My very first beer was a Heineken from a vending machine in a cheap Amsterdam hostel. At the time, I thought the bitter, swill-like flavor was exacerbated by the sweetness of some dried pineapple I was eating alongside it. Turns out that’s just Heineken. But a few weeks later, I had my first sips of something truly inspiring, Brasserie Fischer’s Adelscott, a complex lager brewed with a secret weapon: peat-smoked malt whiskey. Now that was a beer.
That’s not to say I know much about beer—but I’m learning, and I’ll be chronicling it here, in a new weekly Web feature called Get to the Pint. Maybe you read my story on regional microbreweries, Draft Picks, in Chicago’s April issue, and you think I missed something. Let me know. I’ll be writing about good finds and where to get them locally, and I could use a tip or two. I’ll also report back on a surefire disaster-in-the-making, liable to get me drunk or evicted or both: my virgin attempt at homebrewing. Advice is welcomed.
But I thought it would be fitting to start off by taste testing a soon-to-be local favorite. Chicagoans cried over their lagers when Bell’s Brewery, based in Galesburg, Michigan, pulled out of Illinois in 2006 due to a distribution disagreement. A true friend of Chicago, Larry Bell couldn’t let us languish. His new brand, Kalamazoo, is slowly popping up across town, and Handlebar has at least one variety on tap at all times. Week before last it was a porter, earthy and sweet; now it’s the Kalamazoo Royal Amber Ale, a rich, caramel-colored sipper that starts out creamy and finishes with a nip of hops ($5 a pint, $4 on Thursdays).
If you like the Amber Ale, get thirsty: Bell says several more Kalamazoo beers will be available in Chicago by May 1, including the Hopsoulution, which he calls an “experimental variety,” made with 100 percent Smagard hops from Germany. “It’s pretty neat that I was able to get my hands on those,” he says. Exactly what I was thinking.
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