Travel to the Map Room
for one of the finest local summer brews.
Well, the summer season is in full swing: time to break out the bikes, ditch work to lounge around at the lakeshore, dodge hordes of tourists clogging up the museums and stuff as many hot dogs into our mouths as possible. For me, July also marks the one-year anniversary of my very first encounter with a 312. I've avoided the Goose Island mainstay throughout the winter, hoping to preserve my warm-weather association with the crisp, lemon-tinged wheat beer, and let me just say, it worked: I've been back to hoisting the 312s for a couple weeks now, and with each sip I'm reminded of last year's music festivals, my first months in Chicago and the fact that Goose Island makes the finest summertime beer ever. You can get the stuff at any street fair, bar or restaurant in town, but if you want a destination beer, look to these refreshing suds:
Sierra Nevada Summerfest at Long Room
Summer's all about the lazy days, and there are few beers that embody that slothful spirit quite like Sierra Nevada's Summerfest seasonal. This pilsner-style lager gets its bready flavor from an extra-long lagering period. True to its California roots, there's a huge amount of bright citrus flavor—mostly lemon with just a bite of orange—and enough effervescence to make you go, "Ahhh."
Poured from a bottle (as its served at this hidden Lakeview beer mecca), this beer delivers a thick white head that disappears almost immediately, as though it just can't be bothered to keep up appearances. Lazy bastard. At only five percent ABV, the Summerfest is a simple, to-the-point summer brew perfect for afternoon drinking. Convince your friends to make the trek to the Long Room (mentioning $1 PBR Tuesdays should motivate 'em) and give this one a whirl.
Dark Horse Raspberry Ale at Bar on Buena
No one can accuse Dark Horse of having its priorities skewed: "Beer First, Fruit Second" is the motto behind the Michigan craft brewery's raspberry-infused ale, and it's no joke. Subtle raspberry tones belie the name of this cloudy golden brew, which delivers heavy on the ale promise with a smooth profile, minimal hops and just a dab of toasty goodness. The fruit is real—no flavor droplets or concentrated paste would do—and it provides just the right amount of ripe berry flare. A dash of citrus and a distinctive honeyed veneer finish it off, making this one dangerously drinkable pour.
An almost comical amount of effervescence can be a bit off-putting at first, but enjoyed outside at this Uptown hideaway, all those bubbles take the edge off a sticky summer evening—and at only five percent ABV, you can keep 'em coming well into the night. Bar on Buena features this lovely ale in its "House Flight," alongside fellow summertime sud, Ephemere (the apple-tinged white ale from Unibroue), and a refreshing pull of Kölsch. Flights are always 25-percent off on Thursdays, so bottoms up!
Three Floyd's Gumballhead at Map Room
Careful—after one sip of Three Floyd's Gumballhead, you'll be compelled do dance a little jig, chanting "Hoppy Hoppy, Hop Hop Hop," right in the middle of the Map Room. Try to resist this, as I'm sure the bartenders are getting tired of it. Named after a surly cartoon cat, this brew couldn't be anything other than what it is: bitter as hell, yeasty as hell and absolutely exploding with hops.
An American wheat, Gumballhead (4.8 percent ABV) pours a hazy copper, almost red color and has an initial kick that's big on citrus, followed immediately by what can only be described as a full-on hops assault.
Three Floyd's bottle-conditions this one, which is just a fancy way of saying that they add more yeast to the bottle for a second round of fermentation, a process that results in a hugely complicated profile and legions of cooing beer geeks. One of the most anticipated beers of the summer, the Gumballhead offers even more proof that Three Floyd's is at the top of the heap.
Wittekerke at Sheffield's
"You're kidding, right?" This was my initial reaction when Phil, the trusty Sheffield's "Beer Dude," clunked a can onto the bar of the new Beer School backroom. You see, Phil has pretty much never steered me toward a beer I didn't like, but this beer was in a can. People don't drink canned beer for pleasure, they drink it ironically (PBR), nostalgically (Schlitz) or out of misguided brand loyalty for macro-brewers that treat their customers like idiots (seriously Coors, a vent?), but Phil insisted, and I gave in.
When it comes to beer, Phil's always right. Not only does this delightfully light, citrusy Belgian white cut through summer heat, it also happens to go well with a host of summer foods, particularly spicy things. It's like the Riesling of beers: crisp, interesting enough to stand up on its own, but a workhorse when it comes to culinary pairings. And since it's only five percent ABV, I recommend parking it in Sheffield's awesome beer garden, and downing Wittekerkes until you have enough cans to make a castle.