BEER CLINIC :: Old Friends and New Beers, from Local to Global

by Dr. Carol Westbrook on August 30, 2014

This summer we visited two of our old friends in the Midwest: Constant Springs, in Goshen, IN, and The Map Room, in Chicago. Back when I lived full time in the Midwest, we were regulars at both of these bars; now, as tourists we visited with high expectations–and we were not disappointed.

Our very own mugs

Our very own mugs

Constant Spring hasn’t changed much since we left Goshen in 2011. Our favorite bartender, Mark, remembered us, and he even found our old beer mugs, though he had to go down to the cellar to retrieve them. The bar crowd was congenial as usual, but it was quiet, since there were no college students (or faculty) around in mid-summer. As usual, their 18 taps featured a selection of regional craft beer, craft ciders, and of course PBR (in deference to the hipsters). I was pleased to see that rotating spots on their draft list were filled with Michiana-based IPAs, all of which seemed to be in contention for the sacred spot held by Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale, from Kalamazoo. Since Two-Hearted is my favorite IPA, and I judged the beer accordingly.

First we tried Dark Horse Brewery’s July release for its”Crooked Tree” line, #eertdekoorc. Don’t let the name put you off, it is just “crooked tree” spelled backwards. The current release of #eertdekoorc was hopped with Falconer, a proprietary hop blend consisting of Northwest hops, at 6.7% ABV. This is a strong hop mix with pronounced citrus flavor. The only tasting note I jotted down “weird but otherwise drinkable”.

Next, Flat 12 Bierwerks’ Unicycle IPA, 6% ABV, a single pale ale from Indianapolis. This brew claims to have an IBU of 104, but I don’t believe the alpha acid content is that high, it just doesn’t taste it. In fact, I found it was quite bland even for a Pale Ale. It was not in contention.

Room at the bar at Constant Spring

Room at the bar at Constant Spring

Founders All-Day IPA, from Grand Rapids Michigan, was also on draft, and it’s an excellent session IPA, at 4.7% ABV. Yes, you can drink it all day, and it’s widely available; we didn’t taste it today, too many others to cover. It still doesn’t beat out Two-Hearted, in my opinion.

Finally we tasted the dubiously named Starchicken Shotgun IPA from Greenbush Brewery, in Sawyer Michigan. Brewed with five different hops and a solid 73 IBUs, it was an IPA through and through. At 6.8% ABV the pour looked identical to Two-Hearted, and was similar in bitterness and aroma as well. But, the hops were a bit sharper, and the flavor was more intense and delightful, with a profound finish. In our somewhat biased blind comparison it beat out Two-Hearted!

As the evening wore on, we felt more and more at home, we saw a few familiar faces, and we washed our beer down with the always-available free popcorn. Besides the popcorn, Constant Spring has a fabulous menu, all locally sourced; much of it is organic, with good vegetarian selections. They also serve a highly regarded burger produced from beef raised locally in small farms. All in all, we had great time savoring Indiana and Michigan IPAs.

The Map Room, Chicago

The Map Room, Chicago

At our next beer stop, The Map Room in Chicago, we went from regional to global, sampling beers from both coasts, Germany and The Netherlands, with a bit of England and new Zealand thrown in. The Map Room is Chicago’s premier beer bar. With its 27 taps and a beer engine, and its emphasis on draft barrels from around the world, The Map Room is a must for visiting beer geeks. Since it opened, the surrounding area has gentrified, and the Map Room now has the same shortcomings as many popular Chicago bars — it’s too crowded, difficult to get a seat at the bar, a beer-knowledgeable bartender who is too busy to talk, it’s a long walk to public transport, and parking is virtually impossible. Worse yet, it has no kitchen, so if you are planning on a night of serious drinking you will have to dine before you go, or order food to be delivered from the now-yuppie surrounding restaurants. In spite of this, the place was jammed, as usual. Make no mistake; the reason to go to the Map Room is to taste beer. And that we did.

Our first pour was a very good Trappist ale, LaTrappe’s Isid’Or, an unfiltered amber ale, with a classic sweet flavor, with the Belgian yeast coming through but not overwhelming. It was served in a small pour, though I’m not sure why because at 7.5% ABV it was not as strong as many of the IPAs. Strictly speaking, this is a Dutch (not Belgian) ale, but LaTrappe is affiliated with an active monastery, and is one of only eight remaining Trappist breweries.

indexOur next beer was the room’s featured draft for the month, Firestone Walker’s Easy Jack. This was a wonderful beer from Paso Robles, CA, a beautifully hopped session IPA (4.5% AV). It was crystal clear, light colored, sparkly effervescent; the malt balance was a hodgepodge–American Pale Malt, Munich Malt, Malted Wheat, English Carmel-35, Cara Pils, Rolled Oats–but it worked, with a crisp taste without overpowering malt taste. The hop blend was challenging: Bavarian Mandarina, Hallertau Melon, Blend of New Zealand, and American Mosaic. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the German-origin hops are not noble hops, in spite of German names, but rather are German cultivars of American hops. They are part of the recent move by Hallertau growers to come up with very flavorsome high alpha hop varieties to try and compete with new world growers. The big surprise was the aroma, which the brewers describe as “massive.” I have to agree, and also wonder which hop carried the day for the aroma. This is a helluva beer.

Speaking of Germany, I was pleased to find Bamberg ale on draft, since I hadn’t had the opportunity to try one while in Germany this summer. I was expecting a Marzen (smokebeer) but the Schlenkerin Helles was a helles (German lager) made without smoked barley. There was a surprising bit of smoke in the flavor, though, which the brewer attributes to the fact that it is boiled in the same copper kettles and uses the same yeasts as the Marzen. At 4.3% ABV it can be considered a session helles, though I would be hard pressed to drink more than one, since the smoke flavor gets tiring after a while.

imagesFor session ales, nothing beats an English bitter. I totally love traditional English bitters, but they are hard to find on draft even in England, let alone the US, because they don’t travel well. I was anxious to try the The Bitter Brewer Ale, from Surly (New York), created in the style of an English bitter. Although a very good session beer, at 4% ABV, it missed the mark for a bitter because it was a bit too heavy and sweet for the style. On the other hand, Surly’s web site claims that this is “not really a British bitter,” probably because it is hopped (and heavily dry- hopped) with American hops to an IBU of 37. That’s about twice what I would expect in an English ale, and I would expect an assortment of English hops, such as Fuggles and Kent Golding, rather than American. Still, it was a very good tasting malt-forward beer, and sure to appeal to the non-IPA crowd.

By now, we had tasted 4 drafts, and it was time to leave. At this rate it would take us a week to finish sampling all of the Map Room’s offerings. For me, this is reason enough to return to the Midwest.

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