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Chicago Suburbs

July, 1999

By Bobby Bush

Hopcats Brewery & Restaurant is a young brewpub on the north side of town, not far from the well established Goose Island Brewpub. This deep, narrow brick structure has obviously seen a lot of wear and tear, but it has served as a brewpub only since August 1998. Founded by several industrious homebrewers, Hopcats is really a beer-based mall. A small dining area greets entering patrons, followed by a short wooden bar against the left wall. Way in back, behind the kitchen, proudly sits a very cramped brewery. Springtime and summer beholds a back terrace for dining. Upstairs, Topcat Lounge beckons partiers with live music. Below street level a homebrew supply shop serves local clientele. And, just to even things up a bit, next door thereís a do-it-yourself Brew-On-Premises for homebrewer-wanna-beís.

From this compact facility, head brewer Greg Moehn produces several interesting, intriguing brews. Though Hopcats usually offers a Redmoon Weizen, the lightest brew on this particular stop was the cutely named No Jokes Blonde Ale, a sweet, crisp Cream Ale packing 5.5% alcohol by volume. Slightly less potent, Hopcat OPA (Official Pounder Ale- you had to ask?) was a pleasant Oatmeal-enhanced American Pale Ale that exhibited no oats effect at all. Topcat IPA was so powerfully hoppy that it emitted a pungent scent at least six inches above the glass- a nose tickler complete with a real hop cone floating atop its thick nitrogen-infused head. Sweet from Belgian malts and candi sugar, Dubbel or Nothiní Belgian Ale was compelling, although a bit light, at 5.5% in alcohol for style. Rounding out the bill of fare, Heifer Stout was smooth through and through, presenting the mouthfeel and flavor of a rich chocolate milkshake. Wow!

On a trip back to Chicago several weeks later, I ventured by Hopcats again. One new beer, Bucktown Rockiní Roggen, had been added to the slate. Somewhere in the mix, clove and mint add a mysterious flair. While the rye effect was negligible, this Bavarian-style dark beer started like a banana cream malted and left behind a tingling tongue. Wow again! (See www.hopcats.com for more info).

The next afternoon, rainy and dreary as it was, we cruised northward to Libertyville and found Mickey Finnís Brewery on Milwaukee Avenue. Adding a brewery and expanding what was once just a bar in 1994, this now-large brewpub has become a popular family spot among the upwardly mobile suburban local population. We were lucky to find stools at the long hardwood bar. Brewer Ryan Ashley, who earlier in the day gave a presentation regarding cask-conditioned ales at the Real Ale Festival, had two on tap. Having had my fill of cask for the weekend, I skipped Abana Amber Ale and Mr. Cís Pale Ale, choosing instead Mickey Finnís Oktoberfest. Served in a heavy mug, this brown Vienna-style lager foretold lingering pleasantness with a slightly sweet body. Spiked with nitrogen, Five Springs Oatmeal Stout saw its cascading body settle into a medium-bodied smooth chocolate brew. Other Mickeyís beers we passed by due to time and driving constraints include Mickey Finnís Wheat Ale, Raz, Gasthaus Pils, Gudendark Dunkel-Weizen (get it?) and the 1998 GABF gold medal Gudenteit Hefe-Weizen. Good food- pizza to stuffed orange roughy- and great beer.

But it was time to move on. Headed south, we stopped in for a few minutes at Flatlanders Restaurant & Brewery. In operation since 1992, this Lincolnshire brewpub was huge, high ceilings like a modern church full of sinners. We searched almost in vain for a spot at the massive C-shaped bar. Finally making eye contact with an overworked bartender, he offered a taste of two brews while we made our decision. Unfortunately, the tiny glasses reeked of sanitizing solution, probably the result of improper rinsing. Thankfully, the tall pilsner glasses used for proper size servings did not suffer the same effect.

Of Flatlanders nine beers, which included a cask-conditioned Harvest Amber Ale, we enjoyed the thin, dry Olde Orchard Ale and nitro-smooth roasted, fruity Locomotive Stout the best. Also worthy of mention are the malty, full-bodied 80 Shilling Ale and seasonal Autumn Lager. A fancy place with decent beers, Iíd like to try Flatlanders again when the noisy crowd is less obnoxious.

The next phase of this beery tale is Chicago Continues.

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

© Bobby Bush

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