….Bee Line to Chicago, still hot but anxious to return to the Windy city…but not for the wind. After a lovely walk around Millennium park we opted to take the long and slow way up Lake Shore drive towards Evanston into the bucolic Chicagoland suburbs. Surrounded by beautiful homes, fancy cars, boutique restaurants, prep schools, yoga shops and six dollar a gallon gas, we found a brewery. Now I’m not going to give the name of the establishment (or name of the town as they are synonymous) because the beer was bad and given the BMWs and Barbour jackets passing by, one gets the sense that this kit beer tasting nano-brewery is riding the craft beer wave. The gorgeous smartly decorated bar, lacked authenticity in its obvious attempt to draw a specific clientele, the one that carries gold and black credit cards, the one that doesn’t wear socks in their penny loafers, one that is so pathetically nouveau riche they are unable to recognize a beer from a ginger ale. Without finishing our glasses of slop we paid the check and split, but tipped our hats to the moxy of a business owner who can get away with charging top dollar for a shitty product.
So we left Lake Bluff (whoops) and further up the line we stopped for traditional Chicago deep-dish pizza and I drank my first “Old Style” beer since being of legal age. Despite it’s mass produced crudity and high fructose corn syrup sweetness, it was far better than what we had earlier. Seeing that gold straw yellow brew in the frosty mug was like being at an uptight party full of well-dressed strangers and running into that obnoxious friend you’re awkwardly relieved to see.
After the sun-set we were in Milwaukee turning west towards Madison. It was late, both of us tired, fortunately there was a rest stop about 20 miles out of town, we stopped and when we opened the doors to soak in our first breath of Wisconsin air we were knocked over by the audacious stench of pure cow shit. It was brutal, however the air was cool and we finally got a decent night’s rest in the car. Morning came fast and brought with it a gorgeous panorama of endless farmland and pastoral rolling hills of brown worked earth that reeked of pungent cow shit.
Madison is a really cool city, except from the occasional breeze of cow shit, it felt cosmopolitan, we took an early morning walk to acquaint ourselves with the layout, were offered free coffee by a Kerug kiosk near the capital and marveled at the city’s stunning federalist architecture. In spite of the great parks, the University area, the breweries and the gorgeous lake fronts, its the politics of this place, in particular those of Governor Scott Walker and not to mention Congressman Paul Ryan that are really difficult to shake out of my mind to really fall in love with this town.
After getting a shower at our gym, grocery shopping at Trader Joes, and finding some wifi at the library, happy hour came ringing again. With the determination of a bloodhound we made our way to the Great Dane brewery. The blend of Belgian and German styles on the menu was very exciting so went for two flights, each featured solid true to form expressions of styles. I must mention the two pints pictured, the 10% Belgian Dubbel was a standout for me, even though I was lost in the Oktoppelbock Eis, it was smooth and dry, the reddish atumnal hue matched the fading outdoor sunlight and changing leaves, marking this Marzen as one of the more comfortable and relaxing pints of beer I’ve had in a while. Yes, I’m trying to express by way of a lame metaphor this beer was delicious! Capping off an awesome experience was the very cool and sweet bar tender who very kindly only charged us $7 for our two flights and two recovery pints? When we (politely) mentioned to her that we should pay more, she didn’t adjust it…if that’s how cool people are in Wisconsin, then why are their politics so askew and nearsighted? Either way get yourself to this brewery and fill your livers up!
Another restful night in the car, this time east bound to Milwaukee, we made it town early for a walk and to explore, a truly beautiful city. With reservations to join the Sprecher brewery’s last tour of the day, we hung out, worked out, worked and walked some more. The Sprecher tour was cool, I love German beer so I was pretty psyched. We drank ten beers. My favorites were the 6% Oktoberfest and the 8% Dopplebock, both brewed with aplomb, all flavors spot on. As a buzz began to wash over me, I ordered beer cheese and pretzels. Beer cheese and pretzels, wow, if I lived in Wisconsin, I’d be 300 pounds, full of fun, beer, and cheese, dressed head to foot in soft fabrics only.
The snacks helped steady my head, but it was the Black Bavarian that stole my heart. What a beer! Exactly what I had been missing since my time in Munich. I loved it so much I bought some take away bottles. The BB is a “ Schwarzbier” with the proper hint of smoke, and a soupcon of earthiness. This is not just a beer, it’s a celebration, an exciting conclusion to your day. Even a few days later as I was drinking from the bottle in a hotel room hundreds of miles away, the light booze and gentle sweet caramel notes, topped with the soft carbonation settled my senses after their obliteration from cycling along the Wisconsin farm roads and dirt tracks. This is a beer for me, one that will become a mainstay in my fridge, the next time I own a fridge…maybe I could get a kegerator? to be continued….