14 August 2011

Beer Diary #22 - Jim | Not Alphabetical . . . Autobiographical

Date: Monday, 1 August 2011
Location: The Hopleaf Bar
Andersonville, Chicago

Andersonville. The Hopleaf. We've been here before.

Some might say that going to familiar places is boring. It lacks novelty. It shows that one isn't adventurous. But for me, going to The Hopleaf is sort of like turning on the television and coming across a favorite movie that you've seen many times before. You know the kind of film I'm talking about--the kind that makes you stop flipping through the channels and watch it for awhile (lately, it's Batman Begins on F/X for me).

The wonderful thing about halting your channel surfing to watch such a film is that you usually catch something about the movie that you didn't notice before--a nuance to an actor's performance that finally stands out, or a line that you didn't quite "get" until the most recent viewing.

So we are in the familiar confines of The Hopleaf looking for a new experience. What do I hope to get out of our visit this time? The pub is known for its Belgian offerings, and they are what I've enjoyed during previous visits. This time, I want to focus on domestic beers. Local beers. So Half Acre's Daisy Cutter Pale Ale moves into frame. It's bone dry. Aromatic. Bitter, bitter citrus--so bitter that it almost stings my palate. Not a lot of malt backing there, and I like my pale ales on the malty side. Still, this is a killer beer, a good representative of the APA style for the city of Chicago's brewers.

Next, I turn to Finch's Sapsucker California Common Rye Ale. Finch's is new in town. Their flagship offerings are a blonde and a pale ale, and they seem to be spreading all over town. Sapsucker appears to be a seasonal. It is dry, bready, light in flavor, but a little too heavy on the rye if that makes any sense. Seems to me that the brewery might still be trying to find its legs. While Sapsucker doesn't wow me, I know that I'll be trying Finch's beers in the future to see how things are progressing.

Date: Thursday, 4 August 2011
Location: Handlebar
Wicker Park, Chicago

It's been eight years since we visited Wicker Park. Back then, the neighborhood was only partly gentrified. Large patches of the neighborhood were gritty in a way that Fountain Square is today. Indeed, in 2003, Wicker Park was still the neighborhood of Championship Vinyl and its "fetish properties."

"Do you even know your daughter? There's no way she likes that song."

Today, Milwaukee Avenue is teeming with shops that were vacant storefronts eight years ago. Many of these shops are independent, but a good number are national or semi-national: American Apparel, Starbucks, Pitaya, Urban Outfitters. Mind you, I'm not anti-gentrification. Progress is a good thing, and the neighborhood certainly made for an entertaining shopping experience for us.

But damn, the neighborhood made me feel like I had entered my dotage. Case in point--we stumbled on to a coffeehouse called The Wormhole. This place is a themed coffeehouse. The theme? Full-on cheesy '80s nostalgia (a visit to their Facebook page's photo album will give you a taste). They even had *full-size* replica of the Delorian time machine from Back to the Future and a Nintendo NES set up on an '80s-era tube television so people could play Mario Bros. After walking into the place, I finally had a good idea of how my parents must feel when they walk into a '50s-themed restaurant.

Exactly 1.21 gigawatts.

Before we went shopping and experienced the shock of The Wormhole, we ate lunch at Handlebar. We were initially attracted by the place's vegetarian offerings, but the tap list certainly didn't hurt. My selection: Lagunitas' A Little Sumpin' Sumpin'. I'm ashamed to admit that this is the first time I tried A Little Sumpin'. This wheat ale is best described as Gumballhead's West Coast fraternal twin. It's cloudy with a golden-orange hue instead of the clear yellow color of Gumballhead, but its flavor profile is very similar to Gumballhead's: citrus with a bit of mango and pine topped off with a slightly sweet malt backing. If I had ready access to this beer, I'd be on it consistently in the summer months.

Date: Thursday, 4 August 2011
Location: Acre Restaurant
Andersonville, Chicago

Back in our home away from home, Andersonville. Ask anyone who's spent any period of time in this neighborhood and you're not likely to find much of a bad word. And I'm not kidding when I say that this is our home away from home. This is the fourth time we've stayed in the neighborhood while visiting the city.

Our selection for a dinner location is Acre Restaurant, which is less than a year old because it wasn't around when we visited Andersonville last summer. What drew me is the amazing beer list. Whoever is the beverage manager at this place is not messing around. My guess is that Acre boasted 20 taps plus around a 50 to 60 beer bottle list. All craft, and diverse to boot.

The star of the night at Acre was Port's Mongo IPA, which is a double IPA. It's also one of the most citrus-dominated IPAs I've ever had. I got a different citrus fruit character on each sip--lemon, grapefruit, orange all came through. Nice caramel malt backing as well. This beer was so nice that I picked up a bottle at Binny's the next day to take home with me, plus some other selections that I'd been craving. What are they? Come to Tailgate for Nothing 5 this fall and you might find out.

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