Oak Aged Unearthly
Southern Tier Oak Aged Unearthly is a beer that is reminiscent of the first India pale ales. The first IPAs had to withhold the long, arduous journey from Britan to India. These beers were heavily hopped during the brewing process, put in wood barrels, packed onto ships, and sent to the British troops stationed in India. Southern Tier Oak Aged Unearthly is probably much higher in alcohol (11% ABV) and more heavily hopped than any of the inaugural IPAs, but it is aged in oak barrels, and this factor makes one remember the heritage of this world famous style.
Last week, the gang took our first road trip to one of our favorite breweries, Three Floyds. We departed Binny’s in Wilowbrook at 11:30 am and were in beautiful Munster, Indiana forty minutes later. The ride down was relatively quick, albeit the Three Floyds Gorch Fock and Brookyln Local 2 we were enjoying on the way made the trip much faster. Upon entering Three Floyds, an L shaped bar was on the left, with two low rider couches that hug the ground on either side of the entrance. A few tables are mixed in here and there. There is a room on the right with a few more couches and tables. Straight ahead from this second room is the entrance to the brewery. A single TV was in the corner, with some European soccer game on. Someone from the gang asked to have the NCAA basketball tournament put on, as we piled around the bar.
Our brewery tour didn’t start until 1:00 pm, so we had some time to enjoy a beer or two before. We were pleased to find three beers on tap at Three Floyds that are only available at the brewpub. My favorite out of the three was Slave Princess. Slave Princess is a very hoppy porter, made from the second runnings of the world famous Dark Lord Imperial Stout. It is 4.5% ABV, very sessionable, and was a sneak preview of the new batch of Dark Lord. The next rarity we found on tap was a beer called Banana Split. Banana Split is a very potent Dunkelweizen, that tastes like, you guessed it, bananas. The third beer we found on tap was a pale ale called Devil’s Handshake. This is a fantastic beer, and I wish they would bottle it so more people could savor it. They also had Brian Boru on tap, to go along with their regular lineup of Gumballhead, Alpha King, Robert the Bruce, Pride and Joy, as well as several guest taps.
Andy Warhol once predicted that everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. Put another way: fame is fleeting. That’s one of the hard lessons underscored by the latest report from the “Gang of 5”–an impartial tasting panel of five Binny’s beer experts who never pull punches. Our challenge is to draft a list of the best of the best beers, based on our selection of over 2,697 bottlings representing every conceivable flavor, style and geographic region in the world. For the following six beers, their 15 minutes of fame is over on the Top Ten list: Bell’s Hopslam; Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye; Anderson Valley Boont Amber Ale; Dark Horse Scotty Karate Scotch Ale; Duchesse de Bourgogne; and Alvinne Gaspar. After much swirling and smelling, sipping and spitting, we’re proud to unveil the newly updated Top 10 list. As always, if you don’t agree, stop crying in your beer and let us hear from you on our beer blog. Or for general questions about selection and availability email our resident Hop Head, Kyle Fornek, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brewed by: Brasserie Thiriez
Style: Saison/Farmhouse Ale, 6% ABV
Price: $8.99/ 750ml btl, $107.88 case of 12
Next time you want to spend $120 on a bottle of Dom Perignon, save yourself $111 and give this beer a try! Thiriez Blonde is a stellar beer if you are searching for something carbonated and easy on the palate like great Champagne. Anthony raved about the beer’s nose, calling it one of the best he’s ever experienced, with its lemon grass, spicy and grassy hops, and a crisp green pepper quality. The taciturn Ted even gushed and asked for more. Katie correctly noted its above average and very seductive carbonation. The resident hop expert, Dave, claimed that noble hops were giving this beer its herbal tones, while saaz hops were providing the kick. As a food pairing, you can’t do better. Ted touted cold cuts and cheese while Katie said it had been a big hit when she served this last Thanksgiving. The conversation turned to the aging of beers as Anthony pondered what impact aging would have on Thiriez Blonde. Anthony advocated aging on the grounds that it would mellow out some of the hops. He didnt find much support from the group though, as we were pretty skeptical about aging a 6% ABV beer of this style. This beer is the best example of the saison style that I have experienced. If you are a fan of pricey French Champagne, you need to uncork a bottle of Thiriez Blonde.
Located in Boulder Colorado, Avery Brewing Company was founded in 1993, and has been growing ever since. Starting off with only three, Avery now brews over twenty beers, almost all of which can be found at Binny’s at various times during the year. Avery brews all styles, ranging from Redpoint, a 5% ABV American Amber Ale, to The Beast, a 16.4% ABV Belgian Grand Cru style ale. I have yet to have a bad experience with any of the Avery beers that I have tried, and I have even had the pleasure of having their IPA on tap at my house.
Warm weather is imminent, and along with it comes Avery’s double IPA, The Maharaja. This monster of a beer was released a few weeks ago, and like many savory beers in Avery’s lineup, is only available for a limited time. Maharaja is available from March to August, is 10.54% ABV, and registers 102 IBU’s.
Maharaja smells of citrus fruit, to go along with a burnt grassy hop smell that came across as a little funky. The Maharaja is a lot maltier than most double IPA’s I have yet to encounter, to go along with an insane amount of hops. The immense amount of malt and hops create a very thick, syrupy beer that is a ravishing deep copper color. Due to it’s high ABV, thickness, and syrupy nature, Maharaja has a very low drinkability. I would recommend drinking a bomber with a friend or two; sucking down an entire one of these by yourself would be an arduous task.
Maharaja is definitely worth a shot if you are a hop lover. The sheer amount of hops and bitterness in this beer is mind boggling. The only downside of Maharaja was the funky, almost burnt hop aroma that this beer has, which was confirmed by the friend I was enjoying the bottle with. If you can get around the uncanny nose, you will be in for a gratifying experience with Maharaja.
Every month, Three Floyds Brewery releases a new seasonal beer in a 22 oz bottle. Their latest, and possibly greatest, is Brian Boru Old Irish Red. I have had this beer on tap and out of the bottle since its release earlier this month, and I have come to the conclusion that Brian Boru is hands down the finest Irish Red Ale I have yet to encounter. I talked to Jim Hall, beer buyer at Binny’s in Willowbrook, and he is in agreement with me. He told me that Brian Boru is his favorite beer from Three Floyds; he buys a case of it every year.
Brian Boru smells of sweet malts and caramel. There is a hint of hops in the nose, but it doesnt give the impression that it is a hop monster like most of Three Floyds beers. For the most part, Brian Boru sticks to the Irish Red style, with its big malty characteristics, and sweet caramel taste. What sets Brian Boru apart from other Irish Red Ales is its moderate hoppiness, to go along with a judicious bitterness. Brian Boru also possesses some citrus notes, probably coming from the hops it contains. Brian Boru is medium bodied, with a high drinkability. Consuming more than one of these 22oz bottles is not out of the question.
Brian Boru is a good value; it is a few dollars cheaper than most of the Three Floyds bombers. This is probably because it isn’t overloaded with hops like many of Three Floyds beers, and is lower in alcohol than many of their beers, at 5.9% ABV. Brian Boru is a limited release, and wont be in stores forever. If you want to try it, I would recommend picking up a few bottles in the near future. If you don’t think that Brian Boru is the best Irish Red Ale available, don’t sit and sulk. Let me know what your favorite Irish Red is.
Most people know that beers like barley wines and stouts do incredibly well with some age. On the other hand, most people think that hoppy beers are meant to be drank as fresh as possible. The question: is it wise to mix in some double IPA’s in your cellar along with your other beer?
I recently had a chance to enjoy a bottle of Goose Island Double IPA that Ted Sullivan (Binny’s corporate beer buyer) kept in his cellar for a very long time. The bottle said 2007 on the top label, and the back of the bottle said enjoy by 4/12/08. So two years after it was brewed, and a year after it went out of code, this Goose Island double IPA found it’s way into my favorite beer glass. It smelled very malty, and I got a hint of honey. The hops had faded almost completely from this beer, although I still detected a faint bitterness on the finish. The faded hops caused this beer to taste a lot more malty and caused an above average alcohol burn. I was very surprised at how well this beer held up over the last two years. It was very pleasant, and reminiscent of a barley wine. It is tough to say whether or not aging this beer made it better, because it is almost a totally different beer after two years. The bottom line is that Goose Island’s double IPA is a solid beer fresh or aged.
New beer of the day: Midnight Sessions Lager
Brewed by: Port Brewing Company
Beer drinkers all over Chicago land rejoiced when Port Brewing and The Lost Abbey hit the shelves here for the first time this past winter. If you haven’t had the chance to try any of their products yet, you are seriously missing out on one of the premier American micro breweries. This brewery is interesting: They make beers under the Port Brewing name, and under the Lost Abbey name. Although The Lost Abbey and Port Brewing are separate projects, they were founded by the same owners and brewers. The Port Bottles are 22oz, while the Lost Abbey bottles are 750 ml The beers under the Port label are for the most part are American in style, while the Lost Abbey line is focused on the Belgian styles.
Midnight Sessions is the latest beer to hit shelves from Port Brewing, and was released a few weeks ago. It is a limited release, so get it while supplies last! If you are searching for this beer on any of the beer websites, you probably won’t find it. This is because on this batch they changed the name of the beer from “Moonlit Sessions” to “Midnight Sessions.”
“Schwarzbier” is German for “black beer,” and Midnight Sessions fits perfectly into this category. I poured it up and my glass was full of pitch black liquid with a creamy coffee colored head. The beer smells like coffee and roasted malts, with a bit of a sweetness to go along. Midnight Sessions tastes of coffee, chocolate, and roasted malts. It is medium bodied with a high drinkability. At 5% ABV and $5.99 a bomber, and just like the name of the beer implies, Midnight Sessions has potential to be a great session beer. The finish is bitter sweet and dry, just like any first-class beer of this style should be. This beer could contend with any Irish dry stout, and is a great pick up for St. Patrick’s Day. Port Brewing and the Lost Abbey have yet to let me down, and Midnight Sessions is no exception.
Bell’s Two Hearted Ale hit Binny’s shelves in Illinois for the first time in over two years last week, and beer lovers all over the state rejoiced. Looks like the hop shortage may finally be coming to an end, as Bell’s was able to get their hands on some surplus hops and finally brew up enough Two Hearted Ale to satisfy the Land of Lincoln.
I love a citrusy IPA, and this one scores. It is hoppy with a solid malt backbone, resulting in a well balanced beer that is easy on the palate. It is one of the best IPA’s available in the world, period. There isn’t much else I can say about Two Hearted Ale that hasn’t already been said by legions of beer enthusiasts.
I am wondering if there are mixed reviews on Two Hearted Ale reappearing in Illinois. Sure, everyone is chipper that it is back, but aren’t people agitated that Bell’s abandoned Illinois in the first place? Bell’s made some beers under the Kalamazoo label for us Illinoisans, which were admirable, but not in the same league as beers like Two Hearted Ale. So Bell’s had their distributor debacle, I understand that. But was it really the right decision for Bell’s to remove their beers from Illinois in the first place, causing beer lovers here to suffer for two plus years?
Heads up Chicago, there is a spanking new brewery in town! Located at 5121 N. Ravenswood Ave in Chicago, Metropolitan Brewing invaded the market in late February with kegs and six packs of Flywheel Bright Lager and Dynamo Copper Lager. The six packs are available at Binnys for $9.99 apiece, and a keg of Dynamo Copper Lager is currently on tap at Binnys South Loop. A barrel of Flywheel went on tap first, and quickly went dry as patrons swiftly sucked down the tasty brew. Look for Flywheel to go back on tap after the in progress Dynamo Keg goes dry.
I had a chance to savor both Flywheel and Dynamo and was pleasantly surprised. Flywheel seems to be the superior of the two, and was tasted by the gang of five yesterday. A German inspired beer; it has a perfect head, absolute clarity, and was one of the more attractive beers we have seen. The round body, the clean and crisp taste, and the classic German bite on the finish impressed us. Once the weather gets warmer, I will definitely pick some of this up to go along with my Bells Oberon and Three Floyd’s Gumballhead. Flywheel will undoubtedly crack the gang of fives revised top- ten beer list, which is in the works.
Metropolitan Brewing has a fine website, along with a blog of their own. They have plans to release four more beers, a Kolsch, Octoberfest, Dopplebock, and an Alt. Looks like Metropolitan Brewing is staying true to their German inspired brewing. The only downside of Metropolitan Brewing is that they do not have a brewpub connected with their brewery, and do not currently offer brewery tours. Supposedly they will be offering tours of the brewery in early April, and you can bet that I will be one of the first in line! I am impressed with Metropolitan Brewing, and we can only hope that they survive the ultra competitive beer market.
St. Patrick’s Day: The most anticipated holiday for the beer consumer. The day calls for something Irish, and something authentic. There are a number of beers from Ireland, and your holiday can’t possibly be complete without enjoying one or all of the bona fide Irish brews available to you.
Almost everyone is familiar with Guinness, the most famous beer Ireland has to offer. For all you Guinness drinkers looking for a change of pace, look no further than Beamish, a favorite at the recent beer tasting at Binny’s in Willowbrook. A jet-black Irish dry stout, Beamish hails from Cork, Ireland. Other Irish dry stouts that earn high accolades are Murphy’s Irish Stout and Ohara’s Celtic Stout.
Besides being distinguished for their dry stouts, Ireland is acclaimed for their red ales. Smithwick’s is the most celebrated of this group, but there are some other fine examples of this style. Ohara’s Irish Red tops the list, with Murphy’s Irish Red being another solid one to try.
If you are in the mood for something lighter and sessionable, go with Harp Lager. Perhaps you desire a cream ale? Wexford Irish Cream Ale will fit the occasion perfectly.
All of these Irish beers are on sale throughout March at Binny’s, and all could potentially be the right choice to fulfill your St. Patrick’s day beer obligations. Not drinking any of these brews on St. Patrick’s day? Let us know what you’re washing your corned beef and cabbage down with.