Monday, August 30, 2010

Catching Up on Things

For those that had three and half weeks on the over-under of when I'd get lazy and stop posting, you may now collect your winnings.  I may have a legit excuse for my neglect soon should I pass my writing test for a freelance position this week, but in the meantime here are a few assorted thoughts on beers consumed the past couple of weeks.

Sort of disagree with Vinnie's assessment on Stone 14th Anniversary IPA as I thought the booze was masked well by a surprisingly fruity body.  I prepared myself for the expected inundation of hops only to be surprisingly greeted by the tasty, subtly sweet flavors of this English style IPA (and props to Stone for hitting this style and not force feeding the hop characteristic).

Shame that the Onion Pub and Brewery, makers of the Wild Onion Pumpkin fall seasonal, is located off the beaten path (at least for this lazy non-driver) in Lake Barrington, Illinois.   Loved my first 2010 foray into fall beers and enjoyed this pumpkin beer that packed a ton of flavor without being pumpkin pie with alcohol.

On my scale of brown beers, Avery's Ellie Brown beats out Sierra Nevada Tumbler due to the chocolate and toffee flavors that complemented a well crafted body.  Tumbler grew on me as I sipped it, but I like my brown ales to have sweeter notes (I normally drink them towards the end of my sessions).

My second go-round with Left Hand's Milk Stout gave me a greater appreciation for this brew and I better grasped the style of the sweet stout.  It does not pack quite the punch to that of Dragon's Milk, but its much kinder ABV (5.2% to 9.0% of Dragon's Milk) allows you to possibly go another couple of rounds should you feel like it.

Come on Chicagoland distributors, convince the fine people at New Glarus that a second go-round in this market will be worthwhile for them.  The passion in Dancing Man Wheat and Moon Man is uniquely Wisconsin and us lesser folk in Chicago need some of that TLC to deal with the evils of city life.

Two Brothers Resistance IPA was an awesome find and made our maiden voyage to their Tap House totally worthwhile (even if I ate enough loaded cheese fries for four meals and ravaged my stomach in the process).

Finally, if you enjoy these ramblings, cheer me on to do stupid crap like pull a neck muscle while sneezing, as tonight's imbibing of fine beers motivated me to return home here and leave MBB with at least one more contribution during its brief existence.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Stone 14th Anniversary Emperial IPA, tap, snifter

Last night Brixie's was unusually dead for a Wednesday, which was perfect since I was feeling unusually cerebral and looking unusually slobbish. All I really wanted was a beer, and as a bonus, I got to trade apocalyptic prognostications with Bruce the bartender, who only had six other people to wait on.

I'd come specifically for the Stone Emperial; after stealing a sip of Zuch's on Saturday, I'd been anxious to try a full one.

One of my first reactions both then and last night was "gin martini." Both the first whiff and taste are distinctly piny, and the bitterness and high (9%) ABV share something in common with vermouth. The smell is also musty like an old book, and the taste is mildly sweet and--dare I say--plasticky, almost like peppercorn. Though bitter, the hop flavor is more the pine and herb (think sage or tarragon) variety, not citrusy.

Grade: C, for cocktail. Make no mistake--it's bitter and boozy but not necessarily in the way you'd expect. It drinks more like a strong cocktail than a beer. The twelve-ounce snifter took me a solid hour and upwards of twenty tilts to finish. You can't rush this one. It wouldn't be my first choice to repeat, but I'm glad I tried it the once.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

New Glarus Dancing Man Wheat, bottle, poured into pint glass

A staple to our Wisconsin friends, New Glarus doesn't ship to Chicago. This is especially painful for Zuch, who can buy almost any beer his heart desires at the local Binny's--just not his favorite one. Fortunately, I was passing through Madison a few weeks back and picked us up some Dancing Man at the local Woodman's.

Tonight I finally got my first taste, and I can now declare it MBB consensus: This shit's fantastic.

The foam explodes from the bottom of the glass on the pour, so this is one of those rare instances I'd stress appropriate glassware--a 23-ounce weizen glass--or else be very careful to pour it slowly. The first six ounces might be enough to overtop a pint glass with the foam.

The aroma is typical for a hefeweizen--ripe banana first, clove second, and also some lilac, I think. On the taste, the order reverses--clove comes first, then banana, with bubblegum up near the top. It finishes with a little bitterness--more vegetable than citrus--similar to a turnip. Once the sip goes down the throat, your mouth tastes like you just took a nip off the bottle of vanilla extract. If you're a liqueur drinker, Dancing Man might remind you of Galliano. For best results, sip generously at the middle of your tongue, and swish it back in symmetry.

If this beer could be brewed at a slightly lower ABV--maybe 6.5ish% as opposed to its 7.2%--without compromising any of the flavor, I would consider it perfect. I could taste the alcohol a little more than I'd have liked, especially on the first two sips. Otherwise, I have no complaint.

Grade: S, for soothing. It's like a massage or a warm bath or a prescription sedative. Delicious, light, easy to drink, and just enough alcohol to put you in a happy place. Make that two enthusiastic thumbs up from this blog.

Bulleted Weekend Recap Rundown Thingy

A busy weekend of many beers and no time to blog means a bunch of cut-rate Monday night reviews. More thorough reviews may follow in subsequent posts.
  • Lakefront Oktoberfest. I brought a sixer of bottles to a birthday party Friday night and went through three, I think. This was the first Lakefront beer I've had in a really long time, and it was somewhere between mediocre and average. It's caramel sweet, malty, and toasty--not unlike a roasted marshmallow--with an apple note.
  • Founders Centennial IPA. I drank this one straight from the bottle, which I feel negates whatever I have to say about a beer. That said, my general impression was positive but underwhelming. There was nothing to really set it apart from dozens of other IPAs, and at 7.2% ABV, I wouldn't have expected it to taste as boozy as it did.
  • Three Floyds Gorch Fock. This was from the tap at Brixie's. On the surface, it's a pretty typical light lager, but the flavor was dense and accented with a bit of honey sweetness that I didn't expect. For such a light beer (4.5% AVB), I was able to enjoy this much more slowly than I expected--a big plus, being the good D.D. that I am. If you have a chance, try some while it's still hot out.
  • Stone Levitation Ale. I'd had Levitation once before, but I had no idea it was an amber until Zuch told me, at which point I still didn't believe him. This is by far the hoppiest amber I've ever tried. Word to the unindoctrinated: Stone loves the hops. It's also one of the slowest drinking sub-5% AVB beers I can think of, mainly because the hops are so intense. Despite my pathological aversion to waste, I had to leave some of this behind because my semi-starved 3am stomach couldn't quite handle it.
  • Goose Island Green Line Pale. I tried this again on tap, this time at the actual Goose Island pub across from Wrigley Field, so it was almost certainly fresh. It still tasted like corn. I still didn't like it. Fuck it. It's out.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bridgeport Hop Czar, tap, poured into super cool Hop Czar logo glassware

Tonight I had to deliver some tickets for tomorrow's Cubs game to my friend Mike, who lives in Burr Ridge. I could have just as easily--no, much more easily--mailed them to him three days ago, but the hand delivery gave me an excuse to say hi to Mike. That, and Brixie's is on the way back from his house. And who trusts the postal service anyway, am I right? Tonight was a worthwhile trip. I made a couple bar friends--a fireman and a hair stylist--and also a pretty satisfying beer choice.

Usually when a beer has the name Hop [superlative/animal], I get a bit leery. My experience is that these tend to be the one-dimensional hop bombs--to steal a term from Zuch--that don't distinguish well from one another. But Bridgeport, an Oregon brewer, is new to the area, and I'm a sucker for the chance to try new things before everyone else.

As the name implies, Hop Czar is a double-IPA, but it wasn't at all the hop bomb I'd feared it would be. If anything, I'd say it's maltier than it is hoppy. Of course, it could very well be that I've been on such an IPA kick--'tis the season--that I've desensitized myself to the hops.

The aroma has a strong floral scent with a little citrus, but it's also quite musty. It's the first beer I've ever had that smells like both real flowers and fake flowers at once. It drinks pretty nicely for the 7.5% ABV, starting out syrupy sweet and malty and finishing piny and bitter. Brixie's serves it in a 12-ounce glass, but I don't think it would be a stretch to have a full pint. That said, it is a slow-sipper if you really want each tilt of the glass to count--no more than an ounce per.

Grade: D, for deceptively branded, and I mean that in a good way. I wouldn't make special trips to Oregon for it, but now that it's here, I would gladly drink it again.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Favorite Wheat Beers

A good summer style, wheat based beers like Hefeweizens and pale wheat ales fit nicely in the middle of a good session (especially in warmer weather).  Also, this style is a very palatable for those beer drinkers that do not lust over hops and just want a flavorful, yet drinkable beer.  Without further adieu, a few of my favorite wheat beers.

New Glarus Dancing Man Wheat (7.2% ABV)

It Dances In Your Mouth
Dancing Man has the highest alcohol content among my recommendations, but that does not deter you from enjoying the awesome flavors integrated in my favorite New Glarus brew (just a sign to not drink too many in one sitting, especially if you are driving). I love the cinnamon notes prevalent at first taste, with a solid body backing up the initial spice flavors.  Illinois readers, make the trek up 94 and hit the Woodman's in Kenosha while this summer seasonal remains in stock.  Wisconsin readers, you have been depriving yourself if you have yet to pick up this perfect summer beer.  This beer has an A rating among my fellow hop heads at Beer Advocate without possessing a major hop presence.

Bell's Oberon (5.8% ABV)

Great Summer Beer, Readily Available
Not consuming it at every bar I see it at this summer (and trying to avoid bars where this is the only option or one of a precious few good options), I have grown to enjoy Oberon again.  For me, Oberon is the perfect ballpark beer, meant to be enjoyed outside during warmer weather.  A smooth drinker that leans more towards the pale ale side, Oberon has a balanced wheat taste blended with subtle citrus notes.  A good gatekeeper beer for those initially getting into craft brews, Oberon maintains its quality even with its greatly increased market penetration in the Midwest.

Summit Hefe Weizen (4.9% ABV)

Highly Recommended On Tap
One heads up, I much preferred this beer on tap and you will likely only see this on tap at places that focus on craft beers (at least for the non-Minnesota readers of the blog).  However, you can enjoy this out of the bottle, especially for the purposes of just having a beer or two and not participating in an all-out session.  A standard hefeweizen with citrus notes combining with a solid wheat body, this is another good beer in a line of consistently solid Summit offerings (and Summit is often one of the most affordable craft beers at $6-$8 per six pack).

Sierra Nevada Kellerweis Hefeweizen (4.8% ABV)

Another Great Sierra Nevada Offering
I definitely missed out on enjoying Kellerweis this summer as this is probably my second favorite wheat beer (next to Dancing Man).  I love the lemon flavor that immediately jumps to the surface, backed up by a balanced body that makes each sip consistently delicious.  Somewhere I will find and enjoy this on-tap, but in the meantime I should make a point to pick up a bottle or six when I need to re-stock my fridge.

Three Floyds Drunk Monk Hefeweizen (5.5% ABV)

A Great Find
A "tame" offering from my favorite Munster, IN crazy brewers, Drunk Monk is an excellent hefeweizen and I would love it if Three Floyds decided to bottle this during the spring or summer.  A nice combination of citrus and wheat flavors, this is definitely a beer that can be here the next minute, gone the next without much thought. There is no single dominant flavor that jumps to the surface (like cinnamon for Dancing Man and lemon for Kellerweis), but the balance of the brew is outstanding and for me this is the true Three Floyds summer beer.  This is the easily the hardest one of the group to find (it's tap only and distributed only to the best of beer bars), but should be celebrated if you can find it.

Honorable Mention

It's probably not for everyone, but Left Coast's Tangerine Wheat was a nice change of pace for me.  The tangerine power is very prevalent (some may say overpowering), but it went down very smoothly and works well as a change of pace from heavier beers.

I loved Founders Dumbohead (aka Founders Festival Wheat) during a small sampling of it, but it was a rare release that is not even a regular among Founders brewpub line-up.  Thought to be created as an homage to Gumballhead, it is much superior to its namesake.

I hope that New Glarus's Black Wheat re-enters their line-up at some point, as that was a fun and different beer and I would like to enjoy a pint size offering of this (just had a small sample like Dumbohead).

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Grumpy Bulldog threefer: Great Lakes Lake Eerie Monster, Stone Ruination, and Goose Island Green Line

This weekend my friend Pat is moving one vertical mile and about a thousand planar miles to Denver. So on Saturday night, Pat's brother Randy and I sent him off by getting good and wasted in downtown Naperville. Well, at least they got good and wasted; it was past midnight by the time I joined them, and Pat and Randy had about a seven-beer head start.

Owing to my visceral distaste for Naperville, I'd never experienced the downtown bar scene, which reminded me a lot of my visits to U of Iowa in college. I'm too old for most of the bars there, but we drank at the Grumpy Bulldog, a hole-in-the-wall with a great beer selection and "Dames" posted on the door of the women's bathroom.

I like my IPAs regaluhr-like just fine. The imperial style doesn't seem necessary to me, but I can't be a True Beer Snob, I'm told, until I've tried them all. I'll say this: Lake Eerie Monster smells fantastic. Besides the hops, it has a strong aroma of passion fruit or mango or some other "exotic" fruit that reminds me of a Naked smoothie drink. By comparison, the taste was dreadful, which is to say, mediocre compared to mediocre things. Way too sweet, way too boozy. It was hard to get past that to see it's inner-beauty, which I think it may possess; I just didn't get it.

Grade: H, for huuuuuge disappointment. I never thought I would dislike a Great Lakes beer, but after a few swigs, I just wanted it to end so I could get onto my next. Finishing it was a chore, even passing some off on Pat and Randy.

Stone Ruination is what I should have ordered for my first pint; fortunately Randy was kind enough to let me sample his. "Earthy" is the magic word here. It has a wet garden aroma--dirt, flowers, evergreens, birdbath (sure, why not)--and the flavor is all earthy hops, i.e. the kind that taste like good weed. (Don't even try to act like you don't know what I'm talking about.) I got almost no sweetness except maybe subtle grapefruit note. That said, I did only have the one swig after drinking Eerie Monster, so my palate may not have been all that sharp.

Grade: I, for incomplete, or alternately, for I-need-to-try-a-full-one. This is on the grocery list for my next trip to Famous.

Green Line was also a disappointment, but it was also my mistake to have pale ales back-to-back--something I rarely do and strongly advise against. The Green Line was pretty balanced and easy to drink, but the only thing I found unique about it was a buttery caramel corn-like flavor that I thought clashed with the hoppiness. Maybe this was tongue or brain playing tricks on me, or maybe my palate was hopped out at that point. But after a few sips, this corny note became so distracting that I really can't remember anything else about it.

Grade: C, for confusing. I'm not sure if the beer was the problem, or if I was the problem. Either way, I'm in no rush to try this again, though I probably should because I don't think I'm being very objective. Zuch had a much more favorable opinion of it.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Pilsner Urquell, pint can, poured into plastic stadium cup

It's not that my brother Paul and I are cheap. Quite generous, in fact. We just don't like getting fleeced. So paying for stadium beer is usually hard to reconcile with our principles.

But tonight, we were at the Sox game gratis courtesy of the hospital where Paul works; we'd parked for free on the street; I'd even smuggled in a pita pocket full of Paul's red pepper and feta scramble for my ballpark dinner. Free, free, free--I figured we'd earned the right to splurge on a beer. A beer. Pint split halfsies.

Even though the Sox played depressingly, eight ounces of Pilsner Urquell was enough to satisfy my beer tongue for the few hours, and I was driving anyway.

It's been a while since I'd last had the Urq, and in that time, I've grown accustomed to some of the sweeter, hopier, more opaque craft pilsners. By comparison, the Urquell tastes maltier and yeastier and finishes with more of a radish bitterness than citrus bitterness. Next to the bottled pilsner, the taste didn't seem to suffer from being canned, at least by my recollection.

There's just no beating a good pilsner for the hot, sticky environs of an August baseball game. And eight ounces of Pilsner Urquell beats sixteen of MGD on my rubric.

Grade: C, for can't go wrong. What can you say--it's the prototype. I like the newfangled stuff, but the classic still does it for me too. As a general rule, popular imports are a swindle, but Urquell is one of the few that's appropriately priced, whether at bar, store, or ballgame.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Left Hand Sawtooth, tap

Brixie's had a free live band night tonight. The Ben Miller Band--not to be confused with the Steve Miller Band, Glenn Miller Orchestra, Ben Folds Five, or Slaughterhouse Five. Apparently they're mudstomp--folky country bluegrass, to put it in familiar terms, though that may not be accurate. Whatever it is, they have a washboard, and they're awesome. I especially loved the "Heart-Shaped Box" and "Masters of War" covers.

Beer tonight was Left Hand Sawtooth, an ESB. What's an ESB, you ask? Good question; you're not alone. I had to ask Bruce the bartender the same thing tonight. It's "extra special bitter."

Ok, so this was a new style to me. Well, maybe not entirely new. This reminded me a lot of some beer I've had but couldn't pinpoint. It poured a light yellowish amber with a creamy head that smelled like bread and butter or white cheese... and some honey. The first sip was like a French country picnic, if I knew what that was--yeasty like sourdough bread, Brie cheese, and a subtle fruity sweetness, maybe apples or strawberries.

Sawtooth is low in carbonation but not so low that you forget you're drinking beer. The further down the glass I got, the more the beer lost the creamy texture and tasted less yeasty and more bitter. Halfway through the beer, the cheesiness was all but gone; the strawberry undertone had come forward; and the bitterness ruled the finish. Bready throughout.

Grade: F, for Frenchy, which is a silly and probably misleading description, but it stuck in my head. This is an excellent beer to sober up with. It's only 4.7% ABV but has to be drunk slowly--ounce per sip or less--for maximum enjoyment. If you're patient, there's a nice payoff. I love when a beer seems like two different brews at start and end, and this is one of those beers. It's time for me to learn what this ESB stuff is all about.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Lagunitas and Frank Zappa

Lunar in Villa Park is my main weeknight go-to. It's cozy, dimly-lit, stocked with great house brews and guest taps, and on my way home from work. And the people's always good too.*

Last night at Lunar, I had the pleasure of meeting their brewmaster Charley. (Or is it Charlie? I didn't ask.) Actually, as I recall, he introduced himself as "ambassador," but I'm comfortable with the assumption. In my experience, the house brews at Lunar have been mostly hits, with a couple so-sos, and maybe a miss or two, so overall, I have a great appreciation for the man's work. I spent about an hour chatting it up with him, mostly listening while he told stories and shared his beer wisdom.

One of the odder stories Charley told me involved Lagunitas and Frank Zappa. Unbeknownst to me, Lagunitas brewed a series of beers last decade (before I'd ever heard the name Lagunitas) that were named after Frank Zappa albums. Evidently the brewers are big Zappa fans and wanted to honor him by releasing these beers on anniversaries of the album releases. The custom has since been stopped, which, according to Charley, was the doing of Zappa's widow, who became upset at Lagunitas for supplying beer at the funeral for one of Zappa's road managers. Rumor had it that one of the manager's main duties was supplying Zappa with hookers and groupies, so Mrs. Zappa did not appreciate the dignitary treatment shown the manager by Lagunitas.

A story like that is just odd and uninteresting enough to be true, though I wouldn't doubt if the brews were discontinued over copyright reasons, which would be ironic, given that Zappa is considered a pioneer of content sharing.

Charley's takeaway beer-related quote of the night was, "Really, we're yeast farmers who happen to make beer." Catchy. We also railed a bit at the ABV and IBU space race in the craft market, to which Charley expects a backlash of easier-drinking beers with more complex and subtle flavors to come in the near future. Cheers to that.

Lunar's house brews--though often high in ABV--follow that premise. Last night I chose their IlLunaRator, a 9% dopplebock that's delicious and incredibly easy down the hatch. (That's right--a bock I truly enjoyed.) I also sampled the excellent house pilsner--more of the Czech style than German--which reminds me a lot of Lagunitas Pils, speak of the devil.

I'll spare the detailed analysis of the beers since you have to come to Villa Park to try them, but if you ever find yourself in the Chicago suburbs, it's worth the trip. I'll even meet you there.

*I was a little sad to learn last night that one of their bartenders, Paul, took a job in the city. He's one of the more knowledgeable and conversational bartenders I've ever met. I wish him well.

P.S.: If you were wondering how long it would take for me to start straight-up shilling for my favorite bars, the answer is less than a month.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Beer Advocate's Top 100 Beers

Credit to Brookston Beer Bulletin for this excellent find and their thoughts on this.  Without further adieu, BA's updated Top 100 Beers List

Top 100 List (Beers in bold are ones I've been fortunate enough to sample)
  1. Pliny The Elder, Russian River Brewing (American Double/Imperial IPA; 8%)
  2. Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout, Founders Brewing (American Double/Imperial Stout; 11.2%)
  3. Trappistes Rochefort 10, Brasserie de Rochefort (Quadrupel; 11.3%)
  4. HopSlam Ale, Bell’s Brewery (American Double/Imperial IPA; 10%)
  5. Stone Imperial Russian Stout, Stone Brewing (Russian Imperial Stout; 10.5%)
  6. St. Bernardus Abt 12, Brouwerij St. Bernardus (Quadrupel; 10.50%)
  7. Founders Breakfast Stout, Founders Brewing (American Double/Imperial Stout; 8.3%)
  8. Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier, Brauerei Weihenstephan (Hefeweizen; 5.4%)
  9. Péché Mortel (Imperial Stout Au Cafe), Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel (American Double/Imperial Stout; 9.5%)
  10. Celebrator Doppelbock, Brauerei Aying (Doppelbock; 6.7%)
  11. Duvel, Brouwerij Duvel Moortgat (Belgian Strong Pale Ale; 8.5%)
  12. Dreadnaught IPA, Three Floyds Brewing (American Double/Imperial IPA; 9.5%)
  13. Nugget Nectar, Tröegs Brewing (American Amber/Red Ale; 7.5%)
  14. La Fin Du Monde, Unibroue (Tripel; 9%)
  15. Bourbon County Stout, Goose Island (American Double/Imperial Stout: 13%)
  16. Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, North Coast Brewing (Russian Imperial Stout; 9%)
  17. Two Hearted Ale, Bell’s Brewery (American IPA / 7.1%)
  18. Ruination IPA, Stone Brewing (American Double/Imperial IPA; 7.7%)
  19. Schneider Aventinus, Private Weissbierbrauerei G. Schneider & Sohn (Weizenbock / 8.2%)
  20. Double Bastard Ale, Stone Brewing (American Strong Ale / 10.5%)
  21. 90 Minute IPA, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery (American Double/Imperial IPA; 9%)
  22. Hop Rod Rye, Bear Republic Brewing (American IPA; 8%)
  23. Trappistes Rochefort 8, Brasserie de Rochefort (Belgian Strong Dark Ale; 9.2%)
  24. Chimay Grande Réserve (Blue), Bières de Chimay, a.k.a. Abbaye Notre Dame de Scourmont (Belgian Strong Dark Ale; 9%)
  25. Stone IPA, Stone Brewing (American IPA; 6.9%)
  26. Arrogant Bastard Ale, Stone Brewing (American Strong Ale; 7.2%)
  27. Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, Great Lakes Brewing (American Porter; 5.8%)
  28. Chocolate Stout, Rogue Ales (American Stout; 6%)
  29. Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout, Great Divide Brewing (Russian Imperial Stout; 9.5%)
  30. Ten FIDY, Oskar Blues Grill & Brewery (Russian Imperial Stout; 9.5%)
  31. Storm King Stout, Victory Brewing (Russian Imperial Stout; 9.1%)
  32. Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout, Rogue Ales (Oatmeal Stout; 6.1%)
  33. Alpha King Pale Ale, Three Floyds Brewing (American Pale Ale; 6%)
  34. Westmalle Trappist Tripel, Brouwerij Westmalle (Tripel; 9.5%)
  35. Samuel Smith’s Imperial Stout, Samuel Smith Old Brewery at Tadcaster (Russian Imperial Stout; 7%)
  36. Yeti Imperial Stout, Great Divide Brewing (Russian Imperial Stout; 9.5%)
  37. Hennepin (Farmhouse Saison), Brewery Ommegang (Saison/Farmhouse Ale; 7.7%)
  38. Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout, Samuel Smith Old Brewery at Tadcaster (Oatmeal Stout; 5%)
  39. Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, Brooklyn Brewery (Russian Imperial Stout; 10.1%)
  40. Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale, Stone Brewing (American Strong Ale; 7.2%)
  41. Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, Stone Brewing (American Strong Ale; 8.7%)
  42. Trois Pistoles, Unibroue (Belgian Strong Dark Ale; 9%)
  43. Bell’s Expedition Stout, Bell’s Brewery (Russian Imperial Stout; 10.5%)
  44. Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, Sierra Nevada Brewing (American IPA; 6.8%)
  45. Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale, Sierra Nevada Brewing (American Barleywine; 9.6%)
  46. Racer 5 India Pale Ale, Bear Republic Brewing (American IPA; 7%)
  47. Orval Trappist Ale, Brasserie d’Orval (Belgian Pale Ale; 6.9%)
  48. Hercules Double IPA, Great Divide Brewing (American Double/Imperial IPA; 10%)
  49. Maharaja, Avery Brewing (American Double/Imperial IPA; 10.3%)
  50. Maudite, Unibroue (Belgian Strong Dark Ale; 8%)
  51. Sierra Nevada Harvest Wet Hop Ale, Sierra Nevada Brewing (American IPA; 6.7%)
  52. Palo Santo Marron, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery (American Brown Ale; 12%)
  53. Hop Stoopid, Lagunitas Brewing (American Double/Imperial IPA; 8%)
  54. Ommegang (Abbey Ale), Brewery Ommegang (Dubbel; 8.5%)
  55. Anchor Porter, Anchor Brewing (American Porter; 5.6%)
  56. HopDevil Ale, Victory Brewing (American IPA; 6.7%)
  57. World Wide Stout, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery (American Double/Imperial Stout; 18%)
  58. Three Philosophers Belgian Style Blend, Brewery Ommegang (Quadrupel; 9.8%)
  59. Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, Wells & Young’s Ltd (Milk/Sweet Stout; 5.2%)
  60. Smuttynose IPA “Finest Kind”, Smuttynose Brewing (American IPA; 6.9%)
  61. Stone Smoked Porter, Stone Brewing (American Porter; 5.9%)
  62. Chimay Première (Red), Bières de Chimay, a.k.a. Abbaye Notre Dame de Scourmont (Dubbel; 7%)
  63. Indian Brown Ale, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery (American Brown Ale; 7.2%)
  64. Chimay Tripel (White), Bières de Chimay, a.k.a. Abbaye Notre Dame de Scourmont (Tripel; 8%)
  65. Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA, Sierra Nevada Brewing (American IPA; 7.2%)
  66. Prima Pils, Victory Brewing (German Pilsener; 5.3%)
  67. Paulaner Hefe-Weissbier Naturtrüb, Paulaner Salvator Thomasbraeu (Hefeweizen; 5.5%)
  68. Hazelnut Brown Nectar, Rogue Ales (American Brown Ale; 6.2%)
  69. Hop Wallop, Victory Brewing (American Double/Imperial IPA; 8.5%)
  70. Gonzo Imperial Porter, Flying Dog Brewer (Baltic Porter; 7.80%)
  71. Fuller’s ESB, Fuller Smith & Turner (Extra Special/Strong Bitter (ESB); 5.9%)
  72. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Sierra Nevada Brewing (American Pale Ale; 5.6%)
  73. Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale, Samuel Smith Old Brewery at Tadcaster (English Brown Ale; 5%)
  74. Delirium Tremens, Brouwerij Huyghe (Belgian Strong Pale Ale; 8.5%)
  75. 60 Minute IPA, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery (American IPA; 6%)
  76. Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse, Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu (Hefeweizen; 5%)
  77. Sierra Nevada Porter, Sierra Nevada Brewing (American Porter; 5.6%)
  78. Anchor Liberty Ale, Anchor Brewing (American Pale Ale; 6%)
  79. Samuel Adams Cream Stout, Boston Beer Company (Milk/Sweet Stout; 4.69%)
  80. Dale’s Pale Ale, Oskar Blues Grill & Brewery (American Pale Ale; 6.5%)
  81. Mocha Porter, Rogue Ales (American Porter; 5.3%)
  82. Dead Guy Ale, Rogue Ales (Maibock/Helles Bock; 6.5%)
  83. Salvator Doppel Bock, Paulaner Salvator Thomasbraeu (Doppelbock; 7.9%)
  84. Spaten Optimator, Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu (Doppelbock; 7.2%)
  85. 120 Minute IPA, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery (American Double/Imperial IPA; 18%)
  86. Hoegaarden Original White Ale, Brouwerij van Hoegaarden (Witbier; 4.9%)
  87. Punkin Ale, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery (Pumpkin Ale; 7%)
  88. Bell’s Oberon Ale, Bell’s Brewery (American Pale Wheat Ale; 5.8%)
  89. Anchor Steam Beer, Anchor Brewing (California Common/Steam Beer; 4.9%)
  90. Guinness Extra Stout (Original), Guinness/Diageo (Irish Dry Stout; 6%)
  91. Samuel Adams Black Lager, Boston Beer Company (Schwarzbier; 4.9%)
  92. Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Boston Beer Company (Vienna Lager; 4.75%)
  93. ApriHop, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery (American IPA; 7%)
  94. Midas Touch Golden Elixir, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery (Herb/Spice Beer; 9%)
  95. Golden Monkey, Victory Brewing (Tripel; 9.5%)
  96. Samuel Adams Winter Lager, Boston Beer Company (Bock; 5.8%)
  97. Raison D’etre, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery (Belgian Strong Dark Ale; 8%)
  98. Pilsner Urquell, Plzensky Prazdroj (Czech Pilsener; 4.4%)
  99. Samuel Adams Octoberfest, Boston Beer Company (Märzen/Oktoberfest; 5.4%)
  100. Sierra Nevada Summerfest Lager, Sierra Nevada Brewing (Czech Pilsener; 5%)

Glad to see Sam Adams get much respect, as while they are one of the originators and a relatively mass produced craft beer, they still brew a wide array of good beers and have an excellent set of seasonal offerings (new Noble Pils was awesome, they still have one of my favorite Oktoberfests, and I was enjoying Winter Lager before my beer advocacy days).

Along those same lines, Sierra Nevada still sets the bar high in producing an outstanding line-up of strong offerings across many styles.  I look forward to trying their Stout and Porter during the cooler months and of course anticipate the release of Celebration Ale (one of my favorite IPA's).

I again welcome our Stone overlords to Illinois and look forward to further sampling their renown line-up of beers.

Even ranked at 27, I feel that Edmund Fitzgerald is underrated and as of now I have no qualm in declaring it the best regularly produced (all year) beer in America. 

Wisconsin people, you guys need to send some more New Glarus to Jason and Todd.  Surprised Dancing Man Wheat and even Raspberry Tart did not make this list (among NG beers they have tried), but again they consistently brew a wide range of strong beers across many styles (and are among best with fruit beers and session brews).

I need to try Oskar Blues in a bad way and I ever go camping again will bring their canned offerings.

As with New Glarus, we need to work some deals for Surly to be sent out east.  Lucky enough to be privy to them in Midwest, they will always sit as one of favorite breweries (even if I did not love Schadenfreude).  Even as they go all New Glarus on us and opt to be locally distributed, I will still find a way to enjoy their excellence (and hope to attend Darkness Day down the line).

Finally, nothing against European beers, but as you can see I have stayed true to American beers on this list and maintain my pledge to go with American brewed beers (predominantly craft and microbrwed) whenever possible. 

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Recap of BA Event at Goose Island-Part 2

In part one, I wrote about my experience at Goose Island brewery itself and reviewed their beer, food, and service.  Now to the featured event of the right, the Beer Advocate monthly gathering and sampling.

New Glarus Steals the Show

Simple Brilliance
I expected some of BA's in attendance to bring some of Wisconsin's finest brews and boy did they.  From my sample of Moon Man, it certainly lives up to the hype and I super anxiously await trying full bottles of it (hopefully later this month).  A crisp, session pale ale, Moon Man is a smooth drinking beer that provides hops, citrus and floral flavors and has an awesome balance of each.  At 5.0% ABV, you can drink Moon Man all day and/or night and still be standing.

Along with Moon Man, mad props to the BA's that brought the Raspberry Tart and Unplugged Cranberry Lambic bottles.  These two beers prove why so many people in the beer world consider New Glarus the best brewer of fruit based beers.

Cranbic has a beautiful scent that even my weakened nose picked up on and enjoyed.  While sweet, Cranbic has enough balance to where the fruity taste does not overwhelm the beer and make it too sweet to enjoy.

Raspberry Tart certainly tasted like beer with fruit brewed in the formula and not fruit juice disguised as a beer.  Again, a strong balance of fruit and sour flavors mix to form a delectable drinker that needs to be a must try for all beer lovers.  On my next trip to the land of beer and Warriors I hope to bring full bottles of the Raspberry Tart and Belgian Red home.

More and more I believe New Glarus to be the preeminent brewer of session styled beers in the country and one of the top breweries period.

Stout Battle

A great night cap
Even with the warmth of summer I made sure to sample the strong group of stouts at the table. First off, I made a point of it to try Three Floyds Moloko Milk Stout before it was cashed.

Definitely not as sweet as I expected, I nonetheless enjoy the the malty, roasty stout from Munster.  A smooth drinker at 7.0% ABV, there was no alcohol notes present and that should be commended in any beer with an ABV at that level.  From my limited sampling I believe that Beer Advocate reviewers have it on money in rating it an A-.

Even with a fellow A- rating, Bell's Expedition Stout needs to heralded as a tremendously balanced brew that hit my sweet tooth (always like a dessert flavor in my stouts, especially since I normally drink them at the end of sessions).  It did not taste overwhelming at 10.5% ABV and certainly could do a number on me in the future.  Glad to see this available later in the night, this definitely proved to be the revelation of the night for me.

The one moderate disappointment of this group was New Holland's Poet.  The oatmeal stout did not have an overwhelming flavor and lacked that something to catch my attention.  After loving Goose Island's offering in this style, I think that may have been an aberration as this may just be a style that does not suit my tongue (also highly disappointed with Rogue's heralded Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout).

Shout Out to Homebrewers

First off, props to the homebrewers that go through the effort of producing their brews for us to sample.  History shows that the future top brewers always manage to start in this capacity and go from there.

I greatly my enjoyed samples of a hefeweizen, hybrid Pale Ale/IPA (a potential session IPA), and the creative Thai IPA brewed with a mix of tea and hops.

The ingenuity involved with coming up and daring to brew a beer as bold as a tea flavored IPA makes this such a wonderful industry that open its arms to outside the box thinkers.

Other Notes

Really enjoyed Green Flash West Coast IPA and definitely to sample a full one at the start of a future session.  Love the west coast hops and think they brew nicely in most every beer I have tested (and prefer them to the East Coast/English style).

One Black IPA clearly played to a tough crowd, with numerous comments about the smell of feces in the scent.

So far, so good with my relationship to Metro's Krankshaft Kolsch.  While I love breweries that experiment in unique and exciting ways, we need brewers that know their strength and brew simple but strong brews.  What Metro may lack in flair they make up for in their strong command of German styled brews.

It did not take for the Great Lakes Erie Monster and Two Brothers Hop Juice to be completed and I hope to sample these beers in the future.

Finally, I must make note of the welcoming presence, kindness, and of course generosity of all the BA's in attendance.  Even though I attended solo, I had no issue conversing with and hearing the thoughts of the nice people in attendance.  Most off all, there was a great group of beers and GI's complimentary Saison offering was also well received.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Recap of BA Event at Goose Island-Part 1

I finally made my much awaited trip to the monthly Beer Advocate event at Goose Island Clybourn.  In typical fashion I got there way too early and ended checking out the massive Binny's (formerly Sam's) adjacent to GI and picked up some Metro Krankshaft Kolsch to add to my haul (for future reference I'll bring larger format bottles and try to get a little rarer outside of Surly goodness). Seeing that this recap is going to be plenty long, I will split it into two parts with my thoughts on GI brewpub and their beers in part one.

Goose Island Beers/Brewpub Notes

After checking out Binny's (and again failing in the brief quest to get a beer tulip glass), I headed back to GI just in time for their weekly new beer release.  Following the sampling of the new Grahampagne (sp) Belgian Blonde (solid, the guys next to me at the bar loved it), I went for the brewpub only Midway IPA.

Flying away on a fun, beer filled night
A hoppy red colored IPA (6.8% ABV) similar to Surly's Furious, I gladly discover that Goose Island's brewing versatility includes producing a great IPA that deserves to be in the conservation with renown American IPA's like Furious.  The hoppy kick in Midway balances out nicely with citrus notes and makes for a relatively smooth drinker that I wisely consumed in small doses.

Sadly a small breeze of flavor on this street
Having time for one more beer before BA event begins, I choose another brewpub only offering in the Willow St. Belgian Wit (5.0% ABV).  Flavors of coriander, orange peel, and citrus notes dominate the traditionally styled Wit.  However, the flavors fade quickly in each sip and I would rather have the fruity/spicy flavors go overboard instead of underwhelm.  Proof that the brewers at Goose Island are indeed human (and giving them a pass on 312 as a necessary evil needed to lure non-craft drinkers), I do not plan on ordering Willow St. on future trips to Goose Island.

Late in the night I finally got some solid food to complement a night of full beer drinking (did enjoy their kettle cooked BBQ bar chips with Midway IPA).  After choosing the wrong but right Chorizo Quesadilla (tastes great, but the surprising spiciness did numbers with my stomach), I enjoy a dessert Oatmeal Stout as I remember loving this GI offering from the bottle.

Again, this blog needs to invest in a digital camera
Stout beers, even ones with relative low ABV's like the 5.2% of this one, do better with age and are not always best fresh (of course, I'll gladly keep trying new ones fresh on tap).  It was still quite enjoyable fresh, but I do not taste the sweet, chocolaty notes as much that I love in the bottled offering.  Also, after admirably soaking up my gluttony at the annual Pat and Vinnie Thanksgiving shindig last November, the Oatmeal Stout lost the admirable fight last night as I gladly did not have to worry about a motor vehicle on my way home (and hiccuped away entire bus ride back).

On that note, I will sum up my thoughts on Goose Island experience.  Along with GI's usual strong beers, I must commend the tremendous service and friendliness by all the employees (especially as well as I play the out of town tourist role at times).  The quesadilla was a little much on a booze filled stomach but still rather tasty and recommended for those stomachs that do not have the backbone of a politician.  Finally, the bar chips also tasted greatm but the BBQ flavor may have subtly started tying knots in my stomach from the jump.

Coming soon, Part 2 on the awesome BA event itself and reviews of the brews I sampled and enjoyed.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Dogfish Head Raison D'etre

Looking to add a couple of beers to my contribution for tonight's beer swapping/tasting event at the Goose Island Clybourn location (the original), I picked up a six pack of DH Raison D'etre as it happened to be the freshest good beer at my local Jewel's beer selection (the DH 90 minute was 2 1/2 months old and Sierra Nevada Kellerweis bottles were dusty).

Admittedly not the most inspired pick-up (typical last minute Zuch planning), I hit it out of the park with this one.  I strongly disagree with the Beer Advocate rating of a B on D'etre as I thoroughly enjoyed the mahogany colored offering.

Hit Jackpot on This One
A very smooth drinker for an 8.0% ABV beer, D'etre had a well balanced flavor with the raisins and sugar beets.  Only a slight alcohol taste at the end sips allowed for this to go down so pleasantly.  Definitely meant to be enjoyed in moderation and in a deliberate manner, D'etre fit in nicely as an end of the night of beer (and could be a dangerous precedent for this fat guy that wants to watch the amount beer I consume).

As an added bonus, this beer drank very well at room temperature.  I really wanted to sample this beer last night and only refrigerated it for a couple of hours before popping it open (making the last few sips warmer then I normally like).

All in all, another inspired offering from one of America's top breweries that always stays at the forefront of innovation.

Goose Island Clybourn Event

As I alluded to earlier, tonight is the the monthly Beer Advocate beer sampling and swapping event at the Goose Island Clybourn location.  This will be my maiden voyage to this well heralded event and I look forward to posting a recap shortly afterward.

Two Brothers Cane and Ebel, bottle, poured into pint glass

Though not related to this review, here's a picture of me drinking a Budweiser (I also had an Old Style) at Monday night's Cubs game:

I post this for two reasons: 1) to prove that I'm a lover of beer and not a beer snob* (There is a difference!) and 2) to note that I saw the Cubs get beat 18-1 in person. Well, technically, I only saw them get beat 13-1 before getting special exemption from my "no leaving the game early, ever" policy. I'm just glad I opted for Brewers garb--my first time ever wearing road colors in Wrigley.

*That said, I probably hadn't had either beer since the last time I went to a Cubs game or some other live sporting event. The Old Style was perfectly enjoyable, but I understand now why Bud is merely drinkable™.

As for tonight's sampling, no unique setting or backstory--just me in my underwear on my couch, beer poured from a bottle I picked up on my last trip to Famous Liquors.

Cane and Ebel is described on the label as a "hopped-up red rye ale." Well, I'd say it pours more amber than red, and it's definitely more hopped-up than rye--a disappointment to me because I really like rye beers. Hops are like mint or garlic--too much of them, and your taste buds become calloused to everything else.

I know there's more to this beer. Behind the hops, I could smell something toasty, some pine nuts maybe, and a little coffee (though I'm always skeptical whether coffee aromas are in the beer or just permanently absorbed into my nasal cavity from all the joe I drink throughout the day), and the flavor is toasty, grainy, caramel sweet.

The first few sips were great, but the hops just wouldn't dissipate. Water, toothpick--not enough. This would be fine if hoppiness were my mission, but I wanted something more. It was there, but I just didn't have the patience to wait on it. If I really wanted to get full flavor out of each sip, I'd be up all night, the last sip flat and piss warm. Not for me; not tonight.

Grade: T, for too hoppy! I would love to try this beer again, but a) not without food to help clear the palate and b) with the expectation of a hoppy beer and a palate prepared to work its way back from that.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Addendum to Post on Pale Ales

Two great beers that I have enjoyed but purposely neglected in my previous post on pale ales are Great Lakes Burning River and Half Acre Daisy Cutter.  While classified as pale ales, I view both of them as hoppy, IPA styled beers that should be had just once per session (maybe twice for Burning River). 

If Great Lakes swapped the classifications of Burning River and Commodore Perry IPA, I would not blink an eye and in fact that may be a bit more accurate description of each beer (I like both of them a lot, they are just different to me from their self-described style).

Meanwhile, Daisy Cutter is quite the little hop bomb that can knock you on your ass if unprepared for the strong hop kick.  A delicious brew, no doubt, and the beer that turned me on to the great local company that I need to visit sometime soon.  However, I think it does best at the start of a session (and for optimal taste, I would consume a fair amount of water between beers to cleanse the palate for the next beer).  I would love to have sampled the recently brewed Double Daisy Cutter but struggle to imagine the hop force infused in that beer.

Also, for readers of Beer Advocate there is a discussion on this same topic of pale ales.  Clearly some people disagree with my assessments here, particularly on Burning River and its sessionability, but that is the great thing about beer.  Not everyone thinks the same, nor should they, and all educated opinions are great to partake in.

Pale Ales

An underrated style, a well brewed pale ale brings the hoppy flavor in a smooth drinking beer palatable for the vast majority of beer drinkers.  They can also be enjoyed multiple times during a quality session and do not leave your tongue paralyzed to the flavor of other beers you may enjoy later that day or night.  Here a few of my favorites in that style, plus a special mention to one I anxiously await trying in my next trip north of the border.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, 5.6% ABV

Space Mountain of Craft Beers
To be the man, you have to beat the man.  First brewed all the way back in 1980, SNPA is still the man.  The trademark SNPA hop style first came to the forefront in what remains their flagship beer.  The hops are balanced nicely and create a smooth drinking style for a beer that is often an oasis at places that otherwise carry BMC products.  Likewise, SNPA still holds its own at some of the best beer bars in this country and deserves to be celebrated for launching a style that promotes the flavor in beers (not just the "drinkability" of light adjunct lagers).

Goose Island Green Line Pale Ale, 5.0% ABV

A Reliable L Line
One of GI's new brews for 2010, the Green Line Pale Ale is an excellent interpretation of this style and refreshingly drinkable.  After first sampling this at the Schoolyard Tavern in Chicago, I was floored by the balance in this beer and how smooth it drank (and the third one went down as easily as the first).  The hops present a stern, yet welcoming kick at the start and fade nicely as you enjoy each sip.  While my beloved Marquette Warrios proceeded to lose another heartbreaking early round game in the NCAA Tournament, the night was far from a loss after discovering this Goose Island brew (as of now, tap only).  Goose Island can do little wrong for me right now and the discovery of this tremendous brew played a big part in their current White Sox like winning streak in my beer sampling.

Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale, 5.0% ABV

This beer does not remain full in my glass for long
My introduction to the fine brewery out of Bend, OR, the bomber of Mirror Pond left my Lakefront pint glass quick class quicker than Brett Favre changes his mind about retirement.  The west coast hops from this plentiful hop region blended in nicely and formed a tremendous texture that hastily disappeared into my large mouth.  One bomber could have easily been three or four and I'd have been wondering what just happened to me as I wobbled back to my room.  If Deschutes decides to start distributing to Illinois I will not complain and in the mean time will make sure that beers like Mirror Pond will come back home on my voyages to Minnesota.

Three Floyds Alpha King Pale Ale, 6.0% ABV

Crown Jewel of Three Floyd's Awesome Craziness
In the midst of a brewery that is as adventurous as any currently going, Alpha King is the rock solid foundation that allows Three Floyds to take so many risks with their other brews.  A touch hoppier then the other pale ales mention here, Alpha King remains very drinkable and worth all of the praise it has garnered in the beer world.  Though Alpha King may not create the waves of excitement as say Dark Lord, Behemoth, Apocolypse Cow and 3F's other big beers, it deserves the same recognition for its excellence and its consistent quality gives Three Floyds the freedom it needs to be a preeminent big beer brewer.

One beer that I expect to hold in this high regard once I sample it is New Glarus's new pale ale, Moon Man.  Another smooth drinker that is very sessionable, my friends from the lands of brats and beer gave it rave reviews and I anxiously await trying it myself.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Blue Moon, tap, in stadium cup

Yesterday was minor league baseball; today was the ponies.

What am I gonna say about Blue Moon? You've all had it. Sgt. James Crowley likes it. Mass produced, sure, but I'll never turn up my nose at one.

$6.25 for a 24-ounce draught? Only winning bet I made all day!

Two Brothers Twofer: Domaine DuPage and Ebel's Weiss, tap, served in stadium cup

I love all live baseball experiences; I am a baseball junkie. Sometimes I crave the bright lights and mystique of The Show, but other times, thrift and the charm of minor league ball finds me at a Kane County Cougars game. Last night was one of those nights.

Sometimes A-ball pitchers bounce their fastballs. This is the one part of A-ball that irks my inner-baseball snob. Cougars games, though, offer good beer at a reasonable price, and when my inner-beer snob is happy, the baseball snob will usually keep quiet. Here's a little chart I made summarizing the pros and cons of three local live baseball options:

I generally don't like my amber-colored beers sweet, but Domaine DuPage is still a pretty decent beer. The aroma mostly matches the flavor--syrupy sweet, nutty, toasty, and a little musty. There's also a little whiff of something tart and fruity, like apple or cherry. It's a good after-dinner beer--something you can savor without being too heavy.

Grade: S, for savoy. It's not really my bag, but if sweet and toasty sounds good to you, it may be yours. Either way, it's the best beer I'd had at a stadium since... the last time I went to a Cougars game.

Ebel's Weiss is straightforward hefeweizen. I could've sworn I was drinking a Hacker-Pschorr. Think banana pancakes, with a touch of citrus bitterness at the finish. Also some coriander or cardamom--not sure which because I always get the two crossed up.

Grade: P, for prototypical. It's nothing new, but it won't disappoint. An ideal second pint, especially in summer.