Although the two previous days in Chicago were spectacular, from the perspective of The Beer Wench – the third evening was “la piece de resistance.” (For those of you who did not grow up spewing out French sayings, I’ve attached the definition …)
pièce de ré·sis·tance n. pl. 1. An outstanding accomplishment: “The bison is an evolutionary pièce de résistance, the result of thousands of years of genetic development under the toughest weather and geographical conditions” B.J. Roche. 2. The principal dish of a meal.
Monday brought yet another day of prowling the floor of the NRA show – indulging in countless foods such as gelattos, chocolate truffles, gourmet cheeses, lots of artisan breads, pizzas, soups, dips, sandwiches, more cheeses, more chocolates, more breads … and every type pf cuisine you could imagine. On top of all that food, I also had the opportunity to have lunch with the Illinois Restaurant Association. We were served a lovely salad of fresh greens, yellow raisins, toasted pine nuts, a huge brick of goat cheese and a balsamic vinaigrette. The main course was Chicken Marsala over basil orso pasta. Surprisingly (for it being meat) … I gobbled down the dish. To finish it off, we were served a rather large individual apple tart, finished with a thick cinnamon whipped cream and fresh berries.
NOW ON TO THE IMPORTANT PART.
Once again, we left the show to embark upon yet another culinary tour of Chicago. This time the cuisine was mainly beer.
First Stop: The Gage, a restaurant and tavern situated on Michigan avenue directly across from Millenium Park. Newly opened, The Gage is known for its upscale comfort food, fine wines, boutique beers and whiskeys in a sultry and vintage decor.
I ordered a glass of Sauvignon Blanc — but before I could enjoy it I was stolen away to meet two very important people in the world of beer. Both are with the country’s leading importer of fine beers — Merchant Du Vin — and are known nationally (if not internationally) for being beer connoisseurs. In fact, both also serve as beer consultants to hotels, restaurants, bars and the like.
Merchant du Vin sets the strictest standards for the beers that bear our importing label. All Merchant du Vin beers are “authentic”—meaning they are naturally made, without chemicals, additives, or preservatives (sometimes referred to as “adjuncts”). Secondly, the beer must be an outstanding representative of its style, and produced by a brewery of superb reputation. As a result of these standards, Merchant du Vin’s benchmark breweries appear on nearly every list of the top beers in the world.
After listening to me rattle on about my beer blog and passion for beer, the younger of the two beer gurus (a local Chicagoan) found it pertinent to give me a proper beer tour of Chicago. Of course, I could not resist, and so my coworker and I piled into his car for a most memorable beer experience.
Second Stop (although the first of the beer tour): Clark St. Ale House. Unfortunately, we could only srounge up enough meter money for a half an hour – so our time here was brief. My beer of choice was the Southern Tier IPA, which was served in a pretty small Brandy sifter. During the first half of its consumption, the beer was too cold to really embrace its true flavor. My beer guru companion informed me that the whole point of the brandy sifter was so that I could warm the beer in my hands. By the time I reached the end of the glass, the beer reached a desirable temperature and was quite enjoyable.
While at Clark St. Ale House, I had the opportunity to purchase “The Beer Enthusiast’s Guide to Chicago.” Although it is slightly outdated, the content of the guide was extremely well organized and helpful. Unfortunately, it is very rare to find and I was extremely lucky that I could procure a copy. And the icing on the cake? The bartender informed me that the author of the guide was none other than my beer guru companion sitting next to me. How about them apples?
Third Stop: Goose Island Brew Pub – Clybourn. Now, if being given the beer tour of Chicago by one of its most renowned beer connoisseurs wasn’t awesome enough already – at Goose Island we were accompanied by one of the world’s leading writers on beer. (Names will be added when permission is granted).
My first beer: Reserve Imperial IPA 9.0% ABV “At Goose Island, we live and die by hops. With our Imperial IPA, we pushed the hop limit to the extreme. We took three of our favorite hops, Tettnang, Simcoe and Cascade and balanced their spiciness with tons of malt… then we added more hops and more malt until this beer was exploding with citrus aromas and flavors… you’ll smell the hops from a yard away. What will surprise you is how drinkable it is. Served in a Tulip.” The Beer Wench gives it two thumbs up!!!
My second beer: Saison ‘08 6.5% ABV “Brewed by our Fulton brewers here at LPB, Saison is a Belgian-style farmhouse ale traditionally brewed in the cooler months for summer consumption. The Saison strain of yeast works at warmer temperatures and produces unique fruity and spicy aromatics with slight tart character.” This was the first time that I had ever tasted this particular style. The Beer Wench takeaway? It definitely has a unique earthy (manuresque) characteristic. According to Wikipedia, “what truly makes saisons unique is the fermentation which is closer to a red wine fermentation. Taking place at temperatures upwards of 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius), these ales are incredibly phenolic; peppery, floral, often reminiscent of the spice found in a bordeaux wine.” As a lover of bordeaux wine, my palate is inclined to prefer saisons as well. I look forward to further exploration.
Food wise, we enjoyed the fresh baked pretzels (cheddar jalapano and regular) as well as the sausage and cheese plates (complete with artisan bread and olives).
Fourth Stop: The Map Room, “A Traveler’s Tavern: Don’t Get Lost.” Traveling with “celebrities” definitely has its perks. Especially traveling with beer celebs on a beer tour. At the map room, my coworker and I were given a personalized no holds bar beer tasting led by the pros.
And here are the beers … (drum roll please):
1. To drink, we all started out with the De Ranke XXBitter … aka “a really f*ing hoppy beer.” Delicious. It got better as the night progressed and the beer became warmer.
2. Saison Du Pont, “a barnyard ale. Brewed in spring to last throughout the summer in order to fuel the workers.” We used this beer to cleanse our palate and jump start the tasting. Once again, I’m very intrigued by the Saison style.
3. Lindeman’s Gueze Cuvee Renee, “ Possibly the oldest beer, Gueuze, or Geuze, (pronounced “GOO-za”) is unseasoned, wild-fermented wheat beer. The brewers blend aged lambic and younger lambic, to taste, and a bottle refermentation occurs after capping. It is highly coveted by gourmands in Belgium who lay it in their cellars like wine. Golden color, cidery, winey palate; reminiscent, perhaps, of bubbly dry vermouth with a more complex and natural flavor. Style—Gueuze Lambic.” Source: Merchant Du Vin.
Numbers four and five were tasted side by side, as they are different variations of the same style from a brewery called Westmalle. “Bottle-conditioned Dubbel and Tripel Trappist Ales brewed by the Abbey of Westmalle, one of only seven Trappist breweries in the world. The monastery is located in the village of West Malle, Province of Antwerp, Belgium, and was founded in 1794. Both the Dubbel and the Tripel are considered by many tasters as the benchmarks for the style. Westmalle Dubbel was first brewed for consumption within the Abbey around 1836; Westmalle Tripel was introduced in 1934.” Source: Merchant Du Vin.
5. Westmalle Trapist Dubbel Ale, “Brown-amber color, subtle dark-malt aroma balanced by Belgian yeast character. Deeply malty, with a subtle and dry finish that hints at tropical fruit.” Source: Merchant Du Vin.
6. ORVAL, “Brewed and bottle-conditioned at Orval monastery founded in the 1100s in the pastoral Belgium countryside. Fermenting three times with three different malts and two types of hops give great character and complexity. This vintage-dated chardonnay of the beer world can be cellared up to five years. Sunset-orange color; a fruity and slightly acidic bouquet, firm body, profound hop bitterness, and long, dry finish.” Source: Merchant Du Vin.
7. Samuel Smith IPA, “The rich Samuel Smith strain of yeast at The Old Brewery dates from the early 1900s. Hops are hand-weighed by the master hop blender, and the brewing water is drawn from a well sunk over 200 years ago. First introduced to the U.S. market in 1978 by Merchant du Vin, Samuel Smith beers quickly became the benchmark ales for the emerging craft beer movement. To this day, they remain among the most awarded. All Samuel Smith beers are vegan products, registered with The Vegan Society. Samuel Smith’s IPA: A restrained maltiness and an emphasis on the aroma and flavor of hops from England’s finest vineyards.” Source: Merchant Du Vin.
8. Three Floyd’s Boheameth, “A massive American Barley Wine; caramel-sequel and hoppy appeals.”
Fifth Stop: Delilah’s, “one of the great whisky bars of the world.”
According to Center Stage Chicago, “Delilah’s owner Mike Miller is to whiskey what Hemingway claimed to be to bullfighting—an aficionado. He not only runs the bar with hands-down the biggest selection of whiskeys in the city (he advertises more than 300, and the specialty is, yep, bourbon), but has written scholarly articles and given lectures on whiskey around the country. From his resume, the uninitiated might think Miller runs a quiet, cigar-and-snooker type joint, but Delilah’s rocks. With DJ styles ranging from punk Mondays to play-your-demo Thursdays, the music is eclectic, and loud.” The owner spent the evening sitting at the table with us. As for beer, I savored a Samuel Smith’s IPA while having the opportunity to taste some truly exquisite Bourbon.
Overall, this was one of the coolest beer experiences I have ever had. It was my best beer experience in Chicago, by far. I am very excited to have important friends in the beer world and look forward to them playing mentor to me.
Thank you to all those people who made this night as awesome as it was, you rock!