26 June 2013

Chicago Beer Diary | Neighborhoods

A well-worn adage is that "Chicago is a city of neighborhoods." This certainly is true. Ask residents of the city where they're from and they'll probably give you the name of their neighborhood rather than a "side" (e.g. north side, south side) of the city. And in the current craft beer and brewery boom that Chicago is experiencing, chances are that the beer you drink might originate in your favored neighborhood. Do you live in Lakeview? You might gravitate toward brand new brewpub DryHop. Do you like to hang out in Logan Square? You'll probably be found at Revolution. Is Wicker Park or Bucktown your thing? You might be downing pints at Piece.

6.13.13 | The Neighborhoods: Lincoln Park & Andersonville

Near the DePaul campus in Lincoln Park is Local Option. Here you see the slogan, Scheiß Bier kann tödlich sein: Shitty beer can kill you. If ever wiser words were spoken...

The vibe is metal; think Sinking Ship if you're Naptowner. 31 taps of craft beers from across the country and abroad, along with countless bottles and stoic but efficient service...I would frequent this place if I lived in Lincoln Park or anywhere remotely close for that matter. I might not be metal enough to completely fit in at Local Option--the closest I come to being metal is liking Motörhead--but I would do my best.

Bierwerker, which is Local Option's brewing arm, brews at other breweries, but they don't like to be called gypsy brewers or even contract brewers. Whatever you want to call Bierwerker, they make a formidable beer in American Muscle DIPA, which they brewed at Louisville favorite Against The Grain. American Muscle is sweet, potent, citrusy, sneaky. A second snifter is tempting, but I have another place to visit for a drink.

Up the Red Line to the city's far north side and I disembark at the Berwyn station for a westward hike to my Andersonville destination, the Hopleaf. I've been to the Hopleaf many times over the last five years, but I cannot pass up the opportunity to visit again. This place is comfort incarnate, and in my experience, the tap and bottle list has no equal in the city (really, look at this menu). It's an ideal place for Indy folks who enjoy Brugge Brasserie because the focus is Belgian--Belgian food and as well as Belgian beers. It's also a good place to strike up a conversation with a stranger. No one drinking or dining here is pretentious. Making new friends is easy.

Rarely do I encounter a gueuze on tap, so St. Louis Gueuze Fond Tradition on the draft list grabs my attention. Exceptionally tart; pleasingly crisp; notes of apple, oak, and berry. Further delving into the tap list reveals Tart Hopfentea, a unique Berliner weisse brewed in collaboration with the Hopleaf by Perennial Artisan Ales. Lightly sour, herbal, spicy, notes of tropical fruit.

6.14.13 | The Neighborhoods: West Loop and Loop

Green Line from the Loop to the West Loop. West Randolph Street, to be precise. This area is teeming with bars and restaurants. Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard has two acclaimed restaurants here. And it's home to Haymarket Pub & Brewery. As far as brewpubs go, Haymarket is the pressed tin ceiling variety of brewpub. The food isn't exceptional but is still solid. A friendly and knowledgeable staff. A bartender named "Drogo," as in "Khal Drogo." I was tempted to instruct him to carefully disinfect any cuts lest Mirri Maz Duur needs to be called in and everything goes to hell. Next thing you know, Khaleesi is smothering him with a pillow.

At Haymarket, the beer is the real attraction. Loads of house beers and quality guest taps. The Mash Made in Heaven VI White Peach Wit is a memorable quaff. An unfiltered witbier brewed with coriander, sweet and bitter orange peel, and white peach juice. It's the peach juice that pushes this beer from the good to the exceptional category. There's also Girl & the Goatee IV, a Belgian pale ale which is a collab brew with Stephanie Izard that features rhubarb and blackberries. Dry, a bit tart, floral, spicy, delicious.

Wit in the middle; Girl & Goatee on the right.

Two other special beers in the Haymarket lineup are Defender American Stout and Ombibulous American IPA. Defender is heavily dry hopped with Pacific Northwest hops, resulting in a chocolaty and citrusy brew. Best characterized as a Tootsie Roll in a pint glass. And the Ombibulous could also be called "Hop Cornucopia"--Citra, Centennial, Cascade, Amarillo, and Crystal are all in there. Super citrus and pine abound. A hop-head's best friend.

Defender on the right; Ombibulous in the center.

A return to the Loop and to the Palmer House, which is my house for the evening. The blend of Baroque and Art Deco in the hotel lobby brings to mind the scene in The Untouchables where Eliot Ness confronts Al Capone on the grand staircase of the Lexington Hotel. I half expect the lobby bar to use Al Capone's shoe as a cocktail shaker. You know, the one that Geraldo Rivera found in Capone's vault back in the '80s.

Speaking of the lobby bar, it fortunately carries some craft, including Revolution Brewing Company's Rosa Hibiscus Ale in a can. A tart ale infused with hibiscus flowers and orange peel. In the words of a craft-beer-ignorant friend, "Sounds girly." But it's not girly. Rather, it's a fitting nightcap for an expedition through some of Chicago's neighborhoods. And I'll be back to explore more of them.

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