Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery Review

Samplers at the Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery

Every so often in my beer travels I encounter something truly unforgettable.  Sometimes it's an experience or a conversation--a moment or a location that will I reflect on long after it happens.  I will conjure up a vivid recollection so real that it feels like I'm reliving the event.  As infrequent as these collisions with destiny are, perhaps the most rarefied of them all is the Dream Beer.  This is the brew that, from the moment the aroma reaches your nostrils and the first decadent splash caresses your tongue, you know that you're in for something not merely special but perhaps once-in-a-lifetime.  Out of the twenty-two hundred plus beers that I've tried, fewer than five have earned this status--brews that, despite the passage of time, can be conjured at will to my mental palette.  Their evanescent reminiscence is at once both comforting and wistful: though I am able briefly to relive their deliciousness I am reminded instantly that the likelihood of my ever coming across them again is slim at best.

I raise the aforementioned points because I was fortunate enough to enjoy one of those Dream Beers at the Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery.  Before I get to that though I'd like to talk a little bit about the brewery itself.  Located conveniently close to I-35, it is within walking distance of both the Mississippi River and the University of Minnesota.  Though we did not get the chance to explore the area, it struck both my wife and I as a great place to stroll around, particularly in the summer.  Unlike with most breweries located near major universities (Iron Hill in Newark, Delaware for example), parking wasn't an issue as we were able to leave our car in a reasonably priced nearby indoor parking lot.  Not having to interrupt our meal and drinks to feed the meter was an immensely appreciated convenience and is a huge plus for this particular location.

With a plethora of seating options and dining locations both within and beyond its walls, the Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery is an appealing place to eat and drink for a broad range of patrons.  Though one might fear that its proximity to a major university would render it a college or frat hangout, it came across as anything but to us.  The division of eating and drinking spaces affords a number of different groups the opportunity to dine in relative seclusion from one another without feeling closed off.  As a parent with young children, I've felt awkward at a few spots when it was clear that the families were being cordoned off to a small area away from the rest of the patrons.  Rather than feeling quarantined at the Town Hall brewery, I felt completely comfortable and was not distracted by anyone else nor did I feel like my family and I posed one to the others in our vicinity.

Of course, as important as the brewpub environment is, it is the menu that is ultimately of the highest import.  Food-wise, the menu is comprised of a nice assortment of pub-grub that ranges from the typical less-than-healthy-but-delicious options like burgers, wings, sausages, and other fried goodies to higher end steaks and gourmet entrees.  The price range is typical of brewpubs with most entree options falling between eight and twelve dollars but I feel like most of the items are a steal.  It seems like many establishments feel the need to charge Times Square-like prices for purportedly gastrophilic delicacies (e.g. fifteen dollars for a burger comprised of farm-raised, grass-fed Angus beef nestled atop a bed of locally harvested baby arugula, with a garlic, blue-cheese aioli adorning a freshly baked artisan roll), which lends them an air of artificial arrogance that I find off-putting and highbrow.  The Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery, on the other hand, embraces the classic menu and wallet-friendly pricing that seems to be disappearing at an alarming rate, all while producing delicious, high quality food.

As great as the food is though the beer is what truly shined through on that fateful day.  I had no idea what I was in for as I perused the beer menu, opting ultimately for two samplers for my wife and I to split.  In total, we tried ten different beers that day.  I gave one a B+ and two others an A-; everything else was an A or BETTER!  As I sipped and looked around the room, I understood immediately why there were so many banners and other awards from prominent beer competitions hanging from the ceiling and covering the walls; these guys know their beer, period.  Any one of these beers could serve as exemplar of its particular style and, much to my delight, those styles were quite varied!  Only one style was repeated (the American India Pale Ale) but that wound up working to my advantage since it was my favorite beer provided three different ways!  The others represented a panoply of uncommon beer styles including the Dortmunder / Export Lager, English Bitter, Oatmeal Stout, Maibock / Helles Bock, Hefeweizen, Kristalweizen, and ESB or Extra Special / Strong Bitter. The Dortmunder was easily my favorite of that type as was the Double Hefe Hefeweizen.  Usually hefeweizens are the overlooked, taken-for-granted players in the brewpub lineup.  Often unimaginative and uninspired, these are the lower-alcohol workhorses of the beer menu...except here at the Town Hall brewery.  Coming in at a whopping 7.30%, the Double Hefe packed a wallop in terms of alcohol (for its style) and flavor.  The typical banana and clove combo was bolstered by some unexpected fruity esters and delicious malt notes.  Really a standout brew.

...and then there was the Mango Mama.  I can almost taste her sweet mango goodness flooding my mouth, titillating my taste buds as I type this, thinking back to the moment I found my number three overall beer and number one lighter colored beer of 2011 (and still in my top ten overall to this day!).  The Mango Mama is actually the Masala Mama India Pale Ale aged on mangos, presumably in some sort of oak cask.  The base IPA is an amalgam of some of my favorite hop varieties including Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial, Crystal, Mt. Hood, and Warrior.  The collaboration of these hops produced an intensely sweet, floral, enticing bouquet in the nose that was surpassed only by the burst of hop flavors in the taste.  My first sip was a flavor explosion that was elevated to unthinkable heights by the sweetness of the ripe mangoes.  Amazingly, the already malty sweetness of the Masala Mama was enhanced by the mango rather than being rendered cloying and over-the-top.  I literally dreamt about it that night and still lick my lips from time to time recalling the most amazing tropical IPA I've ever had.

GRADING


When it comes to brewpubs, there are exactly three things that I look for: good, reasonably priced food and high-quality beer served in a welcoming, conducive environment for eating and drinking.  What the Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery offers is great, more-than-affordably priced food with exceptional brews in a fun, inviting place to enjoy both.  Simply put, it is one of the best places I've ever visited and is a location I hope I get the opportunity to check out at least one more time in my life.  I give it my highest grade--an A+ and implore that you go and visit them if you are even remotely in the area of the Twin Cities.  Still thinking about that Mango Mama!

BEERS SAMPLED
Dortmunder Local Export Lager (Dortmunder / Export Lager)
West Bank Pub Ale (English Bitter)
Masala Mama India Pale Ale (American India Pale Ale)
Masala Mama India Pale Ale Cask (American India Pale Ale)
Black H20 Oatmeal Stout (Oatmeal Stout)
Maibock (Maibock / Helles Bock)
Double Hefe (Hefeweizen)
Wheat Pale (Kristalweizen)
Mango Mama (American India Pale Ale)
The Don (Extra Special / Strong Bitter)

For more information about the Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery including both food and beer menus, please visit their official website here.

Cheers!

--Matt

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Sprecher Brewing Company

Sprecher Brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
I remember my visit to the Sprecher Brewery for three reasons: they offered an insane array of beers and products in their gift shop, it was the first place that I ever saw the bottle for the Mamma Mia Pizza Beer, and it was hands down the single worst tour experience I have ever had.  Unfortunately, of the three aforementioned things, the one that stands out most clearly in my mind is the lattermost.  To date, we have never had a more awful tour guide than the one we had here.

Before I get to the terrible aspects of our time at Sprecher, I'd like to hit up the finer, more positive points.  The facility itself is expansive and interesting and the sampling location has the feel of an old German beer hall to it.  The gift shop offers possibly the broadest range of souvenirs, beers, and soda that I've ever seen at a microbrewery.  In fact, the best part of the entire Sprecher experience was being able to take home a mixed case of craft brewed beer and gourmet soda, which allowed me to enjoy nearly a dozen additional Sprecher brews at my leisure.  The tour itself would have been enjoyable as well if not for the guide that we had.

I've encountered relatively few disappointments in terms of breweries, tours, and tour guides over the past few years.  Occasionally, I will encounter someone who is not as knowledgeable about the brewery or the beers as I would like or expect and even more rarely I will meet someone who is not enthusiastic enough about their job.  The tour guide that we had at Sprecher was hands-down the absolute worst brewery employee I had ever met.  He was rude to folks on the tour, answered more questions with a disinterested shrug of his shoulders than he did valuable verbal responses, seemed as detached as humanly possible from any degree of enjoyment for his job, and had flat-out the most inexcusably unprofessional attitude of anyone I've ever met in the world of beer.  The absolute nadir though was the way he openly berated customers in a few of his anecdotes with one gentleman who had placed a multi-hundred dollar order over the phone for one of Sprecher's products.  The tour guide referred to him as an idiot, called him crazy for spending that much money on popcorn, and had the gall to laugh at him and mock him with disdainful derision.  Straight up, this guy was a punk who was an abject, utter embarrassment to the Sprecher brand.

Looking past the guide, the tour itself was informative and fairly comprehensive.  We covered a good amount of ground throughout the brewing facility and were treated to a more-than-reasonable amount of beer samples at the end.  I enjoyed the diversity of beers available but found myself having a hard time really getting into the brews themselves, likely because of the aggravating experience I had just endured en route to receiving my pours.  It was interesting that Sprecher was contract brewing beers for Chameleon Brewing, which offered the chance to try an even greater assortment of styles.

Though I was satisfied with the quality of the beers that I tried both at the brewery and at home (I gave 14 out of the 17 Sprecher beers a B or better with 8 of those earning an A-, A, or A+) what really excited me was the quantity and variety that was available.  Amazingly, including the four Chameleon Brewing beers, I enjoyed twenty-one different styles!  A feat that, to my knowledge, has never been repeated with any other brewery.  Literally every beer of the nearly two-dozen I tried represented a different style!  My hands-down favorite was the Shakparo, which was touted as being a "Fire-Brewed African Style-Ale."  It was also one of if not the first gluten-free beers that I've tried and it is easily the best of those.

GRADING

I'm pretty confident that, at this point, the employee who conducted our tour is no longer with the company (how could he be if he puts down customers and fails to promote the brand in any way?) and as such I will proffer a grade based on everything else about my Sprecher experience.  The tour itself would likely be good if not great with another guide, the drinking area and quantity of samples are excellent, the gift shop offers an insane panoply of products for purchase, and, of course, the nearly unrivaled assortment of beers available to take home puts Sprecher a step above the competition.  Therefore, based primarily on the the latter factors, I give the Sprecher Brewing Company an A- and would recommend giving it a shot in the hopes that a better prepared, more mature tour guide will lead you around and introduce you to the Sprecher brand. 

BEERS SAMPLED (includes beer I took home)


Chameleon Brewing    
Witty    (Witbier)
Fire Light    (American Pale Lager)
Hop On Top    (American Pale Ale)
Ryediculous IPA    (American India Pale Ale)

Sprecher Brewing Company   
Russian Imperial Stout    (Russian Imperial Stout)
Irish Style Stout    (Irish Dry Stout)
Black Bavarian    (Schwarzbier)
Hefe-Weiss    (Hefeweizen)
Pub Brown Ale    (English Brown Ale)
25th Anniversary Kriek Lambic    (Lambic - Fruit)
El Rey Mexican Style Ale    (American Adjunct Lager)
IPA²    (American Double / Imperial India Pale Ale)
Summer Czech Style Pils    (Czech Pilsener)
Generation Porter    (American Porter)
Mai Bock    (Maibock / Helles Bock)
Shakparo (Fire-Brewed African Style-Ale)    (American Amber / Red Ale)
Special Amber    (Vienna Lager)
Winter Brew    (Bock)
Abbey Triple    (Tripel)
Belgian Style Dubbel   (Dubbel)



For more information about the Sprecher Brewing Company please visit their official website here.

Cheers!

--Matt

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Lakefront Brewery Review

The Lakefront Brewery:
Why you shouldn't judge a brewery by its exterior!

Having taken nearly two dozen brewery tours, I have learned a great deal about the brewing process, beer in general, and the individual locations that I have visited.  The one overarching conclusion that I have drawn from all of these tours is that, by and large, they are inherently informative, identical, and, as such, redundant to a great degree.  Essentially, if you've been on one microbrewery tour then you've been on them all.  Now obviously this is a catch-all statement that doesn't pertain to every brewery but would cover certainly a large number of them (and, from a brewing process information standpoint, all of them). 

What I've thus learned from all of these tours is that the primary motivation for attending one is the unique experience offered at a particular brewery (okay, okay...and the free samples that you can enjoy only after taking said tour).  Gratis suds aside, the ability of a brewery to offer a compelling, innovative tour experience is directly proportional to my level of interest in checking it out.  What I'm looking for during a tour is not just information about the brewery itself and the beers it makes but more the opportunity to get a sense of the brewery's vibe--a feel for its culture and its people.  Places like Dogfish Head in Milton, Delaware and 16 Mile Brewing in Georgetown, Delaware are excellent examples of breweries that offer tours that allow the unique personalities of their respective brewers and employees to shine through; I would easily count the Lakefront Brewery among their rank as one of the best.

Though the location and aesthetic of Lakefront's building might be off-putting to some (what's not shown is the enormous bridge that sits maybe fifty yards to the left of the building beneath which the parking lot is located), the interior is inviting and extremely conducive to an enjoyable drinking environment.  Beer tokens are offered for patrons to obtain their samples and it is encouraged that said imbibers have a beer before, during, and after the tour as it allows them to enjoy the brews and learn more about them simultaneously.  A decent range of beers are available to try and all of them are very good to excellent (there are also variety packs available for purchase both at the brewery and locally).

Oddly enough, for as great as the beer was (of the six brews that I tried I gave four an A, one an A-, and one a B), what I really remember from my time there was the tour and, in particular, the tour guide himself.  See, most folks would probably argue that a brewery's most valuable commodity is its beer but to me it's the people who fill out its ranks.  If the beer is good then in a sense it will sell itself.  What helps to sell the brewery's brand--and really to help build a network of loyal, die hard fans of the aforementioned beers--is a collection of informed, enthusiastic, and dedicated employees--especially tour guides who essentially become the face of the franchise.

The Lakefront Brewery has a tremendous resource in its tour guides.  Ours was particularly charismatic, knowledgeable, and passionate about the Lakefront brand.  The low-tech, no-frills tour was enhanced greatly by his comedic wit and charm (he presented us with a "3D PowerPoint presentation" that consisted of him rippling a large photo of a field of barley to help us feel like we were really there.  It might not sound that funny but witnessing it first hand I can assure you that it was hilarious!) and he handled a few obnoxious patrons with aplomb.  Because of him, I wound up learning a lot about the Milwaukee craft beer scene, about Lakefront and its collection of solid beers, and I walked away with a deeper appreciation for the potential of future brewery tours (a notion that was challenged only a few hours later when we visited the brewery I will review next...).

As for the beer, I enjoyed everything that I was able to sample and would gladly seek out the brews again if the opportunity presented itself.  My favorites were the Fixed Gear, Riverwest Stein Beer, the Rendezvous, and the IPA.  It's not often that I give an A to an American Amber / Red Ale simply because most are tasty but pedestrian.  In the case of the Fixed Gear though I was floored by the sticky deliciousness of the malt-bomb.  The Riverwest was awesome and different given that it was an American Amber / Red Lager, offering an almost entirely different drinking experience.  The lager qualities of the beer shined through but were balanced by the sweetness of the malts.  Rendezvous, as a Bière de Garde, stood out as a comparatively unique offering since the champagne-like style is not typically brewed by American craft breweries but it was stellar.  And the IPA?  Given a "World Class" rating with a perfect score of 100 by the Alström brothers on their website BeerAdvocate.com

GRADING

With a memorable tour and a formidable lineup of beers, the Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is one of the best breweries I've visited.  I'm giving it an A based upon the quality of both and would not only recommend visiting it but practically implore you to do so if you're in the region.  The diverse portfolio of beers all but ensures that there will be something you will enjoy and the tour ranks among the best I've ever been on.  So even if you're a weathered, tried-and-true beer traveler, definitely swing by and check out Lakefront Brewery's tour and beers.

BEERS SAMPLED

Snake Chaser Stout (Irish Dry Stout)
Fixed Gear (American Amber / Red Ale)
Wheat Monkey (American Pale Wheat Ale)
Riverwest Stein Beer (American Amber / Red Lager)
Rendezvous (Bière de Garde)
IPA (American India Pale Ale)

For more information about Lakefront Brewery, Inc. please check out their official website here.

Cheers!

--Matt

Friday, February 28, 2014

Water Street Brewery Review

My first taste of Milwaukee-microbrewed draft beer came courtesy of the Water Street Brewery--the city's oldest brewpub.  In a place renowned for its meat, its cheese, and it's beer, Milwaukee was setting the bar pretty high for me and so I entered the establishment with high expectations for both food and drink (meat and cheese, after all, serve as the perfect complements to beer!).  I was excited to see what level of diversity would be represented in Water Street's offerings given that arguably the most popular styles throughout the state are macrobrewed; as it turned out, I was not disappointed.

Before I get to the beer I'd be remiss not to comment on the welcoming atmosphere and cozy decor.  While the building's exterior might not communicate the hip vibe permeating within (it sits beneath a red brick apartment building that has a very vintage, historic feel to it), the interior reminded me of a combination of the classic pub/family-owned restaurant of yore and a more modern, beer-oriented bar.  With our young son traveling with us, we're never certain of what type of reception we will receive at a brewpub but we were welcomed warmly and treated kindly by the hostess and our waitress.  I definitely got the sense overall that this was both a family-friendly establishment as well as a great spot for locals and the college crowd.

When we sat down and received our beer menu, I cringed initially at the featured draft as it smacked of prototypically uninspired brewpub fare.  Called the Honey Lager Light, it disconcerted me that a Light Lager (think: Bud Light, Miller Lite, Coors Light, etc.) was the primary beer mentioned by the waitress.  Much to my complete and utter shock, however, it proved to be among my favorites and I reprimanded myself for judging all Light Lagers alike.  The light sweetness of the honey bolstered the cool, crisp lager body.  In fact, the only detriment the beer suffered from was a slightly watery body but, given its style, it's entirely understandable.

As I pored over the rest of the beer list, I gave a silent fist pump in the name of diversification.  Most of the banal brewpubs tend to play it safe with their offerings using either one or two draft lines for offbeat or atypical styles but the Water Street Brewery clearly bucked that trend, elevating itself among its more unimaginative peers.  Overall, I was able to enjoy a Light Lager, Munich Helles Lager, Hefeweizen, Fruit / Vegetable Beer, American Pale Ale, American Amber / Red Ale, Märzen / Oktoberfest, Heller Bock, and a Black India Pale Ale (commonly called an American Black Ale).  Now obviously the pale ale, red ale, and hefeweizen are mainstays of a brewpub beer list...but a Heller Bock?  How often do you see that!?

Better than the panoply of beers was their quality.  I'm not a terribly huge fan of German styles (though I'm slowly gaining a greater appreciation of them as I explore a greater variety of examples) but everything with a Bavarian flair proved to be delicious.  I was surprised but thrilled by the appearance of a Black IPA and wound up enjoying that more than any of the other beers.  The Raspberry Weiss was great--something that is rare for me to say as most fruit beers border on cloyingly unpalatable.  The Maibock (Heller Bock) was also a treat--one that we were fortunate to try during the month of May as most places begin gearing up for their summer seasonals rather than spring.

As great as the beer was, the food was equally appealing.  The bratwurst that I had was heavenly but I suppose that was to be expected.  Though the menu wasn't branching off into gastrophilic hyperspace, it was serviceable.  There was enough of a variety to please a broad range of eaters and drinkers with most of what was offered pairing well with the beer effectively enhancing both.

Overall, I was definitely pleased with my experience and would visit again if I find myself in Milwaukee.

GRADING

The Water Street Brewery is the longest running brewpub in Milwaukee and with good reason.  With an above-average selection of beer, delicious food, and a great eating and drinking atmosphere, it's unquestionably worth visiting.  Though none of the beers struck me as truly incredible they were all very good and, after all, it's tough to ask for much more than that.  Given the collective quality of the aforementioned elements, I give the Water Street Brewery a grade of B+ and would definitely recommend checking it out if you're in town.

BEERS SAMPLED
Honey Lager Light (Light Beer)
Munich Lager (Munich Helles Lager)
Bavarian Weiss Beer (Hefeweizen)
Raspberry Weiss (Fruit / Vegetable Beer)
Pale Ale (American Pale Ale)
Water Street Amber (American Amber / Red Ale)
Old World Oktoberfest (Märzen / Oktoberfest)
Maibock (Heller Bock)
Black IPA (American Black Ale)

For more information about the Water Street Brewery please visit their official website here.

Cheers!

Matt

Friday, February 14, 2014

Haymarket Pub & Brewery Review

In an effort to remove the sour taste that Moonshine left in my mouth, I'd like to review the final destination that I visited during my epic five brewpub adventure in Chicago.  I had eyed the Haymarket Pub & Brewery as a potential closer throughout the day, deciding finally to hit it up after the aforementioned abysmal experience.  With such an awesome collection of experiences prior to the penultimate stop, I knew that I didn't want my evening to end on such a horrible note.  My wife, however, had had enough and so I sojourned onward alone.

I had plotted out my route in advance and decided to walk from the hotel to Haymarket since it was only a mile and a half away.  What I hadn't done was scope out my intended direction on Google Streetview.  The hubris that comes with having grown up in Brooklyn overtook my common sense as thoughts of, "How bad could it be?" passed through my mind.  While I hadn't grown up "on the streets" per se, I had certainly been through my fair share of purportedly bad areas and had come out unscathed.  There's a certain approach that one must take when in such areas so as not to belie any sense of dread nor to draw any undue attention to oneself.  With this in mind, I headed off on my own for a brief night out on the town.

Brevity and I are usually at odds but in the interest of turning the focus towards the beer and away from my poor decisions, I will say this: I had two possible routes and I definitely chose the less safe one.  I wound up walking through long, dark underpasses, past illicit activity on the steps of some sketchy apartment complexes, and, perhaps scariest of all, I walked solo along an overpass with a wicked Midwestern thunderstorm flickering in the distance.  Watching the weather, I realized that my trip home was going to be interesting for completely different reasons than my trek over to the brewery!

My journey across Middle Earth aside, I arrived at the Haymarket Pub & Brewery in one piece and very, very thirsty (What can I say?  Fear will do that to a man!).  When I walked in the door, I realized that I had failed to consider one other aspect of my visit: the time and day.  The place was absolutely packed.  It was that kind of busy where every available inch of real estate is taken either by bodies drinking, bodies eating, or bodies waiting.  Getting a table was simply out of the question but so was turning around and leaving without trying at least something.

I managed to squeeze my way up to the bar and catch the eye of an eye-catching bartender.  She moved so quickly between the patrons, the registers, and the liquor bottles that she almost resembled Vishnu, the multi-limbed deity responsible for Dharma and cold beer (at least that night at the Haymarket).  Given how chaotic things were at the bar I was convinced that she would refuse to serve me a sampler with the sheer quantity of imbibers awaiting her attention.  To my pleasant surprise, she not only provided me with a sampler but even took the time to explain what it was comprised of and gave a little information about the beers themselves--something the folks at Great Waters Brewing should take note of (I'll get to that episode in a later entry).

When I ordered my second sampler the bartender could tell that I wasn't from around town and so she asked me what brought me to the bar that night.  I explained that I was just visiting Chicago and had walked there from the hotel and would be hoofing it back once I finished my beers.  Looking outside at the deluge that was pouring down, she took pity on me and wound up offering me tasters of the last two beers on her.  I'm not ordinarily one for charity but since it was beer-related I was all about it!

In total, I tried ten different beers while I was there and enjoyed every single one of them.  I gave eight of the ten a grade of B+ or better with my overall favorite being their Defender Double American Stout.  I was surprised to find that more than half of the beers (six in total) represented Belgian styles and was elated when I discovered that they were all brewed well.  Standouts from that sextet included the I'm Still Lonely Belgian Style Abbey Single (A-), Emma Belgian Style Abbey Trippel [sic] (A-), and the Loathing Belgian IPA (B+) (the latter's American counterpart--Fear American IPA was equally as good garnering a B+ as well).

Ten beers representing nine different styles is an impressive array for any brewpub and so I was glad that I had made the trek over there.  When I left, the air was redolent with the scent of freshly-fallen rain and the dark, beclouded night sky threatened further downpours as thunder rumbled violently.  In the end, I made it back to the hotel safely and soundly without so much as an errant drop of rain finding me along the way.  Totally worth the hike to get to the Haymarket Pub & Brewery and one that I would gladly undertake again if I found myself in Chicago!

GRADING

I loved the variety and the quality of beers offered by the Haymarket Pub & Brewery.  Couple this with the gracious patience afforded me by the incredibly busy bartender and I enjoyed an equation of a successful night of beer indulgence.  The fact that the place was so insanely packed in the first place serves only to bolster my position that this is an excellent place to try some new beers.  As such, I give the Haymarket Pub & Brewery a grade of A- and deem it a can't-miss location if you're in Chicago.  The panoply of styles, especially with so many Belgians, renders this a rare gem among its otherwise unimaginative brewpub brethren.

BEERS SAMPLED

I'm Still Lonely Belgian Style Abbey Single
Mother Jones Belgian Style Abbey Dubbel
Emma Belgian Style Abbey Trippel
Loathing Belgian IPA
Fear American IPA
The Alarm Double American IPA
Speakerswagon Pilsner
The Defender Double American Stout
Come Back and Guzzle Spiced Belgian Dark Ale
The Living Wage American Belgo Pale Ale


For more information about the Haymarket Pub & Brewery please visit their official website here. 

Cheers!

Matt

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Moonshine Brewpub Review




Every great streak must come to an end and my run of phenomenal brewpubs in Chicago was no different.  On the day that began at Goose Island's spectacular Clybourn brewpub and continued with the pizza-making magic at Piece Brewery & Pizzeria, I had the unfortunate experience of visiting Moonshine.  At first glance, it seemed like a decent place to check out...but then we went inside.

The first red flag was the trashy hostess who eventually greeted us.  Dressed more appropriately for some shady gentleman's club than a brewpub, she led us to our table without much fanfare.  Now, in all fairness, I appreciate the fine form of an attractive woman as much as any man but more so when she's dressed in a way that accentuates her aesthetic attributes; when she's dressed like a strumpet and parades around as such, it takes away from what would otherwise by a nice meal out with the family.

The second red flag was the specials' sheet pictured above.  If you look carefully, you'll see that beneath the name, the word brewery is the final descriptor used.  I'm all for saving the best for last but if you're a brewpub--and one that takes any sort of pride in its beer--then I would expect to see that designation listed up front.  Otherwise, you're basically telling your clientele that you're a poseur producer of beer moonlighting as whatever you purport to be.

The third red flag (noticing a trend here?) was the various lists of house beers scattered throughout the establishment.  I say various because they were all different from one another.  I had no clue what was actually available until we got the menu...or so I thought.  See, above the bar there was a chalkboard with a list of beers.  This was different than another chalkboard elsewhere and the menu that we received.  If you look at the menu pictured to the right, you'll see six beers listed.  That'd be a fine assortment if they were actually all on draft!  Of the six brews ON THE MENU THAT WAS GIVEN TO ME BY THE WAITRESS take a guess at how many were actually available for sampling.  Go ahead--guess.  I'll wait.  Ready?  Did you say six?  (I hope not because then you wouldn't be paying attention!)  How about five?  You'd be wrong.  Four?  Uh uh.  Three?  Nope.  TWO!? Nein.  ONE!?  Was even a single, solitary beer listed available for sampling!?

No.  Not even one.

But it gets better!

You'd think that if they're advertising six beers that they'd at least have six on draft, right? 

You'd be wrong again.

This brewpub had exactly four beers of its own available for sampling.  Four mediocre brews that didn't even match what was advertised anywhere!  But here's the kicker: they were part of a six beer sampler! 

Is your mind blown yet?  Are you questioning how that is even possible?

I'll tell you how: you got to choose two beers brewed by OTHER BREWERIES.  Sampling a bunch of different beers is always a good thing but it's totally different when you're at a bar that doesn't make its own beer and a brewpub that does!  A full one-third of the total sampler came from elsewhere and I got to choose what I wanted!  In other words, they weren't even featuring a particular beer from a specific brewery.  It wasn't "IPA Day" or something similar.  They just genuinely did not give even that much of a shit.

We did manage to order food (although, in retrospect, I'm not even certain that it was made by Moonshine.  Maybe they ordered take-out from some place up the block, had it delivered, threw it on a plate and into a bowl, and then served it to us?) and it too was adequate at best.

Ugh--this place was just a hot mess and I'm sitting here trying to think about what the hell to give it in terms of a grade.

GRADING

I gave three of the four Moonshine beers that I had a B and the other one a B+ so it's not like the beer was a total wash.  The food itself was also decent with a generous portion size but I just can't seem to get past the intangibles of this place.  It's frustrating because it seems like it could potentially be a good spot but if it only got its shit together.  I thought about going lower than this but I feel like those yet-unreached nether realms of grading should be reserved for only the worst spots that offer truly horrific drinking experiences.  Moonshine wasn't that awful but it was in no way, shape, or form any good.  I'm giving it a grade of C-, which is the lowest grade I believe I've ever given a brewpub.  There must be something salvageable about the place but, if there is, I certainly didn't find it while I was there.  I say if you're a craft beer fan then you should go at your own risk or only if you're trying to visit all of the spots in Chicago.  If you're just a casual beer drinker or someone looking for a bite to eat then you've got nothing to lose by going--you just also have very little to gain.

BEERS SAMPLED

Action Club
Outpost
RYEteous Path
Fallout
Lagunitas Brewing Company's Lagunitas IPA
Stone Brewing Company's Stone Levitation Ale

For more information about Moonshine Chicago please visit their official website here.

Ugh.

Matt

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Piece Brewery & Pizzeria Review

Any pizza lover knows that the word is synonymous with Chicago.  Famous for its impressive deep dish-style pie, the Windy City offers some of the best Italian-inspired comfort food in the country.  Pair pizza with some Chicago brewed beer and you've got yourself an incredible meal.

After attending the Cubs game over at Wrigley, my wife and I drove over to Piece Brewery & Pizzeria in the Wicker Park section of the city.  I was starving and looking forward to my first taste of authentic Chicago pizza.  As I entered the spacious, airy brewpub, I was confused by the repeated advertisement of "New Haven style" pizza.  The only New Haven I had ever heard of was in Connecticut--a solid thirteen hour drive back east.  Being a native New Yorker--a Brooklynite, in particular--pizza is a sacred thing to me (along with bagels, of course).  Biased as I am towards a New York pie, I knew that Chicago had a national reputation for its unique style...but New Haven?  I had to find out what the deal was.

It turns out that New Haven style is essentially a thin crust, coal-fired pie with minimal adornment thereafter. (In some circles, the ubiquitous mozzarella cheese has to be requested as a topping.  A topping!  Definitely a "Royale with cheese" moment if ever there was one.)  It also turns out that said style is incredibly delicious and the pies crafted at Piece elevate pizza-making to the level of art.  Crispy crust serves as the foundation for a perfectly spiced, well-balanced sauce upon with the deliciously unctuous cheeses and toppings can lay their tasty heads.  Though a bit on the pricey side (New Haven pizza is sold by the pie, not the slice, and a single individual sized-pie at Piece can run you upwards of twenty dollars depending upon the toppings you choose), I have to say that it is totally worth it.  I wound up catching a lunch break and ordered an individual red pizza with a few premium meats for less than ten bucks; it was, without question, one of the best pies I've ever had. 

Cost-prohibitive as the pizza might be, there are certainly other culinary options to choose from.  Sandwiches during the lunch hour all run less than ten dollars as do the individual pies.  If you're heading there for dinner just don't go alone!  You can split the cost of the pie and still eat your fair share.  But, again, expensive as it might be it is totally worth it.  One of the rare brewpubs with truly exceptional food.

But what about the beer!?

While the food stands out as par excellence, the beer fails to ascend to the same lofty heights.  With that said though, it is still above average craft beer.  I gave everything that I tried at least a B and all but two of my grades were as high or higher than the corresponding aggregate Beer Advocate review scores.  There was undeniably a German touch running through the beers with at least three representing German styles or brewing techniques.  These beers had an earnest authenticity to them that rendered them all the more quaffable.

Ironically, the two IPAs that I had were the beers that I enjoyed the most.  Of the 2,074 different brews that I've tried at the writing of this entry, 253 were IPAs or Imperial IPAs--twelve percent of the total.  I would by no means consider myself a connoisseur of lupulin-imbued libations but I do know what I like and Piece's brews satisfied my palette.  Very good beer to go with even better pizza.

GRADING

A sucker for great pizza and beer, I admittedly fell in love with Piece the moment I sat down.  It had a great vibe and seemed like a fun place to go for the twenty- and thirty-something crowds.  I got the sense also that it was a very upbeat spot come the evening hours and, if I'm ever in Chicago again, I'll be sure to scope it out for dinner.  The beer will not disappoint and the pizza will blow you away (especially if you've never been treated to New Haven style before).  After averaging out the B+ I gave the beer and the A I gave the pizza, my final grade for Piece Brewery & Pizzeria is an A-.  I highly recommend visiting this place for the food, the environment, and of course the beer.

BEERS SAMPLED

Golden Arm (Kölsch)
Bell End Bitter (English Bitter)
Flat Iron Stout (Irish Dry Stout)
Dark-N-Curvy Dunkelweizen
Wackjob (American Double / Imperial IPA)
Dysfunctionale (American IPA)
It's Your Fault Alt (Altbier)

For more information about the Piece Brewery & Pizzeria including its current menus, please visit their official website here.

Cheers!

Matt