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The Beer Thinker: Craft Favorites

In honor of Chicago Craft Beer Week, running May 16 to May 26, here is a list of a few of my favorite Chicago beer things:

Favorite Chicago Beers of 2013 So Far: Spiteful Ghost Bike and Malevolence; 18th Street Brewery Sinister' Pipeworks Raspberry Truffle Abduction; Begyle Neighborly Stout.

Favorite Chicago Beers of 2012: Revolution Very Mad Cow and E. Norma Gene; Goose Island Baudoinia; Half Acre Big Hugs, Two Tugs and Akari Shogun; Pipeworks Coffee Break Abduction; Finch Secret Stache Stout and Fascist Pig.

Favorite Chicago Craft Brewery of 2012: Pipeworks Brewing. They made a commitment to produce new brews at a breakneck pace, and the results have been interesting - sometimes great (their Abduction series of stouts; their Ninja series featuring different breeds of hops), sometimes less so (their Berliners and a cranberry holiday beer were ambitious, but maybe a little over the top).

Either way, they set the pace for what turned out to be a breakthrough year for craft beer in Chicago. At a time, when everyone in town was looking for something new every week, Pipeworks was delivering.

Favorite Chicago Craft Brewery of 2013: Spiteful Brewing. Spiteful's G.F.Y. Stout got all the notice before the brewery really got going, but the rest of its lineup, including Ghost Bike, Malevolence Russian Imperial Stout, Bitter Biker IPA, and Burning Bridges Brown Ale, is where the attention really belongs.

Favorite Chicago Craft Beer Bar: Fischman Liquors & Tavern, 4780 N. Milwaukee Ave. Sure, this has a lot to do with it being very close to home for me, but the Fisch is also unique among the throng of increasingly popular craft beer bars for (so far) hanging onto its identity as a neighborhood "slashie," where you're as likely to find an old guy drinking Pabst without irony as you are to find a young craft brewery employee sipping Evil Twin Imperial Biscotti Break.

Favorite Chicago Craft Beer Store: Capone's Liquor & Food, 3678 N. Elston. First of all, it's nearly impossible to choose one from among a long list that also includes West Lakeview Liquors (knowledgeable staff, extensive European selection), Fischman's (nice community vibe), The Beer Temple (smart owner, modern look and feel, tight craft focus), Puerto Rico Food & Liquors (great neighborhood place, zero elitist attitude), Cardinal Liquors (big selection), Binny's (ditto), Golden Leaf (nice staff who remember regulars), Bottle & Cans (best place for a build-your-own-six pack), and more. They are all fantastic in different ways, but Capone's seems to me to have the broadest and deepest selection specifically of Chicago brews - not only everything that everyone in Chicago is brewing, but also enough of it that new arrivals usually last past the first hour on the shelves.

Favorite Chicago Craft Beer Event: Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer. The Illinois Craft Brewers Guild knows how to put on a party, and chose the right place - the aptly-named Skyline Loft at the Bridgeport Arts Center. Huge room, nice view, very well organized, and most importantly, a lot of new and experimental beers you won't find anywhere else.

Favorite Chicago Craft Beer Surprise: Flesk Occam's Razor Smash. For this I'll go outside the city limits to west suburban Lombard, where Flesk Brewing has been doing some interesting stuff in recent months, the topper being this single-malt, single-hop beer that is simple, clean, crisp, and refreshing. It's like a macrobrew re-imagined by someone with a soul.

Favorite Craft Beer of 2013 From Outside The Chicago Area: Lakefront Bridge Burner Special Reserve Ale, Milwaukee. I'm not sure if this is more an amber or a strong ale, as some Beer Advocate folks describe it, or something else, but it has many layers of flavor - earthy, kind of nutty, sweet like dried fruit, maybe even a little chocolatey, and finally just a little hoppy. It's hard these days to find something that doesn't immediately taste like something else, but when I tasted Bridge Burner a month ago, the first word that came to mind was "unique."

Favorite Chicago Craft Beer Trend: Riffing on Belgian and French influences. Sure, Goose Island and Two Brothers have been doing this for years, and other new breweries have popped up with Belgian inspiration as part of their mission statement, but it's cool to see so many takes on Belgian IPAs, Belgian Ryes, Dubbels, Biere de Gardes and more. They prove you can describe a beer as bready, sour or tasting of dried fruit and actually mean that you like it.

Least Favorite Chicago Craft Beer Trend: Wax-dipped bottles. Like the Belgian/French movement, it's not just a local thing, but I would love to see the local guys take a stand against it. It makes opening a beer a messy pain in the butt, and I actually cut my finger once while trying to open a wax top that seemed to have hardened into cement. Sometimes it serves a purpose to mark different batches of beers, but to me it's a nuisance that is going to result in wax flakes on the counter, on the floor and possibly in my beer.

Beer Wire
* The official Chicago Craft Beer Week schedule.

* Chicago magazine interviews the cicerone at Bangers & Lace.

* Slate features a bitter beer manifesto against the hops mafia.

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Previously in The Beer Thinker:
* Tapping Lincoln Square
* Size Matters
* Lagunitas Changes Everything
* Make Beer, Not War
* Collaboration Brewing
* Summer Brew
* Mothership Goose
* The Pumpkin Is A Fruit, An Ale And A Lager
* Barreled Over

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Dan O'Shea is The Beer Thinker. He welcomes your comments.



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Posted on May 17, 2013


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