Chicago brews can beat the best in the world.

A panel of experts tests our best beers.
 (Photograph: Nicole Radja)
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Photograph: Nicole RadjaElliott Beier
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Photograph: Nicole RadjaRandy Mosher
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Photograph: Nicole RadjaShelby L. Hatch, PhD
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Photograph: Nicole RadjaBeer tasting at the Time Out Chicago offices
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Photograph: Nicole RadjaBeer tasting at the Time Out Chicago offices
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Photograph: Nicole RadjaBeer tasting at the Time Out Chicago offices
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Photograph: Nicole RadjaBeer tasting at the Time Out Chicago offices
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Photograph: Nicole RadjaBeer tasting at the Time Out Chicago offices
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Photograph: Nicole RadjaBeer tasting at the Time Out Chicago offices
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Photograph: Nicole RadjaBeer tasting at the Time Out Chicago offices
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Photograph: Nicole RadjaBeer tasting at the Time Out Chicago offices
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Photograph: Nicole RadjaBeer tasting at the Time Out Chicago offices
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Photograph: Nicole RadjaBeer tasting at the Time Out Chicago offices
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Photograph: Nicole RadjaBeer tasting at the Time Out Chicago offices
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Photograph: Nicole RadjaBeer tasting at the Time Out Chicago offices
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Photograph: Nicole RadjaBeer tasting at the Time Out Chicago offices
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Photograph: Nicole RadjaBeer tasting at the Time Out Chicago offices
By Julia Kramer |
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The test We trap three beer experts at TOC headquarters for a blind tasting that pits four local beers against their much-lauded national or international counterparts. Without knowing what they’re tasting, panelists pick their favorites from each pairing. The results? Not all three local brews come out on top, but we do get some proof that we drink Two Brothers, Half Acre and Goose Island not just because they’re made nearby—but because they taste better.


The judges
Elliott Beier

Certified cicerone and beer director at Owen & Engine (2700 N Western Ave, 773-235-2930)
Shelby L. Hatch, Ph.D.

Lecturer at Northwestern University; conducted the Illinois Science Council’s “Chemistry of Beer” workshop
Randy Mosher

Author of Tasting Beer, Radical Brewing and The Brewer’s Companion; craft-beer brand consultant; Siebel Institute faculty member


THE CHICAGO CHALLENGER
Two Brothers Cane & Ebel
hatch
“It’s hoppy, but also sweet, with that malty, sweet flavor.”
mosher
“I like the brightness of it—not really acidic, but slightly sharp. Cuts through all that rich maltiness.”

THE DEFENDING CHAMPION
Founders Red’s Rye PA
(Grand Rapids, Michigan)
beier
“It has a big hop, juicy—it’s juicy with hops.”
mosher
“I found the finish maybe a touch oxidized, like the beer’s got a little age on it. Not really objectionable, but a little woody, leathery.”

THE SCORE
Two Brothers 2-1. Beier likes both beers but prefers Founders: “I’m a sucker for hops,” he says. Hatch and Mosher both go with Two Brothers, with Mosher citing “the creaminess” and “the complex malt character.”


THE CHICAGO CHALLENGER
Goose Island Sofie
beier
“It’s lighter, a little more refreshing.”
hatch
“It’s almost effervescent.”
mosher
“It’s very Belgian to me. It’s a really great Belgian kick-your-ass summer beer.”

THE DEFENDING CHAMPION
Saison Dupont (Belgium)
beier
“I get a lot of phenol [clovey flavor derived from particular yeasts], especially in the finish. It almost turns smoky.”
mosher
“It’s a little dirty, a little earthy.”
hatch
“There was something very bitter at the end—not in the same way that I usually experience [hops].”

THE SCORE
Goose Island 3-0.
“I don’t mind the bitterness [of Saison Dupont], but I think [Sofie] is a more intriguing beer; it has a lot more going on in it,” Mosher says. “I like them both,” Beier adds, “but [Sofie] is more approachable, more palatable and much more interesting.”


THE CHICAGO CHALLENGER
Half Acre Daisy Cutter
hatch
“The hop aroma is almost mintlike.”
mosher
“There’s a load of hops on the nose, but it’s not that bitter on the palate. I get more sage, piney sage-brush and deserty aromas.”

THE DEFENDING CHAMPION
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (Chico, California)
beier
“It’s definitely got a lot more complexity to it. It’s something I would really enjoy on a spring day.”
mosher
“This one’s got less hop aroma, but maybe equal or slightly more bitterness. It’s got more caramelized sugar, slightly sweet.”
hatch
“[This one] has a lot more fruit to it. It’s more appley.”

THE SCORE
Tie. “I probably would like a blend of the two more than I like either one,” Mosher says, before conceding a “mild preference” for Half Acre. Beier says Sierra Nevada has “more complexity to it,” and Hatch notes each has its virtues. “Different circumstances would have me like one or the other better,” she says.

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