Chicago is big and brash and like most cities in America, laid out on a grid pattern, which makes navigation easy, though there seems to be an assumption that everyone carries a compass in their head. Knowing North, South, East and West is kind of assumed, but once you figure that out, it is straightforward. There is an excellent and cheap public transit system and buses fill in the gaps. Main metro lines run all night. And there are pubs, though the good ones aren't particularly near each other and while there is good food, a liking for pizza and burgers is a distinct advantage in brewpubs. Apart from the transport, nothing is very cheap and beer servings are small, rarely even being as much as 16oz, the US pint. Measures are vague and described variously as snifter, half, tulip, imperial, pint, glass, Willi, or in ounces. Short measure is the rule. You get what you are given.
So now we have the basics, let's talk about the beer itself. Recently there has been much discussion about how American craft beer is getting seriously (and dangerously) too strong. This case seems well supported by Chicago and one that does tend to have you scratching your head as to what to drink. A five percent beer there is a rarity, a sub five percent one almost non existent. And here I must shatter a myth. People do like to have a drink and they do like to have one or two more than one or two. There was a lot of beer being drunk. Conversations - and Americans are pretty friendly people - elicit that a lot of people do think it is out of hand and getting worse. It seems hard to get into an American brewer's head, that flavour doesn't have to come from alcohol. It is my observation that at the craft beer scene, this hell for leather dash for strength, is brewer not customer driven. My American friends are used to this, but they too would like a bit more lower strength stuff. Our outing to the Map Room (great place) meant that Alpha King was one of the weakest beers all day at 6%. And we were there for quite a few hours. It makes it dangerously easy to get completely pissed. Fortunately a few pints of the delicious Allagash White, made life a little easier, but even this is 5.5% (not 5% as in the picture). See what I mean?
There was one honourable exception. Goose Island Brewing where I went on Sunday, while my mates went to baseball and got thoroughly soaked and cold). There you could get a 3.2% mild or a 3.5% bitter in English style, while there were other beers of drinkable strength too, for example Honkers at 4.2%. More of Goose Island in a subsequent post.
I know it is a different culture and that you might argue that you could have samplers - we did sometimes - or small measures - we did- or just drink less - well we did as you simply can't swoop such strong beers(though sometimes we did), but really, have a look at the beer menu above and ask yourself if it is sensible or balanced? I know that you will reply that it isn't meant to be, but if Goose Island see the merit in it, there must be some call for it surely?
Of course we could just have drank Bud/Miller/Coors, but that was never on the cards, so strong beer it was, but we'd have liked a choice.
Since this subject is topical I thought it was worth an airing.Next posts will be all positive as I had a fantastic time.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink.
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