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
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