Penrose was quite the drive from an already out of the way sub-area of Chicago. Getting to Penrose from downtown Chicago would probably take at least an hour on a good day on the toll roads. Still, I saw a number of sours on their menu and heard some great things about their brews so we took the drive out there. While I was there I tried the white IPA, Belgian IPA, Mandarina sour, Deminus Roux sour, and Lemongrass saison.
The white IPA had a solid lemon and pine flavor from the hops with a medium amount of bitterness on the aftertaste. I was surprised that the Belgian yeast was not very prominent. Compared to the light golden white IPA the Belgian IPA was a darker more orange color with more resinous hop flavors and strong bitter aftertaste. Though I was surprised by how bitter this was it was nicely balanced in that the hops went well with the malts and yeast.
The Mandarina sour was very dry and highly carbonated with both a light golden color and a very light body fitting to its 4% alcohol. It was very medium sour and had a light citrus kick. Comparatively the Deminus Roux was a darker amber color and the flavor came through with very strong grapefruit and a heavy bitter aftertaste. This didn’t seem particularly sour either but was dominated by the grapefruit flavor that was very reminiscent of eating fresh grapefruit. All of the bitterness seemed like there was quite a bit of hops in there though it may have been from grapefruit rind. This was a favorite of one of the people I tasted with but the grapefruit was too much for me.
Before leaving I ordered a taster of the Lemongrass saison hoping that it would satisfy me in a way that I hadn’t yet been by the previous four tasters. I was quite glad when I took a sip because it had all of the delicious funk I expect from a proper saison with plenty of bright spice flavors and a light lemon kick on the back. This was also quite carbonated and some in my group who were not familiar with saisons were a bit surprised by the flavors. I savored this taster all to myself as the best from my visit. If I happen to visit them again I will certainly look for more saisons.
For a brewery that has been open for less than 2 years, Barrel Harbor is not doing much to distinguish themselves in a crowded market. These days brewing a good IPA is simply expected. I stopped by this past weekend and tried the brown ale, porter, Nugget IPA, black IPA, and double IPA. From all of these the single hop Nugget IPA was probably the most impressive. They were out of their regular IPA at the time.
The brown ale was typical of the style, smooth and flavorful yet not really standing out. The porter was available on nitro and was good and creamy with mild roasted flavors. The Nugget IPA, single hop IPA with the nugget hops, was the best of the bunch. It had a nice golden flavor while being very smooth and fruity. The hops were noticeably fresh and it jumped out at me. I would guess that these are the same hops used in Abita’s Wrought Iron IPA that I love so much.
The black IPA was interesting because it was pretty mellow and low in bitterness for a black IPA. The hops tasted pretty similar to the nugget, though I was told it is brewed with simcoe. The hops blended nicely with the roast, making it a solid beer. Finally, the double IPA was strongly bitter and had a bit of a soapy taste that combined with a cloying sweetness. I wasn’t able to get myself to finish the double IPA taster.
I first tasted an IPA from Barrel Harbor on tap at a bar in Rancho Bernardo. They certainly know how to brew a good IPA but in this market you need to do more than that to stick out, especially up in the “Hop Highway” region, off the 78 freeway. They do have a nice pirate/nautical theme going that makes their tasting room an interesting place to visit. If you do drive up to visit Barrel Harbor make sure you visit one of the other breweries in the area as well. They are very close to Booze Brothers, which will be the subject of my post next week.
This is the first of a series of posts that will explain the basics of beer. Part 1 answers the question of “What is a tasting room?” In future posts I will explore what separates craft beer from mass-produced beer. After that I will explain some of the common styles of beer. If you are already a big beer fan, share these with your friends to introduce them to the wonderful world of beer.
Every tasting room has a bar where you can order pints of beer or smaller glasses of stronger brews as well as smaller four-ounce tasters. Traditional tasting rooms allow you to buy only one or two tasters while some brewery restaurants require you to buy a flight of five tasters. Most bars only serve full pints and usually have beer from a number of different breweries. Tasting rooms usually only serve beer brewed by the brewery running it.
If you already know the style of beer you prefer, it is usually best to stick to that style, especially if you plan on hitting more than one brewery. Though tasters are only four ounces, many breweries serve higher alcohol beer than you may expect.
Tasters are also great if you are trying to decide what beer to take home in a growler. Growlers range in size from 32 oz to 1 gallon. These allow you to enjoy some fresh brew at home. The beer will stay fresh in the growler for over a week until it is opened.
Once you pour a glass from the growler, it is best to finish the growler within 48 hours. Unless you are a heavy drinker or have a lot of friends coming over who share your tastes in beer, it is best to stick to a 32 oz growler so that you enjoy the beer fresh.
Tasting rooms are usually more relaxed than bars and sometimes allow you to bring your dog and/or young child with you. Most tasting rooms do not serve food but food trucks are often on site to sell you something to eat with your beer. Check the web-site of the brewery ahead of time if you expect to eat because some have food trucks a few days out of the week.
If they don’t have a food truck, most breweries do not mind if you show up with some food to enjoy with your beer. Stone, Karl Strauss, and now Ballast Point’s Little Italy location are restaurants where you can also enjoy their beer.