Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Chicago Beer - North Side Part 1

I'm going to start with a brewery that is not in Chicago, nor in Illinois.  I had planned on spending a day in Milwaukee, but wasn't feeling well so I only stopped at one place there.

Stonefly is in an odd neighborhood.  It's very hipster, but there's gang graffiti everywhere.  If you've ever been to Mad Planet, it's a couple of blocks down.  It's a cool bar and has a nice attitude about it.  I wasn't feeling well, and didn't really feel like having any brunch, which is what they serve on weekend mornings.  I did, however order some cheesy tots that came in a gigantic bowl, and I did not finish them because it was too much food.

The beers that I had were alright.  I would be willing to give it another shot one of these days, though I don't think I'll have time on this trip.

Now... Chicago.  I took the Metra into the city and hopped onto the Blue Line to get to my first destination, Revolution Brewing.  I was there before they opened, but luckily I saw a large graffiti mural nearby and walked over to check it out.

The bar itself has a nice look to it, lots of wood and tap handles of raised fists go with the Revolution theme.  Beer names don't always fit this theme, which I liked.  Four ounce samples can be had of any beer for $2, with the exception of their Pablo Picasso, which I will talk about later.

I was fairly surprised by a 3.5% beer on the menu.  I believe it was called Workingman Mild and it was quite good.  I've often thought that there is a market for a very low alcohol beer for people who like beer.  I believe in Europe these are referred to as 'Table Beers'.  I don't have details for every beer, but I tried most of them and was surprised at the quality and flavor of them all.  If you do get the Pablo Picasso, get the taster of it.  It's a very strong beer at 9% and you'll likely not want more than the 4oz. sampler.  That being said, it's worth having.

I also had some Bacon Fat Popcorn which was good and they have an amazing Beer Cheese Soup.

There are still a few breweries in the city that I've not had the pleasure of trying, but unless I find somewhere spectacular, I will say that Revolution is the best brewery in the city.

I got back on the Blue Line and headed for Piece.  The last time I was here, I had a very bad experience and decided I would never return, even without having tried any of the beers.  It's been years, I decided to give it another shot.

When I was here last, there were no samples to be had.  These days you can get a sample of anything for $1.  I had everything.

The beers here aren't for me.  The only thing I found worth drinking was their Bitter.  While I enjoyed having real sausage pizza (rest of the country, y u no have good sausage?) the pizza was mediocre and required a bit of doctoring with parmesan, red pepper and italian seasoning to make it good.

At this point I got back on the Blue Line, took a bit of a walk and ended up at Haymarket Pub and Brewery.  The beer here is good and worth checking out.  I was a bit drunk at this point (yay public transportation) and I don't believe I had any food... which is against my own personal rule.  Doh.

At this point my phone died... which was upsetting as I was supposed to be meeting folks later, and only had a vague idea of where I was going.  I took the bus I was supposed to take, but ended up being on it a tad longer than I should have.  Heading west I saw Sheffield's.  This has been a craft beer bar for years, well before it was a trendy thing to do.  The staff is knowledgeable and the crowd is generally friendly.  This is my second time here in as many years and got the same bartender.  I always forget his name, but he's a cool cat. I asked a lady who happened to have her laptop for some directions and was about to head out on my way and ran into someone I knew from Omaha. It's a small world in the beer community.

At this point I knew generally where I was and where I needed to go.  It was a 5 mile trek and I had planned on taking a bus for most of it, but that didn't work out...

I decided to stop at Uberstein as it was on the way.  If you haven't been it's a HofBrau owned Americanized German Bier Hall that has the entire HofBrau line on tap.  You will get a full liter unless you ask for just a half liter, and the beer is $7 for that half liter.  It's overpriced, but the Cubs game was starting soon, so it can be an interesting place.

I will personally tell you the story about what happened here if you ask me about it.  I feel that it's probably not a good story for this forum, however.  Just know that I planned on one and done, but ordered a second beer as I was highly amused.

After this I walked down past Wrigley and west on Addison.  I don't know what law covers no busses in sight until you're exactly between bus stops, but I ended up walking the entire 5 miles.  I stopped at one bar that I couldn't tell you the name of. They had decent taps, but not much was going on so I took off.

My last stop was at Mirabell which is just east of 94 on Addison, across from the Target.  Hey, an authentic German bar in Chicago.  Good German taps, the menu looked good, etc.  I will be back here in the future.

Today my legs are sore, but other than that, no hangover.  I'm a bit upset that I didn't make it to Local Option, but I'm thinking by the time I got there, there would be no way I could have enjoyed the beer any longer and would have just been getting drunk for the sake of it.

Maybe next time I'm in town I can go there first.  I'm still hoping I can hit Lake Bluff Brewing, Two Brothers and Three Floyd's this week.  I'm planning on doing this tomorrow.  Then maybe a stop at Mike's Highway Pub in Kenosha.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Recap of September 2nd - Day 1

Note: I'm not going to go into my personal judgement of each beer, I'm going to keep things simple.  If you are interested in a more in depth review of any of these beers, let me know and I'll post it separately as best as my memory can attest to.

I got to Potosi at about 2pm.  It's a very nice, small town.  The brewery has plenty of parking and a nice beer garden that it was a tad to warm and humid to enjoy.

When you enter you can choose to go to the left for the bar, or to the right for the museum.  To go to the left, turn to page 37.  To go into the museum, turn to page 6.

After 6 hours of driving, I opted for page 37.  The dining area is nice and could be an appropriate background for a black tie event.  As I do, I headed for the bar.  This place has the best, most comfortable bar stools ever.  I also noticed that for 2pm on a Friday, it was pleasantly busy for such a small town.

I ordered a sampler and the bartender asked me if I'd like the Black IPA in it.  Of course I would, but it's nice he asked.  I'm guessing most folks opt for the Pilsner (which I noticed was the winter seasonal and didn't try.)

I'm going to bullet point the beers on this one:

  • Good Old Potosi - Good lawnmowing beer
  • Cave Ale - A decent amber
  • Snake Bite IPA - a not bad IPA
  • Tangerine IPA - Snake Bite with Tangerine.  This was too sweet for me and I didn't finish it.  I bet the ladies love it, however.  It seemed to be popular.
  • A Belgian Wit of some sort - I didn't finish this one either.  Wit isn't my favorite style and this really wasn't that good of a representation of the style.  As always, your mileage may vary.
  • Black IPA - I really think this beer was either miscategorized or didn't come out as planned.  I would have called it a slightly hoppy stout.  It was good.
As I was sampling, one of the employees came in on their off day for their paycheck and a special beer that wasn't labelled.  By this time, the bartender and I had a rapport so he said "You want to try the barrel aged ale?"  I asked what percentage it was and it came out at a whopping 14%.  So I agreed to exchange money for a glass of it, and ordered some food as I was sure I would need it.

This particular beer is an acquired taste.  Smells whiskey-like and tastes about the same.  First sips were not awful, but not pleasant either.  The more I drank of it, the more I enjoyed it.  Worth having if you happen to be in the area, not worth getting broken up over if they run out before you get there.

After this I headed over to The National Brewery Museum.  It was $5 and I found out all the profits (for both the beer and the museum) go to charity.  I didn't ask about which charity, but I figured if all these people who worked here were getting paid, I was still contributing to the local economy.  

So as I was talking to the museum lady, I found out my mistake... that $5 would get you a free beer when you were done with your museum visit.  Doh.

The museum has some cool stuff in it if you are into breweriana as I am.  Unfortunately there are so many breweries missing from the displays.  I went specifically looking for Krug Park stuff to take pictures for a guy I know who is opening a bar called... Krug Park, and found nothing.  I didn't see any other Omaha breweries stuff, nor a lot of the other historical breweries that I know about besides ones local to the area.  While I was a little upset about this, I still enjoyed my time there.

My original plan was to head to Mineral Point, but after talking to the purposely unnamed bartender, I decided to skip it and head to the Grumpy Troll.

It was about an hour drive and I walked in and sat at the bar.  For 4pm, this place was doing a good business.  It had been 4 or 5 years since I had been here last and they have added quite a few taps since I had been last.  The sampler was massive, and I didn't feel brave enough to attack it on my own.  Instead I asked what was on cask.  I was informed that during the summer they don't bother as most people don't like 'warm beer'.  Frowny face.  

Instead I opted for a Kentucky Porter that came in a 6oz snifter.  It was quite good.  I would say this was the best beer I had all day.  Bravo.  I then ordered a Norski which was billed as a Brown Ale based on Washington's recipe... yes, that Washington.  This was a bad choice.  

I quickly ordered some "Signature Grumpy Chips" as I had been here before and wanted to move on down the road.  The bartender had to ask if she could serve food at the bar... this confused me.  I have to assume that you could only eat at the bar if you were drinking as my chips came fairly fast.  Potato chips with parmesean melted on top and came with a cup of gorgonzola to dip in.  Not my favorite dish ever, but it was interesting and I'd likely order it again for something simple.

The best part of ordering these chips was that they paired VERY well with the Norski and made it much more enjoyable to drink.  As I was sitting there a guy sat down next to me and ordered the sampler. This made me much happier that I didn't.  It is massive.  We had a nice conversation about how Minhas is a weird brewery and then I was on my way.

I arrived at Vintage Brewing at around 6 or so and by how the parking lot was packed, I knew I was in trouble.  I quickly found a spot I was able to stand at the bar after no stools were available.  I asked the barkeep what was good and got the runaround that a bartender usually gives you if they don't know or don't care or don't care to discuss it with you. Strike One.  I ordered a beer which name escapes me, but ended up being like a Delierium Nocturnum clone which came in a 12oz Chalice that was thicker than most mugs.  This was form over function.  Strike Two.  The beer was alright though.  I was about halfway through and had to hit the bathroom.  There were no coasters or I would have placed it on top of my glass.  When I returned my beer was gone.  Strike Three.

Is this a completely fair judgement of Vintage?  No.  It's not.  It was Friday dinner rush and this is likely where they make a good chunk of their money, so I will have to try it again the next time I'm in town.

At this point I was thinking I should hit either the Malt House or the Old Fashioned.  I decided against it though as there are plenty of other beer options around and I know I'll be at Mike's Highway Pub in a few days that has 86 taps.  Plus I went online and checked out their tap selection and while they would likely be frequent stops for me if I lived in town, it was mostly old hat.

So I headed over to Ale Asylum.  It's been a few years since I've been here and I was amazed that it wasn't very busy.  Apparently they had just released their Satisfaction Jacksin (Double IPA) the day previous and most of their regulars came in at that point, plus it being Labor Day weekend, a lot of people were out of town, or heading that way.

They were out of Satisfaction Jacksin as they spent the day installing new tanks,  That's cool, more capacity is always a good excuse to be out of a beer.  So I spent the time having four beers and eating a pizza.  At one point in the night another employee showed up and spent the time to keg some Jacksin and put it on tap. Man that beer is a good, solid, double IPA. They had six packs available but as I'll be on the road these next 10 days, I fear it wouldn't make it back intact.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I can source some on my shopping trip right before I come back.

It is unfortunate that I couldn't hit Tyranena.  Their hours are in the PM only and I'm just going to have to drive by it today.  I had been there previously and I've never really cared for their beer, so I'm not all that broken up about it.

There are also a few places I've skipped. Capital.  I wanted to go, but at the end I can get their beer elsewhere and their tour isn't so great.  Great Dane.  I've been about four times and while they have a LOT of different beers, none of them are ever that good.  As for why I don't head down to New Glarus, well it's just kind of out of the way for this trip.  Maybe next time.