Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Reviewing 2008

As I look back on 2008 it was a down year for lots of things, but as for my beer experiences, mostly with friends and family in tow, it was a very good year. I wanted to rank some beers and events for the year, including my personal top 10 beers of 2008, all linked to my beer advocate reviews, in no particular order:


1) Devil over a Barrel - Bourbon Barrel Aged Coffee Imperial Oatmeal Porter, from Tyranena, wow a mouthful of words in the title, and a great beer, the best porter of the year for sure.

2) De Dolle Ara Bier, a great complex Belgian Strong Pale Ale, from a great little brewer.

3) Gouden Carolus - the Keizer, a fantastic complex Belgian Strong Dark Ale, they now brew a Pale one like this too, but I'd stick with this one. Is this better than their Noel offering? Just by a smidgen.

4) Our Special Ale 2008, from Anchor hits all the right notes for this seasonal beer, great job!

5) Saison Deluxe, from Southhampton is perfect for this style, yes I've had Fantome, Dupont, Hennepin, this beats them all, unfortunately it's not distributed in IL.

6) Dark Lord Imperial Stout, from Three Floyds, thanks to Wil at Goose got a little taste of this and it lives up to it's billing.

7) Hitachino Nest Celebration Ale, had the 2007 (produced late 2006) in summer 2008, fantastic complex ale. Saw the 2008 version recently, and am seeking the 2009, these will keep and age well for a long time.

8) Hop Hearty Ale, from New Glarus, a malty IPA which harkens back to the English style, my favorite summer ale.

9) Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout, just a great version of this style, one of the few beers I liked before I knew what a good beer was.

10) Biere de Mars Grande Reserve, from Jolly Pumpkin. My sojourn of 2008 was the side trip to Dexter, MI in March to visit these folks. A husband and wife brewing team, the tiny brewery is filled with oak casks, looking more like a winery. The Grand Reserve offerings can only be gotten from the brewery on Fridays, but their regular offering are superb. The bottle I drank with a friend (as all aged for 27 months) at a burger joint was not enough to write a review, but the sourish complex malty brew was probably the best beer of 2008, thanking my foresight that I still have one left.

As for special mention, two beers come to mind. The most memorable draft offering was Wild Blue, from Goose Island, an American Wild Ale with blueberries, just great. In the bottle, it would have to be Cantillon's Saint Lamvinus, a funky fruit Lambic from a great producer which just knocks the socks off your feet.


The top beer related events of 2008 included:

- February Goose Tasting - Belgian's, included the Saint Lamvinus.
- March 50th birthday, starting at the Maproom, ending at Cafe Bernard with our best friends and some memorable food and drink.
- March 17 St. Patrick's Day at the Gage gastropub with my dad and Uncle Tom.
- April visit to the Blind Pig in Champaign.
- May stumbled into Local Option for lunch, wow beer list.
- June included a St. Louis trip with local purchases.
- June Goose tasting, Summer beers, Teresa attends.
- July my first solo Wisconsin run to Woodmans, Three Cellars.
- August the Mahr's going away party, meeting Ted & Mary at Two Brothers.
- September finding the wedding gang (May's) at the The Old Fashioned, including the bride and groom to be, the night before the wedding, getting smashed, tradition lives on! Great place, great crowd.
- Dave and Dominique's visit in September, a rainy lunch but great tour, including Piece.
- October discovering Sheffield's with Edmund.
- November Teresa attends Goose Fruit and Spiced beer tasting.
- November discovering In Fine Spirits with Barry and Betsy.
- earning my first free growler from the Goose, their Saison.
- the numerous trips to Hopleaf with Barry and Betsy.
- the many great lunches with Ed.

And the biggest event may have been the no smoking in bars law (and all indoors) starting Jan 1, 2008, a long time coming!!

Yes it was quite a beer year for the ages....and tonight for our annual New Year's celebration with Ted and Mary, we'll be at Shaw's Seafood, in Schaumburg. Don't know about their beer list, but just in case I called them, they charge a $10 corkage fee for a bottle, not bad as I will bring a bottle of maybe the best beer in the world, New Glarus' Wisconsin Belgian Red, Ya wooo!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Chicagoland Beer Review

Here's a nice overview review of the Chicagoland beer scene by Ale Street News, not a deep read but rather comprehensive. Enjoy.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Beer that is even Better for You

Beer is already good for you in many ways. But if we can up the ante and provide anti-aging benefits from resveratrol, the red wine compound, who benefits most? College kids of course - they could now still drink beer but live longer to drink even better beer as it comes along!

So it's no surprise that such a beer is being invented, of course, by undergraduates at Rice U. Go team!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Italy is Supporting Good Beer

We need the Italian support for good beer, it does assist the changes in the industry. Good article on it in today's New York Times Travel section here, enjoy.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Cambridge Ditty

Ever think of going to Cambridge for some learnin' as Boo would ask? Well, here is a nice little
Pubcast #1: Cambridge from The Pubcast on Vimeo. about the pub scene there, very important stuff, blimey these blokes are hard to hear some times, but give it a go...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Yard House Glenview and Ted's Montana Grill

Not a real consideration for dinner, but the Yard House does have a selection of some 100 or so beers on tap. If only it had a fuller selection of micros it might be worth more than a visit every half year or so. More on this issue below.

We started with a nice dinner @ Ted's Montana Grill nearby. Excellent beef and buffalo offerings dominate the menu, I and a friend enjoyed variations on the buffalo burger, quite meaty, juicy, and hearty. My wife enjoyed the special, buffalo short ribs and quite enjoyed it. My other friend a buffalo fillet, quite tasty. Very limited beer selections, so it was a draft Sam Adams for me. Overall a B+ and well worth another trip.

Yard House has a long list, they have a unique tower than serves all the tap beers at the same temperature (not optimal), as an addition to the forlorn suburbs looking for a selection beyond Bud and Miller it's great, but could be so much better. Outside a decent micro list of Goose Island, Dogfish Head, Summit, Great Lakes, a few belgians there is nothing special. They do several mixes like Black and Tan, Black and Blue, and most interestingly a Belgian lambic with raspberries mixed with Young's Double Chocolate Stout. Overall, a B-, not bad but could be so much more.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

OK, OK, Ok, Lagers aren't that Bad

I'm usually caught ranting about how lagers ruined the beer industry in America. Well it turns out it was really big business as usual. As Richard Nalley describes in the excellent Forbes article, many superb lagers exist, but surely not the ones from AB, Miller, etc. He even has a list of suggestions, and I might add the dudes at Three Floyds make some nice lagers.

Lost Abbey coming here!

A St. Louis blog I follow tipped me off to some great news for Chicago loving beer folks, beer may now becoming here from Lost Abbey, one of the great makers of ales in the US. I'm a very happy guy :). As their blog writer says, "That won't suck." No it won't.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Where to Find the Unusual Beers

Just sayin', as I get better acquainted with the hundreds of beers available in this area, the special limited ones are usually the best, or at least most interesting to try. Not that these are all extreme beers, but they usually cater to the aficionado, which I believe I am. And where do you find these one off offerings? One place is at the brewery's brewpub. The other is at your deep beer bars.

For the former, look to Three Floyds (Munster, IN.), Two Brothers (Warrenville, IL.), or Goose Island (Chicago, IL.). I have been to the first and last, not the middle one. At Three Floyds on a day trip in 2007? we found a delightful cafe environment with many FFF beers on tap, including several you will never find in a bottle. At the Goose Island Clybourn brewpub, brewer Will Turner regularly creates wonderful experimental beers on tap or cask that never make it to a bottle, and rarely repeat.

As for the bars, notable are the Map Room and Hopleaf, since they don't make their own beer, they can get some out of market beers that you will never see in Chicagoland anywhere else, or certainly not at the aligned brewpubs. Examples, Hopleaf currently has on tap the Surly Cynicale, a nice Saison only available in cans (yeah!) that are not distributed in IL, and surprise a FFF Smoked Helles (not even listed on their website or at Beer Advocate), a one-off beer you'll never see in a bottle unfortunately.

We are in this time in history lucky and fortunate to be alive when great brewpubs and beer bars cater to wide style of tastes, so get out there and keep widening the options by supporting these great brewers, the one-offs they produce, and the bars that carry them.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Anniversary Beer for the Ages

This months Session hosted by the Barley Blog covers Anniversary beers, my choice is mentioned in the host's blog, but I cover it here because it is one of my favorite all time beers. The Gouden Carolus Carolus D'Or - Cuvee Van De Keizer is brewed once a year, and it's worth waiting for. My review:

The bottle I had recently was labeled 2007, meaning it was brewed on February 24, 2007, the birthday of a certain monarch named Charles the Fifth. It is rated at 11% abv. It poured a deep garnet clear color, nice head with lace left. Very inviting.

The nose has sweet malt, deep, deep nose of plums, cherries, and a bit of alcohol, very nice.

This may be the perfect Belgian stong dark ale, intriguing deep malt taste, beyond plums and a bit of oak, tastes include a sign of port, chocolate, yeast esters, yes that deep, very good, super!

Perfect fizzy mouthfeel, so it doesn't get to sweet on the tongue, sweetish aftertaste but just right.

Despite the abv, very drinkable, after dinner for sure with figs, chocolate, pie, whatever desert you choose, I love this beer.

This one has aged nicely for almost 1 1/2 years.
The brewers website submits that you can store this beer for up to 10 years. I believe it but cannot believe it would get any better than this one. I'll make this my yearly seek to find a version of this beer so I can have at least one annually. The Belgians certainly know what they are doing, and in the realm of Strong Belgian Darks this one reigns supreme.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Next Session, and My Beer Rankings

I've been doing these "The Session" blogs on a monthly basis since discovering them earlier this year. If you don't know it's a first Friday of every month where bloggers around the world write about a particular topic related to Beer. For the upcoming August Session the theme is “Happy Anniversary”. That is blogger are encouraged to:

"Use this as an excuse to celebrate. Open a limited release anniversary beer from your favorite brewer. Enjoy that special beer you normally only open on your wedding anniversary or birthday. Either way, tell us about it. Why is it a beer you may only drink once a year? Why is that brewery’s annual release the one you selected?"

I will be contributing an entry, though I'm not yet sure what the beer will be. Stay tuned.

As for my rankings of beers tried recently, I put them up mostly on Beer Advocate, you can locate them under my ID robbyc1 by going directly to this link. Under the Beer Karma section click on the "beer reviews" link to see the 60 or so beers I have reviewed.

You can also see my Wants (usually out of market brews I can't easily obtain). I can be very appreciative of anyone who can find these and ship them to me, alert me if you can to arrange details! For those who don't know Chicago, while a substantial beer market, suffers from a concentration of problematic distributors, they are rumored to be Mob controlled, and very difficult to deal with, thus many brewers simply choose to stay out of this market. Luckily, beer can be sent to Illinois (Fedex, UPS). According to a currently operating retailer, they can only ship beer to 23 States, including CA, CO, DC, FL, GA, ID, IL, IA, LA, MN, NE, NM, NV, NH, NC, ND, OH, OR, SC, TX, VA, WA, WV, WI. Private sellers/traders are limited only by the shipper's rules, and to know more here's a good article.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Session for July- Beers Out of Season

The subject for July's Session, a monthly worldwide blog day every first Friday of the month about beers (started by this guy) can be summed up as this: Drinking anti-seasonally. That is, what do blog writers drink out of season. Not what lawnmower beers you prefer in July, but rather do you drink heavy malty beers in summer, or light wheat ales in winter?? It's an interesting question, here goes...

My desire for deep and complex tastes, while satiated in the cooler months, does not go away in summer. This is my special time for anti-seasonal tries. I do drink hoppy beers in winter, but summer is my time for certain winter-style brews. And I have intentionally saved a few winter/xmas beers especially for summer(no - wife of mine - I didn't forget to drink them in cold cold January). Now, I don't go outside and sweat in the sun while drinking these, but rather find myself in a nice after dinner mood in front of the TV, watching the White Sox, with the cooler night air wafting in the back door.

I will have a nice bottle of Jolly Pumpkin's Noel De Calabaza, a malty spicy brew with a sour finish coming from the wooden casks they age their ales in. This is a good choice to pair with sweetish BBQ. With some chocolate cookies, I'll have a nice Gouden Carolus Carolus D'Or - Cuvée Van De Keizer, a strong dark Belgian ale made one day per year in February, which has a wonderful complex taste and a great slightly sweet finish. Finally, we hosted some family last weekend and enjoyed a deep, rich dark belgian type ale from Lost Abbey called Judgment Day. We had this Belgian quad brewed with raisins paired with hummus and light vegetables. Wonderfully complex, and a great offset to the lighter tastes of the foods!

The days may be hot and drying, and you need lots of water to hold up, but I'd rather drink a combo of water with great tasting beers in summer than lower my standards just for some refreshment. No Coors, it's not all about refreshment, it's about flavor, always, always, always....

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Smak Tak - A Hidden Gem in NW Chicago

So this nice Polish restaurant, Smak Tak, place has been around for 10 years, how come we polish food loving folks have never found it until now?? And it's a beloved BYOB!

Nice little bistro type setting on north Elston, an unusual location but near the northern Red Apple. Parking easily available on Elston.

First, the soups. Exceptional! We tried two, the Mushroom for my friend, and Red Barscz with mushroom pierogis for me. Wow, both almost a full meal, the small mushroom pierogis were lovely. The clear redness of the broth very good. The Mushroom soup had lots of mushrooms, great broth, and many other ingredients. If this is all they offered, I would go back again and again.

The dining options included all favorites including a massive plate of hunters stew (old polish style). It included shredded cabbage, veal, sausage, and potatoes, with the meats providing a great smoky flavor. The Hungarian Pancake includes a full serving of gulash. Both were big enough to share or save half for another meal.

We shared a nice paring Biere de Garde from Southampton and a Norwegian stout for dessert. Coulda skipped a few meals after this one, great deal. Give this restaurant an A-, only lacking a bit of decor, but the food is worthy of a try.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Beer Festivals - What I'd Like to See

For this beer blogging Friday, The Session, discussion is on the subject of beer festivals. Now, I'm a relative newbie to good beer, have gotten my current range of knowledge from far looking purchases in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan, and most prominently from the great monthly Beer Academys events at Goose Island, a beer haven I hope to see stand for many more years. I have never been to a beer festival. I do have some personal opinions on what I'd like to see at a beer festival, so here goes:

  1. A tasteless, smell-less sample glass
  2. At each table a brewer or someone who knows details about each offering
  3. A flat entry fee including say 25 tastes for $25, and the opportunity to purchase more
  4. A focus - either by style (say Belgians), or location (Midwest brewers)
  5. A food offering (if only pretzels) at each table
  6. Detail stats on each beer, with suggested food pairings
I particularly enjoy the style tastings at Goose Island,. These Beer academies give you a chance to understand one particular style much better. One tasting that might have been too broad was a German-style Bock tasting in 2006. We tried beers from the Maibock, Bock, Dopplebock, Weizenbock, and Eisbock styles. Now that was a wide range to cover in 11 beers but well done and enjoyed by all. You could offer this type of event on a bigger scale, open to more brewers, and say having 8-10 beers on offer for each style. Great way to learn.

My continuing search for the best beers drives my consumption. I will continue to do it by attending Beer academies, selected tastings and purchasing anything in the smallest format possible (don't want to get stuck with a 6 pack of something objectionable). Twelve ounces is enough to make a judgement, and I'll take 2-3 oz. when available (thanks Will for the Dark Lord tasting!!) Anyway, the search goes on....

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Firkin to Rival Rock Bottom's?

Interesting place. We finally made it to Firkin, an "English-type" pub, at least according to their website. The offerings here would not be seen in England, however, maybe close to the border with Mexico, but more about that later.

In downtown Libertyville you must walk into the back door, the front on the street shows that on a Saturday night around 7ish it is packed. Parking in the back, take the back door down a long hallway from there to the dining area, with a long bar on the left, and some 20-25 tables well spaced. Interesting decor, the posters particularly, mostly from China? Weird stuff hanging from the high ceiling. Nice look, lots of middle aged folks enjoying themselves.

Our problems started as we sat at the bar waiting for a table. The bartender gave us several tastes as we weren't sure we what we wanted. That was good and appreciated. The problem as it turned out was that they were out of 3-4 offerings of the 25 or so listed. Upside, on cask there were 2, but the red ale wasn't that good (didn't try the IPA on offer, probably a better choice). We ended up with a nice Dortmunder from Two Brothers, a Kasteel Red, and a few other nice choices. The website says it's mostly micros (or was it the menu) but many Belgians on offer as well.

The food menu has many pages, a mix of Mexican, bar food, and lots of seafood. Unusual. Best appetizer was the special pork tacos. Guacamole just ok. The burger was loved, the fish tacos so so, the Cuban pork sandwich was very good. But we would not go back for this food if not for the beer list, and that was an issue.

Another bigger problem, lack of response from the wait staff. We had some missed requests on food, the worst of which happened near the end. We didn't like the look of the desserts, so we chose the Fantome Chocolate as our dessert. It came, seemed nice, no chocolate notable. We asked the waiter, he said he didn't know, we said we'd like to speak to their "beer guy". Instead of this guy, the waiter came back and told us that the Chocolate had run out, that it turned out it was the regular Fantome, and that it has "Chocolate notes" so we should like it. We did, but I protested, told him we wanted the Chocolate, especially as I've tasted the regular Fantome before, and for the $27 we paid (about twice retail) we should get what we ordered. We didn't stay for satisfaction, and it's very offputing that the manager would tell the waiter just to placate us. I'm still pissed and doubt we'll return.

Their home website says that our country is thirsting for this kind of English pub. Well, not this type with crappy people who think customers are idiots. I'll take Rock Bottom or Goose Island any day, and maybe these Canadian's haven't heard we already have some nice pubs. Grade this a C+, just for having a nice tap list, but not worth the drive or aggravation.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Rock Bottoms - Not All the Same

I was reminded on a recent visit to the Rock Bottom brewpub in River North, that this chain has a good setting wherever you go, but the quality of the local brew master makes or breaks the actual quality of the beer offerings. I was specifically reminded again that Rock Bottom Chicago has a stellar brew master in Pete Crowley.

The regular offerings from RB on the little plastic sheet are regular, average beers for the non-discriminating crowd. I suppose a few Rock Bottoms only have these choices. The interesting ones are on the chalk board behind the bar. I counted about 6 on a recent evening. I quite enjoyed the just released Maibock, malty and full bodied, with a slick mouthfeel. As well the Belgian strong made a good accompaniment for the chocolate cheese cake, yummy! Unfortunately, because they are a chain the website is no help, you can't see what's on tap unless you call or go there. Not so good.

Anyway, I give the Chicago location an A-, for offering good food, really good beer, and I do love the mug club which gives you special treatment including full imperial pints! Had one visit to the location in Lombard, give it a B, the food was similar, but the beers not.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

So That Explains Why I CAN Drink Good Beer

It took the Freakonomics guys to explain it, so it's not just our tastes evolving, it's also our income! Yes, I knew that, you did too, why else were you drinking Old Milwaukee in college!

By the way, dudes, it's Belgian dubbels, not dobbels.

Friday, May 2, 2008


This month the Session, the monthly beer blog where beer bloggers around the world blog on the same topic on the first Friday of the month, is hosted by Boak and Bailey. The topic is when did you see the light and become a beer lover?

For me I can date it to Early April 1999, which would be just after my 41st birthday. It was my first Cubs opener (being a White Sox fan I usually avoided Cubs games unless it was deep in the Summer). Now the light didn't come to me at the game, at that time beer still sucked at Cubs games, even today it's hard to find a decent micro there, but back then 'twas impossible. No, the light came to me because this was a group outing organized by my new friend Ed McDevitt (discussed his background with him during the April Session here). It was hosted at Goose Island Clybourn, this month celebrating their 20th anniversary, and sad to say maybe it's last.

The Goose group included about 30 men (maybe a gal or two, more recently there have been many more, nice to see), with a lunch and as many beers as you wanted before the bus took us to the game, plus growlers on the bus! Now I tried several of their brews I had never had before, and realized how crappy the stuff I'd been drinking was. The Honkers Ale with beautiful English malt and a nice hoppiness was very new and exciting to me. I knew my favorite Black & Tan would now be my bottom feeder. It also hit me that I had spent 41 years drinking crappy beer, had turned to wine as a result, and now had to make up time with my new favorites, and formed my new moto, "There is too little time left to drink anything but great beer!". By little, I was surely hoping for another 40+ or so.

Anyway this gives me additional sadness about the Goose possibly closing, but thankfully I have discovered in the meantime that many good makers now exist, if only in the immediate Great Lakes area, not to mention else where in the US, and whoa don't forget the whole world discovery that awaits you in Belgian! Gotta love it. And I hope to become a home brewer soon....

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Union Pizzeria - Not Your Usual Pie Place

Had some nice victuals with friends at Union Pizzeria in Evanston this past Friday night. As anticipated from the Yelp reviews, the drink list is longer than the food list, both are very nice though. Overall, much more interesting and elevated than a usual pizza place, with slightly higher prices to boot.

This is a new place, 2 months old, but very busy on a Friday eve. It was packed on our arrival near 6:45pm. Big trendy warehouse space, somewhat noisy but talk-able. Lots of spaces at the bar or in front with couches, which is good because the wait for our table was 45 minutes.

We ordered a pizza and drinks in the waiting area, and they came fast and the pizza was very good, lamb with lots of good cheese. They have a big brick oven behind the bar and from there you can see the fire blazing, very good crust and a nice pizza, lots of options too. When we finally sat down we ordered all of the cold appetizers (there are about 6) and one hot one, the kale, unusual but well done. We shared them and were almost full after these small plates, around $5 each. We did order the whole fish, a sea bass, which came full with the head and eyes, so one of us de-boned it and pulled off the meat, and it was great, baked on a wooden board, with lemons, lots of herbs including thyme, very nice, sweet and tasty. We also shared a sold burger, meaty and tasty. Full bloat afterwards, oh, oh, shared a very nice chocolate flan and a nice pound-cake with polenta in it, unusually good.

As for the beer and drinks list, this place was announced as a new massive beer location, but in reality they had 20 or so bottles of good choice, from IPA's to stouts and all in between. No drafts. Full back page of wine, with half a dozen reds by the glass, solid.

I had a Three Floyds Pride and Joy, a hoppy mild ale, and Sam Smith's Oatmeal Stout, great beer. No fruit beer selection, disappointing. This list should be typical of what decent restaurants should have in this day and age, and I'm happy to say it is happening more now. Down with Macros, out with the Bud.

Anyway, I'd give the restaurant an A-, a definite return for us, neat place to take out of towners, and the beer list rates a solid B.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Interview with Ed McDevitt, Beer Aficionado

This is my discussion with a longtime beer aficionado (by the way aficionado is defined not as a snob but "an ardent devotee; fan, enthusiast"), and my introducer to good beers. I am happy to call him a friend and he has successively ramped up my taste for good beer since our friendship began in 1998. At that time if you asked me the best beer I drank was a black and tan. Ed McDevitt has been a good taste seeker since the 60's, was a home brewer in the early days when it became legal, an adviser and tag writer for local liquor stores, online reviewer of beers, and has a son who is a bartender and aspiring beer bar owner. It also happens to be his birthday today, so keep up the good drinking Ed, quality not quantity, and Happy Birthday!

We compiled this discussion over the past few days -

Q: So what did a good beer bar have in the pre-micro days?

"The only good ones were overseas lagers, like Lowenbrau (which before the 1980's was in its original receipe), other german beers, the local exception (when I was living in Massachusetts)- a brew by Narragansett, was it a black horse ale?, that was it. I was looking for beers with more hops, more flavor than macrobeers had. I remember the first micro I had was Anchor Steam, first had it in the early 80's, and after moving to Illinois I also remember the Christmas beer from Baderbrau ("Winterfest"), the Elmhurst, IL brewery (now gone) and one from the Eau Claire, WI Walter brewery, an all malt lager called Eau Claire All Malt Lager."

Q: When did you realize there were better imported beers from other than Germany?

"Not until a Chimay first tasted at an event in the mid-90's."

Q: When did you get your first piece of glass wear?

"Got a Point Brewery Glass in the 80's."

Q: Recall a few of the best tasting events you've attended?

"At the Village Tap in Chicago, there was a tasting held in the mid-90's by the new representative of B. United Importers, which included Aventinus, Schneider Weiss, Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, one of the kellerbiers, a kölsch and a few others. Another was the first Midwest International Beer Exposition in 1996 at the Bismarck Hotel in Chicago. It had a big main floor, and there I had my first taste of Unibroue beers, some beers from Estes Park Brewery (Colorado), and many others. In the center of the room Vanberg and Dewulf introduced me to Rodenbach and invited me to a separate Belgian tasting, something I hadn't expected, held upstairs in a 1/2 ball room where I met Peter Celis. In 1997 the second MIBE was held at a big drafty old building, the Morgan St. Market. This was a quieter affair, topped by our getting ready to leave and finding the Duvel table, where there sat several of Duvel's 0.33 liter bottles. So I started to take several of them, when the Duvel rep informed me that we could not leave the premises with beer (other than inside us!), so he opened 4 bottles for us to drink. We had only a few minutes, so we each drank 2 - quickly. Bad mistake."

"Also in the '90s a wine store opened in Glen Ellyn, IL, where I lived at the time. Cabernet & Co. hired a guy who had worked as a rep for Anchor Brewing to manage the store. He and I "bonded" and I became a sort of outside consultant for the store. I had put together a beer review database, with lots of descriptive info. I printed it out and the store hung a copy of it in the beer section for customer reference. It was at this store that I first began to be very interested in Christmas and Winter beers, starting with items like Youngs Winter warmer, Samuel Smiths Winter warmer, Scaldis Noël and many of the American micro winters too - Anderson Valley, Anchor, and many others. This was probably around 1995."

"I hosted a memorable backyard Belgian tasting in Lagrange, with 12-13 beers. I had wanted to pair the beers with Belgian cheeses, but could only find one in the area, and it was mild. So to get the idea of pungency, I decided to include Limburger, a big error. All people did was complain about the rotten socks smell!! As for the tasting, after about the 4th beer, tastings went out the door, people just said, "gimme more of that"."

Q: Describe your history with home brewing.

"I brewed from 1976 to 1979 eclectically, tried to buy good malts, with unknown hops, "brewers yeast", no options here. There wasn't much variety available for the home brewer. My brewing partner and I often used additional sugar to spike it, blew up some bottles this way, had to boil the hops, etc. Our beers were bad, all but one. This was, unexpectedly, a very strong beer. I had a particular guest come by when I was at my workbench in the basement of my house. We sat up on the workbench and I broke out the first bottles of this batch. He drank two bottles. Upon discovering that he had to get back across the street, he launched himself off the workbench and his legs buckled beneath him. He was, unfortunately for the project he was doing, hammered. Overall, I made maybe 6 different beers and haven't brewed since."

Q: What do you look for in a beer now?

"In one word, balance. I really prefer malty, complex, not overly hoppy, beers. I love to see experiments with yeast, the flavors they give off - good balanced but highly flavorful beer."

Q: So that is why dark Belgian's are your favorite style?

"Yes. The good ones have enormous flavor profiles generally."

Q: What do you look for going forward for the American beer consumer? How do you expect the industry to evolve?

"Macros are under pressure, AB has made a lot of micro investments, they see the writing on the wall, mass market lagers are diminishing. In my experience in the '90s you'd bring good beers to parties, and people would say no thanks. Now they try them, might say "hmm, that's interesting", and ask for more. There is a growing market for more interesting beers. And these drinkers are now younger, more diverse crowd, and it's good to see more women appreciating complex beer - and not being condescended to by brewers who used to brew their "chick" beers, usually raspberry wheats."

Thanks, Ed, and keep up the pursuit.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Ann Arbor goodies, a Midwest Detour Worth Taking

Ann Arbor - home of the University of Michigan, and a solid food/beer location. Musings from our recent trip to a neighboring Midwest town.

We stayed west of town in a non-descript, Best Western hotel, it did have a pool, a fridge, and free breakfast.

On arrival mid-day, we were looking for lunch - and right by the hotel we found a great surprise place - the Zingerman's Roadhouse. Now, I knew about their original store, the great deli in downtown Ann Arbor. Asked the waitress, she said the Roadhouse has been around for about 4 years. Anyway, they have great above normal roadhouse type food, including burgers of course, but also home smoked pulled pork and brisket, fresh fish, salads, and a long cheese list from their own creamery. They even had some on-tap locals, with sm/med/large glass prices - I enjoyed a nice pale ale (forget the brewer) with pulled pork, and all we had was enjoyed. Now that said the prices here are steep, considering the portions are modest (actually what they should be everywhere not so over the top). The burgers start at $10 and go up fast with additions, my pork platter with sides was ok at $11.50, but overall a pricey place for lunch. Rate it a solid B, very good quality offset by once a month prices (if you were a local).

In the afternoon stops included Bello Vino and the Main Street Party Store. BV is a specialty grocery store with an extensive wine collection and in the far back a very good beer area. Heavy on Michigan beers (why I was there, including Dark Horse, Bells, Jolly Pumpkin, Stoudts), and a good representation of others including Belgians, the best part was the singles rack with fill your own six pack cardboards. Found the last (apparently) Bells Batch 8000, as well as a few others I just wanted to try. A- for this store, great selection, good pricing. The MSPS was equally impressive with some singles as well. A- here. Overall, the only beer maker I couldn't find was Kuhnhenn's, one of my targets.

For dinner we located the local branch of Cottage Inn, famous for Ann Arbor pizza. We shared a sausage/onion regular crust combo, very good. The atmosphere here was just ok, no liquor service, try the original Cottage Inn if you want the full experience, for this branch by the hotel a B-.

After our college tour and meeting with the diving coach at UM, I made the 8 mile run to Dexter to visit Jolly Pumpkin. Their brewery is in a tiny off-road location near downtown Dexter, I was guided in by Laurie Jeffries, the brewer's spouse and head of marketing I believe. They are only open noon - 6pm on Fridays, and were serving on tap both Bam Biere and E.S. Bam. They were selling five different styles of their bomber bottles at wholesale pricing! As it is cash or check only, I ran out of money buying my big format favorites as well as a few Biere de Mars Grand Reserve's, a special offering which is barrel aged for 27 months! I wasn't able to question Ron, but Laurie confirmed that all of their offerings are ales. I've read that all production here uses open (read wild) fermentation, but this traditional method does not impart sourness. The sourness (prevalent in most of their beers) is produced by barrel aging. The barrels harbor both wild yeasts and Lactobacillus among other bacterias. This is why they can't share barrels with "normal" producers. Because of barrel variation, some beers are blended, and they post a bottle log on the website so you can track your particular bottle. Do they use Brettanomyces? Not sure, but whatever they use keep it up. Now ranked the 8th best brewery in the US by BeerAdvocate. Thanks to Laurie for great service, and to Ron for keeping this great brewery running, solid A.

For dinner we tried the noisy Ashley's, self-described as Michigan's best multi-tap. With 70 beers on tap, 15 rotating regularly, and decent bar food with good burgers for the price, I couldn't complain. And the back area wasn't even smoky (we are getting spoiled here in IL). Kids (under 21) allowed until 9pm. You can find to your liking on the tap list, overall a great college bar, comparable to sticking a combination Maproom/Clark Street/Twisted Spoke together in Evanston at NU. Solid A.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Bill James Responds

A must take opportunity from the Freakonomics guys, a blog response-cast with Bill James, baseball guru and RedSox advisor. Have a look and chime in with a question by all means, there are several good ones already.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Corky Yes, Park West no, the Red Rooster a Decent Option

Our ill friends bagged out, so we held 4 tickets to the Chicago Blues Reunion concert at Park West last Saturday eve. The lineup included Corky Siegel, we stayed for 8 songs (since we were standing, no seats available), including Corky's I want you / hate you and a few others shown on the link. There was a young woman singer who filled in who was great, she sang a song for Koko Taylor who was in the crowd. Overall a great concert for blues fans, though I really don't like the venue since most of the seats are either reserved or you must get there by opening time (1 1/2 hours before the start). Go if you must for a great concert, but I prefer other locations.

As for dinner beforehand, we enjoyed a true cafe environment at the Red Rooster Wine Bar and Cafe, overall a B experience. The food was yummy, mussels very tasty, chicken crepes for the wife well enjoyed, and pork au poivre (pork loin encrusted with pepper and a great milky savory sauce). We each had a glass of passable red wine because the beer list sucked - I think the waiter mentioned 4 macro beers, Miller, Heineken, etc. so I passed. A C- for beer. But the food makes it a nice stop.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Boys were Back in Town

Wow, what a time we had. It happened to be St. Patrick's Day, and a bit chillier than we wanted, but the old guys can still have some fun. I just turned 50 as you may know, and my dad was in town for funeral purposes :(. Before he went back we had a day to revisit his old town, (not Toronto, but Chicago), and we were joined by slightly younger (ha by two days!) Uncle Tom, both close to 75 now.

We parked under Grant Park, now pricey at $24 over 4 hours or more, but very convenient, and met Tom at the Chicago Cultural Center, formerly the Chicago Public Library, and quite an architectural gem. A great place to start on a walking tour around the Loop. We grabbed a cup of coffee in the nice little cafe there, then walked through a great exhibition of photos entitled, "Chicago Landmarks Before The Lens", detailed black and white pictures of Chicago landmarks from Sullivan et al.

As we headed out toward Millennium Park, we were handed a brochure on a Classical Mondays Concert starting upstairs in 3 minutes! We strode up to see a Chicago Opera Theatre Young Artists Recital including Stauss, Saint-Saens, and Debussy very well done by the young singers.

By now famished, we headed down Michigan Avenue to a location I knew was there, but had not tried yet. The Gage. A newish gastropub restaurant since early 2007, I was looking forward to seeing the menu and beer list. It is a great addition to the location here, but could use some improvement.

No problem with the food or the space, quite large but comfortable. Since it was St. Pat's Day, the special was corned beef, which we all had, and it was fine. Sliced very thin, with a milky sauce on toast. After I had the last bite I realized that the sauce was a horseradish sauce. Hmm, very little of it I guess, not spicy at all. Otherwise, a solid dish, and those around us seemed happy, and very busy it was.

The draft beer list, shown in the booklet Libations menu, is quite weak, especially in comparison to other liquors. Plenty of wines, including bubblies, well selected whiskeys, even a port or two. Because of St. Pat's the beer taps had extra Guinness taps, but even the regular list needs an upgrade. Witness that within a selection of 10 different taps, they include Miller Light, Blue Moon (a Miller dog), and Fat Tire (OK), the Irish trinity of Guinness, Smithwicks, and Harp (all below average Macros), Heineken (meh), Paulaner Weiss (decent but for winter?), and Affligem and Stella from Belgium. Stella is a Belgian wannabe, a pale lager rated a C+ on Beer Advocate, while Affligem, a strong blonde Pale Ale, maybe the best of the bunch.

The bottle list is much better, with 12 true Belgians, 5 from Unibroue, a couple of Ayingers, and a half dozen good American craft beers. The prices are quite high, with Guinness on tap at $7, and most bottles a dollar or two higher than elsewhere, must be the cost of doing business at 24 S. Michigan, and the immediate scarcity of competition.

We each had a Black and Tan with Harp on the bottom (no Bass around), whatever that's called, well done and warming. Then it was off to our tour of Millennium Park. Amongst Cloud Gate and the funky band shell, we saw the special exhibition by Mark Di Suvero of 5 large sculptures with involvement. Very raw and symbolic. Then back to the Cultural Center for warming before my uncle separated and we headed in the car to the airport.

Would love to do it again boys, hopefully soon.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Quoted by the Session Host

I recently reviewed the New Glarus Organic Revolution for the March version of "The Session", a monthly cooperative blog compilation on a certain type of beer, and the host quotes me here (scroll down). There are many other interesting blogs to read cited as well. Enjoy.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Birthday Bash - Yes My 50th :)

Thanks to all who made my birthday a memorable occasion, especially my "guardian" and wife Teresa (thanks for driving dear). All I really asked for at the half century mark was great friends, great drink, and food to match. To the participants there, I stated (and to you others out there I befriended who could not be there), you have all elevated my life.

On this particular March 7th eve we met at the Maproom for several pops before braving the 4 block walk in 20 degree weather to Cafe Matou.

Several folks who made it to the Maproom loved the De Proef La Grande Blanche, a strong Wit beer at 7.5% abv. Delicious, my wife said it was too poofy for me (she liked it), but I loved it, great Wit flavor, nice body, great aperitif. A solid A here. We also tried the Surly Two, kind of a Porter with cranberries. Very strong, distinctive and interesting, a B+. Had to try the Two Bros. Hop Juice as it was the cask conditioned ale. Very smooth, nicely hoppy, not spicy but grapefruity, and strong, another local solid imperial IPA, give it an A-, not sure it would score this high if not on the cask. Finally, the smoky Fastenbier from Schlenkerla, an unfiltered smoked Lenten beer - a strongish lager with nourishing yeast left in the beer meant to help with Lenten fasting. This was really well done, smokiness nice, try some bacon with this beer, nice body, minimal hops and very malty, a solid A.

Cafe Matou offers a new menu daily, and our choices included several fish, meats, soups, and bistro appetizers. We tried the chicken offering, duck, swordfish, and all artfully prepared with few leftovers. Muscles appetizer was very nice, and desserts didn't disappoint, returners we would be even without considering the bar offerings.

Which were great, including 6-7 wines by the glass, we had a nice bottle of 2004, some Cab/Merlot from France, very solid. But the beers stood out, a small selection of mostly Belgians and a few micros, dominated by the small (11.2oz) bottles of Gouden Carolus Noel. Now this is an A+, among the world's best beers, never seen it in a small bottle before, and they priced it at $9 here, I suppose it would run close to $6 in a shop so not a great markup. But was it the beer of the night? Knocked a few of us out, it did. Nice Framboise offered as well.

Just super choices, overall we know the Maproom is one of Chicago's best beer bars, and lets give Cafe Matou an A, good food, drink, and modestly priced.

Rarely do libations reach the level of discussion, camaraderie and friendship we had there. I wish you all could have joined us.

Friday, March 7, 2008

New Glarus Organic Revolution

Today I join "The Session", a group of bloggers who, on a monthly basis, comment on the subject of a specific style of beer. Today for the March 2008 version it's organic beer. I have not had many organic brews but among my favorites is New Glarus' version is called Organic Revolution. My bottle consumed yesterday was obtained in a six pack of 12oz bottles in January, and I believe it was produced in late 2007. Now this is a nice beer, I'm not sure it's a revolution, however.

OR is an American Pale Ale ("APA") with organic hops from Germany and organic barley malts from good old Wisconsin. Unfortunately, you can only find these beers in Wisconsin, maybe Minnesota. I am not sure but believe this beer is above 6% abv.

It is a light colored slightly hazy yellow with yeast still in the bottle. A decent head that goes away fast. Smell is a bit spicy with an expected level of malt backbone, does remind me of their Spotted Cow, though this is less sweet and more hoppy. Finishes dry and an easy drinker with a lively mouth feel. Give this a solid B as a nice organic beer, not quite a session beer as the abv puts it above that level.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Durty Nellies in Palatine

What used to be considered a "dive" in suburbia has gone upscale. You can even bring the kids and have a B+ bar-type dinner. The owner is a veritable beer lover, and he stopped by to check on us, always a good sign.

Apparently this spanking new looking location opened in Dec 2003, the old one was divey for sure (and was torn down in 2004). Always considered a rock music center for the NW suburbs, not known for food. It has two levels and the upstairs was closed on a recent Saturday eve for a private party.

Lots to offer on the menu, our dinners came quickly including an above average fish and chips (tastier batter than most, and solid cod), Belfast bombers (three nice little burgers), and the
shepherd's pie (needed some catchup, otherwise solid), all well enjoyed.

As for the beers, a long list is provided, and posted on the website. In addition, our perky waitress was knowledgeable. On her recommendation I had the Two Bros. Northwind Imperial Stout, very smooth, lacking big coffee or chocolate notes but an easy / smooth drinker at 7.5% (B rated), and the wife and I split a bottle of Founders Blushing Monk, quite refreshing, not overly sweet (listed in the menu at 9.5% abv, the bottle said 12.3%!!), a B+. We were shied away from the St. Louis (Belgian) Kriek suggesting it might be a bit sour for us.

Now, as for the list itself, the beers are nicely organized by type, and on the back by bottles vs tap. As noted, while some of the selections are marked limited, others are marked "coming soon". Alas, my first choice Sierra Nevada BigFoot, fell into the latter category and was not available. As this is a February list I cannot fault the logic (other than it was March 1 on our trip), and they do need to move onto new seasonals. As an example, on tap we had several solid American Stouts, proper for the season (a cold February at that).

On the downside, the bottle selection is hap hazard, many macros available for the bailout (our neighbors were drinking bud light or some such). But it's hard to complain, most likely the best list I've seen in this region of Chicagoland. I will certainly be going there again.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Goose Island Clybourn Beer Academy Feb 2008

The theme was Belgian beers, very different ones, mostly American made ones. Not a bad beer in the bunch. I'm not here to review the dozen or so beers individually, but they were all above a B-.

For the true Belgian lovers of fruit lambics, the best in show was made by the geniuses at Cantillon. Interestingly, Goose's head brewer Greg Hall was there, said he had just came back from a visit to Cantillon, and will be going there in the fall to help with the "harvest".

The Cantillon we had was the Saint Lamvinus, a vintage bottle from 2006, which includes grapes as a fruit addition. It is a beautiful coral red color, a slight bit cloudy, with a thin head that is gone before you know it. Interesting nose, barnyard, vegetables, some fresh asparagus, funky, tart yet sweet enough to balance. Some blend of wine/beer here, it is a beer, not overpowered by the grapes, just a vinous flavor. Nicely carbonated, stark dry finish, not as cleansing as their Rose, but startling. I give it a strong A, another super aperitif beer from these folks.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

St. Bernardus Tripel

Had a 33cl bottle of St. Bernardus Tripel last night before dinner, a fruity, malty nice head tripel from the Trappists rated at 8.0% abv and good dated until 2010.

Clean head, usual tripel smells (esters, apple, no funk), not sure aging would help this one, it's a nice tripel but not super, just solid. I would favor La Fin du Monde from Unibroue over this one. Again, lots of tripels out there, give this one a B+ and move on to the next one.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Hachi's Kitchen B+

A Saturday visit to Hachi's Kitchen in Logan Square, a highly rated Japanese restaurant. The food and beverages overall were good, the service not so.

Decorated with a minimalist black/white and browns, sleek with an 80's type feel (not disco just elegant). Comfortable for sure.

We had group of 6 which trickled in, ordered a couple of maki's to start, the Halloween maki and the Spicy White Tuna Crunch. It took 30 minutes to arrive, by that time we were very hungry - however the SWTC was super, loved by all. The Halloween roll was fine, fresh, nothing special though. All but one had green tea, very nice and they kept refills going throughout the dinner.

Two diners had Tempura Udon, one Teriyaki chicken; all enjoyed, tempura a bit heavy, greasy according to one. Problem was the other two dinners ordered took another 20 minutes to arrive, two standard rolls (mine) and the unagi bowl. Was it the rolls taking so long, who knows, but terrible wait. After the wait the Negi Hamachi Maki, yellowtail with scallion, was creamy and delicious, unagi very good.

Wine and beer is standard, decent by the glass selections, we passed on the many saki options. A top sushi place like this should have some microbrew offerings, like Hatachino Nest, a stellar Japanese brewer.

Overall, really very nice food at a decent price, but service, that is kitchen service - our direct servers were very good and apologetic about the waits - not up to snuff. Overall, a B+, we would try here again but with so many other untried sushi places in Chicago it maybe awhile before our return.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus

I had the pleasure of having a glass of Cantillon Rosé De Gambrinus on tap at Hopleaf in Andersonville. 'Twas after a very nice lunch at M. Henry.

There are very few geniuses making ales, but the folks at Cantillon are so. This particular brew is a raspberry lambic. As they describe it: "When young, the Rosé de Gambrinus will still present its full fruity taste. Later on, the lambic taste will become dominant at the expense of the fruit taste." On tap, it is still young and presents full raspberry taste with no sweetness, at all. They used to serve this with sugar, but without it - it is pure refreshing, puckering, super - an A+. This will not be described as a candy nor cough syrup. Just a solid super raspberry lambic to follow.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Happy Birthday Mom!!

Wish I could have been there but Happy Birthday to Alice Cannon, yeah!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Tasting the St. Bernardus Pater 6

Sunday for dessert I enjoyed the St. Bernardus Prior 6, in the small 33 cl bottle, dated good until 2010! Anyway, a cloudy amber body with 3 finger head came forth.

Smell a bit musty with Belgian yeast for sure nose; tasted roasty, mid-deep dubbel-type malt, little hops but a slightly sourish finish to offset the sweet malt; very nice and a bit peppery with dark fruit flavor (plumbs, dates, etc.); fizzy mouth feel, at a lower than normal Belgian abv at 6.7% abv, tasty, better taste at warmer temps, not one I would seek out for all time, but very nice. Score this nice session-type beer for a B+. Welcome anytime.