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Good Night Chicago

July, 1999

By Bobby Bush

I donít get up to Chicago that often. So when I do, I always make a (beer) hog of myself. I promise- this is the final installment of my Chicago report.

Just north of downtown Chicago, River West Brewing Company has been in operation since 1995. Iíve visited several times and almost always left confused. Owned by the same gentleman who owns both Weinkellers, Greater Chicago German brewpubs of some repute, River West is still searching for an identity. Itís upstairs room has served duty as a game room, rock Ďn roll bar and, most recently, as a dance loft run separately from the brewpub below.

As happened on my last stop, a smartass bartender ruined by visit. His inattentiveness and lack of concern did little to embellish River Westís ten beers. Starting with an ESB on cask that was thin and wine-like, I switched to the regular ESB with better results. Jason, my know-it-all bartender, wasnít sure if the Oktoberfest was an ale or a lager, though its thin body and slight sweet finish told me it most likely was on the traditional lager side of the yeast/fermentation spectrum. Light Ale was appropriately that and bready. Whistle Stop Weiss had that familiar banana flavor and glorious yeast aftertaste. Windy City Pilsner lacked in required hops ping. Red Fox Amber left a dry aftertaste alien to its perfumey nose. The IPA made an assertive, pleasing Cascade and Chinook hops announcement. At 7.5% alcohol, the brandy background of Doubledecker Dopplebock hid strength within its dark brown hue. Though slightly flat, Railroad Stout presented a smooth texture and faint tannin finish.

With a food menu half way between pubgrub and gourmet bistro, a great location overlooking Chicago Avenue and a fancy, cherry-stained traditional interior, River West has everything going for it except a bartender who cares. What a shame.

On my previous trip to Chicago, just three weeks earlier, Iíd stop by a new brewpub only to find the doors shuttered. Located five doors south of Wrigley Field, Weeghman Park Restaurant Brewery does not open until 4:00, except on game days. Heck, the season was over so I left unsatisfied. Back again, at the appropriate time, this brewpub- named after the 1914 home stadium of the short-lived Chicago Feds, which was renamed in honor of its new owner, William Wrigley, Jr., in 1926- was fairly busy with an after-work bar crowd.

I briefly scanned the menu, noticing appetizing selections of pizzas and sandwiches, and chose beer (were you surprised?) instead. Open only since May 1998, this rookie brewpub offered six house brews. For beginners there was Rooftop Sparkling Ale and an American-style Waveland Wheat Ale. I started with Addison Ale, a medium body amber that was gleaming gold in color. Its sweet aroma gave way to a swift dry finish, though this beer was uneventful at best. From the cask, with a big sparkler-injected head, Old Trafford Mild was a wonderful session beer, just begging for pint after pint. With a sharp spicy nose, Brew House Best Bitter was moderately hoppy with caramel among the malt flavor. Its long bitter aftertaste took minutes to stop. Bolstered with nitrogen, Number 14 Irish Stout was filling, meaty and warm.

The dining area extends to what must be a wall lost in dark perspective. Friendly waitstaff. Well-appointed bar. A brewery with floorspace to accommodate expansion. A short order menu and adequate, but not fancy, beers- Weeghman is ready for baseball season 365 days a year. Batter up.

With just a little time to kill before bedtime, I snuck to Hopcats Brewing Company again (see Chicago Suburbs). As before, there was no dinner crowd at all, but the beer was still most excellent. The nitrogenated IPA was topped off with a floating hops flower. Its thick, creamy head left sip rings down the inside of the glass as I took its golden goodness in slowly.

David Butler is Hopcatsí owner. Greg Moehn runs the brewery. Letís hope the people of Chicago finds out about Hopcats, open only since August 1998, before its too late.

Sleep tight Chicago.

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

© Bobby Bush

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