I am in Chicago!! My heart fluttered with excitement about the upcoming whirlwind of weekend activities. Bars tonight, Dark Lord Day tomorrow, Goose Island on Sunday. The moment the plane landed, I was in a near sprint out the cabin door to the rental car shuttle. I, my friends, was on a BEER MISSION....
FIRST STOP: Piece Brewery & Pizzeria
After a mad rush to the hotel to check in and finally acknowledging the sizable rumbly in my tumbly, we jetted off in our rented Nissan Altima to the beloved Chicago locale Piece Brewery & Pizzeria. I had received numerous tweets, Facebook messages, and emails imploring me to visit this brewpub, so it became stop numero uno.
The place was absolutely jam-packed. But what to my wandering eyes did appear?? A group of people JUST leaving the bar area. Thank you fate, luck, kismet, or whatever got us those seats. Brilliant. Let the drinking commence! As we settled upon a deliciously topped pizza decision, our first beers arrived:
Marketing Ploy: 6% ABV: This beer, a collaboration with Three Floyds Brewing Co. was a must try! Floral aromas with citrus freshness and hints of pine. While there are some hoppy notes, it is quite mild on the palate, more so than expected from the nose. A nice, easy drinker, and a perfect starter to my evening.
Wack Job: 9% ABV: This is funny. Joe, a certified hophead, asks for, of course, the hoppiest beer they have in the place. Delivered is the deceptively higher ABV Wack Job. Boy are we skewed on West Coast IPA's! Accustomed to palate missiles like Green Flash West Coast IPA, Stone Ruination IPA, and Ballast Point Sculpin IPA, we look at each other and giggle. Joe: "It's hard to believe this is a Double IPA." Ok, so it's gonna take us a day to readjust our palates...That being said folks, this is well-crafted IPA, which I thoroughly enjoyed drinking, with good aromas of citrus, woody pine, and some flower. Just watch out for that ABV. It'll get ya.
Swingin' Single: 4.5% ABV: I wanted to love this beer. I wanted to sit there, with my little happy Belgian brew at the fantastic Piece bar and drink away my weariness. Most unfortunately, it just didn't sit right with me. It had a waxy, lipstick aroma and mouthfeel I couldn't get away from. And lots of bubblegum blasting through the nose and palate, which sent the beer off-balance. This is the aspect which, when I talk to people about Belgians, often drives people away from this style of beer, and is so important to keep in check. I think there is potential here, with the right tweaking of the recipe to bring out some spice to level out the other aromas and flavors.
Dark and Curvy Dunkelweizen: 5.5% ABV: This beer is a great textbook example of its style. If you are in Chicago, and have never tried a Dunkelweizen, GO to Piece and start your education with this one. Aromas and flavors of nutmeg, baking spices of clove and cinnamon, and touches of vanilla and maple syrup mingle seamlessly and provide a very drinkable yet warming beer. A smile spreads across my face as I imagine what a fantastic Thanksgiving beer this would make. Pair this brew with maple and brown sugar crusted ham. Or cozy up on a chilly night with a big slice of pumpkin pie, with fresh whipped cream...and sigh.
NEXT STOP: Maproom
I felt instantaneous happiness when I walked through the door of Maproom. It was undoubtable kismet I come here. This is the bar I would come to regularly if I lived in Chicago. Dark, comfortable, unpretentious, amazing beer list....I'm sold. We set up shop in two freshly available seats right on the corner, because serendipity was my code word this night.
When I heard they had Surly Furious on cask, my decision was made. Which in turn, launched an almost heated, and definitely fiery discussion about the viability of hoppy beers on cask. This debate actually had its roots planted at the recent Pliny the Younger tapping at O'Briens in San Diego. This famed and lauded beer bar has a regular practice of putting highly hopped beers on cask, much to the chagrin of some of their patrons. Most recently, Sculpin IPA, a SoCal favorite and coveted beer around the country, was on, and several people I spoke to were highly disappointed. I had experienced a similar frowny face when I had tried it a month earlier at another locale...
The issue taken, is that the VIBRANCY of the hops, with all of their glorious citrus, flower, and pine aspects, is bottomed out when placed on cask. Cask makes a beer creamier, smoother, which is WONDERFUL for stouts and porters! But I don't want a creamy IPA. I want to smell and taste every marvelous, stimulating aspect of those incredible hops used for the beer. I want to be woken up with an IPA or a DIPA!
Surly Furious: I smell this beer, and immediately a picture emerges...A honey-coated pine cone with a beautiful flower perched right on top. Mmm, lovely! Add a spritz of lemon to that and you've got the Furious. On the nose and palate, you definitely get the resiny pine from the Simcoe hops,but to me the palate is dulled and more malty notes of toast emerge. Thus, the cask brings out other aspects of the beer, like them or not. Luckily, seconds after the finish, a lingering hop bitterness remains. Yes! Did I like this beer? Absolutely. Would I have rather had it on standard tap? Indeedy.
Three Floyds Alpha King: Might as well get a jump start on Dark Lord Day beers, right? I knew there would be SO many at Three Floyds, I figured what the hell, go for it now!
Much more vibrant on the nose and palate, of course. Lots of floral hop aromas on the nose, welcoming and delightful. Surprising, yet splendid notes of cinnamon and spice also greet your sniffer, for a complex set of aromatic enticers. Really enjoyed this beer. Boy, do I wish I could get it on the regular....
But wake me from my happy dreamland in Maproom. The clock ticks on, and we still have to make it to Hopleaf! Bring forth the horses!
FINAL STOP: Hopleaf
Am I the luckiest seat-grabber in the greater Chicago area or what? Seats among the adoring beer lovers wait like they had a reserved sign and a velvet rope surrounding them. Score! Time is running low, so let's get drinking!
Half Acre Daisy Cutter Pale Ale: Has the distinct aroma of baking pie crust, like one you might find on an Southern roadside apple or peach pie. Which also lends it some neutrality in the flavor profile. There are some definite hop and leafy aromas, and a surprising twist of Matcha Green Tea. Interesting!
CBC Small Batch Public Domaine: This beer is not to be confused with the Two Brothers Hoppy Public Domaine, a Biere de Garde. This one pours out like a Flanders Red...Definitely acetic aromas of raspberries and cherries in vinegar, but it is very mild. And you will think I am crazy on this one, but it also smells like Carolina BBQ Vinegar, with its red wine component. I swear, that is a smell no matter how many years I am gone from my home state of North Carolina, I will NEVER forget. And it is here! And that isn't a bad thing, I promise. I actually love the vinegar aspect.
My only real critique here is that I wished it would have given me more. More sour, more sweet fruit, make it more like a traditional Flanders Red. As Joe commented, "There's something there that's just not popping out that should." Well said. I liked this beer, and was a happy clam drinking it, just push it farther guys.
Great Lakes Burning River Pale Ale: An homage of sorts to the 1969 Cuyahoga River fire, this beer has been a consistent medal winner at the World Beer Championships, and is a popular Midwest staple. Not assertively hoppy like Sierra Nevada, this Pale Ale carries a sweet malty smell with notes of honey, brown and black sweet tea. While there are background notes of citrus and pine, they are minimal to the profile of the beer. More in line with an English Pale Ale or Mild in character.
Van Honsebrouck Gueuze Fond Tradition: 5% ABV: This beer is 70% barley, 30% wheat and wonderfully spontaneously fermented. If there is such a thing as a session Gueuze (I can hear people chuckling), this is it.
Gentle (at least to me!) barnyard, lots of hay and citrus, to produce a perfectly balanced combination. This is a well made beer. Now of course, the barnyard funk comes out more as it warms (yes!!), but even so this is a great introductory beer into the world of gueuze. If you are teetering on the edge of the funk abyss, go on and dive in with this one. You might just find yourself writing me telling me how much you LOVE gueuzes!
What a wonderful end to the night, and alas our time had come to an end. We had Dark Lord tomorrow!!!
Stay tuned for the next installment of my Chicago adventure, PART 2: DARK LORD DAY.