Turmeric. Pineapple. Mushrooms. Sage. Orange peel. Smoke. There was lots of fruit, crazy flavors and finally, plenty of sun at Beer Under Glass 2016.
Even with all the dozens of breweries and hundreds of beers at this year’s event, when I think about Beer Under Glass 2016, I keep coming back to the weather. And so did basically everyone else I talked to, too.
“Isn’t this great?”
“Remember when everyone had to wear bags on their feet?”
“It’s just perfect out.”
Of course drinking beer outside is going to feel better, look better, be better when it’s nicer out to do so. Common sense, yes — but after a few years of being beaten down by Mother Nature, a sky free of clouds and a complete lack of precipitation combined to make for a damn fine night of beer drinking.
There was always a certain sense of grit-tooth cameraderie in previous years — a kind of “well, we’re all in this together” sort of thing while drinking beer with freezing hands and numbed feet — but I’m happy to have that replaced with a crowd that’s got a bouncy spirit, a more boisterous sound, a generally more upbeat and smiley bunch of folks to have surrounded myself with.
It was a pretty good night, and I found a few beers I quite enjoyed. Let’s check ’em out.
I told you in our preview that you’d be an idiot if you didn’t rush immediately to see what beers Scratch Brewing brought. I was totally into their turmeric gruit and mushroom-infused old ale, but their barrel-aged Sahti made with a mix of juniper berries, cherries, elderberries and blackberries was my total favorite. Rich with malt and barrel character and not overwhelmingly jammy, it was just rad.
Also, if you didn’t try their beers first, there’s a good chance your palate might have been a little too thrashed to pick up on the gentle, subtle and delicate flavors that Scratch beers are distinguished by. They’re not going to beat you over the head with sledgehammers of flavor. You gotta work for it. But it pays off.
Even though fruit/citrus IPAs and Pale Ales are the trend of all trends at the moment, and there were more than a few on hand, only a couple really caught my eye/palate. The Pina Del Rey from Arclight was a blast of raw fresh pineapple, almost thick with juice and sticky bright tropical flavors.
The other one I really enjoyed was the Smylie Bros. Purple Line wheat beer, which earns points for its easy drinking feel and oops-all-berries flavor, and also because when Prince died they were the only ones in market with a purple-colored beer and they didn’t do anything obnoxious with it. They were right next to Three Floyds, so I have a feeling most people made a beeline to the FFF beers and bypassed the neighbors. Bad call.
(Also, points to Spiteful’s double IPA with mango — they managed, like the best fruit/citrus IPAs do, to blend the flavors of the hops and the fruit so both ingredients are present and distinguishable, not completely blown out by pure fruit.)
If there was a trendpiece to come out of this BUG, I’d probably have to give it to beers flavored with hibiscus. I spotted a hibiscus wheat from Metal Monkey, the Hopfentea from Perennial features it and Burnt City has their new hibiscus IPA out now and I’m certainly missing a few.
Of the ones that I was able to try, I really enjoyed the Nothing But Flowers from Mikerphone. It’s a Berliner-weiss-style beer that’s equal parts gentle herbal flavor and almost perfume-y aroma that’s mixed with a ridiculously lightbodied feel and delicately tart smack at the finish that made me happy to have picked it.
Another beer I really liked: Around The Bend was pouring a really thoughtful and squared away dark English Mild randalled through Gaslight Roasters coffee that gave it a nice ragged edge. I’m fast becoming a sucker for English-style milds and bitters for some reason (just ask the Aquanaut team, whose ear I talked off about them) and this is one style I’d love to see more of. Also, at 3.8% ABV, it was a welcome break from the big hitters I was sipping daintily through the night while trying to retain some semblance of clearheadedness.
Hopewell’s new All Hope Kettle Sour was a pretty nice riff on a sour saison-y sort of thing that’s promising from a young brewery. It’s on the stronger side for a sour, too, at 6.6%, and their Swift IPA was a solid example of the style as well.
My other big winner was Banging Gavel’s La Ley, a nicely balanced honey/mango/serrano pepper beer with just the right mix of heat kick and melony fruitness that you could still tell was a goddamn beer and not a sorbet. Full disclosure: head brewer Walter Ornelas used to work with my wife at Columbia College back in the late 00’s, which is only worth mentioning if you think we’re the kind of people whose palate might be biased by the former co-worker status of a spouse. Either way, I liked it better than the similar Mango Magnifico from Founders – it struck me as a little bit richer with a little more heft in the right places. Good times.
Time to get a little real now, though.
I have heard a lot of people say that “yeah, there’s more beer being made, and there’s definitely a lot more bad beer being made.” I don’t like the statement, and I don’t necessarily agree.
I still haven’t had very many bad bad beers from local brewers; I’m talking ones that are genuinely off flavored or messed up. But I drank a lot of truly…let’s say, average ones last night. At best.
I skipped around to a lot of beers and found more than a few truly forgettable offerings — some with too many unnecessary adjuncts jammed in, a few that were just out of balance, a few missing the flavors that were promised and a few that were just plain out of whack. Look, I don’t expect every beer to hit it out of the ballpark. Truly great beers are few and far between. It seemed, though, the ratio of shoulder shrugs to raised-eyebrows-“shit this is good” samples was skewed far more towards the former.
But, for whatever it’s worth, I didn’t see a single selfie get taken all night. Way to go on that front, Chicago drinkers.
Believe it or not, my favorite offering of the evening wasn’t even a beer. No, it wasn’t a cider, either — there were only a couple of those on tap, those being Uncle Johns and a Starcut from Short’s.
Instead, it was the March To Buzz mead from Misbeehavin‘ Meads out of Valparaiso, an 8.25% ABV carbonated mead dryhopped with Citra. It was, to my palate, a major flavor success — the light, dry sweetness of the mead allowed the hop aroma to shine with a real purity of character that I can’t ever remember encountering the same way — and it was also a real education on what hopped meads could do.
Anyways, that’s this year’s Beer Under Glass. It remains one of the year’s best beer events, hands down. And for once, the palm trees in the Conservatory weren’t even a tease of more tropical climes.