The week before Chicago Craft Beer Week officially kicked off, a few new friends and I jumped the gun with a beer gathering at one of Chicago’s newest and still undiscovered BYOs — BadHappy Poutine Shop.
As I watched this crew pile in — Paul Schneider from Chitwonontap.com, Joe Barley from recently launched Solemn Oath brewery, Jay from StockyardPalate.com and prolific gustatory Tweeters @TedwardBouillon and @MikeMcKenzieCHI — it was clear that these guys don’t come around unless they come heavy. Bottle lined up quickly and we all took a deep breath. We had some work to do, and we hadn’t even ordered the poutine yet. Which poutines did we order? All of them. All of the poutine.
If you’ve never heard of poutine, it’s essentially a bed of thick-cut fries, cheese curds and gravy and hails from our northern brethren in Quebec. BadHappy riffs on this righteous foundation in a variety of ways. These are those ways.
Da’ Local — featuring house sausage, sharp cheddar curd, hot giardiniera, pepper and onion gravy, was an early favorite. The giardiniera lights up your palate and the sausage smooths it over with plenty of fat. Cut the fat with a bright IPA or a summery bitter brew and you’re off to a great start. We cooled down with Khloros from Solemn Oath, full of lemon and orange rind with a nice sharp finish.
Thelonious — a veg/vegan basket with shredded BBQ mushrooms, cheese curd or soy, southern cabbage carried a moody, earthy flavor that paired really well with some of our heavier beers, like Goose Island Bramble Rye Bourbon County Stout, Stone Imperial Russian Stout, and the Dock Street Saison (a sour).
The Pilsen — piled high with beef picadillo, taco curd, cilantro and onion, roasted chilies, tomatillo salsa, la lengua gravy — and the One Hot Asian with viet-pork patties, headcheese, jalapeno curd, dikon and carrot, and kimchi sauce demanded the fiery finished of Hop Henge an experimental imperial IPA I acquired on my recent Deschutes visit in Portland, Oregon and the official 2012 Symposium IPA from the San Diego craft beer conference held just a few weeks ago, and retrieved via Joe Barley.
HappyFace — braised veal cheek, garlic curd, chicken fried sweetbreads, braised kale, foie gras gravy — and RedNeck, covered in BBQ pork, mac-n-cheese, fried okra, Carolina cole claw, and PBR gravy put us all over the edge. At this point, we each went our separate ways in terms of brews. Boulevard’s Rye on Rye came out as well as a Dogfish Head’s Burton Baton imperial IPA. For the rest of the night, we covered the spread in terms of beer styles and variations on a poutine theme. But nothing, even the impromptu beer floats, could prepare us for our final meal.
The gals of BadHappy, a bit sauced themselves by this point, put together a dessert poutine that shall go nameless for now. A healthy pile of fries was covered in ice cream, chocolate sauce, whipped cream and sprinkles and then set loose into the world. Such is the way of BadHappy, with it’s vices and virtues in skewed proportion. I’m pretty sure that after you witness an evil of this order, your next step is human trafficking.
Farmhouse ales, or Saisons, have always been my favorite beer style — since my first experience with the funky French brews at the Hopleaf in Andersonville.
Saisons are typically a mid-range ABV pale ale originally brewed in the autumn or winter months for farm workers in France as part of their daily allowance (about 5 liters per work day). It kept them cool, refreshed and happy, just as the Egyptians brewed their “liquid bread” during pyramid building.
Saisons brew at much higher temperatures than even Belgians, between 84-95° vs. 64-75° in the fermenter. The yeast’s ability to ferment at such high temperatures made it easy to brew and ferment through the hotter summers months. Along with other ingredients like wheat, orange zest, coriander and ginger, Saisons generally have bright, pungent, peppery aromatics with plenty of effervescence.
Saison Dupont is the most reputable of the French labels. But many have been produced in the US for years with a slightly more pale edge, including Ommegang’s Hennepin, Jolly Pumpkin’s Bam Biere and Boulevard’s Tank 7 — all top-notch beers in the style.
Early in my Saison journey I discovered Les Sans Culottes from Brasserie La Choulette. Brewed in the Saison style, it’s a farmhouse blonde with a funky, grassy nose and a champaign-like bouquet — cleaner and crisp — with a barely tart and fruity finish. The brewery dates back to 1885, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that it was bought and revived to its current state and importing status.
I first had the beer “with no pants” at The Map Room Beer School under professor Greg Browne, brewmaster at Mickey Finn’s in Libertyville. Now I pick up a bottle every few months at West Lakeview Liquors at Hoyne and Addison, where the selection of farmhouse ales is nearly unbeatable.