Friday, March 7, 2008

A Voice from Chicago

Below is a write up my friend Dan from Chicago about an extensive beer weekend that he had a few weeks back;

Wow, what a weekend. Great food... Great beer… Great friends. On Friday we went to Select Cut Steak House. We’ve wanted to try them out for about two or three years now. We just keep forgetting whenever we go out. I know this is a bier blog but I must comment that the steak was out of this world. But as good as it was the lobster tail I had put it to shame. It was like eating a stick of butter. Sadly, the best beer they had to offer was Beck’s Dark. When it arrived I was getting back to the table from the restroom and Jess was asking the waiter to bring us some non-frosted mugs. The smile across my face was quickly wiped away when the waiter gave me a confused look that quickly turned to disdain. Interestingly enough a mediocre beer like Beck’s was enhanced quite a bit by the steak.

Well, after dinner we were meeting up with friends, but were running a little early. Across the street from the Underground Lounge (our destination for the evening) is the Risqué Café American Craft Brews & Smoke House. Boy did they hold up to the “American Craft Brew” bit. I took a double take at the selection once we walked in. Let’s step back and discuss the atmosphere… Modern brick, steel and HD TVs playing classic grindhouse and kung-fu movies surrounded by giant pictures of 50’s pinup girls. Nice. So back to the beer. Nicer. They had an entire wall of coolers each filled to various levels with the best selection of American Micros I’ve seen in Chicago. No rice and corn Macros here. It was tough but I finally settled on a Brooklyn Local 1. I didn’t know anything about it but I’d heard many good things. The menu listed it as a Saison so when I took my first sip I was surprised to find a Strong Ale. After I got past this I have to say it lived up to my expectations… Even if I wanted a Saison. It poured (into a non-frosted goblet) a beautiful straw yellow with a frothy head that quickly settled to nice lacing. The taste and scent were similar so sweet florals, subtle lemon and a clove punch. Enjoyable to say the least, I recommend it if you stumble across one.

After we finished at Risqué we crossed over Newport and went to Underground Lounge. A great little secret of Wrigleyville. A seedy rock-n-roll bar with a nice beer selection. Walls painted black and dimly lit. I loved it. This is the kind of bar where I feel at home After looking over the cooler I settled on Kwak figuring I’d just had one Belgium Strong ale… And stuck with it for much of the night to make the bartenders life a little easier. There was a show Friday night and his help had called off. Over whelmed would be an accurate description. With the low light it was difficult to judge the appearance. From what I could make out it was a nice caramel brown. The flavors that jumped out to me were the caramel and brown sugar sweetness. A hint of fruit was hard to make out over the sweetness. Enjoyable as always. At the end of the evening I saw a Reunion – A Beer for Hope sitting at the back of the cooler. Far be it from me to know when to say when… so after several Kwaks I ordered it. What a change. I thought the massive foam head was a bad pour but after further review it is common, so don’t be surprised if it happens to you as well. Typical rusty pipe brown in appearance with a strong hop smell. The tastes that I got from it were of Earl Gray tea and citrus hops… My palate was a wreck by this time so I can’t be sure.

Well, next thing we knew it was closing time so we grabbed a cab home and quickly passed out after a late night quesadilla, some water and Advil. Up next… Saturday and Sunday.

So, Saturday I woke and felt like Chuck Norris drop kicked my palate. I was pissed at myself. Luckily it was only 7:30am and Delilah’s Vintage Strong Ale Tasting wasn’t till noon. To be honest I considered skipping it. How stupid could I be? Going out with friends the night before a tasting. I grabbed a glass of water and went back to bed for a couple hours and it did a world of good. I woke at about 11 and I could taste. Thank goodness, I’d been looking forward to this for days and it would have ruined my day had I of missed it.

We unfortunately got there about half an hour late and the tasting was in full swing. We got in the door, paid our entry fee and got our glasses. Another punk/rock-n-roll bar. How better could this weekend get. Again I felt like home. I miss the Nyabinghi back in Youngstown Oh.

As I was waiting for my tickets I noticed the selection from Dogfish Head. For those of you that don’t know me, DFH is probably my favorite American craft brewer and what do they have… Au Courant 2004. I’ve wanted to get my hands on one of these for some time and haven’t been able to. I made a b-line for the DFH and handed over my first drink ticket. Dark red in color with a white/pink head. If there was anything else besides sweet black cherries and currants I couldn’t find it. It was wonderfully sour with a nice sweet finish. I was so happy.

Next, I moved onto a 2005 Three Philosophers. For Christmas dinner 07 I had a 06 bottle and was pleased to say the least. The harshness I’d experienced in the past from the TP was removed and there was nothing but a great cherry bite. Sadly, there was too much harshness removed after that extra year. Don’t think I’ll hold onto a bottle in my personal collection for this long.

While I was standing at the bar (it wasn’t over crowded yet) I notice a selection of Anchor Old Foghorn Barley Wines ranging from 2002 to 2007. I give Anchor the respect they deserve for pretty much starting the micro revolution in the late 60’s early 70’s but I can’t say that I’ve ever been a fan. I love Barley Wines so I figured I’d give them another shot. I started with the 2002; it smelled of sweet malts and sugary candy. Its taste was bold, thick and chewy with little carbonation. The 2007 was next for a comparison and the first noticeable difference was in the smell… Much sweeter with a sour fruitiness. The color of each by the way was of unfiltered apple juice with a nice light brown almost white head. The taste of the 07 was quite different. Smooth not thick with notes of oak. Overall, not bad on either… Still not going to run out and buy a case.

Right about now it started getting crowded… too crowded so we thought we’d head upstairs in hopes it hadn’t been discovered yet. We were soon to be proven wrong. The upstairs was crowded when we got up there. So we made our way around the room as best we could. First stop was the Unibroue table… Purely by chance mind you because by this time the room had become so crowded that we couldn’t see the actual tables. On the table was a selection of Anniversary ranging from 10 to 17, Quelque Chose 2002 and 2006, Chambly Noir 06 and Terrible 2004 and 2006. I just had to have the 04. Terrible is normally a kick in the ass, but the 04 had all that kick removed and what was left was a thick black liquid with a strong smell of malt and raisins. It tasted of dark sweet malts and dark fruits. Any unpleasantness found in the fresh bottles was removed and all you had left was a thoroughly enjoyable Strong Dark Ale. By this time the upstairs had become a cluster fuck. Sorry about the swearing Tim. We were pushed away from the tasting table so I couldn’t get to the Anniversary Ales… there were more people coming up the stairs and the temperature was getting uncomfortable.

I knew that if I didn’t go for it now I wouldn’t get the one brew I’d purposely come upstairs for… the 1998 Rochefort 10. I would never forgive myself if I missed this one. After some fighting with the ever growing masses and the bartender for that matter I got some. I didn’t care what else might be at the bar, I made my way away from the bar to the windows figuring I could get some air, some space and truly enjoy one of my all time favorites aged longer than I’ve been aware of its existence. Sunlight yellow/orange in color with tiny bits floating through it. When I first smelled it I didn’t get anything. There was not smell. After agitation the slightest hint of ripe fruit came out. Now for the taste, how I’d looked forward to this. Nothing again. It had become so smooth that it was like drinking a glass of flavored water. No carbonation, no alcohol bite, not typical fruit and raisin characteristics of a Belgium. Nothing… And wickedly drinkability because of it. I was in heaven, how subtle and delicate it had become. The beer equivalent of fine china. I could drink this all night long all the while regretting the lose of such a fine work of art. After holding the 10 in my mouth for a moment I was able to pick up apple… no… what could that be? If only I could have gotten my hands on a whole bottle.

At this time some girl started yelling at someone else waiting for a sample. Apparently she was under the impression that there was a line. If there was I couldn’t see it either. It was time to go back downstairs no matter what was up here. After we made our way down there were a few more beers, but to be honest nothing worth writing about. It became near impossible to get served and we decided to leave much earlier than originally planned. Besides that I was going to see Jesus Christ Superstar later that night and needed to rest before I went out. Overall I’m glad I went, but I wish they would have limited the amount of tickets sold. You would think that with this being the 10th anniversary that they would have learned this. Good time… may not go back to the tasting but will definitely go back to the bar.

Sunday… Actually Saturday while we were out my new brew kit arrived with ingredients to make an Oatmeal Stout. I’ve been researching recipes for weeks now and devised a little twist to make it my own. I decided on adding cocoa powder after the boil to the primary fermentation bucket and next week after I move it to my secondary adding cherries. For those of you that haven’t brewed before it is a time consuming task taking most of an afternoon to do right. Well worth the rewards in the end… So I’m told my first venture into brewing didn’t turn out so well, but I think I’ve figured out what I did wrong. I’ll update you all in about a month once I’ve finished the bottling process… Of course I’ll be sending you a few Tim.

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