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2005-07-01 - 6:23 a.m.
July is American beer month! Support your local breweries! If you need some help with supporting local breweries, I have just about all the resources you could ever want. I'll even categorize them for you! Just put down that nasty sweet fruity drink or the Bud Light, and step away quickly.
So you think you're not a beer person...
There are plenty of people out there who think beer must equal nasty bitterness. This so incredibly far from the truth. While I personally hate sweet drinks, I fully understand that plenty of people have a sweet tooth! So I'll list a couple of common complaints about beer, and then recommend some options.
Bitter! - Not all beer is bitter. The hops (they give beer its bitter taste) were originally added to beer partially as a preservative. India Pale Ales (IPAs) are one of the hoppiest types of beer out there, because they were LOADED with hops so that they would last the long, hot sea journey from England to India. They also help balance the cloying sweetness of straight malt. My husband had a hop-less beer while in China, and said it was very obvious proof that hops are necessary to beer. If you hate bitterness, you'll want to start out with beers that have a lot of other tastes to counteract it. A few good ones:
Belgian Trippel - a very complex beer that has some fruity overtones.
Berliner Weisse - A sour beer that can have sweetening syrups added. Without syrup, it tastes to me like a combination wheat beer, chardonnay, and lemonade. A bar in Chicago (Piece)carries a Berliner Weisse, but they market it as a "Beermosa" and mix it with orange juice. We got a strange look when we ordered it straight, but it's all personal preference.
Wheat Beers (click on "Summer Ale" when you go to that link. It's Flash, so I can't make it go where I want) - whether Belgian, German, or American, these are the most easy-drinking and universally enjoyed beers around. I'm most familiar with the Bavarian Hefeweizens (having brewed one or two in my day), which have overtones of bananas and cloves. It's very refreshing, and it comes from the yeast instead of from adding actual flavoring.
Fattening! - Nope. Beer may make you hungry, but some low-fat pretzels or popcorn are great for that. Also, it's lower in calories than wine or milk. Moderation in everything, but beer itself does not make you fat.
Not Cool! - If you think that what you drink makes you cool, I can't help you. Move along.
Brewpubs Sorted Geographically. And Alphabetically, Too.
So, now that you're all pumped about the beer drinking, where should you go to support those local breweries? I'm going to qualify this by saying that I'm only going to list places from which I have sampled their beer, and in some cases I have been there but just didn't find anything too exceptional so I'm leaving them out in the interest of time. So feel free to email me others -- I'm more than up for advice about breweries.
-Alaskan Brewing - Alaskan Amber is great. I don't remember too much about the other beers, but go there anyway. You'll like it.
-Coopersmiths - A brewpub in Fort Collins. Their Horsetooth Stout is pretty darn enjoyable, and their Sigda's Green Chili beer is fun one as well.
-New Belgium - A microbrewery in Fort Collins. This is the place that inspired my husband and I to start homebrewing ourselves -- take a brewery tour (with a free tasting that'll get you good and tipsy -- especially if you're not used to the Colorado atmosphere*) and you might end up wanting to yourself. You really can't go wrong with any of their beers, but a seasonal offering called Biere de Mars is my favorite.
-Odell's - Also in Fort Collins. Easy Street Wheat is one of my favorite commercially produced wheat beers. It's nice and cloudy and refreshing.
-Left Hand & Tabernash Brewing - Located in Longmont, Colorado, this brewery also has a brew-pub attached. It's been a while, so I can't remember my favorites. But I do remember that I liked everything I tried, so head on over if you're in the area.
Kalamazoo Brewing Company - The famous Bell's Oberon is from here. I haven't been to the actual brewery, but if you're ever unsure of what beer to order and you're in the Midwest? It's a perfect backup plan.
Flossmoor Station - GREAT beer. These guys are big supporters of my homebrewing club, and they deserve to be high on anyone's list of great beers. The only drawback is that they're a bit out of the way for people in the North and West suburbs. They're about two inches from the Metra stop, however, so get there!
Goose Island - definitely the most famous Chicago microbrewery. Most of their beers are a little mellow for me -- I feel like they're catering to the crowd who doesn't want too much crazy taste, but still wants to be drinking a microbrew. That being said, they have tasty beer and it's easy to get in the Chicago area. So get some.
Harrison's - Good beer, good food. Great location if you end up in the Orland/Tinley areas.
Rock Bottom Brewery - Probably my favorite brewery in Chicago. Yes, they're a chain, but this location's beer is all brewed by the brilliant brewmaster here in Chicago. Their brewer's dinners are legendary. I just drooled a little, I think.
Three Floyds - This is one of the few on this list that I haven't yet been to. I have had some of their beer at a homebrewing club function (they're great supporters as well), and it's great. We've been meaning to head out there to meet up with some college friends, but it's disgustingly difficult to find a good time to do that.
Lakefront Brewery - In beautiful downtown Milwaukee. This brewery is our friends' absolute top number one favorite anywhere. And we just kick ourselves all the time for never getting up there to do a brewery tour with them. They really do have great beer, so I would imagine a brewery tour being just spectacular.
New Glarus Brewing Company - I've also never been into this brewery, but they have pretty enjoyable beer. I haven't had any that quite made me drool, but I enjoy all of the ones I've sampled and always try more when going into Wisconsin liquor stores.
*Colorado is at a higher elevation than most of the US, and therefore the air is thinner. So alcohol has a greater effect. On the plus side, when you get used to drinking there and then spend a weeked at a lower elevation, you'll be able to drink anyone you know under the table. Not that I've ever done that or anything.
So now you want to start making it?
Making good beer is neither hard nor expensive. It is actually pretty easy, and quite cheap. It requires some attention to detail, a bit of a monetary outlay at the beginning for equipment (~75 - 100 dollars), and a love for beer. Or even just making things. It's much like a huge frightening science experiment when you think about it. My kids are SO making beer for their science fairs.
I recommend the following if you'd like to start making your own beer (or wine or mead):
-Find a homebrew store. A good one, where they know what they're doing and are ready and willing to help you with any question no matter how dumb. If you're in the Chicago area, go to Bev Art Brewer and Winemaker Supply. It may be a bit of a trek if you live up north (heck, it's kind of a trek for us!) since it's in Beverly, the farthest southwest Chicago neighborhood, but it's worth it. They also have their own meadery (and if you haven't tried mead, you need to) and offer on-site brewing and winemaking classes. If you're not in Chicago, a great resource is Northern Brewer. They're based in Minnesota (the Twin Cities), and they do mail order (FAST, too) as well as a great online forum that can help you get more familiar with the process.
-Join a homebrew club. This is a great place to ask questions as well, but the main reasons to join are 1.) You get to sample other peoples' beverages and see just how great your beer can become, and 2.) It's fun. It'll keep you interested and is motivation to keep brewing.
-Read up on it. There is just a massive amount of brewing resources available. A great basic (yet detailed and interesting) reference on the subject of brewing is Radical Brewing. It's not as much of a how-to manual as a great reference for what can be done with the hobby of homebrewing. Honestly, I don't like a lot of how-to manuals for brewing. I feel like they're too confusing, and most of what they talk about doesn't make sense until you do it. But The Complete Joy of Homebrewing is a good overview. Don't let it confuse you, just pull out your equipment and follow along.
Below are some web resources. It's an incomplete list, but it'll get you started.
beertown.org - don't forget to sign up for your free bumper sticker!
Brew Your Own Magazine
All About Beer Magazine
Beer Tools - for creating your own recipes.
White Labs Brewers Yeast
Beer Serves America - info on the economic impact and community involvement of the U.S. Brewing Industry
Beer Hunter - travels, tasting notes, beer culture, etc.
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