She’s Crafty, And She’s Just Your Type

21 Mar

I am one of those people who gets a wild hair up her rear and you might as well punch out, go home, take a nap, make a sammich, and call me in the morning because: I got this.

About a year ago, the Chicago winter was releasing its grip and friends began to crawl out from under their blankets. We gathered for BYO brunch which turned into a trek down to one of the best bars (and restaurants) in Chicago, Three Aces. Seriously, this place is in my top 3 Must Visit List for tourists and locals alike. I love everything about it (except for its nuclear bunker-like cell service, pro tip: sit near the windows for a little bit of signal and the outlet you’ll need when your phone spends two hours struggling to make contact with the outside world). As my girl Sabrina and I were sipping our very dark 10 oz goblets of something heavenly or another, we talked about how there were no good girl groups around town for beer appreciation. Sure, there are always plenty of girls gathering to booze it up but very rarely is it anything educational or informative. Most often anything attempting that devolves into giggling or tears before the night is over and I wind up not wanting much to do with the association, thanks.

Well, ok, that’s not entirely true. There are a few national organizations that I won’t name here, but one in particular someone told me to reach out to so I did. It took them two weeks to reply to me and when they did, it was the VP who said that the Pres was very busy with work and wasn’t planning any events anytime soon. Being the pushy opportunistic jerk that I am, I asked if they were in the market for new blood (read: competent, dedicated blood) to which the VP responded that while yes, that would be handy, the Pres wasn’t very willing to surrender the controls at that time. Ok then. I’ll make my own club with lots of events and cool chicks. Done!

Logo finalIntroducing… She’s Crafty: Ladies’ Anti-Temperance League, Chicago. That’s the link to our Facebook page but of course we have a proper website in the works and when it’s up and I’m happy with it, I’ll link it here. The goal, dear ladies, is to give us a place to meet and talk about beers, try ones we’ve meant to, ones we have no desire to, encourage others to get curious, and talk about why it mattes. Having spent the better part of my life in the service industry and having teamed up in this endeavor with a few others who have as well, we have access to a lot of the local breweries and a few have even reached out to see if we’d like to do a few events with them. We have friends who are cicerones and some who are studying to be. We have both amateur and professional brewers who are always happy to talk about it. Most of all, we are a cool group of girls who want to get together and share our love of all things delicious beer.

So with that, my friend, I humbly request that you pass us around. But you know, respectfully and gentle-like. We’re everywhere. Besides Facebook, you can find us on Twitter (@ShesCraftyChgo), Untappd (ShesCraftyChicago), Instagram (shescraftychgo), and in order to get hold of us via email, send something to ShesCraftyChicago@gmail.com and we’ll respond promptly.

AND if you have a connection to a brewer or brewery and you think they might be into what we’re doing, please send them our way. We’re always looking for more locations and event ideas, every suggestion is welcome. Off we go!

Real Surly

1 Mar

Hi there. I’m still gathering my notes from Cleveland, they were rather extensive, so once I have them in some order I’ll post. Also, IT’S FINALLY MARCH! March 2012 was the warmest on record in Chicago and while it’s snowing as I type this, I know that by the end of this month something will be blooming and that first whiff of spring air will send everybody bouncing happily around town. Fingers crossed, everybody.

Today I want to talk about a brewery called Surly because tomorrow at 2pm I will be entering a bar three blocks north and ordering several of their best option: Coffee Bender. The anticipation is causing me to watch the clock like it’s the last day of school and I’m making myself nuts. Especially because it’s Saturday night, it’s only 7 pm, and I have no plans.

surly_girl_logoA little back story: Surly is a lovely, rather small brewery just outside of Minneapolis. I had the great fortune to visit last December and it was one of the better tours and tastings I’ve been to. They’re tucked away in a neighborhood right off a major highway but you might as well be in the sticks. No curbs and gutters, pickup trucks, etc. but as it happens, that brewery has ingrained themselves with their neighbors and the city, maybe even the state, to the point that they pulled out of the major market of Chicago just so they could keep up demand in their hometown. How stand up is that! They had to pass a new law or two that would allow them to build an on-site tasting room next to the brewery which will change the way Minnesota brews from now on. They cleared the location and myriad concerns with their neighbors, and continue to seal the deal by throwing block parties wherein they supply the food and drink, all in surrounding blocks attend. They help with snow removal and small municipal hitches, all to keep the peace. Everybody wins. It might be one of the happiest blocks on earth.

Surly is no different from every other brewery you may have toured. They put the mouthiest, funniest guy on staff in charge of the tours and let him go, beer in hand (and encourages you to get one too, he’ll even give you a break halfway through to let you pee and get another). He dons the standard-issue brewery work shirt with his name stitched on, he tells stories about the build, the equipment, the area, the laws, how their wives and girlfriends are as much to thank for support as the people who drink the beer, and how everyone else’s jobs sure must suck because he gets to do this. Aside from particular elements akin to each brewery, those talks are almost always the same. Every now and again you get someone talking about how beer is made, where it comes from, etc. but the better tours contain the stories of inception (most of which begin with one guy’s burping, bubbling, amateur system in his basement and its ensuing disasters).

Centrifugal force filtration system at Surly Brewing, Minneapolis

Centrifugal force filtration system at Surly Brewing, Minneapolis

There will always be those guys, too. D&D dorks of beer, and you can spot them in every crowd. They wait until the exact moment to ask about canning vs. bottling, hop varietals and shortages, centrifugal filtration systems (hot), water purification methods, malt roasting times, etc. and they are at every single brewery. You get the feeling that, right along with the brewers, these were science club dorks that never really found a niche until they discovered very good beer. And you know what? I admire them, they found a cool, somewhat mainstream outlet that lets them truly nerd out and make people happy in the process. Good on you, geeks.

T2013-11-30 17.41.43he taproom is fairly standard, metal tube furniture and high top tables, a few flat screen televisions on the wall, tile floor, and that rust red paint on the walls. A wooden bar with two sets of tap lines, and a big room of merch for sale off to one side. The tap list I’m sure rotates regularly but when I was there, they were definitely preparing for winter. Lots of stouts, dark ales, spices, chilis, and smoke. I had the Dumpster Fire which while very interesting was way too chili heavy for the pint that was served (12 oz or snifter, I’d have suggested), and in truth I choked down the last three ounces. I also had the Misanthrope which for you sour fans, is probably the beer you’ve been waiting for your whole lives. And while I know for sure I had one more and knowing me it was probably dark, I can’t tell you which. My friend Martin had three I didn’t have, so all together I tried the majority of the list. We here in Chicago get Furious regularly now so I didn’t bother with it (not my favorite).

Enter: my favorite, Coffee Bender (5.1 ABV, $6 16 oz can). This beer has all the things I want in life, at 10 am on a Tuesday. It tastes first and foremost, like coffee. Cold pressed, Coffee_Benderamazing quality coffee. Then the malty, mildly hoppy brown ale comes in. The creamy head acts like the crema from an expertly-pulled cup of espresso. Every sip elicits a sexy half-closed eyelid and a languid, “Mmmmmmmm” from my softening posture. It is a beer I want to slow dance with. It’s rich while being effervescent, slow while delivering that definite coffee punch, and if it was socially acceptable I would pour an entire pint can into my to go mug rather than the brewed Kenya I have in the container on my counter. Truly, it is one of the most beloved beers on my Top Five Desert Island Beers List. It’s not always easy to find, but I completely recommend seeking it out because if you love coffee, if you love dark beers, and if you love America, this is the beer you’ve been searching for and never even knew it.

Find it in your area at Beer Menus (but change the location, that’s set for Chicago). The prices can be shocking, though I suspect it’s cheaper in your neck of the woods, thanks to Chicago’s taxes. Our prices range anywhere from $6-9 per pint can, and four packs anywhere from $10.99 – $16.99.

Next up: I can finally let you in on a secret that’s been in the works for almost a year! Ladies in Chicago who love beer, drop me a line with your contact information or keep an eye out. We have you covered (finally)!

Returning to the Mothership

13 Feb

simpsonsHey remember when I used to drink beers and write about them? Remember when I was all clever and daring and would photograph
my haul then go into detail about whatever I was testing that week? That was fun wasn’t it? Remember that? Yeahhh.

So here we are again, empty promises and teasing. But this time: WITH BEERS. So, my employment status has recently changed and I have all this free time. Free time accompanied by not much funds and horrible weather, albeit. So I’ve been consciously trying to keep myself from drinking my face off every day in spite of a strong desire to, and up until recently spent many an afternoon hunting job boards and reaching the end of the internet. That is, until an amazing benefactor offered me a trip to Cleveland if I buy the ticket. I giddily accepted, and now I am plotting my haul.

In addition to the stalking and capture of Willoughby Brewing Company’s Peanut Butter Cup Porter which will be downed in quantity at the coolest bar/hot dog joint I’ve ever encountered, Happy Dog, I will be stopping at two of my favorite go-to beer shops and putting as many interesting single bottles as I can into a box to bring home with me on the Megabus. According to the friendly customer service agent, the bus is barely half full which means they shouldn’t give me too much grief for bringing an extra carry on. There’s also some new beer restaurant emporium called World of Beers which is apparently a chain, and while that raises a certain lame-o red flag, their list is fairly interesting. There are some pedestrian offerings because you have to have those, but there are some pretty solid ones as well. Buckeye Beer Engine is another favorite, particularly because their list is always changing and they have my beloved 4 oz. tasters that they are always happy to dole out. The staff is incredibly knowledgeable and up for a chat if they aren’t too busy.

And there you have it. The initial list. It just so happens that I will be in Cleveland over a long holiday weekend however, everyone goes back to work on Tuesday and Wednesday so there I am with time to kill. I know by now I’m full of empty promises and 2013 was the year of the letdown but friends, in this noble endeavor I shall not fail you. If you want to keep track of me in real time, friend me on Untappd. My handle there is MoneyPenny, and I’ll also be updating on Twitter from time to time throughout the weekend at Amour_de_Porc, though Untappd will be every beer instead of every bar. When it’s all said and done, I’ll compile my beer list and tasting notes here.

Also, and this is a post for another day, I’m slowly amassing a list of local ladies to form a beer tasting and appreciation society. No name yet and a handful of slogans, but our logo is being created as we speak and we hope our first official meeting will happen in April. Chicago Ladies if you’re out there and you want in, drop a line and I’ll be happy to add you.

Talk soon, beers sooner.

Tis the Season

31 Dec

….for completely ignoring your beer blog. Wow. Sorry, everybody. Hopefully you weren’t holding your breath…

I had some great beers this year, but I have to admit that since moving from Cleveland and not having my own kitchen to consume and photograph, or car with which to fetch new beers to try (for Science), sampling and careful consideration has definitely fallen by the wayside.

I didn’t even drink many Christmas beers this year, how sad. I did have some noteworthy ones though and they are, in no particular order courtesy of my Untappd drinking history:

Serendipity by New Glarus (each batch is different, kind of lambic but not as tart and in large format)
Berghoff Winter Ale (tastes like St. Nick’s tears from laughing too hard)
Stir Crazy Winter Ale (caramel, chocolate, coffee. Very solid)
Deschutes Jubelale (no notes, just that it was on nitro pour and “deeeelicious”)
Surly Brewing’s Misanthrope (sour, had it at the brewery in Minneapolis)
Lift Bridge Brewery and Stillwater’s collaboration beer, Farm Girl Saison (everything he does is great)
New Glarus Moon Man (no notes, but I ordered it a lot so it must be good, creamy IPA I think)
Founders Brewing Breakfast Stout (you cannot go wrong with this ballsy stout)
Rivertown Brewing Co. Pumpkin Ale (not sweet like Pumpking, very balanced)
Solemn Oath Brewery’s Oxford Comma (I gave it five bottlecaps)
Central Waters Brewing Peruvian Morning (“tastes like brownies, oh mama”)
Stillwater Cellar Door Saison (brewed with sage, unfiltered, crisp AND creamy, somehow)

This list goes back to March of 2013 and there are countless others that I forgot to check into along the way, but that should get you started.

And with this halfassed entry, I leave you to celebrate New Years however you see fit. Me? I’ll be taking a disco nap then trudging through the snow to one of my haunts. If I drink anything interesting, I’ll report back. Probably. Happy New Year, friends.

The Longest Break

2 Feb

Unintentional! I promise, I never meant to take this much time away from you (or beer). I moved from Cleveland two months ago and only just started working. March is going to be, and I promise you this, the Renaissance and Rebirth of this silly little journal. I’m within short walking distance of a spectacularly-stocked beer and booze store and while the single bottle selection here isn’t as plentiful or great as in Cleveland, I will certainly make due. I have a list going and it is long. Give me until the first week of March and I’ll be right back with you. Promise. Thanks for hanging in there.

xoxox,
Penny

And the Number of the Counting Shall Be Three

15 Nov

Ok folks, I’ve just taken my first bullet in this Mighty Quest to Find the Most Delicious Autumn Beers and that hideous piece of work is made by a little cider company in Vermont called Woodchuck. They make a “reserve” flavor which is, you guessed it, pumpkin. A 6.9% ABV, $2.19 12 oz bottle of a fizzy mistake. On the nose, it’s a cider. Sweet, a wee bit sour, appley. On first sip? It tastes like something your reclusive uncle made in a pot in his garage. It’s bitter, accidentally boozy, not at all pumpkin and sour. There’s some sweet in there, but it tastes like fake sweet the way things with sucralose try to fool your brain. You know what it’s going for and the stupid part of your head is fooled but way back in the Mensa recess, it knows wassup. I’m actually trying to decide if I should just toss it rather than finish it. It’s almost 7% booze, ‘twould be a sin to dump it right? Probably. Ugh….this is crap. See you later, last two ounces. Bleh. Never again.

Let’s take a soul-affirming break, yes? YES. The most wonderful palette cleanser, easily one of the best beers on the planet Earth and bizarro Earth: Stillwater Of Love and Regret (7.2% ABV, $12.95 for 22oz). I could write an entire entry on Stillwater and may do eventually. It’s fascinating, gypsy brewing. He (brewer Brian Strumke) just bops around the world, borrowing larger brewing facilities and their local yeast, then churns out some of the most layered, tasty, smooth, creamy, dynamic and gorgeous beers a person can enjoy. They’re hard to come by (easier on the east coast and in larger breweries and stores) but when you do, buy them up. In particular, the Stateside Saison, Cellar Door Saison (with sage, what!) and Of Love and Regret. Recently, he’s gotten cheeky and is having some fun naming some of the beers after good old rock songs (Why Can’t IBU? - genius), like a good old former DJ does. It’s spicy, creamy, smooth, it’s like a hug. A hug and a really intense make out session. I used to say that Unibroue Ephemere flows out of the drinking fountains in heaven but now I’m going to say that Of Love and Regret is what we drink at the beginning and end of each shining, perfect day.

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Three more autumn beers left in the kitty and then it’s onto winter or Christmas offerings, I can’t decide. Obviously Christmas will be here and gone a lot quicker than winter brews but given the speed and trajectory of the autumn beer market I have to wonder if by the time I’m ready for the winters, the hefeweiss will be stocked and ready to go. Well, anyway, there’s a good chance that the next time I write I’ll be broadcasting to you from Chicago where I’m set to move in two weeks. It’s home, I know where the good beers are there, and I look forward to bringing you more then. If I don’t see you before, talk to you in December and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

It’s the Just OK Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

6 Nov

Sierra Nevada Tumbler (5.5% ABV, $1.89 single bottle price), an autumn brown ale – if you blindfolded me, I would not know that this beer is anything other than a standard golden (though malt bodied) ale. Nothing suggests fall or brown but a slight bitterness in the linger, and while I’ve never been a big Sierra fan at least it’s not as hoppy-bitter as a lot of their stuff is.

 

 

Breckenridge “After Rakin” Autumn Ale (6.7% ABV, $1.99 single bottle price). Is there anything they don’t do well? I haven’t had a single bad offering from Breckenridge and this is no different. Heavy malt with chocolate and caramel notes, very easy hop. Unfortunately the day I tried it, their website was glitchy and I couldn’t get much of a story. I can’t express how happy I am with this beer. It has no bitter aftertaste that seems to plague most Octoberfest or brown ales, just enough sweetness from the malt to round it out and just enough hop to know it’s beer. Not for hopheads. So far, the in the top five.

Arcadia Ales Jaw Jacker (6% ABV, $1.89 single bottle price) You know? This might be the pumpkin beer I’ve been looking for. Its spice is very subtle but definitely there. The beer part fades fairly quickly but it’s quite well balanced with hops and easy yeast. It’s definitely not sweet or overly-cloved but the nutmeg and cinnamon nose is really delightful. I’m into it, even if I really don’t like the label design (I’m a graphic designer, lest we forget. I’m offended easily and often).

New Holland Ichabod (5.2% ABV, $2.17 single bottle price) Not tremendous. It has a certain bit of peanut on the nose and faintly on the tongue, very beery (brown ale) but not much in the way of spices or pumpkin. The faintest of the pumpkin beers I’ve tried, if I didn’t know it was a pumpkin beer I may not realize it even by the time it’s finished. Unimpressive from the company that produces the whopper that is Dragon’s Milk.

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I didn’t think Pumpkin/Autumn beer season was over already, being only early November, but when I tried to pick up one or two more to add to the test pile I found only single bottles of Christmas Ale. I have a few more fall offerings to try and I am very open to suggestions if you have them, please leave them as comments. I want to try The Bruery’s Autumn Maple and revisit Abita’s Pecan ale.

And as I write this, America has just re-elected our 44th president. Living this election year in the swing state of Ohio and only ever previously voting in Illinois (a steadfast, no chance of change Democratic state), the air was charged with the knowledge that each of our votes actually counted. It was a pretty special feeling, actually. I had a bottle of Stillwater Stateside Saison chilling for the moment however it’s late and I think it would have gone to partial waste so I’ll crack it open tomorrow evening and toast my friends all over the country who are doing victory dances.

Who Put the Punk in Pumpkin?

1 Nov

It’s fall and you know what that means: knee socks, impending snow, flannel sheets, slippery fallen leaves, picturesque wooded drives, the slide towards the holiday season and pumpkin everything. This has, in recent years, included beer. Lots and lots of beer. Seemingly, if you’re a brewery which kicks out more than five types annually then one of those must include something with a preponderance of clove, nutmeg and cinnamon. And I guess pumpkin. Kinda.

As my love of beer has grown and my tastebuds have matured, I’ve noticed a glaring truth amongst the pumpkin beer genre which seems to go unspoken more often than not: this stuff is way more carrot cake than pumpkin, and way more carrot cake and pumpkin than beer. The spicier and more cake-flavored, the more popular. If I order a gingerbread latte from a particular popular coffee chain and love it, I’d argue that it’s not the taste of the espresso I love. It’s clearly the gingerbread flavoring (or at best the combination of the two even if the proportion is 70%/30% in favor of syrup).

Thus, our first taste subject:

Southern Tier Pumking (8.5% ABV, $2.30 single bottle price). Arguably, the king (if you will) of pumpkin beers. It’s not everywhere but where it is, it sells out and quickly. Bars can get away with selling it anywhere from an imperial pint for $4, to a 10oz. goblet for $10. Astonishingly the people will pay it and I know this because last Saturday night while on a Halloween bar crawl, I was one of those. That $4 pint by the way, is what I normally pay when I order it (which is not often). If I order beer, I want beer. I want hops, malt, yeast, fizz, cold. Not cake. The residual flavor is spice, the mouthfeel is thicker than a pilsner but not nearly a Belgian or even a red. The flavor is the dominant feature here, and for my money there are far more interesting beers on the shelf or in the tap. It’s fine for a 10oz pour, ideal even, but I could never have two in a row. Pumking is, to be blunt, the Sbucks Pumpkin Latte of beers: a creature unto itself not closely resembling its source beverage.

And then we have Dogfish Head’s offering: Punkin Ale (7% ABV, $2.59 single bottle price). Now this is a weird beer. For  everything I just said: I want a pumpkin beer to taste like beer with just a wee bit of spice, I kind of now take back. This is a very beery pumpkinish beer. The slightest hint of spices and flavorings are at first sip and they remain on the tongue for a while after, but the middle is just a kind of flavorless ale – though to be fair the bottle’s verbiage toes the line of pumpkin and brown ales. The flavor improves as the temperature rises, or at least the individual flavors become a bit more pronounced anyway. It has a nice sparkle and good body but I wouldn’t put it on my top three. The search continues…

Headless, a little Hopeless (but not hopless)

12 Sep

Shame. My head hangs in shame. I meant for us to go through summer brews, I promise I did. And I did go through them, just… without you. I’m sorry.

Today though, I popped into my local single-bottle purveyor and here we are. I haven’t started yet but when I do, you WILL be along for the ride. Especially since I have no love for pumpkin beers and all I can say is that if this is a labor lost I’ll be frustrated. Frustrated not because of lost attempts, but frustrated because these beers are palette destroyers and I will have to take lots of water breaks between each one. This is going to take a while… good thing it’s only September. Hang in. I’ll be right back.

Wait For It

25 Mar

I’ve been busy. I turned in my time sheet yesterday and logged about 96 hours in 11 days, 56 of them were in the last four. If there was ever a time for a beer, it’s now. I’ve been drinking them, I just haven’t been telling you. Not that I’m being secretive, it’s more that when I come home from work, I plop on the couch with a sigh or an “UGH”, crack the brew open, drink about two thirds of it and then wake up on the couch at 6:30 am with the lights and tv still on as well as maybe a shoe. It’s been rough.

That said, I have at least five I want to talk to you about and will as soon as I get it together. I’m about to run some errands so whilst out, I’ll pick a few more up and we’ll make it a cracking big entry. How’s that? Cheers!

(Can you tell I’ve been watching a lot of BBC?)

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