I was reminded today that there are times I prefer to have a very clean beer to pair with my food. Eating sushi is just such an occasion. To drink a heavy hopped beer would bury the subtle flavors of the meal. Much better to drink a Japanese beer such as Sapporo that is low sugar, high effervesce, and a clean after taste.

I just got back from Italy where I spent two weeks drinking the northern Italian wines. Man does not live by beer alone! We had a chance to drink several of the best Barolos and Barbarescos as well as many of the Venetian whites. I tried several of the local beers and the reason why Italians are wine drinkers is abundantly clear.


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What Was,Is, and might have been

The time was that the world of Craft beers was owned by several amazing companies; Dogfish Head, Stone, Victory, Three Floyds, Lagaunitus, Goose Island, Two Brothers, and of course, Sam Adams. They were kings of the world. Over the next ten years, many, in this bloggers opinion, lost their way. And yet, others came on to take their place.

I feel that 3Fs remains the greatest brewery in the world, even if their brewpub is often pretentious and haughty. I was pleasantly surprised, by having one the Victory standards, Hop Devil, and being reminded how very good it is. My experience at their brewpub is first rate and almost everything thing they serve is outstanding, if a bit unadventurous.

Two Brothers has played Icarus and fallen from the pantheon. Not only have they sold out by turning much of their production toward turning out insipid offerings, while taking their best beer, Cane and Abel and shoving it to the back of the shelf and making it a seasonal. They have sold out, much as Goose Island has, without having the excuse that they were bought out by INBEV.

Stone found their métier years ago and stick to it. They consistently turn out great IPAs and do what they do best. They are not avant guard and they know it.

Dogfish is perhaps the saddest story of all. They were the cutting edge for years, throwing “Hail Mary’s” and often missing. Oh, but when they hit! For ten or so years now, there has been nothing out of them that warrants a road trip. So disappointing for one of the giants.

Lagaunitus has opened a second brewery in Chicago, and while that venue is a bit too, too hip, it does do what they do best. Turn out solid, first tier beers. They may not be cutting edge any more, but they still keep their nose to the grindstone and keep their quality up, while many in their class have slipped.

Finally, you have Sam Adams. Many of you may know the story of how they saved the craft brew industry some years ago, very unselfishly. For this reason, no one in the industry will ever bad-mouth them. Like Stone, they know what they do and keep it between the lines. They will never be the beer de jour, but if you want to introduce your nephew to craft beers, you could do far worse that giving him a Sam Adams. They will never be mistaken for the latest “thing’, but they made this whole thing possible, and for that I will be forever grateful.

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One of the pleasure/pains in this world for me is going to the local Whole Foods and watching my beloved Bears while enjoying their great list of craft beers. On my last visit, the excellent offerings included and new beer from Half Acre; Tuna. This IPA is a real solid beer; smooth, balanced, refreshing and a real surprise. While Half Acre is a consistent maker of very good IPAs, this is their acme. It has it all. Go out and get it before it is gone.

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I have had a chance to have Gatecrasher and Escapist IPAs several times over the last week. BL and I had it at a Marianos on Touhy where they have an outstanding happy hour of $2.5 a pint. I also dropped by the Taproom on Dempster In Evanston where I introduced the place to another friend. This place has a good vibe and every time I have dropped by, I have found them to be friendly and open. I like both of these IPA and I would encourage you to try the Gatecrasher as it models itself as an amped up English IPA and it hits the mark.

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Moter Row Brewing

BL and I headed out to an increasingly busy part of the growing craft brew field; Chicago’s south side. Moter Row is located in the old levy, Al Capone’s old stomping grounds. Unfortunately for MR, the road they are on is going through the seemingly unending Chicago construction and is closed coming from the north.

Our visit was made better by the affable barkeep, Denson. He chatted us up and brought us up to speed on the brewery’s creation. I opted for the flavor du jour, their New England style ale, Transcontinental Wedding Ale. This cloudy brew is light (5.6 ABV), and should pair well with many foods. While not a showstopper, it seems to hit the middle spot of what is a very vague category.

I also tried their Red Wheat ale, Out of the Loop. The most curious thing about this beer is that there was no trace of red to its coloration. Perhaps it was the light in the room, but it was faint at best. However, it was a very nice Weiss beer (6% ABV) and one that deserves seeking out. I hope that this very nice establishment survives the Chicago proclivity for making business as difficult as possible. Check it out at 2337 S. Michigan Ave.

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3 Floyds visit

I had a chance to swing by the brewery that I feel is the best in the world; I have a lot of others that agree with me on this one. I wanted to try new offerings and had their Topless Wytch, Mistral and Barbarossa.

The one thing you always get from the Floyds is the beer is never what it claims to be, i.e. it is alway much more. Such is the case with these three beers. The Wytch is an over the top Porter done in the American style. Really well balances with coffee and chocolate notes, but neither in such abundance that it crushes the base line. Perhaps the reason for this is because the ABV is big.

My first taste of Mistral had me think immediately of passion fruit. A good beer, but definitely not a Kolsch. A Kolsh should be a CLEAN effervescent beer and this had way too much going on. Ironically, it was the Floyd’s Gorsh Foch Kolsch that had me exclaim, “They fooled me once again, for the first time, the beer was exactly what they said it was!” I first and for now last for 3 Floyds.

Finally I had their Barbarossa IPA. Now 3 Floyds is the King of the IPAs, or rather the Emperor!, but this IPA which uses an experimental Hop, I assume Barbarossa, just didn’t do it for me. It had an off taste, which I assume is the hops. I will just move on from here. So I bought a bomber of Gorsh Foch and Arctic Panzer Wolf DIPA and will drown my disappointment in those.

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Crown Brewery

I had a chance to visit Crown Brewery in Crown Point IN this past weekend to play a few games with old pals and check out their latest beer offerings. I was most interested in their Porters. I have been trying to find the “perfect Porter” for pairing with foods. It seems that in the USA all we do, by and large, are monster Porters that often have strong coffee or chocolate notes. These are often north of 6% alcohol as well. While great for a cigar or as a stand alone, these are not so good when pairing with foods. So what I want to find, is a lighter neutral Porter that would be ideal with a steak.

So with that in mind, I had two of their Industrial Porters. Almost there, but at 6% ABV, it lacks the quaffable aspect I want. Still a worthy effort and one to look up when found.

I had their Maysie Cream Ale, Nothing special, but perhaps their best offering to go with their decent Pizza.

Finally, I had their Shoe Corner ESB. This is perhaps the closest thing to a real ESB that is made in the USA. So the question is: do you like ESBs? If so, this will rock your world. As for me, it was just what I had hoped for.

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