Our meeting was scheduled for a Thursday morning at 9 a.m., so the three of us flew to Chicago out of Baltimore the previous morning. When we landed, the first order of the day was to seek out the best Chicago-style deep dish pizza for lunch. At that point, I'd still been fasting, but I couldn't resist a good pie for lunch. Prior to the trip, someone had suggested Lou Malnati's - known by locals as one of the best places for deep dish pizza in the city - and we were delighted to find that the restaurant was in very close proximity to Half Acre's downtown tasting room. It was settled. Lunch at Lou Malnati's followed by a visit to Half Acre, then "something touristy." (I remember the name of the restaurant because it sounds oddly like Illuminati's.) We each ordered our own personal sized pizza and shared a "family" salad, which was enough for each of us to have about three plates. Needless to say it was a pretty filling lunch, especially since I wasn't used to eating until about 6:30 p.m. after I'd already went to the gym. But hey, this was kind of like being on vacation, so when in Chicago...
|Lou Malnati's: serious Chicago-style deep dish pizza!|
Unfortunately, we had to deal with not only unseasonably chilly weather for early October (it was in the upper 30s when we left the hotel), it was also raining steadily. At that point, I'd wished I had the foresight to have packed a raincoat or umbrella. Actually, I did possess said foresight; I was just too lazy to pack those items. So we swiftly power-walked about two blocks to Half Acre. I'd been there once before on a previous Drinksgiving trip, but it was during my blogging hiatus so I never got to write about it. This place is worth a visit for Daisy Cutter alone, a delicious American Pale Ale that's one of the best I've ever had of the style. The tasting room looked exactly as I remembered it, and so did the adjoining gift shop.
|Beer menu at Half Acre.|
We settled in to a booth and perused the beer menu. All in all, there were about a dozen various styles available including the aforementioned Daisy Cutter, a few IPAs, some dark beers, a Mexican lager and a few others; a pretty diverse list overall. We all decided on flights of four beers. Here's the skinny on mine:
- Tuna - tropical fruit-forward pale ale with a touch of floral hops and a slightly piney finish.
- Wig - IPA brewed with passionfruit tea and mango.
- Now & Then - India Pale Ale with a bit of haze and a tropical fruit cocktail-like character with a hint of resiny hops courtesy of Citra, Comet and Simcoe.
- Shrub Tundra - English brown ale with local coffee from Dark Matter. According to Half Acre, the final beer is 3.5% coffee, extracted from Faro and Sarchimor, both grown at Finca San Jeronimo Miramar in Guatemala. I typically think brown ales are boring, but add coffee and you have something special.
|The line-up at Half Acre.|
After my flight, I came to the realization that I couldn't visit Half Acre and not order a Daisy Cutter. If you've never had it before, do yourself a favor and order one the next time you see it on draft. I've had it many times and it never disappoints. It's definitely got a West Coast vibe going on: lots of citrusy hops, slightly dank aroma, pretty dry finish, and a moderate hop bite. Fresh Daisy Cutter is definitely a Top 5 pale ale for me, and once again it was a pleasure to enjoy this beer straight from the source!
|Yeti painting at Half Acre's tasting room.|
While we were finishing up, one of Half Acres founders were sitting in the booth directly behind us doing some work. We eventually got to talking to him (I think we commented on an invite-only beer festival they were hosting in the near future) and he overheard us. We introduced ourselves as Tröegs ambassadors and it went from there. He hooked us up with some sweet enamel Daisy Cutter pins (I gave mine to Brewslut for her satchel). After chatting for a few minutes, we checked out the adjacent gift shop, talked to the two clerks, and had a few samples. I'd forgotten they fill growlers and pour samples in the gift shop. All in all, it was great to get back to Half Acre and enjoy some of Chicago's finest craft beers.
By now it had stopped raining, so we decided to head to nearby Begyle Brewing Company based on the recommendation of one of the female clerks at the Half Acre gift shop. We were hoping to do something "touristy" but we were on the opposite end of town from two proposed options: The Museum of Contemporary Art and "The Bean" (you know... that big silver sculpture that looks like a giant kidney bean). But another brewery visit was more than fine with me.
Begyle considers itself a "community supported brewery." I found this curious, as any brewery could be considered "community supported" because, you know, people from the community visit the brewery and support it by drinking beer. However, there's more to it than that. Begyle offers growler subscriptions through its Community Supported Brewery membership. Based on the community supported agriculture model (CSA), whereby farms sell produce shares and shareholders receive a box of produce each week at prices lower than the supermarket. Only instead of fruits and veggies, Begyle offers beer. Think of it as a beer subscription service. Pretty cool concept, I'd say.
|New brewery alert. Add Begyle to the list!|
During our visit, I decided on a few small pours in lieu of a sampler flight. First up was an IPA called Four on the Floor. Hopped with Citra, Mosaic, Amarillo and Galaxy, this one features a zesty, tropical fruit-forward hop profile. This one was probably my favorite of the three. The aroma was perhaps a bit lacking, but overall this was an enjoyable IPA.
Up next was Pinky Swear. A SMaSH (Single Malt and Single Hop) pale ale, this one is brewed with Golden Promise malt and Amarillo hops for a golden hue, sweet malty backbone and citrusy hop character with a hint of wildflowers. This one was a bit sweet and thin in body. With its somewhat dank, musty overripe grapefruit character, I would have thought a pungent hop like Amarillo would have coaxed a more pronounced hop aroma.
|Pretty sweet coasters at Begyle!|
My last beer at Begyle was Maybe Next Summer, described as a "late summer ale." This hoppy ale is brewed with Motueka hops, a New Zealand varietal, to produce refreshing tropical fruit flavors. This one was pretty tasty too, but it just didn't have enough oomph for me. The beers here were all promising, though. They were clean and pretty well-balanced, but they all lacked a distinctive aroma and complexity in the finish. Obviously, the SMaSH pale ale was brewed to focus on single ingredients, but the other two, while "fine" by most standards, just weren't memorable to me in the long run. I applaud the concept of this newer brewery, though, and look forward to revisiting its beers the next time I'm in the area.
Later that evening, we enjoyed an amazing dinner with Joe and Dimitro at a fantastic restaurant called The Publican. With a well-curated beer selection focusing on inventive sours and Belgian-style ales, there were definitely plenty of interesting options available. Food-wise, everything was off the hook. Menu items are served "family style," so we basically just went crazy and ordered a variety of appetizers, small plates, and entrees and just shared everything. The Publican is also known for its superb selection of raw oysters, so naturally we had to partake in those as well. Thankfully, our hosts picked up the tab (which had to be close to $500 including tip). But it was a pretty epic meal to say the least!
And then, there was the beer.
For my first selection, I went with the evocatively named Bread Zeppelin. A beer for carb junkies and classic rock fans alike, this collaboration between Freigeist Bierkultur and The Publican is a slightly sour amber ale brewed with smoked malt, rye, and approximately 440 pounds of German black bread added directly to the mash. Fermented in a copper-clad, cast-iron open fermenter with a wild yeast strain and a sourdough yeast culture, this was like liquid rye sourdough bread. I was pretty head over heels with this beer, actually.
The other beer I had with dinner was another collaboration beer (this time between Firestone Walker and The Publican) called Pixie Dusted. This American wild ale gets its unique citrusy flavor from Pixie tangerines from Friend’s Ranches. By adding the juice and zest from this fruit to the Publican’s proprietary barrel blend, they concocted this 2018 GABF Silver medal-winning beer. This was another stellar beer that I'm so glad I got to try, because you simply don't come across beers like this on tap too often. After dinner, we said goodbye to Joe and Dimitro and decided what to do, since it was still relatively early (around 8:30 p.m.).
While we were Ubering to dinner, I noticed that Haymarket Brewing was just down the street from The Publican. I suggested stopping in for an after-dinner drink. We were all pretty travel-weary by then, but we mustered up enough strength to swing by for a few small pours. Haymarket was probably my favorite of the Chicago breweries we'd visited during "Drinksgiving: The Chicago Excursion" a few years back.
Since we were Ubering back to the hotel after this stop, I decided to make it count. Upon scanning the beer list, I decided to go with small pours of two high gravity beers. First up was Clare's Right Hook, a barleywine aged in Woodford Reserve Bourbon Barrels for 5 months. At 10.5% ABV, this was actually the lighter of the two beers I ordered. The other, a Belgian-style Quad aged for 11 months in Woodford Reserve DOUBLE oak barrels named Super Sexy Quads, weighed in at 12% ABV. I definitely felt the burn after these two heavy hitters... but in a good way! It was a quick stop, unfortunately, but a quickie is better than nothing, right? Needless to say I was feeling pretty laid back on the way back to the hotel.
The next morning, we met with the Ardagh team and got down to business for a few hours before catching a flight back to Baltimore. I was definitely missing Brewslut and Pleeps at my side, but I'll never turn down an opportunity to visit some breweries... especially on someone else's tab! Until next time...