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Top Ten Beers

Gang Of 5

There are 2,697 beers on our walls–representing every conceivable flavor, style, and geographic region in the world. How do we winnow down 2,697 beers to the top ten across our entire 21 store chain? Enter American Idol, the reality TV show. Everyone wants to be a star but, let’s face it, only a few make the cut. Same with beer. To discover the top ten beers and rate them one through ten we held auditions (or tastings). Beers from Boston to Belgium were invited onto our stage to perform, so to speak, as they were opened, poured, smelled, sipped, examined, debated, and ultimately voted on by The Gang of Five –an impartial tasting panel of five Binny’s beer experts who share a passion for great beer . Our ratings are based on appearance, aroma, taste, mouth feel, drinkability, and value. The following list represents the best of the best, but with dozens of new beers coming in every week, expect changes every time you visit this blog. If you don’t agree with our top ten list, stop crying in your beer. Tell us and fellow beer lovers across the country what makes your top ten list.

Bell’s Hopslam
Brewed by: Bells Brewery, Inc.
Kalamazoo, Michigan
Style: Imperial/Double IPA, 10% ABV
Price: $15.99/6pk-12oz, $63.96/case of 4
Bell’s Hopslam is the nectar of the Gods and, with all due respect to Budweiser, the true king of beers. This beer has the highest ABV (Alcohol by Volume) out of any beer in our top ten. Everyone had a sense of the moment, particularly Ted Sullivan, Binny’s beer buyer and a tough guy to impress. When Katie Coggins, the beer manager of Binny’s south loop, smelled and tasted a hint of strawberries, there were amens around the table. She also mentioned that the strawberries come through even more as the beer warms up. For Anthony Gerdt, beer manager of Binny’s Glen Ellyn, the lack of a malt presence was disappointing, which caused the hop head in me to cast the evil eye. It’s still a glorious celebration of hops without being overly bitter, according to Anthony. Dave Armanetti, the beer sommelier at the wine bar in Binny’s south loop, pointed out that not many bittering hops were used in the beer. Dave also noted the oily nature of the beer and compared Hopslam to Dogfish head 90 minute IPA, but without the big residual sugar that the 90 minute IPA has. One thing we all seemed to agree on was the incredible drinkability this beer has for a 10% ABV double IPA. Ted called the beer scary because the alcohol was non-existentin fact, he thinks the beer may be too drinkable. Take my word for it, I have experienced this beer before, and Ted is on the money. Whether you are looking to be punched in the face by hops, or looking for a nice citrusy, floral beer, you will love this brew. Note: Many Binny’s are starting to run out of Hopslamso get it while you can! To check on availability at a Binny’s near you, please email me at

Ola Dubh (16 Year Old)
Brewed by: Harviestoun Brewery Ltd.
Alva, United Kingdom (Scotland)
Style: Old Ale, 8% ABV
Price: $7.99/ 11.2Z btl, $191.76/ case of 24
If you are a fan of scotch whiskey, then this beer is for you. It is the first ale to be aged in malt whiskey casks from a named distillery (Highland Park), and you can actually trace the casks from which your particular beer came because each bottle is numbered. Dave poured it up and immediately everyone agreed that it offered a smoky and chocolate bouquet. Anthony loves smoky beers, and Old Dubh has a distinctive Highland Park smokiness. I detected a delightful slight sweetness from the whiskey. Although this beer is complex, some of the flavors were pretty straightforward. Everyone tasted chocolate, figs, and smokeeven liquorish and caramel. There was something for everyonewith Dave not only picking up light whiskey but also smoked Gouda. Among the five of us, Dave has a sixth sense for exotic and unusual tastes and aromas. (You heard right.) Although Dave thought the beer and smoked Gouda cheese would have been a match made in heaven, for Ted, a cigar aficionado, the moment called for a big cigar. The bottom line: This is one of the best barrel aged beers available in the Midwest.

Thiriez Blonde
Brewed by: Brasserie Thiriez
Esquelbecq, France
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.

Hop Rod Rye
Brewed by: Bear Republic Brewing Co.
Healdsburg, California
Style: Imperial/Double IPA, 8% ABV
Price: $4.99/22oz btl, $57.99/case of 12

Dave poured this one up from a 22 oz bottle with a flashy hot rod on the label. Before there was any conversation from the group, I read the description on the side of the bottle. Hop Rod Rye is a high performance, turbo charged, alcohol burnin monster ale with dual overhead hop injection, made with 18% rye. How good does that sound? I asked as I read the description off the side of the bottle. Anthony said it smells like an American beer, while Dave agreed that is smells and tastes like a classic West Coast IPA. Ted mentioned that he didnt really taste the hops in this beer, and Anthony was quick to agree. The other three of us disagreed. I could definitely taste the hops, and they are the main reason why I think this beer is off the charts. Dave commented that the assertive hop bitterness is balanced by a rye spiciness and dark fruit, and mentioned that the finish is hop dominated. Katie agreed that the spice from the rye comes through, and the finish is all about the hops. Ted said he could barely detect the rye, but it was definitely there. I agreed with Ted; although it is faint, the rye is definitely in the taste. Anthony thinks this would be a nice change of pace if you like American IPAs. But he also noted that if your looking for a primarily rye beer, Founders Reds Rye, Two Brothers Cane & Ebel, or Goose Islands Mild Winter might be better suited for you. Ted mentioned that he would like to drink this beer aged, while I disagreed. Who thinks hoppy beers should be drunk as fresh as possible? I asked the group. Everyone raised their hands except Ted. Ted believes in aging hoppy beers because once the hops fade, the other ingredients shine through.

Boont Amber Ale
Brewed by: Anderson Valley Brewing Company
Boonville, California
Style: Amber Ale, 5.8% ABV
Price: $10.99/6pk-12oz, $42.99/ c

What do you give the wino who has everything?

This Christmas shopping season is in full swing. Binny’s staff will be put to the test everyday to help customers find exactly what they are looking for. Our staff will all hear the same questions and requests; I need a $50 bottle of Cab. Do you have any $25 White Zinfandel’s?
I love when I get this request. I need a wine for someone who has a huge cellar. What do you get someone who has the Silver Oak, Opus One and Insignia? Below are some selections of lesser known whites and reds. The quantities are limited and are not at every store.
White Wine Selections:
If you have a friend who enjoys the big name Chardonnay’s, this will be right up their alley. For a white wine, this is built to age. After 7 or 8 years this gets to be great. I’ve had a few older vintages of this wine, and it was a wonderful experience.
This is a uniquely styled Chardonnay from the Red Shoulder Ranch in Carneros. This does not go under any malolactic fermentation. It is a great food wine, and has crisp acidity. It’s aged in 40% new French oak and takes on some vanilla characteristics. This is a favorite Chardonnay.
For the Champagne drinker, this is an incredible bottle of bubbly made from 100% Chardonnay. It has notes of green apple, brioche and vanilla. The mouth feel of this bubbly is the best thing about it. It wakes up your tongue and the finish doesn’t really finish.
2003 Chateau d’Yquem– $150 (375ml)
This 98 point, Wine Spectator rated Sauternes is the king of dessert wine. In great years, this wine will age 100+ years. There are reports of the 1811 vintage still drinking well. The 2003 is no slouch and the person you are giving it to will probably hug you. This wine is liquid gold.
Red Wine Selections:
This comes from a single vineyard in Yountville in the central Napa Valley. It was a privilege to taste this wine two times this year and how it quickly evolved over 6 months. It contains 51% Cabernet, 46% Merlot and 3% Cab Franc, and there were only 650 cases produced. This wine is someone who is swimming Insignia and Opus. It’s full bodied, balanced and complex. What more could you ask for?
Here’s another single vineyard, Napa Valley Cabernet. The buzz for 2007 Napa Cabernets is that it’s going to be a good year. Every 2007 Napa red I had was great in my two visits this year. This wine has not been rated yet, but when it does, I’m guessing it is going to be 95 plus points. Get it while you can and hold it for 10 years.
This is one of my favorite Spanish wines and drinks a lot better than it costs. The grapes in this come from near 100 year old Garnacha vines. When the vines get to be that old, they produce a lot less fruit and thus, more intense fruit. It has a nose of raspberry liqueur, vanilla and baking spice. In the mouth, full bodied, extremely ripe and it has a long balanced finish. This is my favorite wine in the store under $50.
This right bank Bordeaux received high marks from all the major critics. This is a great buy from a great vintage in Bordeaux. This will drink well for a long time to come.

New and Notable: Thanksgiving Edition

  I’ve spent most of the last month or so out at the new Binny’s locations, doing computer stuff, mostly. It has been pretty exciting seeing the new stores, and even more exciting meeting and working with the people both the employees and customers. We’re very fortunate to have such a great team.

  My time away also meant that when I finally did get back to the office, I was overwhelmed with all the new wines that have hit Binny’s shelves.

  It is now that special time of year where in exactly one month from now, I will look back and kick myself for having not started shopping early. Retail stores will soon change their radio stations for the season. I guess that also means it’s time for some holiday-ish wine recommendations. If you’re a last-minute kind of person (as I am) then you haven’t even figured out the specifics of the Thanksgiving menu, not to mention the wine to serve with dinner. With that in mind, here are some New and Notable (and affordable wines), holiday style:

  Traditionally, white German varietals like riesling and gewurztraminer are an easy pairing for Thanksgiving. For something a little different, try other whites with just a hint of sweetness. I was really impressed with the 2008 Feital Auratus, a white blend from Portugal. With just a touch of sugar, this plush white shows notes of mellow fruits like banana and melon and remains full on the palate. This is a great value at $15.

  For a surprisingly nice sparkling wine, try the new LaMarca Prosecco. The nose hints at sweetness, but there’s plenty of acidity to give this lightly fizzy wine good snap, and a sort of sweet-tart quality. Bubbles can work throughout a meal, and can refresh your palate after lots of heavy food.

  Any meal with only white wine is missing something. It’s good to focus on wine that won’t get in the way of lighter meats, so avoid reds that are too austere. Zinfandel is a common choice. For something different, try the 2008 Juan Gil Wrongo Dongo, a Monastrell (Mourvedre) from Jumilla in Spain. It’s full of easy, ripe fruit, and offers hints of spices while staying easy to drink. Plus, they changed the label with this new vintage, and it’s less … um … tacky. Another interesting red that’s new to Binny’s shelves is the 2008 Clayhouse Malbec one of just a handful of domestic malbec (though I’m sure you’ll see many more in the coming years). This red offers fresh acidity to balance with the raspberry, dried cherry and cranberry fruit common in malbec, and will keep the wine lively when paired with heartier, heavier foods.

  Don’t forget about dessert wine on Thanksgiving! If I’m going to be napping anyway, there’s nothing better than a glass of sticky with my post-feast pie. Port is great, but for a less pricey alternative, check out the new De Krans Tawny Port from South Africa. It’s sweet, with autumnal spices like cinnamon stick and nutmeg and molasses, with light raisin fruit. It’s a great stand-in for a more expensive Tawny Port, and a wonderful way to finish off the holiday dinner.


  So enjoy the holiday, enjoy the food, enjoy the wine. And the people. And I hope to see you at Binny’s.

Beers For Thanksgiving

Last week, Ted Sullivan and I were asked to name our favorite Thanksgiving beers as well provide as a one sentence description of each.  This wasnt as clear cut as asking for something like our favorite Christmas beers, because there isnt a separate seasonal category for Thanksgiving like there is for other seasons and holidays.  This turned into a slight head scratcher for me when all I could think about was how well Southern Pumking goes with my mothers homemade pumpkin pie.  Our family always saves a few bottles of Pumking for dessert on turkey day.  There is only one problem with this:  The Thanksgiving beer list was to be beers that are available right now, and Pumpking all but vanishes from our shelves in the weeks before Halloween.


It immediately became apparent that Ted had done this before, as he instantaneously emailed us the following list that he was ashamed to say he recited from memory, as he lamented that it might be possible that he drinks a little too much beer.


Saison Dupont

Sierra Nevada Celebration

Avery Ellie’s Brown

Ommegang Three Philosophers Ale

Founders Red’s Rye

North Coast Pranqster

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout

Goose Island Sofie

N’ice Chouffe

Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter


When asked to narrow his list to a top three and give a one sentence description of each, Ted provided the following:


Saison Dupont Goes with everything on the holiday table, a strong foil for turkey and all the trimmings…best food beer in the world.



Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter Did someone mention dessert?  Pair this with a cheesecake and watch the sparks fly!



Made For Age yet Drinkable Now – 2007 Vintage Port

  The first of the 2007 Vintage Ports have hit Binny’s shelves.

  This is big news for wine lovers. As some of the most complex, elegant and ageable wine in the world, Port always gets my attention. 2007 is the first generally declared Port vintage since the knockout 2003 vintage, and in my experience, the 2007s might be even better than the 2003s.

  A few weeks ago, some lucky Binny’s folks were able to taste a couple of the more famous 2007 Vintage Ports from the Symmington Family Estates. I’ve sat in on Port tastings before, but never one like this. The tastings I’ve sat in on in the past have always featured young and aged vintage Port trailing back for decades which is always amazing but I’ve never tasted two Ports this young side by side. Both were amazing, but it was the differences that really caught my attention.

  The 2007 Dow’s Vintage Port is a monster. It is massive on the nose: hard, like lead, but also deep, and shows plenty of that raspberry and plum fruit you’d expect in a young Port. It is huge on the palate. It’s sturdy and sweet (of course) with heavy raisin and dried plum, and behind the monolithic fruit are complexities I usually associate with more aged ports, like honey and brown sugar. In my notes, I scribbled: Awesome. This wine will be drinking beautifully four or five decades or more, depending on your tastes.

  Contrasting the Dow’s is the 2007 Graham’s Vintage Port. Expecting another behemoth, I was surprised to taste such a graceful (I hesitate to use the word delicate, it is a Port, after all) wine. Much less hard on the nose, and much more open, the Graham’s features layers and layers of red fruits. Broad on the palate, with layers of jam, this port seems much more ready for drinking in its youth.

  At one point,. the guy sitting next to me at the tasting whispered to me, asking if I had an extra glass. I thought he needed to borrow one, so I pulled an extra glass out of its box and slid it across the table. He poured in an ounce or two of the Dow’s, pushed it back to me, and told me to let it breathe a while. About an hour later, the port was still incredibly rich and rigid, but had evolved further, showing even more broad fruit with that hint towards autumnal baking spices.

  It was explained to us that the Graham’s and Dow’s are made in different styles, and that these differences are most prominent in the best vintages, when weather allows the grapes to hang on the vine longer and develop the characteristics unique to different vineyards. So there’s that.

  These days, Port can seem kind of pricey, around $70 per bottle. Remember, these are world-class wines made to age for decades that continue to evolve for just as long. Be sure to keep an eye open for chances to taste the Ports of this incredible vintage, and check out the 2007 Port available at Binny’s here (I promise the list will grow as more and more bottles hit Binny’s shelves).

Bell’s and Their Plethora of Winter Seasonals

Its that time a year again, where us beer buyers struggle to make room on our shelves and stacks for the numerous winter and Christmas seasonals. Leading the pack is Bell’s Brewery, who offers a ridiculous number of beers for the winter months only. Last year we saw Third Coast Old Ale, Double Cream Stout, Winter White, Best Brown, and Expedition Stout. These all preceded the highly anticipated HopSlam. In addition to the latter beers, this year Bell’s is giving us Illinoisans their Christmas Ale, Sparkling Ale, Rye Stout, and Java Stout, something we haven’t seen since Bell’s pulled out of the market years ago. The Christmas Ale is hitting stores this week, and is highly allocated. Sparkling Ale is due to hit stores next week and rumor has it that it will be even scarcer than the Christmas Ale.


Bell’s is also offering something brand new for the holiday season. John Mallett from Bell’s teamed up with De Proef Brewery of Belgium to create a beer called Van Twee. It is a cherry beer, which admittedly made some of us a bit leery. We quickly came to realize that Van Twee was not just about the sour and tart cherries (which were apparent, but more subtle than anyone expected.) There is a big dose of roasted malt leading into milk chocolate flavors. Hints or tobacco, caramel, hops, and dark fruits coincide with a Belgian funk. Van Twee is quite complex for a self proclaimed cherry beer.


Many of us were surprised that Van Twee even made it to our shelves, and this speaks to its availability. Once this one time release is gone, it will more than likely be retired and never brewed again. We leave you with this question, which is actually more of a challenge: Will anyone be drinking each and every Bell’s winter seasonal this year?

One Last Freshly Hopped Ale

Just when we thought that most of the freshly hopped ales were all but gone from our stores, Port Brewing released High Tide Fresh Hop IPA.  With supplies on many of the freshly hopped ales dwindling, it is nice to see one released that is not only delicious, but brand new to Illinois.


We cracked a bottle of High Tide alongside two other wet hopped ales, and were pleasantly surprised to find High Tide was our favorite of the three.  I wont call out the names of the other two, but one was from California and one was from Indiana.  High Tide was filled with classic citrus and grapefruit flavors, and contained what we agreed to be the perfect amount of hoppiness.  One of the other two we tried had an uncharacteristic burnt hop flavor that it hasnt had in the past, which was a minor disappointment.  The third freshly hopped ale we tried was tasty, but it was so overloaded with pine flavors that you could barely taste anything else.


High Tides hop flavors were balanced with grapefruit, orange, pineapple, and a hint of grass.  As far as overall balance goes, High Tide had a decent malt backbone; enough to make its presence known, but not enough to interrupt the full flavor of the hops.  A bitter and mildly sweet aftertaste is apparent on the finish.


It is interesting to see how fresh hop ales differ from year to year.  Two of our favorites from last year seemed to be lacking a little something, while beers like High Tide and Founders Harvest Ale impressed us.  Dont miss this opportunity to indulge in one of the finest and one of the last freshly hopped beers of the season, Port Brewing High Tide Fresh Hop IPA.  And please take the opportunity to let us know what you think was the best fresh/wet hopped beer of the year.

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