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Monday, July 27, 2015

5 Rabbit Cervesia's Paletas Guava Wheat Ale

  • Style:  Fruited Wheat Ale
  • ABV: 3.5% Oh yeah, you heard me.  Have two or three in a row and still be able to articulate exactly why The Donald is a moron
  • Ease to locate: Most Chicagoland bottle shops and liquor stores who carry 5 Rabbit will have this seasonal beer.  Here's a link to their Beer Menu page
  • Color: Icy pink, almost like lightly hazy pink lemonade
  • Head: 1 finger pinkish foam that changes to white as it quickly settles.  A bit of shallow lacing
  • Aroma: Guava juice, bit of citrus acid, and a touch of sour fermented wheat. Smells like a summer's afternoon
  • Mouthfeel: Light body, but not watery.  Highly carbonated and refreshing on a hot day
  • Finish: Short and easy to drink
  • Food friendly: The lower ABV lends itself to enjoying this beer on its own, but try it with some light summer dishes such as fruit salad or grilled chicken
 Apple User's Link: A dark lord has to do what a dark lord has to do

                                                                                                           Don't you just hate when this happens?

Is there anything better than a icy cold, fruity sweet, slightly sweating popsicle on a sweltering summer's day?  Yes.  Yes, there is.  And it's beer (of course.  If you thought that you were reading an ice cream blog, well, maybe someday.  But not today.)  I'm not familiar with the Mexican treat of paletas, seeing as how I'm a North West side Irish girl who thinks that the notion of slathering mayo on roasted corn on the cob is exotic.  Paletas are frozen fruit juice treats often sold out of bicycle propelled carts during the summer months.  Around most of this city in the dog day months, during mid afternoon you can hear the "ting ting" of the cart's bells calling to the young and old (cause lets face it, the old are the ones with the cash.)   I've yet to give into the temptation to stop and try one of these treats, but  I can certainly relate.  Just hearing the tinny opening chords of "Pop Goes The Weasel" blaring from a white truck is enough to make me crave a Push Up or a Bomber Pop or a giant ice cream Mickey Mouse head.    The folks at 5 Rabbit get this city kid basic urge to indulge in a frosty treat once the sweltering season is in full force.    Paletas Guava Wheat Ale is their solution and made all the better because it's beer.  And beer makes everything better.

My Paletas poured an icy pink burst of July refreshment.  It reminded me pink lemonade with it's lightly hazy, almost glowing appearance.  It just looked refreshing as all hell  The sunlight created a gorgeous ombre effect in the goblet.  A finger's worth cloud of tight pink hued foam rose, only to quickly settle to a light, off white film covering the surface of the drink.  Shallow, delicate lacing briefly crept up from the sides of the glass.  The immediate scent of guava juice, with its fruity sweet appeal, grabbed my attention.  When a beer names itself after a particular flavor, I do appreciate it when that certain note is easily identifiable.  If you are going to call yourself a Coconut Chocolate Hazelnut Mocha Porter, I'd damn well better be able to pick out those coconut, chocolate, hazelnut, mocha notes without even trying (and more to the point, IS there a chocolate hazelnut mocha porter out there?  Can some one brew me one?  I'm not picky.  Oh who are we kidding, I'm damn picky, but I still want that beer.)  Anyway, yes, I could smell freshly pressed guava juice laced with a hit of citrus acidity and  a bare hint of a savory spice.  The sour character of fermented wheat cleaned up the nose as if to remind you that you are drinking a beer, not a Jamba Juice.  As refreshing as the aroma was, the taste still offered me a surprise or two when I took a sip.  The sweetness of the guava juice was more intense than on the nose, but the sour fermentation of the wheat followed the sweetness so quickly that it balanced the flavor immediately.  On the back of the sip, the promised spices emerged.  One was the subtle  bite of peppercorns, while the more unexpected was the note of tarragon.  To me, tarragon is a spice that I associate with french cooking and mainly with chicken dishes.  It was not what I was expecting in my fruited wheat ale.  But it worked and it worked well.  The mix of the savory elements layered under the sweetness of the fruit and sourness of the grain created a deceptively simple drink.  The mouthfeel was light without becoming even a bit watery.  The carbonation level on this beer was turned up to an 11.  The extreme amount of fizziness could easily turn off some drinkers, but I happened to enjoy it.  The trick is to serve this ale very well chilled (I know, I know, but this is an exception to the rule.  It's named after a Popsicle for a reason.)  The carbonation not only creates a dry element that offset any sweetness from the flavor, but it enhanced the refreshment quality when served at a lower temperature.  A rather short finish quickly ran through the gambit of the flavor profile, but remember that this beer clocked in at a very low percentage of ABV.  Honestly, that sort of what I want from my fruited session ale.  Let me take a sip and follow it right away with another and another.   

While I advocate sipping 5 Rabbit Cervesia's Paletas Guava Wheat Ale all by it's lonesome self on a hot summer's day, I get that sometimes you get hungry too.  Try this beer with light summer fare, such as a Honey & Lime Dressed Fruit Salad.   The fresh fruit will play wonderfully into the guava note of the ale, while the fermented wheat quality will counter act the sweet acidity from the salad's dressing.  Alternatively, you could serve this drink with something more substantial.  Toss some Simple Honey Mustard Grilled Chicken   on the grill and let the savory aspect from the beer's spices come out to play.  I recommend adding a dash of tarragon to the linked recipe for the honey mustard sauce in order to further play with the savory elements from the ale.  When 5 Rabbit Cervesia first openned in Chicago, I was excited and predicted great things for them.  Think I'm kidding?  Check out this very early Down The Hatch blog post on their Blonde Ale. (Awww.  Down The Hatch was so cute at that age.)  Then the brewery went through, well, lets just be charitable and call them growing pains.  But lately, just as I've become accustomed to writing the brewery off,  5 Rabbit has begun to basically knock my socks off in unexpected ways.  They're taking chances in a Pipeworks/Moody Tongue/Obscure-Microbrewery-Who-Can-Do-Whatever-The-Hell-They-Want-Cause-They're-Growler-Fill-Only-Anyway fashion.  And all while still staying true to their unique Latino heritage philosophy, which is part of what impressed me when they first began.  And it's a story that I'm going to enjoy watching as it continues to develop.   Hopefully on a warm, sunshine filled summer's afternoon while sipping my guava beer and being ever so grateful that it's not January anymore. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Temperance Beer Co.'s Smittytown

  • Style: ESB 
  • ABV: 5.8% (is this a session beer?  Close enough in my book)
  • Ease to locate: Year round brew that can be found in most Chicagoland craft bottle shops & larger liquor stores.  But I recommend a  a trip to the source and visit the tap room in Evanston, IL (click for link)
  • Color: Hazy amber with copper tints
  • Head: 1 & 1/2 fingers of soapy bubbles leaving behind lovely lacing
  • Aroma: Yeast, resin and some earthiness.  Not a huge nose
  • Mouthfeel: Medium to light without being watery
  • Finish: Medium & crisp
  • Food Friendly?: Extremely.  This beer is a staple in my fridge for a reason.  Try it with everything from summer salads to meat/poultry on the grill to a nice steaming bowl of gumbo.

Apple user's link: Nobody really likes Winter.

                                                                                     Oh sure.  You finally pay attention when sparkly unicorns warn you

Summer is coming.

I am the anti Stark. Winter has come and gone and come and gone again.  I say screw winter with all of it's pure white glistening snow covered landscapes, Norman Rockwell heart tugging family moments, and romantic cozy nights by the fire.  I am more than ready for a little sunshine, picnics in the park and just as romantic nights on the back porch with a beer in hand and the stars shining above.  And do you know what makes that beer even better  than traditional winter brews?  Some of my favorite beer to imbibe in during the warmer months are not only moderate in ABV% but also come in cans ("Halleluiah!  Halleluiah!  Hall-e-LUUUU-iah!) Cans make schlepping my beer to said picnics in the park or out under the stars easier.  Plus there is an advantage in the fact that there is less of a chance to, oh say, enthusiastically (accidentally) knock a bottle shaped glass container off of a 2 story balcony with a sweep of an arm and  watch in horror as it falls in slow motion to the concert pavement below with a deafening shattering of glass directly next to some poor dude innocently waiting for a cab.  Not that that has ever happened.  Nope. Just a "what if" of course.  Anyway, cans are awesome.
I love a well done ESB.  This used to be a style that was on the difficult side to locate here in Chicago, but within the last year or so, its as if the brewery bubble has discovered just how versatile this beer can be.  A person can only get excited about the next big thing in IPAs and Stouts for so long before beer ennui settles in.  The fact that more than a few local breweries are producing not only interesting twists on a typical ESB, they are brewing them well, is as refreshing as the beer itself.  My Smittytown poured a hazy amber color with glowing tints of copper around the edging.  The one and a half finger light ivory foam formed.  Tight, soapy bubbles left lovely crests of delicate lacing along the sides of the glass.  The nose was light, but I could smell the bready aroma of yeast and some piney resin.  There was small note of earthiness layered under the other two dominate aromas, which I thought gave the nose a bit of needed depth to it.  Temperance describes Smittytown as "An unreal Extra Special Bitter brewed with refined English malts then bastardized with brazen American hops".  It is definitely hoppier than traditional ESBs, sporting a clean resin note and an earthy, almost herbal, character.  It possessed more of a bite than your typical ESB, but the doughy yeast from the nose carries through to  the taste and balanced everything out.  Temperance is currently producing some of the best balanced beers out there in my opinion.  (If you ever get an opportunity to try one of the varietals of their Imperial Stout, Might Meets Right, jump on it.)   The mouthfeel of Smittytown was on the lighter side of medium, but not in the least watery.  I enjoyed the crisp, dry finish that and believe that this dryness is one of the reasons that this ESB is such an easy food match.  

ESBs are often easier to pair with a variety of meals simply because they aren't designed to make you (fondly) recall your first car's pine tree air freshener.  Bastardized by Americans or not, they are designed to drink with lunch at your local pub.  I have immensely enjoyed my Smittytown with an almost weekly bowl of gumbo (you can make your own using this recipe here but honestly, I buy mine for less than $5 at Jason's Deli,  Shhh, ya'll)  You could also throw just about anything juicy on your grill this summer and pop open one or two cans from the six pack happily.  Maybe a Smokey Gillled Pork Chop on a nice June evening?  The call is really your's.   Smittytown ESB comes in six packs and that means that you have a half a dozen tries to get your prefect Summer match.  During the Fall of 2014 Temperance released Smittytown Tart which was this ESB brewed with Michigan grown Balaton cherries.  It was magnificent and the only beer I wanted to drink with my Thanksgiving bird in November.  I'm eagerly anticipating it's return engagement sometime in September. Did I mention that Autumn is coming?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Rude Hippo Brewing's Wooden Nickel

  • Style: IPA aged on oak
  • ABV: 6.5%
  • Ease to locate: Smaller craft bottle stores in the Chicagoland area, but they should be expanding as the year goes on.  Here's a link to their website with a nice list of places that they supply and to  their Beer Menu page
  • Color: Hazy & golden brown with hints of orange
  • Head: Huge head with lots of  delicate lacing clumps
  • Aroma: Citrus (Cascade) and slightly floral (Williamette and East Kent Golding). No oak on the nose
  • Mouthfeel: Medium body, crisp & dry
  • Finish: Medium length with definite oak & citrus/floral note sections
  • Food friendly?: Yes.  The citrus and oak notes work in harmony with each other .  Try it with something that responds well to wood notes, like a skirt steak chimichurri sauce or charred vegetables.

Apple User's Link:  Thus proving that there is truly a museum out there for everyone. But remember, lots of people like stupid stuff
                                                Yes, Virgina.  There IS a wooden nickel museum.  And if you are a bad girl, we will take you there.

Most breweries play it a little safe when they first start out.   A citrus forward IPA or a nice refreshing APA.  Maybe a milk stout if they are feeling a little crazy (and their name doesn't start with "Pipe" and end with "Work".  When those guys go a little crazy, anything that moves could end up in that bomber, including too slow family members.)  But Rude Hippo Brewing decided to go against the grain (see what I did there?  Is there a Kentucky Fried Chicken museum?  Maybe?  I honestly don't know.)  Rude Hippo, with the audacity of a jungle beast that is also an awesome board game for five year olds (or 40 somethings who possibly may think they are five) released a beer brewed with beets and an IPA aged on French oak.  Since I think beets are the devil's candy, I decided to open my bottle of their oak aged IPA first.  I'm rather glad that I did.  I mean, there's crazy and then there's CRAZY.  

My Wooden Nickel poured a very hazy golden brown color with subtle hints of orange tints.  It's a gorgeous color for an aged IPA (yes, those words seem wrong to me as well, but just go with it here.  Some IPAs you can age.   It's a matter of faith, people.)  You can almost see the influence of the oak wood on the liquid inside the glass.  My bottle was a bit over carbonated in my opinion.  Not a gusher by any means, you'll be glad to know that all of the beer made it safely into my glass in tact.  But it was a long pour with plenty of time needed for foam settling before I could obtain a full glass of ale.  Even with plenty of patience, it still retained a three finger head of fluffy, delicate white foam.   The resulting lacing was rather pretty; clumps of soapy tiny bubbles clinging to the side of the glass for a good portion of the drink.  God, I do love a good lace porn show.   (Don't mention that to the Down the Hatch Matriarch, if you should run into her at church or at Khol's.)   The ABV is only 6.5%.  This puts it well under the typical ABV percent for Imperial IPAs which are often used for aging.  It sort of makes Wooden Nickle even more remarkable for the moderate hop presence on the nose.    I could smell an abundance of citrus notes, mainly grapefruit and orange  with a bit of floral essence layered into the profile.  There was absolutely no oak on the nose as far as I could tell, which was very different from the other oak aged IPAs that I've sniffed in the past.  Luckily for me, the taste built upon the nose's profile instead of merely mirroring it.  In the beginning of the sip, the hoppy presence of grapefruit, orange and wild flowers sprung to life on the tongue (as expected), but this citrus goodness was quickly followed by a distinct sweetly clean wooden, very lightly caramel, vanilla oak layer.  It ended with a strong mixture of floral and orange characters.  It was a surprising progression of flavors that I very much enjoyed.  A crisp and dry medium bodied mouthfeel kept this beer from verging too far to the oak side of life.  Some barrel aged IPAs that I've tasted in the past were overpowered by either the wood aging or by the syrupy Imperial IPA mouthfeel.  Rude Hippo was able to avoid this pitfall.  The barrel used to age the IPA in was a French oak barrel, not the expected bourbon or rum or other spirits barrels that are so popular in the brewery world right now.  The pure french oak gave the beer a clean, uncomplicated air which helped to enhance instead of mask the hop profile.  The medium finish began with the mixed citrus/floral character, abruptly moved to the oaky wooden sweetness and ended with a solid hit of lingering flowery orange character that both surprised my taste buds and made it an ideal mate for food.

Oak aged IPAs are usually a difficult beer to pair with meals.  All food pairing are a balancing act between beer flavors and food flavors.  Throw in your typical oak enhanced notes and it can easily become a mess and a half.  But Rude Hippo has brewed such a nicely balanced beer that I can easily imagine a few meals that their Wooden Nickle would go lovely alongside.  I want to try this IPA paired with a Grilled Skirt Steak lightly sauced by Chimichurri .  The heartiness of the steak and the fresh green notes of the sauce will work perfectly with the beer's citrus notes while the clean, barely sweet oak flavors will bring out the delicious char on the meat.  You can also serve Wooden Nickel with mixed platter of Grilled Vegetables  making sure to get a good char on the heartier veggies to bring out the oakiness in the beer.  Rude Hippo Brewery brews out of Slapshot Brewery at the moment, which just goes to show what a small world the Chicago Craft scene really is (my great and undying love for Slapshot beers is well documented.  I think of thios as beer by association.)   Karl and Marilee Rutherford of Rude Hippo were generous enough to supply me with a bomber of Wooden Nickel to drink (as well as the previously mentioned beet enhanced Beeting Heart Ale, which I promise that I will try, if only to get to eat my desert afterwards.)  My dad, the Down the Hatch Patriarch, used to tell me not to accept any wooden nickels when ever I left the house for an event.  Most of the time I was very thankful that I listened to this very sage fatherly advice.  My not accepting any wooden nickles kept me out of many a Craig's List mess, Vegas poor house debacle and, quite possibly,  real life jail on more than one occasion.   This, however, is one wooden nickel that I'm rather glad that I accepted.  

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Night of Local Beers in Tiny Glasses

I've been looking forward to the first sign of Spring for weeks now.  For some people, the first sighting of a robin in their backyard might be the sign they've been waiting for.  Others might take their bag of Easter candy as a promise that warmer weather and no snow are just around the corner.  Now, robins are all fine & good and I do love me some sugary jelly beans.  But for me?   Nothing beats Fischman's Liquor & Tavern's March Local #TapThis every year.  I start thinking about it in January as I huddle around my portable heater.  I may have issues.  Many issues.

This week's post is going to be a collection of some of the local beers I was able to try at the event.  I had seventeen breweries to choose from and believe you me, narrowing those down to just five was a feat worthy of Sophie herself (if Meryl Streep even drinks beer.  She seems like a Scotch sort of gal, doesn't she?)   The reviews will be mini in nature and should be considered an introduction to a beer or even a brewery that you may want to keep an eye open for this summer.  I will once again apologize to the brewers for my IPhone 4's less than stellar photography skills.  If anyone would like to gift a lowly beer blogger with an IPhone 6 so she may take more than stellar photos, I certainly would not be opposed to such a  bribe gift  (why do I hear crickets?) 

Temperance Beer Company- Manhattan Might Meets Right Imperial Stout 12% ABV

 The new buzz word in the beer world today is BA.  Barrel Aged anything automatically makes it tastier, sexier, and just all around better than what you're drinking, right?  Not necessarily true.  Unless it is.  And Temperance Beer knocks this particular Barrel Aged Imperial Stout right out of the park.     Temperance is situated in Evanston and headed by brewmaster Claudia Jendron, another of the spreading like wildfire expats of the Goose Island migration.  Manhattan Might Meets Right clocks in at 12% ABV and was aged in High West Manhattan Whiskey Barrels (which is a distillary in, yes you guessed it, Park City, Utah.)  This was possibly the best balanced BA Imperial Stout that I've had the pleasure to drink in a good long time.  The nose was solid yet not over powering with it's whiskey barrel nature. I could definately pick out the alcohol note on the scent, but in a comforting warming sort of way.   I also could detect aromas of a little chocolate, bitter roasted coffee and dark fruit.   The taste offered a bit more of a distinct chocolate presence, but followed the nose pretty closely.  There was absolutely no alcohol burn what so ever, which only contributed to the smoothness of this high ABV beer.  Aesthetically, I enjoyed the delicate lacing and thick ring of foam that emerged even on my short pour of beer.  This was my first beer of the night and the one I couldn't stop talking about to everyone I met all evening.  If I annoyed you there, I apologize.  If I talked you into buying a pour, you're very welcome.

Arcade Brewery- Graveyard Shift Pale Ale with Dark Matter Coffee 7% ABV

Arcade Brewery, located on the Northwest side of Chicago, is a brewery that I'm continually being impressed by with each and every sip.  Their Graveyard Shift brewed with Chicago's own Dark Matter coffee is no exception.  This was one of those beers that I had to try simply because something primal inside of me needed to know what a pale ale brewed with coffee tasted like.  I should listen to that voice more often, because it tasted delicious.  The beer was a deep honey golden color and left behind some really gorgeous looking lacing as I sipped from the glass.  The nose was a mixture of grapefruit centered citrus notes and clean roasted coffee notes.  The taste mirrored the nose rather well.  Crisp with grapefruit heavy citrus and mildly roasted coffee character.  It wasn't an overly complex tasting beer, but it delivered on the promise of the name Pale Ale With Coffee.   I could see myself sipping this beer on a warm supper evening after a meal or even as an afternoon pick me up.  I can't drink iced coffee all the time, can I?      

Werk Force Brewery - Can Your Bagpiper Do This Wee Heavy 8.01% ABV
One of the best things about local tap take overs like this is the opportunity to become acquainted  with some of the newly emerging baby breweries.  I have heard tales of Werk Force, a small brewery located in Plainfield, that utilizes the benefits of it's beer supply store sister operation, Chicago Beer Werks.  Their Wee Heavy was my first chance to taste anything from them.  Not a lot of newish breweries bother to craft a Wee Heavy, but I suppose when you have an entire supply store at your disposal it's like a kid in a candy shop.  A candy shop that he has a key for and just happens to own.  A strong nose of sweetened caramel & toffee rose from my sipping glass.  I personally found the aroma verging on the too sweet for my taste, but that's possibly just me.  The taste mirrored the scent profile with emphasis on the sweet milk caramel and nutty toffee notes, but dialed down the cloying sweetness that I found a bit overwhelming from the nose.  According to the description on the beer menu, I should have been able to find a note of chocolate in this ale, but for the life of me I couldn't detect any chocolate presence at all.  I loved the mouthfeel, medium in body with a gentle tongue coating character that is one of my favorite qualities of a Wee Heavy.  I liked this beer and I now look forward to my next opportunity to drink something else from Werk Force. 

5 Rabbits Brewery- Arroz Con Leche Imperial Rice Ale 7.5% ABV

When I first began to get into Chicago craft beer scene, 5 Rabbits seemed like a brewery on the edge of doing great and delicious things.  Then they got, lets just say, slightly derailed.  But if the Imperial Rice Ale that I tasted that night is any indication of where 5 Rabbits is springing towards, I have a very good feeling about them once again.  The liquid was a golden amber color with light brown honey tones.  The nose was slight, but vaguely sweet reminiscent of the cream soda drinks of my youth.  The taste reminded me even more of cream soda too, lightly sweet with vanilla notes.  There was a bit of a rice pudding element to the flavor as well.  The mouthfeel was decadently creamy and full with a syrup quality that coated the tongue nicely without ever feeling sticky.  I enjoyed my small pour of this Imperial and really enjoyed  that 5 Rabbits kept it to under 8% ABV. 

Lake Effect Brewing- Whoopski Beer Amber Ale 6% ABV

Last Spring Lake Effect Brewing released a collaboration beer with local icon Superdawg Drive-in that was wildly successful.  I'm not even a huge hot dog fan and it made me crave an encased ground meat tube when I cracked open a bottle.  Well, the fine folks at LE must really love Superdawgs because they've released a second collaboration, an amber ale this go around.  It poured an oaky amber brown liquid with a thick head of foam. The nose and taste were very similar in nature.  I enjoyed the giant malt backbone with a subtle nuttiness to added in to give some depth to the flavor profile.  It's not a complex sort of beer by any means, but it gets the job done for the intended purpose.  I understand that this beer will be sold by the bomber at stores (not at Superdawg) with a red label.  A wonderfully dry finish contributes to the appropriateness of pairing this ale with a variety of food, but most especially with all things sausage.  Insert inappropriate beer fest joke here if you feel like it. 

These are only a handful of the new beers that I was able to enjoy a short pour of at the event. Some of them will be bottled & released.  Some will be found in kegs in bars all over the area.  And some you may have to work a little harder to locate a pour or two.  My advice to you is to take advantage of the warming weather, break out of that winter induced Bourbon County coma and seek out a new beer or two to try yourself.  Think of it as a little Spring Cleaning for your beer soaked soul.

Drop me a line if you find a new local beer that  knocks your socks off.  You can find me on Twitter @marieecummins  on Facebook at Down The Hatch or Instagram at @mariecummins1.  Or just use the comments below.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Rhinegeist Brewery's Truth IPA

  • Style: IPA
  • ABV: 7.2%   75 IBUs  Yeah.  Wheelhouse = mine
  • Ease to locate: Do you live in Cincinnati?  Do you know some one who does?  Do you at least have a car? This is a Cincy only distribution right now, but one can dream
  • Color: Golden amber with orange ones
  • Head: Huge 3 finger ivory head with lots of gorgeous lacing
  • Aroma: Grapefruit, Mango and some tropical fruit. Solid nose
  • Mouthfeel: Medium body; dry and clean
  • Finish: Medium with a lingering grapefruit hop bitterness
  • Food friendly: Yes, with your typical IPA friendly food: sweet sauced barbeque, pizza, hamburgers, paninis.   You know the drill.

Apple user's link: River Spirits know how to party

                          Spirited Away is an amazing movie.  If only because it features a Daikon Radish Spirit in a Japaneses bathhouse.  Because who doesn't love a classic?

Rhinegeist Brewery is a small, but growing, brewery from the magical land known as Ohio.  They take their name from a historic section of Cincinnati know as the Over-The-Rhine area, which was once home to a large German population.  Since Germans have been known to brew a beer or two in their time, it didn't take long for a group of like minded Ohioans to find a small former brewery and return it to it's original glory.  Almost like awakening of the brewing spirits of the past (if you haven't already checked your Google Translator, I'll save you the finger poke. The Rhine is a  famous river located in Germany and Geist translates to "Ghosts or Spirits") They self distubte to the greater Cincinnati area and possibly a bit further.  I. Can. Not. Wait. For. Chicago. To. Be, A. Bit. Further.   Beyond brewing incredibility taste ales, I love that they can their beers.  And while, yes, canning is more environmentally friendly, cans also make it extremely easy for my Ohio connection to smuggle me back a few beers every trip home.  The environment is of course important, but lest not forget the forest for the trees people (the trees being Mother Nature and the forest being ME of course.)  Just being honest here.   

My Rhinegeist Truth poured a golden amber liquid glass of goodness.  I could detect orange tones when held to a light and a hazy, non see through appearance.  A huge (I'm talking HUGE) three finger head of ivory foam quickly formed.  It left behind great Styrofoam-like coatings of lacing.  I tried to explain the term "lace porn" to a person the other day.  I so wish I would have just had this photo to demonstrate why it is such a wonderful thing.  Clumps and clumps of foam lingered in the glass, eventually forming an island of foam in the center.  This was the sort of IPA that I could be happy just to gaze at for a while (stop judging me.  It;s art, not exploitation!)  The scents of grapefruit, mango and a bit of pineapple mingled pleasantly on the nose.     Truth is brewed with Amarillo, Citra, Simcoe and Centennial hops.  Nothing crazy, but when those four horsemen are put together in just the right way, magic can certainly happen. I could really taste the Citra note, but it certainly didn't overpower the other hops in any way whatsoever.  The taste was well balanced with similar characters as I found on the nose.  Grapefruit with distinct qualities of mango and a nice sweet tartness of the pineapple in the forefront while a subtle cracker note round the taste out.   It was bright with a crisp cleanness that I absolutely loved.  A moderate body and medium finish with the needed amount of dryness made this an all too easy to drink IPA.  The grapefruit note lingers on the tail of the finish in the best possible sort of way.  

I would pair Rhinegeist Brewery's Truth with your typical citrus friendly IPA friendly foods.  I drank mine with a steaming bowl of Chicken Torilla Soup (OK, truth be told, my bowl might have come from Healthy Choice, but I'm eager to prepare a pot of this recipe and try the pairing again.  I sacrifice and sacrifice for you all...)  But say that you aren't craving Mexican that night.  I feel you.   What about pouring out a can of this dryly clean IPA with  a plate of Slow Cooked Pulled Pork .  The Citra and Simcoe notes will cut through the sauce's sweetness (I'm considering trying it but replacing the bourbon for a can of Truth to see where that will take the taste.)  I say, let the spirit take you where it will.  Unless it's an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of town.  Then run like hell and don't look back.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Transient Artisan Ales' Henry Porter

  • Style: American Porter
  • ABV: 7.5%
  • Ease to locate: Transient is brewed in small batches and not overly easy to locate.  Right now this beer is easier to find on tap than bottled.  Here's a link to their Beer Menu page
  • Color: Dark, dank brown with black tar highlights.  Imagine a Kardashian's soul and there you go.
  • Head: True tan 1 & 1/2 fingers comprised of large bubbles that leave soft lacing.  Pretty
  • Aroma: In one word?  RICH.  Lots of bitter dark chocolate, some roasted coffee and a fruity layer of raisin & date.  Not a huge nose, but solid
  • Mouthfeel:Full body.  Not particularly dry.
  • Finish: Medium to long.  Ending on a reprise of the chocolate note.
  • Food friendly?: Yes, but choose carefully.  Pair it with simple winter meals such as beef stew or roasted meat with a coffee rub

Apple User's Link: Because Weird Al is usually as fancy as I get

There was a time when preparing a fancy dinner for two was many beer geeks nightmare.  It often meant a trip to that small wine boutique staffed by people who can actually properly pronounce words like "Beaujolais" and "Gewurztraminer".  Once there, staring at a shelf of tall, indecipherable labeled bottles, it would slowly dawn on most ale enthusiasts the horrible truth.  Not even one of those bottle was filled with beer.  Luckily for us, the nightmare is now over.  We are living in the Golden Age of Beer and finding the right bottle to pair with your "white table cloth/ use the non paper kind of plates" worthy meal is as easy as hanging out at your local bottle shop.  I mean, I know that you're there weekly anyway.  One of my favorite new American Porters is Transient Artisan Ale's Henry just happens to be encased in one of my favorite labels.  Matthew LaFleur is a local illustrator who has penned quite a few local releases here in Chicago (you can check his artwork out on Middlebrow's A Life Pursuit and Arcade Brewery's William Wallace among others.)  What I love about LaFleur's rendition for Transient's label is the cleanliness of the graphic.  Black on white with a interesting interpretation of just what the word transient actually means. No nearly naked women riding horses through rainbows.  No weird zombie trolls waging war.  No cute baby animals doing horrendously uncute not baby things.  It's simply refreshing in it's class and sophistication.  And it won't bring up any awkward relationship conversations that really should be best left until at least the second bottle of alcohol of the night.

My Henry American Porter poured a dark, rich, dank liquid into the snifter.  It sported black tar like highlights towards the edges of the glass which gave it a thickly luxurious appearance.  A one and a half finger true tan head consisted of mostly large tight carbonation formed.  It slowly settled to a shallow film and a thick ring on the porter's surface, leaving behind tails of soapy lacing clinging to the glass.  So pretty.     The nose was not huge by any means, but it was solid and well constructed.  I found an abundance of rich dark chocolate bittersweetness immediately, tempered by a distinct, if not giant, note of perfectly roasted coffee.  The presence of a bit of dark fruit sneaked it's way on the back of the nose (especially as the porter warmed.)  Just as uncompex but solid in it's presentation was the taste.  Lots of dark bitter chocolate, a hint of dark roasted coffee and a shallow layer of dark fruit (mainly raisins and prunes.)    As the beer warmed, I could taste a very light berry note towards the back of the mouthful that I thought rounded out this porter wonderfully.  A full and creamy body coated the tongue nicely and created a gorgeous mouthfeel.  It's no secret that I like my beers on the drier side, but when I find a porter or stout that knows how to do a luxurious mouthfeel properly, its a real treat.  The almost long finish began with the sumptuous dark chocolate note which gained depth when the dark fruit element was added and finished with a reprise of the bitter chocolate once again on the tail.  

I wasn't always a beer geek.   At one time, and this may be hard for some of you to hear, I was a dedicated oenophile.  I'm not ashamed of it.  I still enjoy a glass or two of wine with my meal.  But what I absolutely love is that I now have the option of  pairing my dinner with a bottle of beer that I'm not ashamed to leave sitting on the table as we eat.  Valentine's Day is quickly approaching (and in case this fact has slipped some of your hop soaked minds, here's your friendly reminder to keep you from sleeping on the coach this weekend.)   Serve a bottle of Transient Artisan Ale's Henry American Porter with a fancy sounding, yet relatively easy to prepare meal, such as a Spice Coated Rack of Lamb For Two on Saturday night for your significant other.  Break out the good plates and silverware (you know, the ones that can go in the dishwasher at night).  Maybe even set the mood with some well chosen music (I'll leave that up to you.  One couple's romantic music is another couple's death march.  Choose accordingly.)   What ever you do, try your best to to be like Transient and keep it classy folks.  You have 364 other days for Zombie Dust and that kinky stuff.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Slapshot Brewing's Curse of Muldoon

  • Style: Double Milk Stout
  • ABV: 7.5%
  • Ease to locate: Just now being distributed to Chicago & some suburban locations.  Check their Beer Menu Page for locations.  
  • Color: Dark brown (with no black in it).  It reminded me of very rich hot chocolate
  • Head: One finger, light beige, fluffy foamed head  with small, tight trails of lacing sliding down the glass
  • Aroma: Heaps & heaps of milk chocolate with sweet milk sugar and a bit of dark fruit on the back.  But don't mistake it.  This is the  chocolate motherload
  • Mouthfeel: Medium body and a bit lighter than I expected, but easy to drink
  • Finish: Medium & with a well carbonated dryness that packs a wallop of a chocolate end. 
  • Food friendly?: Yes.  Rather versicle for such a chocolate bomb.   Try with beef stew or chicken in mole sauce.

Apple User's Link:  This is not safe for work, un earmuffed small children and mothers everywhere (unless you're one of those families...)

                        Again, this is not the video that you want to hit play on at work.  Or at the doctor's office.  Or when picking up your kid from daycare. 

Sports and cursing kind of go hand in hand in many ways.  Newly light in the pocket season ticket holders complaining about the fat cat yearly price increase.  Colorful locker room banter that doesn't involve thanking Jesus for the win (although God in some form may be mentioned).  And yes, there is always the obligatory screaming of vulgar terms at the ref concerning his questionable maternal upbringing.  But I'm actually speaking about the more serious notion of sports curses.   The Cubs have one involving a smelly goat, an empty bleacher seat and one royally ticked off Greek guy.  The Red Sox actually over came their longstanding Curse of the Bambino when they won the 2004 Worlds Series.  And the Bears just have Jay Cutler.  The Chicago Blackhawks (GO HAWKS) have their own curse to contend with.  And by contend with, I mean, ignore completely.  In 1927, the Blackhawks lost their first round playoff series to the Boston Bruins.  Fredrick McLaughlin, the Blackhawks owner at the time and Pete Muldoon, the head coach, had a slight disagreement (read Housewives of New Jersey table flipping sort of discussion).  The sacked Muldoon cursed the team as he was giving the heave ho.  His parting words were reported as "Fire me, Major, and you'll never finish first. I'll put a curse on this team that will hoodoo it until the end of time."   Since the Hawks have won  five Stanley Cups to date, as far as curses go, it's not the most accurate of inga tings.  

My Curse of Muldoon poured a dark dark brown color without a hint of black.  It reminded me of rich, coffee shop hot chocolate in a snifter glass.  A one finger, light beige head formed.  It settled quickly, leaving behind trails of soft lacing, and ended in a thick ring around the surface of the beer.  The aroma of the stout was all about the chocolate.  Milk chocolate, to be exact.   Sweet & rich, but only lightly bitter in scent.  A good amount of milk sugar and dark fruit notes rounded out the nose. The taste mirrored the aroma for the most part.  A good amount of rich milk chocolate and milk sugar hit my taste buds first and foremost, with the dark fruit and a hint of bitter coffee creating a certain much needed depth.  This wasn't a complex double milk stout and nor would I want it to be.  To paraphrase a line from The Quite Man: When I drink whisky, I drink whisky.  When I drink water, I drink water.  And when I drink a double milk stout, I had damn well taste that chocolate.  As the stout warms, the dark fruit notes of prune and possible raisin emerge to a greater extent, but still remain a background player.  The mouthfeel was lighter than I had expected from a double milk stout.  I would label it as solidly medium in body and not at all aggressive in carbonation. For a beer with this amount of richness, I had expected more of a tongue coating experience than was delivered.  Again, not necessarily a bad thing in this instance.  The medium body and slightly dry nature allows for an easier process of pairing this stout with savory dishes.  A medium finish began with the chocolate & milk sugar notes which slid nicely into a middle section with a hello wave from the dark fruit and coffee notes.  The finish ended with an explosive bang of the chocolate character.  Seriously.  The amount of chocolate that hit my mouth on the tail of the finish should almost come with a warning label.  And I mean that in the best way possible.

I was slightly daunted at the notion of pairing a double milk stout with savory dishes.  A normal first inclination is to take the easy way out and drink it as a desert beer.  But as I sipped my snifter of Slapshot's Curse of Muldoon, ideas began to form in my chocolate satiated noggin.  Notions of Chicken in a Simple Mole Sauce come to mind.  This particular recipe concentrates less on heat and more on the complex flavors in a mole sauce.   Alternatively, you could also pair this double milk stout with your favorite chili or stew recipes.  Try it along side a pot of Beef Stew with a Savory Chocolate sauce on your next  cold winter's night.  The dryness of the Curse of Muldoon should temper the richness of the stew without adding any unexpected flavors to the meal.  Coach Muldoon may not have been the most talented of curse bearers (or of hockey coaches if you think about it) but he did help to weave a richer history of one of my favorite local sports teams.  And really, what would one call a Chicago team be without a curse or two to give them some character?

Oh yeah.  We call them the White Sox.            

Monday, January 26, 2015

Arcade Brewery's Mega Milk Oatmeal Stout

  • Style: Oatmeal Stout
  • ABV: 5.3%  I love a lower ABV stout like a fat kid loves cake
  • Ease to locate: Pretty well distributed in the Chicago area.  Here's a link to their Beer Menu Page
  • Color:  Dark brown with black edging
  • Head: 1 finger light tan head that settles to a thick film.  Leaves behind some spotty lacing
  • Aroma: Dark chocolate, dark fruit, a hint of fig, some coffee and chewy grains.  Basically a traditional oatmeal stout
  • Mouthfeel: Medium body with a chewy feel but stil plenty of carbonation.  It IS a sessionable oatmeal stout after all
  • Finish: Unexpectedly long
  • Food friendly?:Yes.  The carbonation and lower ABV really lends itself to drinking alongside food.  Try it with roast beef or a veggie burger.  Also a perfect stout to cook with.

IPhone User's link: There's a nasty flu going around. Since the '80's

                                               Yes, I actually owned this album back in the day.  No, I'm not going  to tell you exactly when the day actually was.

I grew up in the '80s, otherwise known as the heyday of Atari.  Trying to explain to anyone under the age of 25 the allure and just spiritual pleasure of the act of going to an actual arcade, plunking your quarter (remember when you could actually use a quarter for something other than a drinking game?) down on a machine taller than the average fifth grader and hearing the melodic electronic streams of your favorite game start up is a lesson in futility.  And makes me feel really damn old.  I've noticed though, in the last few years, the video games of my misspent 80's youth are starting to make a comeback in the form of arcade craft beer bars.  A few have sprung up around the city in the last two years.  Imagine a craft bar, but instead of tables & booths, it's lined with wall after wall of  video consoles, blipping & bleeping in a swirling carnival of electronic nostalgia.  PacMan.  Mario Brothers.  Possiby even a Space Invaders with their quaint, caveman like graphics immediately take you back to a simpler time when all a young kid worried about was extra lives and the collection of those bouncy golden coins.   Alternatively, you could also just stay home, download PacMan on your phone & pop open a bomber of Arcade Brewery's Mega Milk Stout.

One would think that a beer with the name of Mega Milk would be a milk stout.  One would be wrong.  One should also learn to read the entire label.  But that's neither here nor there.  Mega Milk is a solid example of an oatmeal stout, just with a name that might make you wonder where the lactose sugar is hiding.  The answer would be in a bottle that's not an oatmeal stout.  I think I've mentioned my love of a well done low ABV stout before.  Mega Milk has only solidified that feeling.  It poured a dark brown color with highlights of black around the very edges of the glass.  A one finger, light tan head formed which settled to a thick film covering the surface of the beer for most of the drink.  Spotty, shallow ringed lacing trailed down the lower sides of the snifter.  I could smell the bitterness of dark chocolate mixed with the aroma of raisins, prunes, figs and just a hint of lightly brewed coffee.  The chewy grains that traditionally are showcased in a typical oatmeal stout were present on the nose as well, but took a bit of a back seat to the other flavors.  However, on the tongue, the chewy cereal grains really come out to play with the dark malts, rich chocolate and dark fruit characters.  It's basically almost perfect as far as oatmeal stouts go taste-wise.  The mouthfeel was a bit lighter than I expected, but when you take the ABV % into consideration, a medium bodied oatmeal stout makes perfect sense.  I possibly would have liked it to have been a bit creamier on my tongue, but if a lightly creamy presence is the trade off for an ABV that means I can enjoy more than one glass in a sitting?  I'll take it gratefully.   A drying abundant amount of carbonation contributed to the session ale profile as well.   And I was happily surprised by the long finish.  It began with the cereal grain and dark malt set of notes, changing into the rich light chocolate character and fruity presence, only to gracefully slide back to a distinct chocolate ending.  I absolutely loved this finish.  It was as if I had reached the ultimate game level and this was my ending reward.

Oatmeal stouts can sometimes be tricky to pair well with food.  I often err on the side of a hearty dish, such as a Simply Seasoned Roast Beef  a side of Green Beans with Carmelized Onions.  The low ABV and the crazy amount of carbonation of Arcade Brewery's Mega Milk will help cut through the richness of the red meat while the sweetness of the caramelized onions will marry with the fruity nature of this stout.  Personally, I loved cooking with this beer.  I had popped open this bomber one Sunday afternoon while I was concocting up a huge batch of turkey chili.  Normally I would add a cup or so of some left over red wine and let the tannins do their dirty work as the pot simmered.  This time I stirred in a cup of Mega Milk and was delighted by the results.  The bitterness of the chocolate and dark malts reacted in the best possible way with the chili's spices and tomato acidic base.  I plan on experimenting more with this oatmeal stout in the kitchen this winter.  Stews.  Mole sauces.  The sky is sort of the limit.  Because that's where the best golden coins usually are located anyways. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Marz Community Brewing The Bubbly Creek

  • Style: Berliner Weisse
  • ABV: 3.0%
  • Ease to locate: Brand new baby brewery so rather limited release.  Here's a link to their Beer Menu page but at the time of this post, only Maria's Package Goods in Bridgeport and Fischman's Liquors in Jefferson Park are listed as having any bottles.  Hopefully, Marz will expand distribution soon.
  • Color: Hazy, straw yellow liquid with highlights of amber tones
  • Head: One finger white foam with spotty lacing that settles into a delicate ring
  • Aroma: Somewhat shallow with notes of lemon, pineapple, a bit of funk, but not especially sour or tart like other Berliner Weisses that I've enjoyed
  • Mouthfeel: Crisp & dry with a light body and lots of carbonation.  Might have been my favorite thing about this beer
  • Finish: Short to medium.  Initial taste fades quickly, but the lemon note is stronger on the finish and lingers a little.
  • Food Friendly?: Yes, like most Berliner Weisses, it's very easy to pair it with a variety of foods.  Serve this with a seasonal hearty chicken stew or dress it up with a roasted pork tenderloin.

Apple User's link: The Bubbly Creek Bluegrass Band. I'm not even kidding.

Chicago is a city that loves it's choices.  Thick or Thin crust.  Cubs or Sox.  Mustard or Ketchup (Trick question.  No  Chicagoan will ever answer ketchup.  If they do, they're probably really from Indiana.) Still or sparkling water.  I mean bubbling.  A certain branch of the Chicago River, running through the Bridgeport neighborhood, is commonly known as Bubbly Creek.  And it has been for over a hundred years.  If you look closely at the surface of the water, you can see tiny blurps of air break the surface tension, hence the "bubbly" moniker.   I wish that I could say that it was a bizarre  natural phenomenon or the labored breath of our very own mythical Midwest sea monster.  Unfortunately, the truth is that the bubbling effect of the river's fork is due to the release of methane and hydrogen sulfide gas from the rotted remains of sewage and pollutants dumped there by the now closed Union Stockyards.   Not quite as lyrical, huh?  Even today the Chicago uses this area as a dumping ground for over flow during periods of heavy storms.    So of course, how could brand new Bridgeport baby brewery, Marz Community Brewing, even think to call their very first Berliner Weisse anything other than The Bubbly Creek?

My Bubbly Creek poured a hazy pale straw color with hints of amber tones.  A white, one finger head rose quickly and then settled to a solid surface layer.  A tight shallow ring of delicate lacing ran around the circumference of the glass.  The scent was not what I had expected at all.  I've been conditioned to expect a certain type of aroma from a typical Berliner Weisse.    This beer was not particularly sour in aroma nor measurably tart in nature (at least on the nose.) I found the shallow notes of lemon, pineapple and some murky dankness lurking in the glass as I inhaled deeply.  Because of this,  I was a bit trepidatious with the first sip.  Luckily, my fears were unjustified.  Everything was in the taste.  The flavors there  were proportionally bigger than the aroma.  I found a lovely tartness present that mingled with notes of lemon citrus, pineapple and other tropical fruit.  There was no dankness on the taste that I noticed on the nose however.  The mouthfeel was light in body but very crisp and dry with tons of carbonation.   The dryness and carbonation made this beer extremely drinkable.  A somewhat confusing short to medium finish concludes the Berliner Weisse.  The initial taste dissipated rather quickly but a lemon sharpness lingered on the tail.

Such is the nature of most Berliner Weisses, I'd pair my Bubbly Creek with a variety of menus. Berliner Weisses are wonderful Summertime beers and a natural to reach for when the temperature aces the nineties.  However, their inherent dryness and citric nature can easily lend them to heavier  winter meals as well.  A citrus forward Cuban Pork Tenderloin would compliment the flavor profile and benefit from the dry finish of this beer.  You should also try this one with a  Chicken & Sweet Potato Stew  The sweetness of the sweet potato will be tampered by the acidic citrus of the lemon and tropical fruit notes while working with the white wine being used in the sauce.  I actually have half a mind to try this recipe using Bubbly Creek in place of the white wine.  This particular Berliner Weisse would be an excellent ale to experiment with cooking.  Just maybe don't mention the whole Methane and Hydrogen Sulfide thing.  At least until desert.