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Chicago Area Beer: June 2019

I’m recently back from a trip to the Greater Chicago Metropolitan area. In that trip, I did get a chance to try a few microbreweries. In this post, I will share some thoughts on the places I visited in my Chicago area beer adventure.

My Chicago Area Beer Selection Process

I took a quick look at Google Maps. That’s how I determined which places were closest to where I would be at on the days of my visit. I also considered which places were open to the public when I would be able to visit them . Don’t assume all microbreweries serve beer to the public on their premises, by the way. In addition, I specifically looked for at least one place to eat a meal. After all, if you have to eat, why not eat at a brewpub, right? 😉

I didn’t quite make it to all the places on my list, and I knew I wouldn’t. My schedule was a bit fluid and some just didn’t fit into the logistics of the final schedule.

I didn’t look at reviews, at all. I don’t usually do that unless there are so many places to try that I need to apply more criteria in order to narrow the list a bit.

While I was at the final microbrewery, I got into a discussion about my selection process, to which the bartender asked, “did you go to x?” and “did you go to y?” and etc… So, the next time I return, I have a few suggestions of new places that will be a bit higher on my list than merely being listed on Google.

These places were not tasted in one big beer tasting, but about one per day. This way, I could relax and really get to know the place a little. At each place, I got a sampler, plus I usually ordered at least one more beer. As such, I tasted 4-7 beers at each place.My goal was to both order some beer that was a bit more “classic” and also try some that were specific to the microbrewery.

My Microbrew Pet Peeve

My pet peeve is when I go to a microbrewery and the beers all basically taste the same. I’m feel a bit picky if even two or three of them basically taste the same. When they take a specific beer style and serve it both as it is and also as a separate beer with a seasonal flavoring, that’s fine with me. What I mean is this – possibly they have three different types of stouts and it’s difficult to tell the difference between them. None of the places listed below had that problem among the beers I tasted. My caveat is that I didn’t taste absolutely every one of their beers, but I did try to taste enough of a variety that I got a feeling for what the brewmaster was trying to produce.

MyGrain in Joliet

Now, let me get honest with you. I specifically went to MyGrain Brewing because it’s in the old Joliet train station. I grew up in Joliet and wanted to experience the old train station ambiance. For me, I don’t think of Joliet as part of the Chicago area and barely think it qualifies as Chicago area beer. However, these days, it seems to have become part of the region, so I’ll include it.

This started with a beer sampler, where I tried a variety of different styles. In addition, this was my food go-to place, where they also served a full menu of food.

Overall, I did enjoy the beer and the food was quite good. I ordered the Short Rib Poutine, which was plenty for a meal for most of us. It’s actually an appetizer, but I just thought it would be something interesting and different to eat for a meal. If you don’t like food spicy, you can easily pick the hot pepper slices off if you forget to ask to leave them off. I think it would still be good. However, I thought the extra zing worked well with a dish that has a lot of fat and cheese on it.

As for the beer, my overall theory is that places that have both food and beer struggle to make their beer as unique as those places that are serving just beer. However, I did like their beer. That goes especially the Stateville Stout (did I like it only for the name?). Overall, I would say I would go back if I wanted both food and beer.

As for the ambiance, I’ll admit that I didn’t get the feeling of the old train station but for the fact that the train does travel overhead and I could easily watch it roll past me as I ate and drank. That was pretty fun .

Metal Monkey in Romeoville

I can’t explain this fully to anyone else but I just fell in love with the actual tasting room at Metal Monkey Brewing. It just reminds me of the places I used to like to hang out for music and drinks. Those were the days when I spent my time listening to lesser-known bands. What I mean is that I would go places that generally played music I liked and experience bands I hadn’t previously heard play, as opposed to specifically going to hear a band I knew I liked.

They seem to focus both on the beer and the music. The day following my visit was going to be some kind of jam session. I’d noticed most places I visited sold Colleen’s bread sticks (grissini) but, otherwise, this place doesn’t serve food. They do have what sounds like artisan cheese but you have to bring your own crackers.

For ambiance, there are monkeys everywhere. It’s fun to look around for them. Just all types – stuffed, statues, monkey banks, you name it. Plus, I liked the hard rock they were playing when I was there.

As for the beer, I tried the oddest variety I could. I had a Fonkey Mocker Russian Imperial Stout with cocoa and toasted peanuts. I also had the Asmodeus Russian Imperial Stout that “pours like motor oil, tastes like awesome.” That’s probably a good description and I mean that in a positive way.

Names and Descriptions

I’ve noticed that beers now have to have more creative names and descriptions and I’m certain many of you are noticing that, too.

I had Ellis Redding Irish Red Ale and a couple others, as well. I’m going to specifically mention the Ellis Redding. One thing I’ve noticed is that this beer did, indeed, have a malty flavor to it. That’s no surprise – it’s right in the description. However, I have noticed one issue with beers that are supposed to have strong malty flavor, which is that they often don’t. Maltiness appears to be a flavor that is hard to control, I’m guessing. So, in this beer with it’s true maltiness, I just want to say that, if you want a malty flavor, this is one that does meet its description.

I also particularly liked the Metalmorphosis Track 3 NEIPA. I just thought it was a good representation of a NEIPA, with a nice hoppiness and it’s murky consistency.

But, overall, I just really liked their beers. Each beer I drink was distinct and met my expectations regarding what that style should taste like. If I lived in the area, I could imagine this as my new beer and music hangout.

NEIPA and Other IPAs

“NEIPA” (pronounced nee-pah) stands for “New England India Pale Ale,” a style which is unfiltered. There are many IPA styles that have come out, in recent years. Some are widespread-enough that they have become official styles. NEIPA is one example. In other cases, it’s not always clear if the brewer has come up with their own new style or whether it’s a true new style trend. It doesn’t matter, though, because those of us who like IPAs will probably try them all, anyway.

Pollyanna in Lemont

Pollyanna Brewing was a tough tasting because they were out of a couple beers that I specifically wanted to try. Some of those that were so unique to this place were just unavailable. In fact, when I was in there, the place had a pub crawl descend upon it. Thus, I imagine events such as that might have exhausted the most desirable beers.

I’ll start by saying that I didn’t try the Summerly Raspberry Wheat Ale, a pink concoction that I noticed was quite popular on the warm day in which I visited. I skipped it because it’s not my thing and I’m just kind of bored with beer with raspberries, beer with blueberries, or any wheat beer flavored with some kind of fruit. That’s not a criticism of the beer, as I think plenty of people would still enjoy these beers, but I just don’t feel like making that one of my limited selection.

However, I did get a Four Chord Wonder American Pale Ale. While this is a bit light for my usual beer choice, it did have a nice balance and I would say it’s a good choice for Summer. For those of us who don’t drink “light” beer, you can still drink this and feel as if you did actually drink a beer.

I also enjoyed the Lexical Gap IPA, which was not a super-hoppy one. That’s just a note to those who have strong feelings about how hoppy these should or shouldn’t be. Plus, just for fun, the Keep it Easy Coconut Cream Ale, a coconut-infused midwestern cream ale.

Also, I’m positive I got one of their NEIPA’s. But they brew a number of them and I don’t remember which one I tasted. I did enjoy it, though.

Black Horizon in Willowbrook

My favorite of the bunch was Black Horizon Brewing Company, which calls itself a Nano Craft Brewer.

Nano/Micro/Craft Brewer

Microbrewers or craft brewers have gotten to be rather large, in some cases. There’s a big difference between the largest of microbrewers and the smaller brewers just starting up. Thus, Black Horizon is calling your attention to the fact that they’re not a big production facility.

I tried most of their beers. I thought they were generally pretty great and they offer them all as 5-ounce pours, that I did try all but one or two.

Let’s start with the stand-out beer of their board, Fool Me Once Gin Barrel DDH Aged Pale Ale. Let me take a step back. Personally, I don’t like like beers that are brewed in Bourbon barrels. To me, they’re too sweet and taste too much like bourbon but not enough as beer (if you can even taste the beer). But, I still taste them all hoping I’ll one day like one of them (this has happened with other styles and I try to remain open-minded about it).

DDH (Double Dry Hopped)

Most of us will actually say “Double Dry Hopped” but it does take up a lot of extra space. Dry hopping seems to be a relatively new trend but it’s not a new concept. Before we talk about dry hopping, let’s talk about the Wort. Wort is the beginning of the beer. Basically, you put ingredients together, cook them, and cool them. There are more steps but let’s just stop there for the purpose of this definition. The modern definition of dry hopping means that hops are added after the wort has cooled. Now, then, DDH just means to do that, twice. In some cases, the two additions will happen at the same time. In other beers, it’s done twice, but at entirely different times during the process.

But it’s not the same with the gin barrels. The flavor it brings is strong, especially where the gin was apparently strongly-flavored. Yet it allows the beer flavor to come through. Or, since this is my first beer in a gin barrel, it could just be that this specific brewer knows how to make this happen. I should mention this specifically used Koval gin barrels.

But “Fool Me Once” is the right name – if you didn’t know what it was, I don’t think you’d guess that it was brewed in a gin barrel. Well, I wouldn’t, for starters. It took me a few sips, swirling, and smelling the aroma to start to really understand the gin barrel’s affect on this beer.

I did drink the other more classic beers, quite excellent, in my opinion, but I did also try the other “novelty” beers, with I don’t usually like. However, the Vanilla Lime Tart Tart Ale (yes, a tart ale that tastes like a tart – think key lime pie) and the Stealing Sunshine Blood Orange Sour weren’t cloying in any way. They were well-balanced. While I’m not a fan of sour beers, will say that the Stealing Sunshine could be a good entry beer for those of you afraid to try them. It was more tart than sour, and a great beer for the summertime.

Side Note: I noticed that the bartender was really hard core in keeping things clean, talking to people, hustling the drinks around – more like an owner. And, indeed, he was one of the co-owners. I think you can tell when someone is both an owner and is trying to make guests “feel the love” because there’s often an extra energy to that. In addition, I just had a great time talking about how they actually brew their beers, their equipment, and many more details that most of you might find boring. Plus, he gave me a fun-sized chocolate bar so we’re now friends for life, in my personal opinion. 🙂

Finally

I had a good time, relaxed, enjoyed myself, and tried some new places. How could it get better than that?

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