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Monday, August 25, 2014

Spiteful Brewing's Worst Commuter

  • Style: Tripel (American)
  • ABV: 9.9%
  • Ease to locate:Spiteful delivers in and around Chicago.  They aren't wonderful on updating their Twitter or FB page with delivery notifications, so you'll need to rely on your local craft store to let you know when they are in.  Spiteful does post interesting photos from time to time.
  • Color: Golden liquid with strong orange tones.  Barely hazy with lots of visible carbonation
  • Head: Half a finger of white foam that falls almost immediately.  Second pour produced a bit more head, but with the same lack of retention.  No lacing to speak of really.
  • Aroma: Citrus characters sweetened with a definite honey note. Fruity esters (stone fruit mainly) and a very faint spiciness.
  • Mouthfeel: Medium leaning towards full.  A bit syrupy, yet nicely carbonated.  Easy to drink.
  • Finish: Short.  Blending from sweet to citrus to honey herbal note. 
  • Food friendly?:  Yes.  I would use the sweetness to play off of the meatiness of food like sausages or pork tenderloin.  You could also serve it with many fall vegetables, such as roasted butternut squash or sweet potatoes.

Apple user's link: At least the upper deck offers a good view

                                                                   This is basically what the Belmont buss looked like at 7:45 AM during my high school days. Only with less bad perms. 

Back in the day, the Belmont bus was not for the faint of heart.  Six separate high schools and anyone else stupid or desperate enough to cram themselves into the odd nook, piled into the luxurious green machine for our early morning commute.  It was a soul crushing, over used body spray, tight permed, sardine can for the approximately five miles it took to reach my high school (which, of course, was the last stop on the route)  Now, some of you may be thinking "I took a bus to school every morning.  What is she whining about now?"  The Belmont bus was not a cute little yellow school bus with the wheels going round and round.  It was a sickly green, diesel fumed Chicago public transport bus.  It smelled before we even got on the damn thing and I'm pretty sure that it was older than I was at the time.  The air conditioning blasted in the winter and nothing (including the windows) worked in the summer.  An ill fated, yet I suppose kindly in nature,  attempt to save my soul occurred at least once a week.  It usually failed.   I vowed that after I graduated, I'd never ride another one ever again.  Ah, the naivete of youth.  At least now, I can come home, open a bottle of something like Spiteful Brewing's Worst Commuter and try desperately to forget about a ride that even the Four Horseman would find harrowing.

My snifter of Worst Commuter poured a barely hazy, golden liquid with strong hints of orange. I could easily see the rising carbonation (as you can in the photo above.  Go on.  Take a look.  We'll wait.)  The carbonation produced less than half a finger of head that had very little retention or lacing to speak of.  The aroma was that of a typical Tripel.  Lovely orange, lemon, and fruity ester notes sweetened with the distinct scent of honey.  A faint spicy quality was towards the back of the nose.  I've smelled some Abbey ales that have really piled on the booze character, but was glad that Spiteful crafted their version with a bit more care.  I was left with more of an impression of alcohol than any sort of distinct note.  The taste proved to be a bit sweeter than the nose.  The honey note was prominent there as well as some redundant sweetness from (what I'm assuming was ) typical Belgian Candi Sugar.  The sugary quality was tempered by the bitterness from the citrus notes, mainly orange and lemon.  Some fruity stone fruit mingled with the other flavors, as did a bready yeast element.  In the middle of the swallow, I could easily pinpoint a pepper spice note that faded to a very slight alcohol note.  Some times the booziness of certain Abbey Ales can sock you in the face with their alcohol heat.  Worst Commuter just gives you a quick warm(ish) hug instead.  The mouthfell was a bit syrupy, but not cloying.  The abundance of carbonation helped to dry out the mouthfeel and resulted in an easy to drink ale.   The short finish was a surprise to me, but I didn't think it really hurt the drink.  It began with the Candi sugar/honey sweetness, slide into the bitterness of the citrus element.  This was tempered by the peppery spice and faded to an ending with more honey flavor.  I loved that it finished with the honey note, which was just strong enough to remind you of it's importance in this beer, but not heavy enough to make taking a second sip difficult.  It was more than easy, actually.  And easy is exactly how I like my commutes and beer, thank you very much.

I'll admit it.  I wasn't expecting a lot from Spiteful's Worst Commuter when I bought it.   If I was looking for a smack you in the face hopped up sort of IPA, sure, Spiteful would be one of my first choices.  Especially now that they have begun to can many of their more popular beers (such as Alley Time APA.  Yum in a can.)  But since I'm a bit of a sucker for Abbey Ales of all kinds and am always interested in finding tasty local options, I grabbed the bomber.  I'm so very glad that I did.  I'd serve this Tripel with some juicy Homemade Pork Chorizo Sausages (or, if you're pressed for time like a certain female blog writer, just buy some from your local grocery store.  I like Amy's brand personally.)  The sweetness of the honey will play nicely with the slight spiciness of the meat.  You could also roast Butternut Squash Caramelized with Brown Sugar and embrace the pepper & honey notes completely.   And after a long day of dealing with the annoying and utterly dehumanizing act of commuting, I think that you deserve a little lovely beer hug in a glass.  Even if the commute is only from your bedroom to the keyboard.   

Monday, August 18, 2014

Goose Island Brewing Co's The Ogden

  • Style: Tripel (AKA Honk Honk Honk)
  • ABV: 9.0%  (and 35 IBUs, which struck me as a bit high for a Tripel, no?)
  • Ease to locate: Limited release from May, but is still available in many grocery stores (I bought mine at Mariano's) & liquor stores.  Easy peasey.
  • Color: Golden with warm amber/orange tones. Visible carbonation.  Pretty & rich looking
  • Head: One finger of white foam that produced pretty Belgian lacing up the sides
  • Aroma: Incredible. Lemon, tropical fruit, fruity esters, bready yeast, a hint of booze & a bit of spice. So much more than I expected on the nose.
  • Mouthfeel: Medium body but coated the tongue lightly.  Good carbonation.  Not as rich as the appearance might indicate, but still perfectly acceptable for a Tripel
  • Finish: Medium. Begins with the fruity notes, sliding to the peppery/boozie aspect and finishes citrus bitter. 
  • Food friendly?: Yes.  Tripel often pair very well with food, especially grilled food like sausages or burgers.  You could also use the fruity, yet substantial, nature of this beer to serve alongside some Low Country BBQ (and if you do, feel free to invite me.  I'll bring the beer)

Apple user's link: I love Chicago history. Where else does a river run backwards?

My dad taught us many things about Chicago history. A simple trip to Lincoln Park Zoo would be enough to get him to play tour guide.  I may have been the only 4 year old who knew how to find houses built before we reversed the Chicago River.   Again, didn't really help me much at kindergarten parties.

I've always been fascinated by Chicago history.  I probably inherited this love of our city's past from my dad.  I also inherited his flat feet and bitingly sarcastic nature, so why not?  Chicago is an absolutely amazing place to be from.  Even tiny, almost blips on our local historical radar can yield surprising tidbits.  Learn them and fascinate your friends at parties. Or at least this is what I tell myself at parties (Note to self: stop speaking at parties). For example, I knew that William Butler Ogden was the first mayor of Chicago.  A quick Google search provided the dates of his reign, the whole whopping year of 1837-1838.  Seeing as how none of the subsequent mayors lasted more that the single 12 month term, I'm taking this as less than a reflection on his ability and more of a commentary on how crappy a job it must have been.  But did you know that just after he left office, Ogden bought into Chicago's very first brewery?  And not just as a figure head either.  Ogden insisted on importing hops only from New York's Finger Lakes region (an area in upper state known for their superior soil, temperature & lack of New York State of mind.). I like how he rolled. He also basically Kickstarted Chicago's first railroad, the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad (later known as the Union Pacific once it reached past, you know, Galena.).   He somehow convinced the merchants and farmer's wives who owned property along the proposed rail lines to buy shares in the not yet created rail road.  Can you imagine what he could have accomplished with Pipeworks if he had run their Kickstarter?  That tap room would be freaking amazing, people (and probably more than just a dream by now.)  But Odgen's most important accomplishment, by far, would have had to be a small purchase of land just on the north bend of the Chicago River.  No big whoop at the time.  He like canals and named that small pass after himself (Of course he did.). Today we know this area as Goose Island.
My Goose Island Ogden poured a rich looking ale; dark, golden yellow with amber and orange tones.  It was almost shiny in nature, relatively clear with visible carbonation.  This Tripel reminded me of expensive gold foil, the kind your mom might make you save at Christmas to be used later (don't fall for it.  They never use it again.  Somewhere there is an entire drawer in my house filled with used colored Christmas foil.)  A not quite off white, one finger head of tight foam sported some amazing retention.  Delicate Belgian lace clung to the sides of my glass for just about the entire drink.  I'll admit it.  This was a much prettier beer than I had expected when I first purchased the four pack.  The nose was surprisingly ( to me) incredible too.  Heavy but well balanced scents of lemon, tropical fruit, and the expected esters wafted out of my glass, layered with a hint of spice and a jolt of subtle alcohol.  This was the sort of beer that is just a delight to smell.  It's also the sort of beer that I prefer to enjoy in the privacy of my own backyard or in the company of fellow beer geeks who won't question why that odd little woman is continuously sticking her entire nose in her snifter with a contented look on her face.  You know who you are.  Sadly, the taste fell off from the amazing nose.  The citrus took a backseat to the fruity esters and tropical fruit notes, but even these elements were less intense than in the aroma.  I could taste notes of apricot, mango, with lesser degrees of lemon, grapefruit and those lovely, yummy Belgian yeasty esters that I do so love in my Abby Ales.  They just were less delightful than they were while I was inhaling the aroma.  An interesting pepper spice flavor emerged towards the middle of the sip and really gave the beers some needed depth of character.  The alcohol note warmed the sip towards the end.  I enjoyed that it leaned towards the intimate hug sort of warmth rather than a smack upside the head sort of heat that you sometime find in lower priced Tripels.  A firmly medium mouthfeel coated the tongue lightly, but was kept in check by a decent amount of carbonation.  I can't fully make up my mind on the medium length finish.  Do I like it because of the clear transition from fruit to spice/alcohol to bitter tail?  Or do I resent that the citrus bitterness from the nose that crept back (sort of unwelcome) on the final note of the tail?  Decisions, decisions.

By now, you know that I love drinking Abby Ales with food.  If you don't, well it's not my fault you get distracted easily (look! A bottle of Bourbon County Prop!  Which is the beer geek equivalent to the declaration "Squirrel!").  I plan on enjoying my Goose Island The Ogden with the traditional Chicago summertime meal of Grilled Sausages (link is for tips to do it juicy & right).   You could also branch out of the city and serve this Tripel with some non decidedly Chicago Low Country Pulled Pork.  We Chicagoans owe a great debt to our first mayor.  Yes, he did important work along with his fellow founding Chitown fathers that ultimately resulted in creating our beloved city by the lake.  But I think that we can also all agree here that his most important contribution was that small river front land purchase (regardless if his motivation was basically " I really want to name a canal after myself because I'm rich and reality TV hasn't been invented yet.") We, the imbibers of BCBS, The Ogden and yes, even the occasional 312 can, salute you.  

Monday, August 4, 2014

Lake Effects Brewing's Watermelon Saison Pasteque & Shimmering Lake Saison

It's Summer in the city and time to gather on random street corners with Bermuda short clad strangers to drink beer and eat fire roasted corn on the cob.  Chicago is known for it's warm weather neighborhood street fests.  The promise of these outdoor parties is honestly the only reason we all make it through January.  I've been lucky to attend a few this year and have to say that I'm impressed with their improved craft beer selections.  It used to be a beer tent where your choices were between a Bud Light or a Bud Full Strength (Oxymoron.  I know.)  Personally, I always chose bottled water because at least that was truth in advertising.  This year, I've been lucky enough to enjoy several plastic Solo cups filled with some of Chicago's finest suds, with minimal light beer in sight.  Last week my own neighborhood fest took place, so the family and I moseyed on over to check it out.  I'm now convinced that we are the craftiest craft beer knowledgeable neighborhood in all of Chicago.  No Bud.  No Miller. No problem.  Our beer tent limited it's fare to just two Chicago breweries, one being Lagunitas (and yes, we can debate today, tomorrow and when we're 80 whether Lagunitas should really be referred to as a Chicago brewery.  They brew beer here.  They bottle beer here.  They sell beer here. And I'll leave it at that.)  If Lagunitas bottled it, they had the beer available for sale.  Now, at most fests this alone would have been enough to send me into the tizzy of a happy dance.  But even better was that the other brewery represented happened to be a personal favorite of mine as well as a Northwest side neighborhood gem, Lake Effect Brewing.  AND they brought two, count them, two Saisons on tap for our Solo cup pleasure.  The psychological effects of sub zero January mornings melted away with my first sip.

                                              You know that it's going to be a great fest when you have a craft beer in hand & the Four Star Brass Band in ear (in ear, that's a thing, right? If not, it is now.)

This week's post is going to be slightly different from what I usually write.  Since the two beers, Watermelon Pasteque Saison and Shimmering Lake Saison were consumed at an event, in a plastic cup and under temporarily professional circumstances, I've decided to keep the reviews as simple as possible.  I don't feel that it's fair to review aspects such as head, mouthfeel and finish since so many variables found at outdoor events can alter these things. Next week will be back to your regularly scheduled program.

I first tasted Watermelon Saison Pasteque at the Kegs for Kidneys event back in June (see my post on this beer and the other top beers of the night here) where it was a certifiable "kid you're gonna be a star" hit of the night.  I believe that I may have implored them (in a very dignified not at all frantic fangirl sort of way) to brew this beer again before the end of summer.  You can thank me now.  When I spoke with the guys from Lake Effect at the debut back in June, they referred to this beer as a happy sort of accident.  Sometimes a beer just needs a bit of tender loving conditioning before a mediocre ale becomes a  superstar.  A few nights in the keg made all the difference back at the June event, which made me curious to discover if lightning could strike twice for Lake Effect.  The Pasteque that I drank at Jeff Fest was a different beer than the one I enjoyed in June.  It was better defined, polished if you will, than it's earlier incarnation.  The version in June sported a lighter, sweetly juiced flavor profile with a watermelon rind bitterness to it.   And I enjoyed the hell out of it, but if you had asked me to blind test it, I doubt that I could have fingered it as a Saison.  The later incarnation fell firmly into the farmhouse ale category for me.  It poured a darker, heavier hued liquid with a heftier nose as well.  I could smell the dankness mingled with the fruity notes easily as I raised my glass. This version had a murkiness and dankness that the original lacked, yet while still was able to incorporate the  fruity sweetness of the watermelon that we all so appreciated on the first go around.  It was as if the brewers knew that they had a good beer on their hands in June and took the time to rethink it in order to produce a great beer.  And if you're wondering, this is exactly what makes a good brewery into a great one as well.

Shimmering Lake Saison was Lake Effect's other offering at the fest.  Unlike the surprise of Pasteque's popularity, Lake Effect wholly knew that this was going to be their Saison of the Summer.  You can purchase bombers of this farmhouse ale all around Chicago as well as finding it on tap at various bars.  A percentage of the proceeds from this beer (one dollar of each bottle sold and a certain amount from every keg bought)  is earmarked for The Alliance for the Great Lakes, a charity that supports creating clean water in the Great Lake region.  Sort of important when you consider that brewers need superior water in order to brew superior beers.  Because Shimmering Lake was always brewed to be a bottle release, I wasn't surprised at all that the taste of this Saison didn't really vary  from the version that I was able to sample back in June.  When you have a recipe that you've work on and hopefully perfected the best that you can, why mess with it?  Shimmering Lake was a golden yellow ale with a juicy haziness that I could detect even while it rested in my clear-ish Solo cup.  The nose was citrus forward, with clean notes of lemon and orange as well as a hint of herbs.  It also had the expected barnyard, funky character that makes a proper Sasion so enjoyable to drink on a Summer's day.  It tasted exactly as it smelled.  The herbal note (which I have since discovered was colander) was less of a note on the taste and more of a whisper.   This beer was my food beer while at the fest and it paired amazingly with the Korean chicken tacos from one of the food trucks there.  Well, it was amazing in my own mind, at least, because after waiting in a ten minute line for said tacos, I was informed that the food truck was all out of chicken.  I then knew exactly what a sad panda felt like.   However, the good people over at Gale Street Inn swooped in to save the day with a terrific pulled pork sandwich.  The funk, citrus brightness and hint of colander complimented the tangy, vinegar & tomato sauce that smothered the pork which made for very happy, if Korean chicken taco-less, girl. 

Lake Effect provided a handy (and laminated!) cheat sheet on the bar at the beer tent.  I personally love learning what hops and malts are used and these sheets saved me from being "that person" at the tent.  Pasteque was brewed with Wisconsin Wheat & Pilesen malts as well as Hallertau Blanc hops with an IBU of 30 and an ABV of 5.5%.   Shimmering Lake was also brewed with Wisconsin Wheat & Pilsen malts, Hallertau Blanc hops (must have had a sale that day) and sported an IBU of 30 and an ABV of 6.0%.  It was at that moment that I realized that the two Saisons were obviously brewed from the same base.  One they added fresh watermelon to and the other colander.  Not only did the cheat sheets provide some handy dandy information for my fellow beer geeks (and yes, we recognized each other by greeting one another with IBU counts instead of high fives), it helped spark conversations with the uninitiated (hopefully soon to be beer geeks) in attendance.    Every so often, I would see a person studying the sheet in a way where I could tell that all the were thinking at that moment was "If I ask for a Bud Light, do you think one of those nice beer people wold run across the street to grab me one?"  A simple question of "What sort of flavors do you like" on my part (or from the very informed volunteers working frantically behind the bar) was all it took to introduce someone new to the wonderful world of Saisons and Chicago brewed craft beer. I'm very pleased that so many breweries chose to participate this summer, from Local Option at the 6 Corner's Fest over Father's Day (where I enjoyed my very first Dampfbier) to the refreshing Saisons of Lake Effect at Jeff Fest to the motherload of local breweries attending the Old Irving Park BarBQue.  Also, I want to give many props to these breweries for really putting serious thought into the beers that they offered.  It would have been so simple for Lake Effect to bring their Falcon IPA and call it a day.  Everyone knows what an IPA is and there is a certain safety in that.  Instead, the guys went all in and showed up with an interesting selection of beers that the average macro drinking might not know, but would soon appreciate on a warm July day.  Chicago street fests were originally created to celebrate the neighborhood.  Local food, local bands & local beer for the local people.  Those are the three thoughts that will help to keep me warm this coming January as I long for next year's round of fests.