26 June 2008

Beer Diary #9 - Jim | Puckering up with Sour Ales at the Hopleaf Bar

22 June 2008
The Hopleaf Bar
5148 N. Clark St.
Chicago, Illinois

On vacation in the Andersonville neighborhood on Chicago's north side.

Before I proceed with the rest of this beer diary, I'm going to gush about the nabe for a moment. Judging by our three-day trip, I can say this about Andersonville: if ever a perfect neighborhood was created, Andersonville is it. Well, perhaps close to perfect, if not for Chicago's notoriously crummy weather come the winter months. This neighborhood has nearly everything a city-dweller could desire--an ethnically and socioeconomically diverse population, beautiful turn-of-the-last-century architecture, cozy tree-lined residential streets, close proximity to the beach, and a killer collection of independent bars, shops, and restaurants. Consequently, we were really, really sad to come home. This is not to say that our home sweet home, Meridian Park, doesn't have its charm or that we dislike living here. It's just...well, it's just not a Chicago neighborhood, is it?

After checking in to our B&B (which we highly recommend, by the way), we headed down to North Clark Street and made a beeline for The Hopleaf Bar with its amazing variety of Belgian beers on tap. At 5:00 on a Sunday evening, the Hopleaf was already getting crowded as Andersonville's regulars grabbed a booth, table, or barstool to relax and drink a few. The patrons reminded me of the variety of people you might see at the Rathskeller biergarten--young and old, guys and gals, straight and gay, hipsters and the Dockers crowd, and, above all, laid-back beer drinkers. In short, it was a very diverse group that seemed to have no pretentiousness.

We sat at the bar right next to the servers' station and ordered. My first move was for the beer I'd heard so much about but had yet to try--

Rodenbach Grand Cru. A Flanders Red Ale, served in a tulip glass. Had a beautiful reddish brown color. Nose exhibited oak, apples, and cherries. Mouthfeel was crisp. Flavor was slightly tart, again with notes of oak, apples, and cherries. In addition, I detected a hint of vanilla. An absolute stunner of a beer. Must get a bottle of this from Kahn's ASAP.

As I sipped the Rodenbach Grand Cru and the Lovely Redhead enjoyed her vodka tonic, I took note of the beers that were popular with the other patrons. From what I was able to observe, the bartender was pouring a lot of the following: Delirium Tremens, Leffe Blonde, Saison DuPont, and the most popular, the oddly-named Kwak. Each Kwak was poured in a special "Kwak glass," which was a beaker-looking thing mounted on a wooden handle, much like the yards and half-yards they used to pour at the Irish Lion. I contemplated ordering a Kwak, but I was in a sour ale mood, so my next choice was--

Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus. A Lambic fermented with raspberries. Served in a tulip glass. Poured with a pinkish red color and a pink, fizzy head. Strong nose of raspberries and vinegar. Had a strikingly sharp mouthfeel and a predominantly sour flavor with notes of raspberry and cherry. True to form with all the Cantillon ales I've tried--very, very tart and refreshing.

With that, we decided to take a walk to absorb the night life as it bubbled up along Clark Street.

23 June 2008
The Hopleaf Bar

Our return trip to the Hopleaf Bar for a nightcap. I was still in the mood for sour beers--yes, I have a one-track mind--so I went for an Oud Beersel Framboise. To be brief, it had much the same color, mouthfeel, and flavor as the Rose de Gambrinus. However, there was more sweetness backing up the tartness of this Lambic. In addition, an oak-like character came through in the nose and the taste more prevalently for this beer. On comparison to the Rose de Gambrinus, I can say that I liked this Lambic a little better, but I have a bit of a sweet tooth.

I know that a number of readers have already been to the Hopleaf, and they can vouch for the quality of the beer selection as well as I can. I'm sure they'd join me in encouraging the rest of you who haven't yet been there to drop by if you're ever in Chicago. Not only will you be greatly pleased with the beer selection, but you'll get to hang out in a great neighborhood with a mellow crowd as well.


  1. I am glad you had a great time up there. As I said before my sister-in-law lives in Andersonville and I just love going up there. Great mom-and-pop type places that you get great service, amazing food, and unique goods there, and the HopLeaf is a real gem for beer geeks. The Maproom isn't that far away either and offers an equally impressive (some say better) selection, but I prefer the Hopleaf for comfort. The maproom gets crazy and unless you are there at exteme off hours it gets quite busy in there taking away from the experience.

    Did you make it over to Ann Sathers?

  2. If you are going to grab some Rodenbach Grand Cru, I would recommend you do it quick. I have a source that informed me that Rodenbach was pulling out of the area (Or maybe the US entirely) and that the last of the bottle that World Class had in the warehouse have already been distributed. So, supposedly what is on the shelves currently is all that is going to be around for the foreseeable future.

    Sounds like a great time at the Hopleaf. I can't believe I have never been there. Really need to fix that.

  3. Matt, we did eat an Ann Sather. I thought it was good, but there was a little cafe called Svea about a block away that I thought served up a better breakfast.

    Erik, I have heard that the rumor about Rodenbach pulling out is not true. I can't remember who told me that, though (maybe it was someone from WCB).

  4. The rumor about Robenbach is sort of true - Rodenbach has no more import arrangements for the US as a whole, so there is no way for World Class to order it until another import arrangement is made.

    Palm Breweries, owners of Rodenbach, have just recently terminated thier import arrangement with Duvel USA who also controls Duvel and Maredsous import. At this time, there are no Rodenbach bottles at Duvel USA or at World Class Beverages in Indiana. We do have a few 30 liter kegs of Rodenbach left, but that is the last of them.

    Palm Breweries has a couple of friends who are former InBev execs who have started thier own import company and I expect that this company will ultimately bring in Rodenbach to the US, but I have no idea how long it will take for that arrangement to be finalized.

    At the moment, there is no source of Rodenbach in the US for us to order from!

  5. Thanks for clearing that up, Bob. I guess I need to high tail it out to the liquor store to stock up.

  6. It is just awesome when the people that know the full story can jump on here and set the record straight. Thanks Bob, I knew the rough outline of the Rodenbach story, but not the whole thing. Really hope that get's resolved quick as it is too good of a beer to just disappear from store shelves.

    I would be seriously tempted to buy one of those 1/6 barrels and get my homebrew kegerator setup to hook up commercial kegs..