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Sweet Home Chicago

July, 1999

By Bobby Bush

Chicago is a sprawl of a city, hard to get around in and plenty of room to get lost. However, there are around 16 brewpubs in Greater Chicago. What better reason does one need to visit the Windy City twice in less than a month. All totaled, this double trip put about 400 miles on two trusty rental cars and found eleven brewpubs, one of them twice, three of them repeat visits for your humble Suds.

We missed our exit to the hotel on this dark, blustery night and, instead, found ourselves on a familiar route headed toward Downers Grove, home of Founders Hill Brewing Company. This busy suburban brewpub was packed on a Thursday night- well, the large bar area was boisterous and bustling anyway. Though Iíd visited this friendly, warm neighborhood establishment one year previously, this night was different. The beer was bolder, much better than before. This euphoric feeling was most likely due to my anticipation of the next dayís Real Ale Festival and the fact that the place was bubbling with brewers from around the country, one from England as well. Somewhere in a banquet room upstairs, famed beer scribe Michael Jackson dined with this anointed crowd.

But we poor peons were relegated to the bar downstairs. Such bad luck, as we watched our tears flow into delicious pints of Pierce Pale Ale (a little thin though it presented a hoppy tingle on the roof of my mouth) and a seasonal lager Oktoberfest (nicely done with sweet taste punctuated by a swift bitter sting departure). From a sampler tray we sipped small portions of a slight, spritzy Founders Light Lager and overly malty Heritage Wheat. Scarlets Raspberry closed out the light selections with wispy body and pleasant berry aroma. Hidden River Red Ale was barely medium bodied though full of hops taste. While Belgian Strong Ale, another seasonal, was blessed with uplifting maltiness and packed a closing alcohol wallop. Served in full pint glasses, this 8% alcohol truth serum was a beauty to behold.

After finding our way back to the appropriate exit and our hotel, we ventured out for a late night stop at Weinkeller Brewery & Restaurant. Just over a year ago I had visit the original Weinkeller, still brewing in the southwest suburb of Berwyn, and was not impressed, mostly because of the seedy neighborhood in which it resided. Now this Weinkeller brewpub in Westmont, open since 1992, was in a much nicer setting among new car lots and convenience stores. And the beers, almost all of the 15 to German style, were excellent.

German ambiance and food, including wursts, schnitzel and braten, bolstered our amazement as we watched tall glasses of Bavarian Weiss, Kristall Weiss and Berliner Weiss, served with a dash of raspberry syrup, pour from the extremely busy bar. Westmont Pilsner was a deep yellow, dry lager. Roggen Rye attributed its smooth sweetness to a portion of rye in the malt bill. The IPA (the German brewer should have known better than to attempt an English ale) was sour front to back. I pushed my glass away and chose a substitute of Dublin Stout, a creamy Irish-style brew that faired much better. The Dusseldorfer Dopplebock was grainy with caramel undertones, leaving a sticky sweet aftertaste. Weinkeller also offers an extensive bottle selection of imports and micros. Weinkeller is nothing fancy, but a nice place with good food nonetheless.

We had time the next morning to cruise toward downtown to a Chicago landmark. Goose Island Brewpub is celebrating ten years in business by brewing 100 different beers during the year. Our mid-October visit found beers #59 through #69 on tap, as well as some of the more popular mainstays like the English Bitter style Honkerís Ale, Bavarian Hefeweizen and Smooth India Pale Ale. The newer brews included Still Water Brown, brewed at Goose Islandís recently acquired microbrewery, Kriek, a Belgian strong brown ale and the mahogany dark PMD Mild. From its cloudy gold appearance, Saison Rouge presented a fruity body capped by a slightly sour, bitter finish. Best Bitter and Still Water Brown were also available on cask. Several Goose Island beers were offered in 12 ounce bottles, including the chocolatey sweet 1998 Christmas Ale, to go. If you only have time for one brewpub stop in Chicago, make it Goose Island.

This meandering visit to the Greater Chicago area continues in the Chicago Suburbs.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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