Friday, November 20, 2009

Metro, NHC Winter Brew Off

Its been a good couple of days for beer up here in Chicago's "Little Sweden". On Wednesday the fine folks over at Metropolitan Brewing sold me an empty keg, helped me make it into a boil kettle, tried some of my homebrew and even let me sample the new Dopplebock. It is great, smooth and malty with little hint of the 8+% abv under the hood. The whole crew were also all that is gracious in showing me around and making me feel at home. As I live a scant 1.5 blocks from the brewery, I hope to see them around.

Last night Metro had a release party for the Dopplebock at In Fine Spirits, where I hadn't been before. It was a great time, and I'm a few pins and a lot of knowledge richer (also some tasty samples). The Dopplebock casoulet sounded good, but I had to run to another local bar for the Northside Homebrewer's Connection winter brew-off. Winner got a cash prize and to make their beer at the bar. Spoiler, it wasn't our porter, but the winning beer was very good, a nice muddy stout (their words, not mine) with loads of chocolate, some vanilla and a a medium-thin base of what I gather was an American LME. The effect was entrancing, in that sometimes it was clearly chocolate (especially in the aroma) whereas the flavor moved from chocolate to peanut butter to a good clean finish. The bittering levels were on point to show off the pyrotechnics of the brew.

I kept getting asked what my favorite was, but I can't say I know. I certainly enjoyed our own beer, an aggressive American Robust Porter and my first foray into Ahtanum hops, which are flowery to the point of pollen and are my new obsession. These are one of the secret ingredients to the 21st Amendment's Back in Black IPA, one of my five favorite beers. Our porter was just a porter, a few people kindly remarked it was the one beer they could see having more than one pint of, as opposed to the other more extreme (maybe radical) beers on tap that night, not as a slight to those beers, but to note the delineation between radical and not-radical, if I had to pick a nomenclature.

The second place beer was a great brown ale. I didn't notice the extremeness right away, but I'm told it was a heavy dose of palm sugar. It just tasted like a good, rather sweet, moderately bitter, low hopped brown ale. I'm hoping they put the recipe out there some time. The other brown ale (But Wait There's More... Billy Mays Brown Ale) was bourbon barreled, which was pretty obvious right away. The backing beer was nicely done and showed off the whiskey immensly. Ted (the fearless leader) and his team ran up a fun and funny Coal Porter, which was, oxymoronically, smoky. For those who don't follow malt production, the use of coke to make malt is when beers stopped being smoky. It is a quadruple pun as a result (can you get all 4?). The smoke was a surprise, but pleasant, well balanced into the beer and not overwhelming. The beer stood up well to the added pizzaz, though that is not a surprise given Ted's talents. I can't say much about the host beers at Hamburger Mary's as my pallete and thirst were overwhelmed by the homebrew on display and I didn't have many. I will fix that soon enough (turns out, they get a lot of steelers lovers up there).

As a loyal Southsider in comfortable exile way on the northside, I sometimes feel weird being in both clubs. No one else seems to care, at all, but I notice some crazy difference between them. I think one is the attitude to beer. The southside club is very style and technique oriented, but having a quorum of BJCP judges and both award winning and pro brewers as current or former members will do that to you. The North Side club is very experimental, with people always pushing the envelope to make beers they can't buy elsewhere and no one else ever came up with. Mind you, they also have a cadre of award winners and pros. Maybe it is the proximity of the meetings to the most radical brewer of them all that brings out the weird. The major difference for me is in what people want when you have their beer. I think this comes with age, the NHC is a much younger club and I don't know any of them well, I'm not sure they know each other that well either. Their is more formal politeness and the beer evaluation focuses on what is good. The food, also, was amazing at the meeting I made. The southside group are old friends, brewing together for ten plus years. Punches are not pulled and criticism is the mandate of the day. I like both, though I'm naturally suited to the latter. Learning the former is a good lesson for me, but being asked, "what do you think of this beer" remains a hard question to answer.

Remember, we are hosting this month's Fermentation Friday, where we ask about your homebrew community. We'll take submissions all next week and will post our wrap-up on Monday, November 30th. Also, remember that our top referee between November 1st and the end of the year gets a JABB care package.

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