Ambers and Bitters and Bocks, Oh My!

Bell's Two Hearted

"B" is for Bell's Two-Hearted

What started as a Friday night ritual with a few beer-loving friends on a commuter train has blossomed into an entire A to Z experience of craft brews.   Theresa Carter of The Local Tourist says her mom’s friends, “…started off with ‘A’ and each week, someone would bring a beer from the next letter.” Carter told a friend about it, to which the friend replied, “you should make that an event!”  Carter ran with the concept, rolling out AlphaBeer I in November, 2009.

Carter latest’s was AlphaBeer V, which she hosted along with beer curator and Arcade brewmaster, Christopher Tourre at Cactus Bar and Grill. Tourre says, “It’s important to make craft beer more accessible through face-to-face outreach and a sincere connection with people.  Events like this provide that opportunity.”

So what about the featured beers?  Allagash White was first out of the bottle. Allagash White is a hefeweizen – a pale, cloudy wheat beer with a mild sweet to bitter taste and a fair amount of carbonation. In contrast, Bell’s Two Hearted comes on strong, with a deep amber color and malted barley start with a decent hop finish. I found it had a balanced feel on the tongue.  I had to smile when I saw the ‘Z’ entry.  It was Lagunitas Zephyr, a beer previously reviewed on Chicago Bites.

Of course my tasting partner, Chicago Bites co-founder Tammy Green, and I occasionally differed on our likes and dislikes. The tasting guide provided  space for notes, encouraging you choose between “Drink It” or “Dump It.”  More often than not, we shared the same strong reactions to the fruity, tart or medicinal brews with a rousing  “Dump It!”  But as they say, one woman’s ceiling is another woman’s floor.  It’s likely there will be another post focusing on specific AlphaBeer V selections, particularly the beers we both agreed were keepers.  We’ll also rip the mask off the controversy surrounding East Coast and West Coast beer styles. Hint: it’s in the hops!

I was surprised by the inclusion of a couple of beers from larger breweries, for instance, Dos Equis Lager and Newcastle Ale.  Perhaps the pressure to bring new brews to the list – especially with difficult letters like ‘X’ – means fewer “craft” and more “commercial” beers end up being included.  I am willing to give the curators / brewmasters a little leeway here.

AlphaBeer bottles

The row of bottles grows

The event suffers from couple of things, not the least of which is time pressure. Twenty-six beers – even at 2 or 3 oz each – is a lot to go through in 3 hours. The other might be somewhat of an identity crisis.

If AlphaBeer is strictly about the A to Z concept, using craft or micro-brews and throwing in a little beer-tasting education, then it succeeded.  If the goal is to broaden the palette’s experience, my tasting partner suggested changing the pour order, concentrating on specific types or styles (fruit beers, stouts and other dark brews) and perhaps pairing certain beers with complementary foods, thus making AlphaBeer less of an endurance test and more of a guided tour of the craft beer landscape.

However you roll, at the end of the day, fermented yeast, malted barley and flowering hops combine to produce something pretty wonderful and that, my friends, is beer!

The Local Tourist

Cactus Bar and Grill

404 S Wells St
Chicago IL