddenly realize that Summer is just about over and that we beer geeks will have to spend the next six months huddled around a space heater sipping our snifters of Porter by our lonesome selves.  I understand that many of you may do this even in July, but for a vast majority of people, beer gatherings are something to be treasured and enjoyed for as long as fickle Mother Nature allows us to.  My advise to you when you hit up the remaining events of 2014 is to play your session a bit different than normal.  Don't follow the flock and make a beeline for the big guns.  The whalez.  The "anything aged in a barrel" beers.  Check out the brewery that you know nothing about.  Enjoy your first sips of the unknown. And maybe you'll find a new place to obsess over before the day is through. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Revolution Brewing's Oktoberfest 2014

  • Style: Marzen (lager)
  • ABV: 5.7%
  • Ease to locate: Fall seasonal.  Grab it while you can.  I can also guarantee that it won't be readily on the shelves come the middle of October.  And, no, you can't shop in my beer fridge (although, money does talk.  Call me.)
  • Color: Copper amber with golden highlights.  Very clear
  • Head: 1 finder of just off white foam that falls immediately.  Little lacing, but it did depend on the glassware.
  • Aroma: Slight nose consisting of toast, caramel malts and slight herbal note mixed with a faint floral hop character
  • Mouthfeel: Moderate body almost on the brink of creaminess that is consistent with a lager.
  • Finish: Medium with an enjoyable after taste of bitter floral hops.  Dry and crisp
  • Food friendly: Yes.  Very easy to drink it with the traditional Oktoberfest offerings such as doughy pretzels or roasted sausages.  Personally, I think it'd be wonderful with a simple bowl of freshly steamed clams or mussels. 

Apple user link:Not the Ron Swanson I wanted to play, but apparently that video is private so here's a different one instead. Stupid YouTube

I originally had a video clip of Ron Swanson wanting to sleep in a barrel room.  It was funny.  It was true.  Apparently, it was also under some sort of privacy setting that I discovered after posting this.  Why someone would take the time to put a Parks & Rec clip on YouTube then make it private is a bit odd, but here's a replacement clip.  Enjoy. 
I'm not a lager person by any stretch of the imagination.  Yes, I'll drink the occasionally pint of Metropolitan  Krankshaft.  And if I'm sampling a flight from a new brewery while traveling, I might add a pour of their brewhouse lager into the lineup to shake things up.  But on an average week night, you will most likely never see me reach for a lager from my beer fridge.  Unless, of course, the week night falls between September 1st and Thanksgiving Day.  For it's during this point on the calendar that, I and other similarly minded beer drinkers, like to call Oktoberfest season.  And what a lovely time of year it is.  There's something about the combination of a typical Oktoberfest's flavor profile, the toasted grains tempered by lightly sweetened notes and the dry crispness of a well bodied beer that just makes me think of the things I love about Autumn.  Crisp, cool evenings that smell of fireplaces and drying leaves.  Football games, high school, college or pro, it doesn't matter as long as you play with clear minds, full hearts,  you really can't lose.  Oh, what a wonderful time of the year it is.
I originally wrote about Revolution Brewery's Oktoberfest in 2013 (click on the link here if you want to see a comparison) But just as I decided to earlier this summer with New Glarus' Berliner Weiss Thumbprint series, I felt like returning to such a solid yearly offering from a well established brewery to see how the beer as progressed (if it has.  Spoiler.  It's still good.  )  My 2014 Oktoberfest poured a very Autumn looking coppery amber color with light ivory foam.  I've had plenty of pours of this beer before taking pictures for this piece and will undoubtedly continue to have many after (at least until my stash runs out.  And then I will cry.) Most of my pours resulted in the same one finger's worth of light ivory foam that almost immediately fell to a thin surface covering.  Now, what was different was the presence of lacing.  When drinking from a goblet or snifter, there was almost absolutely no lacing to be seen at all.  I know, sad panda. I got over it.  However, when imbibed from a pint glass, I noticed a speckling of lace clumps clinging to the sides of the pint before quickly sliding down to the surface of the lager.  I think that I will be drinking all my Oktoberfests from a pint glass from now on (Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.)   The nose was light but distinct.  I could detect notes of toasted grains and crisp cracker mixed with the sweetness of caramel.   A herbal quality tempered the sweetness nicely and lead right into the end note of mild floral hops.  The taste was similar to the aroma.  Toasty cereal grains, a dry quality from crackers and the caramel note brought out with a hint of vanilla.  The herbal hop character and the faint floral presence on the back tempered the maltier aspect of this lager, which might be why I enjoy Marzens.   The mouthfeel was that of a typical lager.  Medium body with a slight creaminess to gently coat the tongue.  Ending the finish with the floral note also helped to dry the beer nicely, making it very easy drinking.

Lagers in general, but especially Marzens, are great food beers.  The medium, lightly creamy body and toasty yet caramely taste compliment a great variety of dishes, especially those containing meat.   Serve Revolution's 2014 Oktoberfest with a platter of traditional plate of Schnitzel (which can also be made with chicken instead of veal) and a side of German Potato Salad .  The malty sweetness will balance out the astringent vinegar of the warm salad's dressing.  Of course, no one says that you have to go all lederhosen on the world just because you're drinking a German beer.   Mussels Steamed With Beer is the perfect light Autumn evening meal.  The real beauty of this, however, is the convenience of popping one can open to cook your dinner with and one can to drink while you slave away.  I'm just kidding, the mussel recipe is probably one of the easiest seafood dishes that I've ever made.  But, you should probably play it safe and have two cans ready for the drinking part of the equation (plus, you'll need a third for the actual meal.  You know, you'd better just grab that sixer to play it safe.  You can thank me later.)  Now, some of you may wonder why my video this week featured everyone's favorite anti government resident of Pawnee, Indiana.  All I can say is take a good look at the Revolutionary Oktoberfest's graphic.  And then fry up all the bacon and eggs.  Yes, all the bacon and eggs.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Solemn Oath Brewery's Foux Du Fa Fa

  • Style: Imperial Farmhouse IPA.  Yeah.  That's not made up at all.  Just like Grandparent's Day.
  • ABV: 10%  Because what Saison isn't at least 10%?
  • Ease to locate: Most Chicagoland craft shops. The distinct labels make Solemn Oath bottles easily stand out on a shelf too
  • Color: Bright orange and yellow, relatively clear
  • Head: One finger white foam that falls immediately.  No lacing.
  • Aroma: The Cyrano De Bergerac of beers.  Lots of grapefruit, lemon with a little doughy bread and fruit esters.
  • Mouthfeel: Moderate body.  Surprising lack of syrup and dryer than expected 
  • Finish: Medium.  Mostly citrus transitioning to bready yeast to a lingering grapefruit
  •  Food friendly: Yes.  The drier body and citrus forward flavors lends itself to lighter pairings such as chicken salad or crab dishes.  Avoid anything delicate or spicy.

Apple User's link: Making up holidays is easy. Getting people to buy gifts for you on them is hard.

                                                                                                                                                            Festivus for the rest of us

I'm pretty sure that the smartest man alive is not, in fact, Stephen Hawking.  Albert Einstein?  Hack. Leonardo DiVinci? Italian Hack. Nope.  The smartest man alive is the gentleman who created Grandparents Day.  And Sweetest Day.   And  Bosses Day (seriously.  Bosses already get our blood, sweat and tears.  Do they really need a card and a cake too?).  Hallmark has created an entire business modeled on the notion of just declaring some random day of the week as something special and tell people to buy a piece of folded cardboard to celebrate it.  Genius, right?  So yes, I was slightly skeptical of Solemn Oath labeling their Foux Du Fa Fa beer as an Imperial Farmhouse IPA.  To me, an IPA is an IPA and a farmhouse ale is definitely not one.  Right now in the craft beer world, IPAs are sort of the cool kids on the block.  Everyone wants to have at least one in their group.  I thought that this might just be some frustrated Hallmark marketing guy's idea of the perfect sort of trending beer.  But as I drank my glass, it became clear to me that Solemn Oath is no Hallmark (partially because their greeting cars are always rather of soggy and smell of wort.)

My Foux Du Fa Fa poured a bright orange and yellow ale with golden highlights and amber hues. It was a lovely color, very juicy in apparenece but still somewhat transparent.   A delicate, soapy one finger head of very white foam rose in the glass and just as quickly fell.  It left no real lacing to speak of, just a ring around the surface of the ale.  The nose was strong in this one (Star Wars Day is May 4th) The typical IPA aroma was easily detectable without even raising the glass from the table.  Basically it was a grapefruit and citrus bomb ( Grapefruit month is February.) I could also smell some subtle scents of nectarine and apricot under the citrus notes.  I could definitely tell why they called this beer an IPA, but I honestly wasn't getting any sort of farmhouse elements from the nose at all.  The taste was very similar to the aroma.  Mostly grapefruit, lemon, a little orange zest with stone fruit esters such as the nectarine and apricot.  I did find a pleasant doughiness to the profile which helped temper all of the citrus elements.  My best guess ( National Take A Wild Guess Day is April 15th) is that the yeast strain used in this beer was Belgian in nature. It was the doughy yeast that kept this beer from just being your typical boring old IIPA.  A medium body with no real hint of syrup also lead to the somewhat confusing hybrid nature of this ale.  Imperial IPAs often veer towards the syrup end of the mouthfeel spectrum, but this one was still rather crisp and much drier than I had expected.  There was no alcohol heat on the finish either.  Foux Du Fa Fa certainly did not drink alike a 10% ABV ale at all.( August 8th is National Surprise Day.)

I would serve my Foux Du Fa Fa with slightly delicate items that a normal IIPA would not pair well with.  Try it with a fruity Chicken Salad with Walnuts and Cranberries.  The citrus notes will brighten the creaminess of the sauce while enhancing the juiciness of the chicken.  If you want a more sustainable meal, drink this beer with Crab Cakes (although I would skip the tarter sauce with this beer) and a Green Salad with Mandarin Oranges.  Crab almost always benefits from a hit of citrus. If some one had told me that Solemn Oath would make a crazily named hybrid Imperial beer that would pair well with light foods, I would have laughed your suggestion off as ridiculous.  Apparently National Learn Something New Today is September 14.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Off Color Brewing's Fierce

  • Style: Berliner Weisse 
  • ABV: 3.8% Gravity 9.7 & IBU 3(ish) Do I love that Off Color lists all of this on their label?  Short answer: yes.  Long answer: YEEEESSSSS!
  • Ease to locate: Carried by most craft stores, but somewhat limited.  The first delivery sold out ASAP, but the second seems to be a bit larger.
  • Color: Straw yellow with a bare hint of yellow-green. Clear with visible carbonation.  
  • Head: 2 fingers of pure white foam with good retention.  Soapy lacing. 
  • Aroma: Lemon, bread, fermented sour wheat
  • Mouthfeel: Light, crisp & effervescent 
  • Finish:Medium & typical for a Berliner Weiss
  • Food friendly: But of course!  Try it with lighter  dishes such as fish, grilled vegetables, chicken (especially with an herbal pesto) and a plethora of appetizers. Stay away from anything acidic or garlicky.
                                                                                             What's Fierce? David Johansen is Fierce.  What's Funk funky, but chic?  Fierce is.   

I am not a trendy sort of person.  The minute something comes into vogue is the exact moment that I no longer want anything to do with it.  I have never watched Breaking Bad, not because it doesn't look like a quality, intriguing, binge worthy show but because everybody and their cat have already seen each and every episode three times over. That ubiquitous ice bucket challenge?  Yeah, I so didn't do it.  And my donation went to a small charity that didn't have the luxury of figuring out that sheep would pour freezing water over their heads as long as somebody is willing to film it on their cell phone.  So it does surprise me that I still get excited every time a Chicago brewery releases a new Berliner Weisse beer.  Maybe Berliners aren't exactly trendy, yet, but they are quickly becoming the thing to do fermenting wise around these parts. I can name at least four Chicagoland breweries that have released at least one version this summer alone (and one of those places released TWO excellent Berliners, so props to you DryHop.) You'd think that by now I'd be tired of their tangy, sour, bright, fermented wheat, lactic gorgeousness.  Nope.  Not me.  Bring it, Off Color.

My Fierce poured a clear, straw yellow, lightly golden ale with the barest hint of a yellowish green tint when held to the light.  A fluffy two finger head of pure white foam rose in my glass.  It settled after a time to a half a finger of a surface covering cloud for a good portion of the drink.  Delicate, soapy lacing crept up the sides of the goblet, giving me just enough of a lace show to keep this lace lover happy.  The nose wasn't overly strong, but distinct and present.  The easiest note to detect was the strong lemon brightness, but characters of bready yeast and fermented wheat were also simple to pick out.  The aroma wasn't as fruity as many other Berliner Weisses are.  Neither was the taste.  The expected fruitiness of the esters was there, but they took a backseat to the stronger characters of acidic lemon, bready/doughy yeast and sour fermenting wheat.  There was a dank, murkiness on the taste that I really enjoyed.  To me, it set Fierce apart from other Berliners.  I liked the depth of character it added to the lightness of the beer's typical style.  The mouthfeel was very light and crisp with a wonderful effervescent dryness that made drinking it extremely easy.  A medium finish, that concluded with the murky farmhouse note on the tail, nicely rounded out the beer.

I'd drink Fierce with a great variety of foods.  The dryness & depth of flavor lends it self to easy food pairings. Serve this beer with a simple Grilled Butter flied Trout in a Lemon & Parsley Butter Sauce.   It would also be the perfect beer to drink with a vegetarian friendly dish, such as Grilled Vegetables With Pesto Sauce.  The green, herbal notes in this dish would benefit from the dank murkiness on the finish while cutting through the initial doughiness on the taste. I love that Off Color decided to release their Berliner Weisse in an easy to buy (and drink) four pack.  All of Off Color bottled beers are released in the four pack version, which is refreshing in and of itself.  It would be just as easy for them to go the bomber route as many other smallish breweries do.  It's difficult to remember, but Off Color has only been around a little over a year.  And what a year it's been.  We've been treated to the marshmallow chocolatey decadence of Dino S'mores.  I don't know about you, but their farmhouse Apex Predator was the first bottle I reached for when pairing with dinner this summer.  And now, we we have been gifted to their version of a Berliner Weisse, named appropriately Fierce.  To me, "fierce" is less of a term of strength and more of a show of character. And while it would probably be really easy right now to mention that any brewery that is obsessed with otters must be gifted with an abundance of characters, I'm just going to let you all draw your own conclusions instead.  

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

BBQ & Barrels or How I Finished My Summer

A giddy sense of anticipation propelled me through the front dock doors of Goose Island Beer's new barrel house on the sticky and humid last Saturday of Summer.  Yes, my eagerness was partially because I could smell the salivate worthy aroma of fire roasted heritage pork being grilled by some of the tops chefs in Chicago.  The prospect of drinking freshly poured glasses of Goose Island beer didn't hurt either.  But, between you and me, I was most excited about just stepping foot into the football field sized building housing rows upon rows upon rows of weathered looking, repurposed barrels.  This was the Nirvana of beer geerkery.  The Holy Land for craft snobs.   The Asgard for thirsty people every where.

The last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark played in my head as I wandered down aisle after aisle of wooden barrels, some filled and some still waiting for their chance  to shine in the greater scheme of things.  Hastily handwritten signs taped to the ends of  the rows indicated what each barrel was filed with (or waiting to be filled with in some cases.)  There was the Lolita section, the BCBS area and the elusive Rare zone among others.  Along the far wall was a series of  saran wrapped lots of already packaged cases of Bourbon County Bourbon Stout just waiting for their November debute.  Every so often I'd spy a slick, tar like spill on the cement floor under a lower rack of barrel.  And while I resisted the urge to lick the partially aged stout off the ground, I did smell it at least once.

But the fact of the matter is that I wasn't there just to tip toe through the tulips of aging BCBS & Sisters Sours.  Goose Island was the host of Chicago's stop on the COCHON5555 Heritage BBQ Tour.  Cochon 555 is a ticketed traveling bar-be-que competition with the purpose of raising awareness of the sustainability of heritage breed pigs in the culinary world. It was designed be an afternoon of tasty draft beer provided by Goose Island, intriguing cocktails created by distilleries such as Templeton Rye, Four Roses Bourbon and Buffalo Trace and, well, expertly prepared grilled heritage pork.  I know, I lead such a difficult life.

Five chefs from each city on the stop are given five different heritage pigs to do with what they will grill-wise and are judged in competition to determine exactly who the head hog is (so to speak).  The chefs competing that Saturday were: Mexique's Carlos Gaytan (of TV's Top Chef fame), Laughing Bird's Crissy Camba (also a Top Chef alumni), Big Star's Cary Taylor, Fat Rice's Abraham Conlon and Das Radler's Nathan Sears.  And while I was well aware of the fame of each these restaurants, I'd never had the opportunity to enjoy anything prepared by any of them before this event.  This meant that I was able to go in with no expectations or clear favorites.  Which was good, because the abundance of food available made it impossible to eat everything there (but to be clear, I was not one of the judges.)  Full disclosure and my only regret was that I ended up missing das plates from Das Radler completely.

The food area, located just outside the warehouse's backdoor under a shaded dock,  was lined with smokey booths manned by each chef and their hard working staff.  And by hard working, I mean men and women who cooked on hot grills for hours on end during a day that would make Satan himself ask for a frosty pitcher of ice water.  In addition to their competition dish, the restaurants each provided an array of small plated tidbits for the guests to enjoy. It reminded me of a large tapas restaurant with a somewhat schizophrenic identity crisis. 

With Goose Island providing an amazing assortment of their beers on tap, from the food friendly Sisters Sofie & Matilda to their special series brews like Green Line & The Ogden (check out my review of The Ogden here) to their mainstay 312 ale, it was easy to try a different beer pairing with each chef prepared dish. Personally, I found that Sofie's soft saison qualities worked wonderfully with Big Star's slightly sweet yet still spicy tacos as well as with the pork filled empanadas from Mexique. I also discovered the joy of drinking a Matilda with a plate of Fat Rice's kimchi.   I also think that a pale ale, such as Green Line, could have worked with the vinegar fermented pickle notes in Fat Rice's dish as well.
But the most surprising pairing of the day, for more reasons than one, was Laughing Bird's stickey rice and blood sausage bowl enjoyed with a glass of Goose Island's BCBS aged in Templeton Rye barrels.  Yes, you heard me.  Blood sausage and BCBS Templeton Rye.   I know, right?  It seems so wrong even as I type this sentence (how meta.)  Now, I'm Irish and have been well versed in the aviodance of black pudding since an early age.  I'm that person who is always warning the newbies in the Irish Breakfast food line that "It's not real pudding!  Don't be fooled!  It's Soylant Green!"  That last part never fails to make my mom cringe and regret ever teaching me to talk.  Anyway, Crissy Camba must be some sort of culinary wizard because the shallow bowl of this meaty & lightly spiced  pool of blood sausage witchcraft, when combined with the starchy (and shockingly pink) sticky rice and the mellow yet slightly sweet with a kick of spice BCBS Templeton Rye was delicious.  While I'll never become a black pudding aficionado, my mind was expanded a smidge at least.  Now to just get those damn Irish Breakfasts to serve BCBS Templeton Rye...

Inside the warehouse, out of competition in the very special VIP area of the event, was the Pilot Light section quartered off by two rows of empty barrels.  Pilot Light (link here for more information) is a charitable organization headed by local culinary greats Matthias Merges the executive chef of Yusho, Paul Kahan of Blackbird, The Publican and Big Star fame and Jason Hammel the proprietor of Nightwood.  These are some heavy hitters in the Chicago culinary world using their abilities to give back to Chicago Public School students.  As Chef Kahan explained to me, the objective of Pilot Light is to educate the students, through lesson plans, interactive classroom activities and chef visits, exactly where their food came from (apparently Mariano's is not the correct answer, kids)  and why it's important to understand/respect the subsistence  that we fuel our bodies with.  Honestly, I like their take on food education.  There are other, better established organizations that concentrate on teaching the youth about how to eat.  I get the feeling that knowing exactly why we eat what we eat is just as important in raising kids to be healthy.        

Now, since I had Paul Kahan cornered, I took the opportunity to ask him what he would pair with his event dish of watermelon cubes, razor thinly sliced swordfish and feta cheese.  I suggested the fruity and peach forward Halia (of the Goose Island Sour Sisters fame) to offset the saltiness of the cheese and compliment the fruitiness of the watermelon.  Chef Kahan surprised me with his answer, however.  He personally would drink the good old standby of 312 with his dish.  He stated that the qualities of a soft, easy going wheat beer made it his go to beer of choice for dishes like this.  So, beer snobs of the world, take note.  One of the most craft beer knowledgeable chefs in the city drinks 312 with his meals.

As the evening came to a close, Nathan Sears of The Radler, already stein deep into some Goose Island ale, was named as the winner of the grilling competition.  I'll be honest, it wasn't made exactly clear what he won. I gathered that the loot consisted of a high school VIP trophy, a table of Breville kitchen equipment, a few bottles of scotch (one was Templeton Rye at least, so that was worth an afternoon's effort in my opinion)  and bragging rights of besting two former Top Chef contestants. But somehow it didn't really matter what the prize was.  It was an end of summer extravaganza of delicious food enjoyed with a plethora of Goose Island beer.  The winners, as cliche as it may sound, were all of us there.  I spent an afternoon with unlimited Goose Island beer (including the much sought after BCBS Templeton Rye), bite sized creatively prepared food and great conversation.  I could think of far worse ways to spend the last weekend of Summer. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Lake Effect Brewing's Super Bier

  • Style: Kolsch
  • ABV: 5.2%
  • Ease to locate: New shipment landed bottles in and around Chicago area craft stores.  It is NOT being sold at Superdawg.  But what you do in the privacy of your own vehicle is your (and whatever cop is catching lunch next to you) business. Here's a link to their Beer Menu page
  • Color: Deep golden yellow with a light amber tone.  A bit hazy, but visible carbonation
  • Head: 2 finger just off white head which falls to foamy surface.  Spotty lacing
  • Aroma: Light nose.  Cereal, apricot, a hint of smoke.  A slight bitterness, but difficult to categorize. 
  • Mouthfeel: Light bodied and very dry. Great effervescence.
  • Finish: Surprisingly long.   Ends with a bit of smoky bitterness. 
  • Food friendly?: Um... duh?  This was brewed with the intention of pairing with food, hot dogs specifically.  I'd also serve it with easy going meals such as wood fired crusty pizza.  You could also try it anything from firm white fish or spicy jerk chicken.  Honestly, the pairing are sort of wide open here.
Apple user's link: This is what makes a hot dog a Superdawg
                                        There are many ways to tell if a person is truly from Chicago.  The easiest by far is to ask if they would ever put ketchup on their hot dog. There is only one correct answer.
Do you know how easy it is to take something for granted that you see day in and day out?  Big things, like the support of your family & friends even after you've screwed up royally.  Again.  And little things, like a kind Mariano's employee who makes you a Cuban Sandwich even though it isn't on the menu just because you look like you've had a tough day.  Five days a week (six during the busy season) I pass by a Northwest side landmark on the way to work.  Supedawg is not a kitschy throw back to the Happy Days era of drive ins & car hops.  It's the real deal.  It started as a small hot dog stand in 1948 and blossomed into a Chicago icon.  Even when I was a kid riding in the back seat of our family station wagon, I would crane my neck to catch a glimpse of the familiar pair of  red eye winking hot dogs perched on the roof of the drive in.  There aren't many things that scream Far Northwest Side of Chicago, but that cocky strong man and his admiring gal pal certainly fit the bill.  The fact that Lake Effect Brewing chose to brew a beer fit to drink with the beloved Superdawg says a lot about Lake Effect as a brewery. They get that Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, each unique with memories and icons.  They get that being from Chicago is more than just telling people what area of the country you were born in.  They get Chicago.  Period.

My Lake Effect Super Bier poured a darkly golden yellow color, a bit deeper in hue than your traditional straw tone for a Kolsch.  I'm not complaining though.  It was a lovely looking beer, with just a hint of amber running through the golden liquid and a slight haziness to give a depth of tone.  A two finger just off white head quickly rose to the top of the beer.  The head took it's time in settling, eventually forming a soft foamy surface covering which lasted a good majority of the drink.  Spotty, creeping lacing clung to the sides of the glass.  The nose was slight, but this has been my (admittedly limited) experience with the Kolsch style.  Light noses and balanced taste.  I could detect the aroma of grainy cereal, a bit of apricot and a hint of smoke.  I had to work hard to find any sort of bitterness on the nose and what I did find was difficult to categorize as citrus, pine or earthy.  The taste was richer in flavor, however.  Notes of cereal, apricot and  lemon mingled with a hint of smoke.  A bit of resin arrived on the tail.  My first thought when sipping this beer was "Yep, this was definately intended to be drunk with a hot dog."  OK, the thought wasn't exactly earth shattering in nature, but it's always a good thing when the brewer's intention broadcasts loud and clear on the beer's first mouthful.  A light and dry body made the drink easy to down and the effervescence of the carbonation confirmed it's food friendly nature.  A surprising long finish ended with a smoky bitterness that contributed to the desire for mustard covered encased meats.

The glass in my photos was the tallest, thinnest piece of drinkware that I could find in my collection.  Traditional Kolsch ales are served in long, thin, test tube like glassware.  Think a pilsner glass only less flute-ish.  Unlike their  German style cousins (Altbiers and Helles) Kolsches are lagered which helps them to retain their delicate and subtle nature.  They're perfect summer beers and a style that seems to be coming back into fashion.  I can't recall one locally brewed Kolsch in 2013 other than Metropolitan's Krankshaft Kolsch .   I have personally tried at least three locally brewed ones this summer alone.  It's a wonderful warm weather beer and a perfect choice to pair with a variety of food.  Yes, of course you could and should (at least once) drink Super Bier with a Superdawg that has been run through the garden.  Actually you can put anything you want on your hot dog.  I prefer a smear of grainy mustard & grilled onions personally.  Just, for the love of all that is good and holy, do not taint your pup with the blood of tomatoes.   Garlic Rubbed Lemon Trout Fillets  and a side salad of greens would be a simple and kind of elegant pairing with this Kolsch.  I could also see this beer's subtlety calming the fiery heat of a Jamacian Jerk Chicken.  I wouldn't make my jerk chicken too powerful, however, remember that you want to compliment and not completely overwhelm what's in your glass.  Just be sure to enjoy it while the weather is still warm and the days are still sunny.  Fall with be here soon enough.