Drink This Now: Church Street Brewing’s Itascafest Marzen
The seasonal lager is made through an unusual process called "decoction mashing"
By Karl Klockars
As a born-and-bred original west-suburbanite, I generally think of two things when I think of the Itasca area—proximity to the famed Medinah Country Club golf course and inclusion as one of BusinessWeek’s Best Affordable Suburbs in 2009. But now there’s a great new thing in Itasca—Church Street Brewing Company. It’s been on my radar ever since Elliott Beier, beer director at Owen & Engine and certified cicerone, described their Heavenly Helles to me as, “the best Helles Lager in all the U.S. right now.” Well, hot damn.
A process known as “decoction mashing” contributes directly to this high praise; it’s a process that takes extra time, extra special equipment and extra effort, which is why so few places do it. But it makes a notable difference.
An insightful chat by the guys at the Hop Review with the Church Street crew goes into more detail, but basically it’s a process which allows the brewers to better control the mash temperature and to extract sugars in a way that goes above and beyond the normal brewing process, which results in a clearer, crisper, more precise and consistent beer. It’s a process that’s also used in this darker seasonal lager as well, and to great effect.
Pouring a beautiful copper color, this Marzen is caramel-sweet but not sticky or cloying, a little smoky and maybe a touch burnt but that adds enough complexity to make it interesting without being overwhelming. Above all, that crisp, clear, fresh roasty-dark lager roars through unfettered, making this as light-bodied yet sweet, hearty and flavorful as you can ask for. The finish is a little bitterer than expected, but it doesn’t take away from this fall-afternoon-in-a-glass concoction.
If you’re having trouble finding Marzen, the folks at Metropolitan know their way around a lager. Their Afterburner Oktoberfest is heftier, just a little richer in flavor and most definitely worth tracking down. And there's Baderbrau’s Oktoberfest, which, hand to God, tastes like Cracker Jack. See if I’m wrong.