10 December 2009

Guest Post: The Digitante Visits Champaign, IL

Today's content comes via long-time HBG reader Andy Howard. Andy is also a regular at HBG events and does a bit of writing and provides technology advice and services through his blog, The Digitante.

Last weekend, the wife and I headed out with our girls to meet up with some friends from Peoria. It goes without saying that I wouldn't be caught dead in Peoria, so we decided to meet about halfway: Champaign.

Champaign has a lot going for it:
It's not Peoria.

It's a Big Ten college town like West Lafayette, the home of my alma mater.

It has a great restaurant called Radio Maria.
As we were planning our trip, the wife and her friend simultaneously selected Radio Maria and I could not have been happier. They have a tap list consisting of 27 beers and a wide selection of bottles and bombers.

The 27 taps are mounted on a former industrial hand-washing station.

That definitely wasn't the only thing in the bar area that was recycled. The light fixtures contained a shroud from a wind tunnel, a neon light that was the 'O' from Leonard's Pawn Shop, vacuum cleaner cords for the wiring, and the pods from a pneumatic transfer system. All said, only the booth seats, bar top glass, and chairs were new.

Now on to the beer. The selections for the day were Southern Tier Cherry Saison, Ballast Point Sculpin IPA, and Two Brothers Cane and Ebel.

Southern Tier Cherry Saison

This beer has been reviewed by the Geeks before, but I had read the post long enough ago to completely forget what they said. When comparing notes a few minutes ago, it sounds like I was right in the ballpark.

The nose smelled like a rosé wine. It mostly felt like a beer wasn't supposed to smell that way. The first sip solidified my thought that this beer was weird. It had a citrusy, Mandarin orange flavor, it was very thick and syrupy, and the alcohol was very pronounced.

All in all, neither I nor the wife was very impressed. In HBG parlance, I probably would have rated it around 2.50 mugs.

Ballast Point Sculpin IPA

I had never heard of Ballast Point, but it appears they are a Southern California brewery and I've not seen them in Indiana.

This was the quintessential IPA for me: well balanced with a floral hoppy smell and a relaxed, not overpowering floral hoppy taste. The head was a bit thin, but definitely stuck to the glass through the entire beer.

I would consider this to be a supremely drinkable beer, perhaps the most of any IPA I've ever had. Overall, I would put this beer at about as close to 5.00 mugs as I can. If it was available in Indiana, I would have my new go-to beer.

Two Brothers Cane and Ebel

I believe this is a beer that is brewed using Turbinado raw sugar (Cane=Cain?) by the two Ebel brothers. There's your non-fact-checked background story.

This beer was nearly flat as it produced minimal head when being poured. It smelled very sweet and did not disappoint on the taste. Although it did have a sweet molasses flavor, the sweetness didn't overpower the hops and rye which stood out very well. The aftertaste was a major turn off for me as it left me with an instant iced tea flavor on the back of my tongue that wouldn't go away.

Between the overly sweet taste (I'm not a fan) and the iced tea aftertaste, this beer just didn't do it for me. The hops saved it to some extent though. I would put it at about 3.25 mugs.

Radio Maria is a great bar in the historical district of Champaign. We can't wait to check it out again when we can spend more time moving though the tap list. A special thanks goes out to Jacob at Radio Maria for filling us in on the history of the bar. Be sure to check it out next time you are headed toward Champaign.

Our thanks go out to Andy for the informative and helpful work - I visit Champaign every once in a while myself.

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  1. who knew i could be drawn to champaign, ill

    love these travel posts, keep it up...


  2. Sculpin is just flat out awesome. They used to only make an extremely limited quantity, but I am very happy they are making more. Here is a post I wrote a long time ago about it.


  3. Big fan of Radio Maria, especially on Friday afternoon when they have a great happy hour special with free appetizers.

    Jacob is a pretty cool guy who really knows his beer, and keeps some very clean tap lines.

    If in Champaign again I highly suggest walking across the street from Radio Maria to check out the Blind Pig. An amazing craft beer bar that boasts as good a selection as Radio Maria.

    You could also walk through the alley behind Radio to go to the Blind Pig Brewery, the only brewpub in Champaign / Urbana. It is the sister bar of the Blind Pig.

    Good stuff, love the review of the local place.