22 June 2008
The Hopleaf Bar
5148 N. Clark St.
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.