I haven’t gotten back to the Midwest much since I’ve been in New Mexico. My parents just love coming to visit me here. So this thanksgiving for the first time in 3 years, I visited Chicago to see my father and stepmom and Kalamazoo to visit my mom. Along the way I was fortunate to taste a lot of delicious beers and here are their stories.
On my first day in town we ventured forth to do the Thanksgiving dinner shopping. It was a bit overwhelming to me, since I’m more of a Co-op /CSA kind of shopper these days, but I was amazed to find a huge cooler of single beers for a mix your own six pack party.
The first beer of the six pack I tried was Lagunitas Day Time. I picked this one because it’s billed as “A Fractional IPA.” It was not a bad beer, but really it just tasted like a watered-down IPA. Perhaps my expectations were too high on this one? In all fairness, it did deliver what it advertised and was good to drink while I chopped leeks to make stuffing.
This beer was excellent. This is a favorite style for me anyway, but it was light and drinkable much like the Saison Dupont I often bring to dinner parties because it’s so tasty, and doesn’t have any strong flavors that conflict with the food. I think that’s a pretty ringing endorsement of this beer.
The next two beers I had in rapid succession after I finished my Turkey Trot 5k along Lakeshore Drive. It was a lovely day for a run, 65 and sunny. I had the Commodore Perry handcrafted IPA from Great Lakes Brewing Company (Cleveland, Ohio) which I might have consumed to quickly to really pass judgment, but it didn’t have enough distinctive hop flavor for me to rate it highly as an IPA. I will admit, this might be a personal issue related to the hop bomb mountain town IPA I’m used to from Marble Brewery in Albuquerque, NM.
The second beer from this session was the Happy Heron Pale Ale from Central Waters Brewing Company. With it’s no nonsense label, I had a feeling I was in for something very good or very bad.It was a great pale ale. It delivered more hop than the Commodore Perry IPA and had a nice refreshing citrus ring to it. I drank it pretty fast so I can’t guess at the hops, but like the Country Ale from Two Brothers it was definitely a beer I’d want to drink more of in the future.
On the other side of the pond (Lake Michigan) I had a couple of beers at The Union in Kalamazoo Michigan. The first was a Breakfast Stout out of Founders Brewery in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was surprisingly light and effervescent for a beer in the Stout category. It’s a great stout to have with food, and very good hints of espresso. The second one I had was a real ass kicker, The New Holland Dragon’s Milk.
An oaky gem that packs a serious alcohol punch at 10.5%. It was less heavy and viscous than its initial taste and aroma let on, but had a wonderful complexity of fruit and chocolate flavors. A sturdy, well-composed beer that I bet would age nicely for holidays of Christmas future.
The Union was the warm up for the main event, Bells Brewery. Bell’s was brewing beer in Michigan well before there were 86 other breweries in the state. In short, two of their beers are on my all time favorites list. They make an Expedition Stout that’s the perfect accompaniment to a gray train ride along the steely lake back through the steel mills back to Chicago and, what may be my MOST FAVORITE BEER, ever! The Bells Winter White. It’s a white Belgian flavored with holiday spices. Basically it’s like my two favorite forms of beer, Christmas Beer and Belgian had a baby. I love this beer so much, my mom had a six pack of it waiting in the fridge when I arrived at her house.
Of course we couldn’t just have the classics, we had to go to the brewery and see what else they had going on. They probably have twice as many beers on tap as they did the last time I was here 3 years ago. There’s an outside music venue now, but the original tap room remains the same. Even on a raucous Saturday night it’s a great room to drink some amazing beer in.
Mom was in the mood for stouts, and so it was stout-type things we tasted.
Really I think it was attempt to head my hop bomb tendencies off at the pass, and it worked. We sampled the porter, the sweet potato porter, the milk stout, the kalamazoo stout, the Kal-Haven (non stout,yay!) and the Double Cream stout. The porter was a well executed porter. I think if I had to live through a Michigan winter, I’d welcome such variety, but really, it’s just a decent porter. The sweet potato (porter?!) was less interesting than I had hoped, it was sweet and viscous with a hint of pie spice. Even less so than the porter, I don’t think I could be compelled to drink a pint of it. The milk stout was great. It had some nice espresso and that heavy lactose feeling I’ve come to love from Left Hand’s Milk Stout. If I lived there, I’d drink a lot of this beer. It was also mom’s favorite.
I have nothing to say about the Kalamazoo Stout. All the beers we tasted were great, but I’m catching a buzz and I can’t really remember anything about this one to disambiguate it.
The Kal-Haven, however was the winner for me. It’s an Oaked rye made with Brettoymances yeast. It was very very tasty. It had a nice rye flavor that came out as it warmed up a touch, I had a pint of this and would have had more. The Brett yeast gave it a wild fruity flavor that delicately balanced the nutty rye. The final beer on our tasting tray was the double cream stout. It was very viscous, and heavy with lots of nutty espresso flavors. This was more like an after dinner stout, maybe to be served with a chocolate dessert, but would be way too big and heavy to drink much more than 10 oz of in a sitting.
The final stop of Beersgiving was at Old Dog Tavern, right before I hopped my train back to Chicago.
A welcoming place with yummy bar food and a lovely barkeep who was more than happy to have me copy edit her chalkboard of daily specials. I started off with an Atwater Cherry Stout. Ever since I had the Walking Man Cherry Stout on a winter’s day in Portland, I’ve been seeking the same marriage of stouty cherry goodness. Back home, Il Vicino makes a Milk Chocolate Cherry Stout that’s quite delicious but very sweet and viscous, but the Walking Man, and to a lesser degree the Atwater, both had a more subtle, dry note of cherry. Quite good. My mom had a Fox Barrel Pear Cider that was quite pleasing too.
As I drew near to finishing my pint, I received an email from Amtrak, my train was a half hour late. Perfect, I thought, more time to try more local beers. I had the Old Dog IPA and ordered mom the Willpower Pale Ale. The Old Dog IPA was quite good, and to be fair, I don’t remember the Willpower, except perhaps, even though it tasted quite mild compared to my stout and my IPA, mom resisted its charms, and remarked that it was too hoppy. Sorry, mom! My hop head habits die hard. Happy Beersgiving to all, and to all a good night.