The main reason I visited Pittsburgh was to visit Brew Gentlemen. I have been seeing their beers rated highly in blind taste tests done by Paste Magazine for the last two years. Mostly this has been their hazy IPAs but occasionally other styles as well. They only serve six and twelve ounce pours at the tasting room plus growlers to go. While you can find their beers at a few bars around town, you will only find the wide variety at the brewery itself. If you already have some 750ml growlers from other breweries, bring them with you to avoid buying new ones.
I started with momo, their hazy pale ale and a mexican coffee stout for my husband. Momo was soft and creamy with a nice thick mouthfeel. The beer had notes of tangerine hops with a low hop acidity and low bitterness. It was one of the more flavorful hazy pales I have had. The mexican coffee stout was soft and nicely balanced with notes of cinnamon, nutty coffee, and mild roast. The mouthfeel reminded me of Tree House’ stouts, which suggests they use similar water to Tree House.
After the first pour, I was so impressed I got six ounce pours for the rest of the beers. I did those two at a time so I could compare different beers. For the first two half pours I compared General Braddock with Kaizen. Both had that lovely pillowy mouthfeel though they had distinctly different varieties of hops and hop flavors. General Braddock was bursting with papaya and light vanilla. Kaizen had a more herbal hop bitterness to it balanced with notes of ripe tropical fruit. I didn’t care for the hop varieties but it was still quite well done. Thankfully as it warmed up, the herbal notes mellowed out.
Next was Recertified Double IPA. This was my favorite of the bunch. The beer was bursting with notes of tropical fruit and could easily be mistaken for a hazy double IPA from Monkish or Tree House. I was quite tempted to fill a growler to bring back but I didn’t want to buy any more glass. Chocomatic Imperial Stout was my final half pour. The beer was roasty with prominent chocolate and a good thick body. Despite the higher alcohol, it was not boozy and avoided getting too sweet or thick. My husband still preferred the Mexican coffee.
Brew Gentlemen lived up to the hype and then some. The hazy IPAs were all excellent and they are making fantastic stouts as well. Though the tasting room is in a shady part of town, once you are inside, it has a nice relaxing, homey feel to it. They don’t serve food but they tend to have a food truck outside. While it was slightly disappointing that they didn’t have cans, I like their choice to limit to-go to growlers and the occasional bottles so that they always have beer at the tasting room.
You can find one or two of their beers on draft at bars around town but if you want to have the full experience, it is worth a visit to the brewery directly.
Mexican Coffee Stout
During my last visit to Chicago I was so impressed by Forbidden Root that I was willing to visit the city even when I wasn’t able to take the time to visit other spots nearby that had truly impressed me. Before trying Forbidden Root’s beer, I used to drive to Transient Artisan Ales an hour and a half to the East in Southwestern Michigan. This trip was my chance to see if the brewery was able to make the same quality of beers consistently. They did.
i still haven’t found any of their beers with fruits or botanicals that grabbed me but I was very impressed during my previous visit with their hazy IPAs, specifically the hazy rye IPA called Radio Swan. During this visit I started with Radio Swan and it was thankfully as good as I remembered. The beer had intense notes of melon and citrus with a nice creamy pilowy body and light bitterness. Most San Diego breweries seem to get this same mouthfeel occasionally but I have not found any that do so consistently. My guess is that they don’t really care because the average consumer doesn’t know the difference. I would have left with a crowler of Radio Swan but the machine was having issues on the day I visited.
Besides the delightful Radio Swan I also tried a beer called Night Moth, a hazy IPA aged in oak barrels. This was one of the beers available in 4 pack cans during my visit. I found the beer to be overly sweet and primarily showcasing strong oak, notes of vanilla, and honey. It would work better with fruit as Untapped showed they have released different versions. But on its own, it lacked the drier finish and was too sweet for me.
I should also note that I was a bit let down by the lack of vegan options at the brewery on their standard menu. I was initially satisfied to order from their small plates because it sounded like one or two of those would be to my liking. But the roasted carrots with hummus dish was half the size I might have expected for $12. My server that day indicated to me that none of the main dishes were able to be made vegan.
Still, given the quality of the Radio Swan IPA, I still hold Forbidden Root as one of the best breweries in Chicago.
I had not previously visited Helix Brewing until they announced their Sourworx program. I was glad to see that they ensured they had a variety of beers available for the launch. Their goal of having the entire three boards full of barrel-aged sours is impressive. I tried two that were fruited and two that were aged for the longest to get a general taste of the quality of the sours released. From what I tasted, I would sooner make the drive to Helix over visiting my neighborhood California Wild Ales because they have the complexity and level of flavor that I crave. They also have enough to differentiate their sours from others on the market to draw visitors. They are one of the few breweries that allows for growler fills of sour beers and they currently have no plans to start bottling.
I started with a raspberry and a passionfruit sour. The raspberry was a light red color as expected while the passionfruit was hazy yellow and closer in appearance to a hazy IPA. The raspberry was a bit more subtle than I would have liked and restrained on the fruit. It had a good balance overall with nice caramel base and low acidity that at times resembled raspberry pie. I like the decision to add cherries to an already red base beer. The passionfruit sour was juicy with strong passionfruit flavor at the front and a nice mild funk on the finish combined nicely with medium oak and mild vanilla. This was my favorite of the day and I am excited to see how they work this style into future versions with other fruit.
On the non-fruited side, I asked for the two beers that were aged the longest and was suggested the Walking Through Windows and Betting on Stars. Walking Through Windows was intensely oaky, dominating over other flavors. In the back it had mild caramel and notes of brandy with a lingering tart finish. It was interesting to get the prominent oak when many breweries choose to blend various beers together to reduce it somewhat. Betting on Stars, a dark sour aged in port barrels, was smoky on the nose with notes of cherry and roasted malts. Flavor wise, it resembles more of a sour stout than anything else and the wine barrel gives it a unique flavor. It is refreshing that they chose not to simply make their attempt at a Belgian style Lambic but instead chose to do their own versions of an American Wild Ale.
Clean beers next door
After the four sour beers I was ready for some more classic styles. With my palate already used to the sours, I found both beers to be quite sweet, likely more so than I would have if I started there. I decided to order a half pour of Prague Nosis, a red lager in the style brewed in Prague, and 1492 IPA, the freshest IPA they had and also one they described as the most balanced.
The Prague Nosis was delicious and easy drinking with notes of crackers and caramel and a light sweet finish. The IPA was nice and balanced with notes of pine and light herbal hops with a subtle bitter finish. I enjoyed seeing the contrast between the two buildings next door to each other. This allows for a welcoming atmosphere that the sour fans can drink with others who may not be interested in sours. The Sourworx side had a much more sophisticated feel to it as compared to the homey tasting room feel of the main brewery.
Future Futures, passionfruit sour
Walking Through Windows, golden sour
I started at Astronomy brewery where I had a few pints with my husband and friend who writes for Beer Alien. Because it was Black Friday they had $4 pints of their dark beers, which was where we started. I ordered the cocoa habanero stout and my husband ordered the coffee porter. Both were well made if not particularly strong flavors. The coffee porter was nice and dry with mild notes of coffee and roast. The cocoa habanero stout had lots of chocolate flavors with mild habanero that was extremely subtle even after warming up. Both beers were nicely balanced.
I next ordered the Hawking Hazy Pale while my friend Terry ordered the lemon vanilla version. The base Hawking hazy pale was bursting with citrus notes on the nose and had a nice mix of tangerine and vanilla notes with a good thick body and mild lingering hop acidity. For such a young brewery, this pale was impressive in how much better it was than a lot of San Diego attempts at hazy pale ales. Few San Diego attempts are as flavorful. The lemon vanilla version was like drinking lemon cake. The hop aroma was mostly covered up by the lemon and vanilla, making it a decadent beer to savor.
Next time I am in the area I look forward to seeing how Astronomy grows. They have a fairly standard mid-sized tasting room and hopefully will grow into their theme further as they get more established.
Hawking Hazy Pale
Hawking with lemon and vanilla
I wouldn’t try to compare Astronomy to Crafthaus considering Crafthaus has been open much longer, around 4 years, and is fairly established now on the local scene. Though of the few hazy beers I tried at Crafthaus I think Astronomy is doing them better as is Hop Nuts. Though I didn’t love the IPAs at Crafthaus, I was quite impressed by some of their other beers.
I started with the gose, which was complex and thick with an excellent balance of flavors and a light tart finish. This was so enjoyable that I left with two six-packs to bring home. I followed it with their saison, which was incredibly dry with light notes of pepper and that thankfully did not taste like white wine as many of the style do. This was also quite nice.
Crafthaus was also pouring some frozen beers, where they add beer to a slush and other things. We tried the Frozen stout with chocolate. The base beer already had some strong coffee flavors so it blended nicely with the chocolate, making it similar to drinking a frozen mocha. It was a bit sweet for my tastes so I ended up adding extra beer to balance it out. I ended with a pour of the base Belgrade stout. It had intense coffee flavor with a nice dry roasty base. I prefer this style of prominent coffee to the balance at Astronomy.
Belgrade coffee stout
I finished my rounds with Bad Beat, just around the corner. Since I had already enjoyed a few beers, I only had one pint here, of their amber lager. It was nice and dry with mild bread character.