The beer will channel springtime...even during the polar vortex.
By Karl Klockars
I’ve quite had enough of this winter.
Thanks to polar vortex II (and the aforementioned busted leg), I spent about 80 consecutive hours indoors between Saturday–Wednesday, and eventually started to go a little squirrelly. It was somewhere around Tuesday afternoon that I started to crave what amounts to the taste of springtime for me and many others: Bell’s Oberon.
Sadly, that won’t be released for a couple of months, but it did prompt me to grab one of the newer brands from the Kalamazoo brewery. I’ve been chasing their Oarsman Berliner Weisse for a while now—it’s never been quite as tart as the first one I tried, but I keep checking and hoping—but the sunny blue sky of the Smitten Rye Golden Ale suckered me in. It’s not summer in a bottle the way Oberon is, but it’s enough to carry me through a few more of these negative-temperature days.
Smitten pours a hazy copper gold as you’d imagine, with a nice ongoing sparkle of carbonation. A pillowy head quickly dissipates but leaves a nice lingering lace and the light body makes this quite easy to drink during your 72nd hour on the couch. The flavor starts sharp, sharp, sharp from the rye and the hops, with rye continuing like a knife through the finish while some bready malts trickle up at the end. Prickly like a stiff winter wind, the bitterness carries you through to the next sip, with a little bit of lemony pucker in the mix for good measure. It’s not super complex, but it’s got enough to give you a little to think about.
All in all, it’s a good, easy-drinking bridge to carry you through the next couple of months. I tend to skew away from Bell’s heavier beers, so it’s good that they’ve got some options we can turn to in late winter and early spring that aren’t malt grenades. Until Oberon comes back, that is.
Elsewhere: This weekend’s Winter Brew festival at Dank Haus in Lincoln Square didn’t hold too many surprises for beer supergeeks like myself, but it offered a good cross-section of what ten Chicago-area breweries are making. That’s not to say there weren’t a few unique highlights, however.
Ratebeer just named Chicago’s Ale Syndicate this year’s best new brewery in Illinois, and while its Omega Stout tasted solid but standard, its new Van de Velde Belgo-Pale Ale shows promise. It’s not perfectly true to style (it looks more like an amber to me) but it had some nice complex American-hop–forward flavors with a little shot of Belgian fruitiness.
This year’s Generator Doppelbock is just as good as Philip Montoro says it is. It was one of the first beers we hunted down, and after making the rounds we headed straight back for seconds, but it had just kicked. Find it fast.
However, the coffee-infused Imperial Pajamas Stout from Begyle was our hands-down favorite. Big, bold imperial stout flavors blended with just enough coffee to be present but not overwhelming; the stout hit that sweet spot of not too roasty, not too hoppy but plenty tasty. It’s in the Goldilocks zone of coffee imperial stouts—just right.