Sit Down and Drink Beer!

David | Blog | April, 05 2012 | No Comment

As noted last week, Lew Bryson and the Session Beer Project have proclaimed  Saturday April 7 Session Beer Day. Lew has stirred up a lot of interest in and around Philly, where he lives and drinks. I’m hoping to do something similar in the Great (Beer) City of Chicawga.

The idea of Session Beer Day is to encourage folks to honor the traditions of session beer drinking. How do you do that? Well, first, you find a comfortable place with great beer and you sit down and relax. Next, select a flavorful beer with less than 4.5% alcohol by volume. Sit with a friend or a friendly bartender and enjoy that beer over a friendly conversation. And then, by all means, have another, and maybe another.  The focus is on low-alcohol beer, but the point is to unwind, slow down and enjoy the flavor of beer in a relaxed manner… while socializing, and maintaining composure. I would also add that part of the tradition is to drink the same beer throughout the session to truly delve into what that particular beer has to offer.

So, here are a few of my thoughts and suggestions on how to enjoy Session Beer Day in Chicago.

PLACES

Session beer drinking comes from the British beer tradition, so a place that embodies the best aspects of the traditional British pub is a good starting point for celebrating session beer. That said, this is the 21st century, and we are in a big noisy city in the Midwestern United States, so we are talking about approximations. There are few top tier beer places that are free from televisions these days, but there plenty that do not build their entire appeal around giant plasma screens. A compromise is a place with only a few TVs. You also want a place that is quiet enough for a conversation. I love music, and I like it loud, but most places don’t get loud until late at night. Of cousre you want a place with friendly, knowledgeable staffers and a really good beer list. Hipster tap rooms, German beer bars, brewpubs, or Irish pubs, are in the running, or maybe even your own backyard–you decide.

In Chicago, on a Saturday,  finding a proper quiet place is best accomplished in the afternoon with the session extending into the early evening. With these criteria it is pretty easy to narrow things down a bit, but there are still a number of good places in Chicago and the suburbs that come to mind. Among my favorites is the Small Bar at Logan Square. At one time in Chicago there were many neighborhood bars located on residential side streets. They are harder to find now, but but there are few survivors. Small Bar Logan Square (surrounded by residences on the other three corners of  Albany and Wellington) sacrifices none of the quaintness of that kind of bar, while adding great beer. It opens at noon on Saturday, has a great beer garden and a great staff. I  left a phone message today encouraging the staff to feature a session beer or two on Saturday. Hipster alert–if you feel like a fossil around 20-somethings with neck beards, spacers, and fixed-gear bikes, well…..get over it.

Brewpubs are a great way to go for session beer. They open early, usually before the lunch hour, and sensitive session beers (with lower alcohol and hops they can be a bit fragile) are in good hands. They don’t have to travel and they can be served fresh. I think there are now more than two dozen brewpubs in Chicago and the suburbs, and most make very good beer– some are excellent.  Haymarket Brewery and Pub has a great range of house beers and guest taps. Owner/Brewer Pete Crowley said there will be at least two house beers in the middle 3s . Haymarket does have a huge number of big flat-screens in the front room, but if the back room is open, it has much more of a pub feel. Goose Island’s original Clybourn Ave. brewpub is a fairy relaxed room early on a Saturday. The session beer offerings there will be very traditional, and about as good as anywhere, and there may be four session beers on tap Saturday (see below). Revolution Brewing Co. in Wicker Park produces a number of beers with British accents, and usually there are two at any given time that would qualify as session beers.

For my money, there is no better place in Chicago for a beer session than the Map Room in Bucktown.  The beer selection, the friendly, beer savvy staff and the corner-bar ambiance make it a destination any day of the week. On Saturday the Map Room opens for coffee at 7:30 a.m., and the taps are called into service at 11. Laura tells us that there will be at least three session beers available on draft and hand pump this Saturday.  By digging into the extensive bottle list, you should be able to expand your small-beer options.

BEERS

While session beers are usually equated to low-gravity bitters in the British tradition, there are other beers that fit the parameters, including Kolsch beers, some Belgian-style Witbiers, the occasional Berliner Weisse, and even one of the most ubiquitous full flavored beers in the world–Guinness Stout, (the most common version comes in at 4.3%).

Like much of the United States, Chicago’s growing craft beer community does not produce a lot of session beers, but there are a handful of them made here and most of these are very good. I’ll start by listing those and then I’ll move on to other possibilities and also indicate where you can find them. YES there are many beers that are overlooked here. No slight intended.

Honkers Ale, Goose Island Brewing Co. (4.3%) One of my all-time faves. On tap and in bottle at Clybourn and Wrigleyville Brewpubs (Warning–Game Day), and numerous locations in Chicago, and pretty much the entire solar system.

Lang Haul, Two Brothers Brewing, Warrenville, IL (4.2%) a barrel-aged session beer. At the brewery pub or in the bottle at various beer bars.

Poetic Justice, Revolution Brewing (4.3%) No Workingman Mild right now, but this special bitter should be nice. Or how about the Paddy Wagon Stout at 4.4%?

Bula Matari Belgian black (3.4%) at Haymarket, (Randolph and Halsted)  and Oscar’s Pardon Belgian pale ale (3.5%). Plus, Speakerswagon pilsner (4.5%). I’ve tasted all three. Yum!

5 Lizard, 5 Rabbit Brewing Co. (4.3%) This Latin-heritage brewer is one of Chicago’s newest and most interesting. Partner Randy Mosher conceptualized this play on a Belgian Witbier, as well as the rest of the 5 Bunny lineup. This one is made with lime and passion fruit. Its delicious, and you can drink it all day. On tap, and in bottles on premise and off (for the back yard session).

Old Town Yard, German Helles Lager  (4.3%) Goose Clybourn.  Eggggxellent!

Summer Bitter, English Style Bitter (4.3% ) Goose Clybourn, where 312 (4.2%) and a nearly session and very tasty Willow Street Wit (5.0%) will also be served.

Bitter & Twisted Harviestoun Brewing (4.2%)  A bitter from Scotland, served from a cask, hand pumped, at the inimitable Map Room. Check the chalkboards for other possibilities and tell them Cheese and Cheers sent you.

Sankaty Light Lager, Cisco Brewers, Mass.,  (3.8%) In cans at the Map Room.

All Day IPA, Founders Brewing, Grand Rapids, Mich. (4.7%) Okay, it’s just above the range, but good luck finding an American IPA that is any more restrained and tasty. In bottles on-premise or off-.

Levitation Ale, Stone Brewing Co., Calif. (4.4%)  bottles, numerous locations. It’s from Stone, man!

Hoegaarden, InBev, global, (4.9%) Still lower in gravity than most other witbiers.

Small Bar Pale, Brewed for Small Bar Fullerton (5.2%) Yes, I know this is certainly a stretch and at this gravity I could have included some of the fine lagers from Metropolitan Brewery, but Phil answered my email, and The Small Bar Fullerton will sell you a 16 oz. pint on Saturday for $5.

CONVERSATION, ETC.

Hmm…it’s a presidential election year, how about the economy, of the influence of religion on global strife and international politics.  Something a little lighter?  Okay, baseball season just started. How about them Bulls! Or how about talking beer–one of my favorite topics. Have you heard of this Chicago Beer Society? Do you know that since 1977 this group has run great events for anyone in the Chicago area who loves great beer? Whatever the topic, enjoy the conversation, the company and the beer.

So, I have not yet mentioned cheese. Is there a cheese you can eat all day? For me that depends on how big of a wheel I can get my hands on.  But really, if you are really asking, I’d say go with a Keen’s Cheddar from Neal’s Yard, London, or the Cabot Vermont Clothbound which is finished by the Cellars of Jasper Hill in Vermont. These British and Brit-style farmhouse cheddars are lovely with session beers, or cider, coffee, sparkling water, Oreo cookies.


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