Monday, July 29, 2013

Thirsty Bear Brewing (San Francisco, CA)

Snap peas, samples and Caesar salad

Nearly a decade ago, I stopped at the Thirsty Bear on a walking tour of pubs in San Francisco.  However, it was near the end of a long day and I doubted my conclusions. On our first night in The City before heading north for a tree and beer tour, we got in late but our hotel was so conveniently close to the Thirsty Bear that it was an obvious choice for an after flight dinner.

With the kitchen closing shortly after our arrival a bit before 10 pm and thanks to a fast bartender giving advice as we sat at the end of the bar, we ordered a sampler tray and food immediately to make sure we got both. The samples were improved since my last visit but in the general ballpark of my memory. Grizzly Bear Red Ale, Meyer ESB and Koslov Stout were my favorite of the standards taps. On cask was a stock ale dry hopped with fuggles that did not appeal to me at all.

Our favorite draft of the stop was the Charbay Stave, listed as a black ale. From the bartender, it's the Kozlov stout aged for a year in Charbay barrels of Charbay Distillery & Winery and mixed with stock ale to smooth. The draft has a clingy tan lace from a full head over a jet black ale. Strong dark malt, molasses, hot alcohol and chewy barrel is apparent in the nose, char on the tongue with strong whiskey that's sharp and fun. House special was to pair the beer with a snifter of Charbay whiskey: the beer nicely cut the raw taste of the whiskey and made a delightful comparison. Dark cherry comes out when the beer warms up, but the overall effect degrades.

Charbay Stave draft w Patatas Bravas
As a tapas bar, we shared two small plates to compliment my Caesar salad. Delightfully presented, the salad stacked high on a small plate. I tried but didn't enjoy the Organic Sugar Snap Peas as much as my wife, but the Patatas Bravas (fried kennebec potatoes, garlic, spicy brava sauce, and aioli) were spectacular. We quite enjoyed the food. mixing in the remaining samples and the Charbay Stave draft. To date, it's the best organic brewery that I've been to, though, overall, the samples fall a bit short of a standard brewery. But, the combination of food and atmosphere more than compliment the well brewed beer.

Our bartender was friendly and full of beery knowledge for San Francisco at the beginning of our trip; one recommendation we followed (avoided a brewery in fact), led to what I believe was a much better night at Cerveceria de MateVeza. The similarity of my conclusions for the two visits increases my confidence in drinking knowledge a decade ago; a nice test to validate my memory. While not a destination brewery, the Thirsty Bear is a solid pub that fits well in the SOMA (south of Market) neighborhood, and I would happily visit again if I found myself nearby.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

McGoon's Taxi Co (Rochester, MN)

McGoon's Taxi Co Pub and Restaurant
Tonight's evening of fun and laugh's was my first visit to this downtown location since it was O'Neill's Pizza Pub.  In fact, until an invitation by friends for dinner and open mic night, I avoided going into the old place where we spent so much time waiting for Dan's heart transplant.

Walking in, it's hard to recognize the old place when I walked into McGoon's for dinner. A themed restaurant like Friday's down to the taxicab menus, it's a very friendly and cozy place to chat and drink. Limited drafts on tap and different from what is listed online. Something to be said for how a server pitches a tap list, ending with the "dark and bitter" Lagunitas Undercover Investigation Shutdown Ale, which was the best on the list. It seemed obvious that he wasn't a fan of hops, but it's nice that they have at least one hoppy beer on tap for those of use of the persuasion.  Oddly, in spite of having been to Lagunitas on vacation earlier this month, Undercover is as a draft is missing from my list. Sticking with Lagunitas for the night, the draft upstairs at Goonie's seemed a bit brighter than the tall I had downstairs.  No specific problem I noticed; both were served just fine.

After finishing a very good dinner, we headed upstairs to Goonie's Comedy Club for open mic night. All stand up comedians, each on a tight time limit.  An interesting mix of veteran comics with several on stage for the very first time. Going in with relatively low expectations (because I had no idea), I was pleasantly surprised by how often I laughed out loud. Most of the comics were good (or tolerable) and only a few that I would have been a good opportunity to get a drink, especially since there's no cover. A diverse crowd trickled in through the show until nearly full at the end and seemed quite merry.

Greek Veggie Wrap and potato salad
I found the night interesting, not just for the laughs, but to see the developing skill of each of the comedians as writers, especially the younger performers just starting out. I half-jokingly credit much of I initial knowledge of writing from my days as a bouncer during Comedy Caravan at Nick's, a nightclub on the levee at Purdue. Bored at my post since no one fights when drinking Long Island Ice Tea for a $1.75 while listening to top comics on the circuit from New York to LA. As a communications major, I took the time to analyze the structure of humor, much of which ended up in my "writing buddy" format that I use to teach freshmen. Tonight's open mic night was a flip side of this old practice by seeing budding comics as opposed to the professionals at Nick's.

McGoon's and Goonie's is an amusing diversion with good beer and food and more than a few laughs for a Thursday cheap date night, plus I would be optimistic that the full weekend comedy shows would be worth the price of admission.  While I was slightly disconcerted underneath from my personal history with the space, it was a great time that helped me erase ghosts of my past. While not a beer bar per se, there's a couple good drafts to while away an evening with in good humor, upstairs or down.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Oskar Blues Grill & Brew (Longmount, CO)


After a spectacular day in Rocky Mountain National Park, a disappointing stop at Estes Park Brewery and a warm up visit to Left Hand Brewery, I was looking forward to dinner at Oskar Blues for some of my favorite Colorado beers on tap. Very busy on a Saturday night, I waited with friends for a table with a draft of Deviant Dale's (aka Double D), which was excellent and DD has found an occasional home in my beer fridge whenever I go on a beer run to Hudson, WI.  

When we got a table, the band upstairs was playing so loud that I put in ear plugs and could hear the discussion better.  Absolutely miserable, worse even than our Cask Republic. After appetizers, we asked to be moved and they kindly put us outside on the patio and our night improved immensely. When I mentioned the ear splitting noise to a waiter, the response was "that's Oskar Blues," as if it was self evident.  

The rest of my beers on the night were Oskar Blues standards except Renegade Ryeteous IPA, which was good but didn't have as much hop and rye twang as I had hoped.  Food was good too, especially the fried pickles with hot sauce. Overall, Oskar Blues was a good beer experience and I'm happy to have added them to my list. I appreciate their pioneering efforts at canning craft beer and now understand somewhat  the Oskar Blues attitude that enabled them to be to be leaders. However, I wish I had known of the raucous nature of the bar and visited earlier in the day for a more comfortable time.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Yard House (Downtown Denver, CO)

Beautiful main bar and ring of taps

I didn't have the Yard House of downtown Denver on my to-drink list for the trip, but it was happily across the street from our hotel. In 2002, I had been to a Yard House in Irvine, CA, and, while it was a good, I had a mediocre impression of the chain.

Yard House Denver was clearly a step above. Not sure if it was the change in location or the decade later, but the beer list was extensive and touted more than a few hoppy selections to keep me entertained, including Green Flash Palate Wrecker and Odell's Mercenary DIPA. My wife's first draft was Avery's The Reverend, an excellent quad that kept her happy. On our various stops, the tap list had a nice mix of beers to have something for wide range of drinkers without catering to the lowest common denominator, even a few new drafts for the database.

The food was also quite incredible. With an entire portion of the menu dedicated to Gardein meat substitute selections, it was almost like being at a vegetarian restaurant for choices (even some vegan). We fell in love with the BBQ [fake] Chicken Salad so much we went back for it and recreated our on version at home. Gardein products have since been distributed extensively, including local grocery stores. The fish tacos were also excellent, a tasty combination of crispy fish and fresh guacamole.

We had such a great time at the Yard House because of the very attentive staff plus the restaurant was lively without being too noisy to talk. With several stops, including once for just a beer en route to a concert, the service, beer and food were always consistently excellent. Since this positive experience, my intent is to try the Yard House in other locations to see if the chain has improved or if the Denver location is just that good.  I haven't had the opportunity for further testing yet but hope to in the future. GALA 2016 is again going to be in Denver, and I look forward to tasting some more taps and digging deeper into the veggie menu with my singing friends again.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Brouwerij West (San Jose, CA)

When stopping at a place like Binny's in Schaumburg, it's hard to choose sometimes. One wall of the warehouse is just for beer.  Delightfully confusing as to what to pick.

On my last visit from Chicago, the Brouwerij West labels caught my eye. I bought pretty bottles on the fly with no name recognition or research. Generally, quality and attitude match either.  I thought the focus on art would signal similarly high brewing standards: wrong.

Tasting at home, I started light and worked up. Surprised I bought a blond, I don't think I noticed the name because it was this label that first drew my attention. Shimmering gold ale with a slight haze from me overpouring the sediment that I didn't expect. Snow white head that lingers forever into a thick lace.  Sweet corn and light bread in the nose with a bit of spice. With corn and spice on the tongue, it's more like a high end macro than a Belgian blond, but cleanly brewed and perfectly fine.

Reading the website, the brewer has a particular attitude.  As a statement of philosophy, "We make beer in classic belgian style with mostly belgian ingredients. Our beer is dry and refreshing. We make no IPA and have no barrel aging or spices." The lowercase Belgian caught my eye, as well as the "no IPA". From my experience, Belgian brewers show little regard for rules or styles, so the attitude of no spices or barrel aging is odd.  
I hoped that moving on would bring some improvement.  To the Saison: extra hazy dark yellow with a white head; light pepper and spice in the nose per the style; taste is muddled and dull without much of the nose making it to the tongue. I poured it correctly but there's an odd yeasty twang that that lingers that I'm not thrilled to drink.

Half way through my BW bottles and not impressed so far.  Perusing further into the website, the brewery, contrary to branding rules, changes the artwork for a beer over time, expanding the artists used on the labels. Again, I like the concept but only if the beer is as worthy as the concept. So far the beer is lacking compared to the high ideals, but there's two left to try.

The Tripel is a hazy orange to amber with an off white head.  Nose has a nice hoppy spice, pepper and  lemon, but the taste is again muddled and out of balance. Three is a trend and the brewery has what my wife calls 't IJ Syndrome. When we visited 't IJ (prounounced "et eye") in Amsterdam, my wife noted that all of the beers tasted the same (because of the house yeast).  BW also have a house taste, and not to its advantage like 't IJ, which continues with my final bottle, Mor Mor. A quadrupel, Mor Mor has an acidic cherry bite with some dark fruit underneath and a head that was rocky and irregular and went flat quickly with boozy nose. Inelegant and raw, I preferred the blond in spite of quad being a favored style.

I like the art of the Brouwerij West but not impressed by the beer at all.  No repeat customer here. When I put the brewery in my database, it appears just before Westvleteren.  While I get "Brewery West" for a California brewery, the coincidence seems a bit contrived. Regardless of intent, my overall impression is that the brewery needs to focus more on flavor and less on extraneous details. Unfortunately, my leap of faith wasn't rewarded this time and definitely not worth the couple of days of beer quota to drink them.

Beer friend Al was also on this Chicago trip and bought some of the same Brouwerij West beers.  Check out his more positive perspective.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

O'Neill's Pizza Pub (Rochester, MN)

O'Neill's "new" location in the Crossroads Shopping Center
July 2013

I love O'Neill's Pizza Pub.  Besides that I really love the pizza, the additional reasons are listed below in my original review of the pub in 2006. We continued to go to O'Neill's after Dan received his heart transplant for the additional six years Dan lived in town, but my wife and I don't get there much since his passing.

My bias for O'Neill's is clear and unabashed. However, back in the day with Dan, we tried restaurants all over town and nearly every slice of pizza. Our group honestly returned to O'Neill's because we preferred their food, beer list and friendly atmosphere. Luckily, my speech coach friends indulge my obsession to stop here, so we will have business and/or social meetings over pizza at the pub. Also, local friends agree that the pizza is unique and go there for "German Club" (code for an after school teacher happy hour), independent of my influence. So, I feel somewhat justified that my bias isn't just about nostalgia.

So, please stop by O'Neill's (any day but Sunday or Monday when closed) and help keep my favorite pub in Rochester serving great pizza and beer for a very long time.

BeerAdvocate review from 9/16/2006
My nephew Dan was in Rochester waiting for a heat transplant for a year and a half. My wife and I traveled from the Twin Cities to see him every Wednesday during that time, and for about nine months of it we went to O'Neill's for pizza, beer, and edited Dan's poetry (now a self published collection). With that said, I think O'Neill's is one of the most unique restaurants I've ever been and, obviously, one of my favorites.

I rarely miss the opportunity to have beer and pizza at O'Neill's when in Rochester.
O'Neill's bar area.  Free pizza set out at happy hour
Here's why. The beer list is excellent. Not as big as either Whistle Binkies, but well chosen and fresh. I've never once had a stale beer, bottle or draft, in the times I've visited. On my last visit, there were eight drafts ranging from Kul Lite to Mojo IPA, and, as an Irish Pub, Guinness, Bass, and Smithwick's are par for the course. Always a consistent range of bottles including Victory Golden Monkey, Sleeman, several Rogue, Hazed and Infused, Murphy's, Wexford Irish Creme, Kostritzer, Weihenstephaner, Erdinger, Wittekerke, Kwak, Orval, Tilburg Brown Ale, Lindemans Framboise, Belhaven's Twisted Thistle and a few others. The list doesn't change much, but sometimes the bottled beers will show up on tap. It's a carefully crafted selection of beers that sell well with few changes over time.

Now the food. The first pizza here we had was a Greek pizza with feta, tomatoes, and black olives. In the original location (moved recently), Irish and Greek flags flew in the rafters. And it is probably the only Irish Pub that you can have baklava for dessert. Evidently, one of the O'Neill daughters married into Greek cuisine. Our "usual" is a Golden Monkey for myself, a Kostritzer for my wife, a Triple-Double (our name, not O'Nei'll's, for double crust, double sauce, double cheese) and baklava for dessert. The pizza sauce is the heart of it, sweet and tasty, very different than an Italian style oregano and basil sauce. Not sure what it is, but it is very unique and good. We enjoy our multi-continent meal several times a year when we visit my nephew, who lives and goes to school in Rochester now and is doing well with his new heart
Even wrote an ode. Irish for Pizza is a T-shirt slogan of ONeills that I borrowed for the title. Allison no longer works there (graduated and joined the service), but we've kept some contact and we were still recognized when we had a Greek pizza yesterday for lunch.

My expository poem from Do chicks really dig scars?, a collection of poems written by Dan and revised by me. Click on the Poetry tab on the blog's home page for a link to buy our book.  

Irish for Pizza
Restaurant seating

ONeills Pizza Pub, family run, marked only
by a small yellow neon sign, an Irish pub with
Greek food (both flags fly from the rafters) and
an Irish/German/American beer list worthy of
   Slainte!      Prosit!      and        Cheers!

A daughters marriage, we were told, changed the
menu so that ordering baklava with Guinness or a
hefeweizen as dessert to a feta cheese pizza with
tomatoes and olives, somehow, makes great sense.

Every Wednesday night, our ill-formed group
(get itDan's sick, illness formed...…never mind)
picks the center booth, puts quarters quickly in
the jukebox, and then, we wait not-so-patiently for
Draft list on last visit in June 2013
Johnny Cash to rumble out Ring of Fire.

Allison, our Supergirl waitress, as much a part
of Wednesdays with Dan as we are, takes our
high maintenance order:

a Schwarzbier for Aunt Gloria, triple-double pizza
(double crustdouble cheeseand always double
of their Oh! so sweet Greek pizza sauce), best beer
on this week's list for Uncle Cal, soda and poetry
for Dan, and whatever conversation that's on tap.

When Dan went back in the hospital, briefly, we
even ordered a pizza to-go, an excuse to tell Allison
that Dan's ok, just couldn't make it that week, tied
up with hospital tubing and an infection.

We came for pizza and a pub, and stayed for a big
booth with quiet nights to write and laugh and cry
(some tears happy, some sad) with great food and
fine drink and people who carea sense of home
in a very hard time.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Town Hall Lanes opening night (Minneapolis, MN)

Town Hall Lanes
After our initial stop of the evening at the Urban Growler Open House and dinner at the Foxy Falafel (excellent!), friends of ours who were at the newly opened Town Hall Lanes said the crowd had thinned a bit and that we should head over. When we walked in, I felt like Norm at Cheersbeer folk I knew at every turn, servers and customers.

The text from our insider friend that it's "not that bad if you just want beer" meant there was actually standing room when we arrived some time a bit before 9 pm. Two sets of friends who had been in line before the grand opening at 6 pm were seated and reported that the food was very good. Compared to Town Hall proper, the new place has the standards like Masala Mama and other TH greats, but a lot more guest taps. I started and finished with the White IPA, a superb brew that demonstrates the genius of Mike Hoops et al at the TH brew house. Peppery, spicy and light while still being assertive and full bodied, I settled in with a second pint while chatting away with friends.

TH Lanes is much larger than TH Tap, a place I have only been a few times because the effort to get there versus seven corners is about the same and I mostly drink new releases. Plus, my pint club discount works downtown. TH Lanes is a much closer and easier to get to from the beer wasteland where I live, so I see myself heading there more often. Also, we have more friends near TH Lanes, so the added incentive might give it the boost for me to show up for a pint.  I didn't look at the menu, but the flatbread offering alone looked worth a second visit.

Town Hall Lanes main bar and restaurant.  Wish I had a better
picture of the absolutely incredible 100+ year old bar
Pete brought home from Washington. 
Owner Pete Rifakes seems to have pulled out all of the stops for the Lanes.  I heard the high ceiling and room for a gorgeous chandelier (I know, weird, but it really works) came from knocking out a floor. The extensive remodeling is apparent when compared to a picture posted by MNBeer of the old Skylane Bowling. From a distance, the condition of the bowling lanes looked superb to this semi-informed bowler (watched the PBA every Saturday with my mom growing up).

Tiled bathroom of Grey Lodge Pub in Northeast Philadelphia
And, the bathroom.  If the reader has ever been in the Town Hall bathrooms, the only thing that has changed in my memory is the advertisement over the urinal. Better than Triple Rock, but nothing to write about. At the TH Lanes, it was like being in a disco tech. The unified wash area splits into gender specific locations and is posh and beautifully finished; it ranks up there with the ceramic tile of the Grey Lodge Pub or the barley art stall dividers of Left Hand Brewing.

Just before leaving, I was able to congratulate Pete and Mike on a jammed packed opening night and on the beauty of the bar. Both, along with staff moved over from the brewery, were working hard to keep the beer and food flowing. Town Hall Lanes is a fantastic bar space that has the benefit of great beer and presentation of Town Hall, plus the added bonus of a bowling party without being forced to drink macro swill. Stop byit's worth the trip.

Fox News gives some love to the TH Lanes and Summit.  And a great article by

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Urban Growler open house (Urban Growler, Minneapolis, MN)

Station 5: take a picture with a
life size pint

Saw the Urban Growler's sneak peak opening on MNBeer and our friends Dan and Lori thought it sounded fun for our Third Friday outing. The Heavy Table wrote up a nice introduction to the brewery, including the two women owners their goal to serve local brew and food. I found the mock up drawings of what the Urban Growler will look like in the future interesting as well.

Following the GPS to Endicott Ave, which is barely this side of the river in St. Paul, we drove slowly through an industrial area until we found the Urban Growler building. We saw The Lyric luxury apartments nearby with the green line light rail down the street. Walking in the door, a part of the initial pitch to invest was that Urban Growler was in an up and coming neighborhood, beer (Surly's destination pub is to be nearby plus "others" are looking at the area) and otherwise, and was to be the next Nordeast. Maybe. Not sure I'm the one to agree or disagree with that claim.

With  more people there than I expected, the interior of the future bar and restaurant was set up as eight stations, including the membership table, architectural drawings, beer pouring, meet the chef and merchandise. We voted for the few veggie options on the proposed menu and checked "more veggie options" that someone had written in below. This is the first time we have been at a brewery this early in the process, and trying to match the designs to the physical space was entertaining. The whole point of the evening was to create investment, ranging from a $500 minimum for a T-shirt and your name on the Founder's Wall to a $10 grand investment to be an actual part owner of the enterprise.  The $1000 investment was the $500 plus first pint in the door free for life.  My wife and I briefly debated that latter before the math failed because we live too far away for it to pay off as well as our Pint Club membership at Town Hall.

So, to the heart of the investment: beer. Eight beers on tap with the Wild Rice Ale out before we walked in the door (I assume because of the previous night's open house). We luckily got to the Rhubarb Wit, my wife's first and favorite, before it ran out half way through the night. My favorite was the Graffiti Rye IPA, listed as their flagship beer on the description sheet, which had a bite that made me sit up and notice it without being overwhelming. Of the rest, the Everyday Ale was an unusual style: Kentucky Common Beer, a pre-prohibition ale that was brewed and enjoyed almost exclusively around Louisville, Kentucky.  I liked the sample, but will need a full pint when they open to give it a fair taste.

My wife and I didn't invest, but mostly because of logistics rather than the beer or food on offer.  If we lived nearby, the decision would have been tougher. All of the beers were solid to very good with some interesting food planned. Being a veggie, the offerings were slight and, to be fair, similar to most pubs. I look forward to giving Urban Growler another shot when they open and wish them the best of luck.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Great Dane Eastside (Madison, WI)

Carpenter's Crop IPA at
Eastside Great Dane

After an epic three days in Chicago, I was happy to head home after a morning stop at Binny's in Schaumberg for liquid souvenirs, a bottle shop I've been buying from for years on the way home from Chicago or Purdue—never been disappointed. Can't even openly admit how much Al and I bought together, but the staff took notice. Check out Al's blog, as he's been review most every beer.

I've been to the Great Dane many times, but only the downtown location, never having a reason to stop at one of their more distant pubs.  We took the drive by opportunity to have a quick lunch and test one farther out: Eastside.

I put the address in my GPS while still on I-90.  Good thing, since, unknown to me, there's no exit from the freeway right at the Cottage Grove Rd.  The GPS took us off the freeway, seemingly, way early and gave us, necessarily, a tour of the Wisconsin countryside.  Not the easy-off, easy-on I had been planning, but it worked. In an earlier, pre-GPS world, it would have been more of a hassle.

To be expected, there's a much smaller selection of beers compared to the downtown location, but the quality was just as good from our two drafts.  The Carpenter's Crop IPA was better than reasonable and a shared glass of the Barley Wine Black was also very good.  For my meal, the appropriately lunch sized Wisconsin Cheddar Mac more than hit the spot, but I think I had had my expectations too high and it wasn't quite what I had hoped for.

To match up to the downtown Great Dane is a pretty high bar.  Eastside is too suburban and feels like a chain compared to the authentic grittiness of the downtown location. However, the quality of the smaller number of offered beers is the same, which fit our needs today. A worthy stop that was pretty much what I was hoping fora high quality, fast (relatively with the tour de cows) lunch stop while being able to move on down the highway.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Chicago 2013 Day 3

La Trappe Bock at the Map Room

Chicago 2013 Day 1
Chicago 2013 Day 2

We took it slower today and started with the morning at the Art Institute of Chicago.  The, we did a late lunch at Piece Brewery & Pizzeria.  I seem to love this place, as I've been to it on several trips in a row now and just keep wanting more. I decided on this incarnation that it is the combo of New Haven style pizza and a better than average brewery that gets me.  Either alone wouldn't be enough, but together it's a fun combination for a new beer or two, generally one that I like well enough for a draft and that wonderfully hot, thin crust pizza.  Easy recom for any Chicago visit.

Al wanted to visit the Map Room, which is a fine local bar that does a great job of handling the beers that they have.  I took the opportunity to try for the first time a La Trappe Bock Bier. Beautifully served but I wasn't crazy about the beer. From my notes, I was in the Map Room ten years ago with my wife and the the place is very similar today.  I would be happy to live nearby but it's not the destination bar like Hopleaf.

The Map Room
Revolution Brewing was next on our stop for some hoppy brewing swagger, starting with Triple Fist and Double Fist, triple and double IPAs respectively.  The double was disappointing but the triple was significantly better.  Ended with a saison named Coup D'Etat that was my favorite Revolution brew. We intended to eat dinner at Haymarket, so we ordered just an appetizer of Smelt and Fried Lemons with Sriracha-Lemon aioli sauce. I took some ribbing for never having had smelt beforeevidently, a deficiency of my Iowa upbringing—and thoroughly enjoyed them.

Last November, I had a great time at Haymarket with my wife, niece and nephew for our Thanksgiving dinner, one of the only places open. Looking forward to our return, we showed up just before the start of the first game of the Stanley Cup with Chicago and Boston facing off.

Revolution brew house
For dinner, I went light with a bowl of Vegan Chili and a side of Mac 'N Cheese.  Both were excellent. Haymarket tries to push the limit with beer, so decided to try the Girl & the Goatee, a Belgian ale with rhubarb.  Not every experiment goes well, and this one was a mediocre success. The white peach wit Mash Made in Heaven VI was far better. Our main issue for the night was the extremely loud television for the hockey game that made it uncomfortable to sit for the evening. We left as the Blackhawks started to come back for the eventual triple overtime win.

Revolution Brewing main bar

Al had a friend who said he needed to hit Au Cheval.  We were a bit chagrined looking at our phones to realize that we had walked past it on the way to Haymarket; it was on the opposite corner from where we were sitting.  So, we stopped in for one.  I added a new brewery with a draft of Against the Grain's Tickle Me Ale-Mo, an excellent wild ale.  We shared the crisp fries with mirnay sauce, garlic aioli and fried farm egg on top. To my surprise, I like egg on my fries. Too dark to take a pictureor really see for that matter, Au Cheval is an upscale bistro that happens to have a pretty good draft list.  Stopping for one didn't really do this place justice, though I will probably pass on stopping for a full meal since the menu isn't very veggie friendly.

That's Chicago!  At least, our version of it.  A great time with friends and I feel like I have only scratched the surface of this quickly developing beer city.  

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Chicago 2013 Day 2

Urine Trouble collaboration
at Northdown

Chicago 2013 Day 1

To start Day 2, we were on the hunt for a Surly collaboration ale with Three Floyds called Urine Trouble that Al read about that morning.  We found it online at Northdown and decided to head out before it opened.  We were happily rewarded with it still on tap:

Three Floyd/Surly Urine Trouble: Heather liked the hoppy funk of the smell but the grassy taste put her off. Lemon and orange without the grapefruit integrated well with the clean and bright brett. Burnt orange ale with a delicate white film after the tightly bubbled head fell. Very fun and interesting beer from two of the industry's best hoppy breweries.

To follow up the first pint, I recognized a brewery that I liked from my Denmark trip: To Øl.  Brewmance, an Imperial bourbon Barrel Aged Wild Honey Stout is a collaboration with a brewery new to me, Omnipollo.  Brewmance has a deep black body with a dark head in the tiny pour of this 12% stout to start the day. Alcohol in the nose without being overly hot and plenty of barrel, fig and a hint of dark cherry chocolate. Sweet and winey on the tongue and then the stout, wood and liquorice hits on the back of the tongue to counter point the sweetness.

Northdown is a nice local with a small but well curated selection of very cool beers. Unfortunately I will have to leave the 't Gaverhopke Quad for another day since we're planning to have lunch at the Local Option with a friend a mine, a former debater from my days teaching in LA.

Mural at Local Option
Local Option feels a lot like Triple Rock in Minneapolisa pissed off punker vibe except that the beer selection is much stronger.  Unfortunately, the kitchen didn't open until 3 p m, so we were only able to drink but not get any food.  Looking at the website later, it doesn't it make it clear on the menu or the front page that food and operating hours differ, so I feel a little better that it wasn't my research that left us starving through a few beers.

Local Option brews its own beers at other breweries.  Today, we sampled the La Petit Mort brewed at Central Waters and Militiagan brewed at Dark Horse.  At one time this would have stigmatized this very good beer, but Local Option categorizes itself (rightfully) as a brewery since they brew their beer themselves on someone else's equipment because. Since I believe the art is in the brewer and not the equipment being on site, I praise them and wish more places would follow their example and make use of brewing capacity that already exists.  We followed this up with an excellent Dark Horse draft of Old Man aged in Templeton Rye barrels and shared a bottle of Iron Throne by Brewery Ommegang, the latter brewed in connection with the show Game of Thrones. While not a watcher of the show, maybe I should if it's half as good as the beer.
Half Acre brewery front

Hungry, we headed off to find food and add local friends from the speech world.  En route, we happily stumbled upon a pizza by the slice place called Chicago's Pizza, a micro-local chain of three restaurants in this part of town. I had just said I wish I was in New York and could just grab a slice and there appeared our salvation. Since it was thick slice, they asked if we wanted to sit for our slice; odd, but it sounded nice so we did.  I ordered a Metropolitan Krankshaft Kolsch and Al got a Finch's Golden Wing. Both are Chicago breweries I haven't had yet; Al won this one, picking the better of the two.  Pizza was good, but not a slice I would go out of my way for in the competitive deep dish pizza market of Chicago.

Next stop was the taproom of Half Acre Beer Co.  We've seen a lot of Half Acre around town and they seem to be the up and coming brewery of Chicago.  While I like the beers I sampled and all were well brewed, my initial evaluation was that the beers were all of the same mold with little variation. From what I tasted, Half Acre seems like a one trick pony that happens to have a very good trick. Next time I see Half Acre on tap, I will start with their draft early to give them a better shot.

The Bad Apple draft and bottle lists
The Bad Apple Bar is just down the block from Half Acre. Very cool local bar with a wide selection to drink.  We were in full social mode at this point, so my lone note besides my drafts was that the beer battered cheese curds are light and fluffy. For dinner, I remember having a Strange Famous, a mushroom and seiten veggie burger that was tasty and unique. On the stop, I finally added Spiteful Brewing to my database with their Bitter Biker and expanded my sampling from Solemn Oath with the Snaggletooth Bandana, both very good brews and well served.

With the help of some local friends, we took the 50 Bus to the famous Hopleaf, avoiding a longer trip toward downtown on the L and back out on another line.  An altercation between the bus driver and a rider (not us!) cut into our drinking time as we filled out incident reports so the driver could prove that he was in the right.  Not what we expected but an interesting story for the weekend.

Back bar at Hopleaf
Walking into Hopleaf, I found it impossible to resist starting with Atomium by Brouwerij van Steenbergh because I visited the incredibly over hyped namesake of the beer last summer (Atomium in Brussels created for the 1958 World Fair ). The beer disappointed nearly as much as the tourist trap. Al then bought bottles of De Cam Oude Geueze 2000, a decade older version of the extremely excellent beer I tasted for the first time last last summer at the Lambic Discovery Center, which was absolutely sublime when aged, and De Ranke XX Bitter, also excellent. My local friend Ben and I responded with two bottles of Founders from the "special" case: Doom and Bolt Cutter, each living up to Founders' fine reputation. I ended the evening with a Ballast Point Sculpin, a legendary IPA that I've never been able to taste before.  To top off the evening, a former student who was training downtown for her job was able to meet up with us at the stop as well. Overall, Hopleaf provides the beer geek (for a price) with the option for a truly transcendent experience and I look forward to spending more time there in the future.

On the day, two of my former students, one from LA and one from Minnesota, plus speechie slash beer friends from Minnesota and Chicago, all gathered together for various parts of the day to hit some excellent beery spots without a single clunker. In short, a near perfect pub crawl with friends old and new.

Chicago 2013 Day 3

Chicago 2013 Day 1

Feloniousmonk and his FFF beer haul

Because Three Floyds is a short trek from Chicago in Munster, IN, Al and I picked up our friend Heather and headed to FFF first with the car before parking for the weekend.  Plus, it was Al's top choice on the weekend.

FFF is becoming a regular stop, so I will just add the highlights. I started with In the Name of Suffering, a black IPA, that was super smooth and hoppy.  Tiberian Inquisitor, a golden Belgian, and Toxic Revolution, a stout porter, were also positives of the stop.

Before each trip to FFF, I check the every changing menu online because it's not always very veggie friendly.  However, they took the bacon out of the White Cheddar Mac n Cheese for me and it was delicious.  Heather and I shared the smoked octopus (I'm pescetarian now) with "ramp pesto, cherry tomatoes, pickled ramps, arugula, mint and grilled bread." Quite amazingly good for eating tentacles.
FFF White Cheddar Mac n Cheese 

While en route to Chicago, Al received word via the social network that a former Minnesota beer friend Adam Schulte, who now works for Artisanal Imports in Chicago, said we should head to Headquarter's Beercade for a special Meantime tapping.

Walking in, the Beercade is eerily similar to Barcade in Brooklyn. The bartender quickly confirmed that Beercade was inspired by Barcade.  The two main differences is that Beercade is less sketchy of a place and neighborhood, and the games can be played for FREE!  While pumping a few quarters is no big deal, it was a lot of fun to just hit restart on Asteroids a few times because of my rusty play (200 points from making the top ten!). While the games aren't as classic as at Barcade, many are from the 80s plus newer ones from the 90s that I don't know how to play.

Nice mix of local and regional brews in the tap list.   I started with the Solemn Oath Mythological Wonder, which was ok. In researching to put it on the list, I saw that it was a collaboration with Sun King, not a favored brewery by me.  To be nostalgic, I ordered a can of Olympia. As a kid, my dad drank Olympia for years until he changed over to Miller Lite.  I see why he changed now.  The Meantime beers came on and I had samples of the barleywine and the scotch ale.  The scotch ale on draft was every bit the beer I had tried in bottles from the Rare Beer Club in 2007. Maybe the best scotch ale anywhere.  My draft of the barleywine fell victim to high expectations. Still a very good beer, but not what I hoped for.

Like Barcade, there's no food service at Beercade.  Our bartender kindly recommended his favorite pizza place and we ordered Giordano's for delivery.  I gave the doorman my name and he nicely watched for our pizza and directed it to us. Very excellent, full meal after the lighter fare I had at Three Floyds.

At Beercade, I was chatting with Chris, who was the owner of a local business called Bee's Knees, which makes bar snacks. Later in the weekend, we were able to find them at the Map Room, and can report that the Chipotle Lime were assertively hot and tasty.

Again, based on a recommendation from someone at the bar, we ended the night at Sheffield's, which was in walking distance down the street.  Natural cut fries with aioli sauce appeared at the table (not sure who ordered them)very good.  I ended the night with a Green Flash Imperial Rye IPA and happy that Green Flash is almost always a good bet.  Al ordered a bottle of 2007 Bigfoot Barleywine, which was solid but past its prime with a bit too much oxidation. We sat in the small bar up front, but from walking around and the website, there's a lot more to Sheffield's than meets the eye.  The aged bottle list, a portion of which we saw in a cooler, was the main reason for the recom. While Beercade has cool beer and is full of hipsters, Sheffield's down the street has an older crowd and the bar seems to cater more to the beer geek. We clearly shortchanged Sheffield's as the last stop of the night, but can't drink every place first, especially when it was unplanned.

Great first day in Chicago.  In the future, I would like to go back for an extended time at Beercade for playing the games until I had my fill while sipping on local beersslowly, so as not to interfere with the game play. This also should be done alone, to relieve any guilt or pressure to play less or draw focus from the transporting back in time. Or, possibly, the day could be done with a geek of similar passion or old arcade games and beer. When sated on nostalgia with my name in the top ten of a few games, I'd head to Sheffield's for a bottle of something special to end the night.

Chicago 2013 Day 2