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.
I’ve been following Steph’s blog thegirlandherbeer.com for some time now. She produces great content, works hard at her homebrew and even shares beer cooking recipes. Daisy Cutter Risotto anyone? I finally got to meet Steph in person at Goose Island’s En Passant release party in April — which gave us a chance to nerd out over beer photography — and she even snuck in a shot of yours truly as though I were a nocturnal animal tripping the wire on a camera snare in the jungle. The nerve.
What’s your favorite beer and style?
My favorite style is definitely the APA. A lot of APAs offer the same hoppyness that an IPA might have, but they also don’t overpower, leaving more balance between hop and malt. I think you get the best of both worlds without the sometimes ridiculously high ABV. I also really enjoy saisons and farmhouse ales; I’m a sucker for anything that pairs well with a summer day and a hot grill. As for a particular beer, I keep it pretty basic. My anytime go-to beverage would probably have to be Half Acre Daisy Cutter — an APA, of course.
What’s in your fridge right now?
Not much, to be honest. I have a real issue trying to keep beer in there because I buy and consume pretty much immediately. I could never keep a beer cellar or any type of collection because I am not able to exercise restraint. I did just buy a couple of four packs from Sixpoint - Resin and Sweet Action. I’m sure they’ll be regulars in the fridge now that Sixpoint distributes in Chicago. Other than that, I’m positive there’s someone who would be impressed with the variety of pickles I have at any given time.
What was the first beer that clued you in?
New Glarus IPA in 2006. My best friend was moving to Arizona, so of course, we sent her off with a going away party which included the typical kegged collegiate beers. At some point in the evening, my friend’s dad showed me his own personal cooler of New Glarus he was drinking from and insisted I try the IPA. Not wanting to refuse a generous offer (read: I’ll drink pretty much anything put in front of me) I took a sip and I was a goner. Before that, I had only really ventured outside of the macro world by drinking New Castle, Guinness, and Stella — you know, the gateway beers. Ever since, I’ve been trying whatever I can get my hands on, some good, some great, some awful.
What’s your most memorable beer moment?
Brewing my first batch of home brew. So many nerves and paranoia went into brewing the for the first time, so to not only have it turn out well, but to have people really enjoy it was amazing.
Bartender or brewer?
You know, I really feel as though each deserve the same amount of respect. When done right, brewing beer is an absolute art form, comparable to an Iron Chef’s cooking. To make something with the sole purpose of enjoyment and enriching people’s lives is beyond admirable; especially when it’s done with the right goal in mind; making good beer. At the same time, a bartender is responsible for helping people understand what good beer is. A good bartender will find the right style to convert a beer hater into a beer lover. I find myself dazzled by both. I’m not sure if that’s saying much, though; I’m thoroughly impressed by airplanes.
What was your greatest beer hunt?
Oddly enough, it was chasing down Sixpoint Bengali Tiger late last year. After reading nothing but good things about these guys, I had pretty much built up an obsession with trying their beers. Last fall, news got out that they would start distributing in Washington DC, which happened to be where I was scheduled to be in November for a wedding. The hunt was on! I got into DC late on Friday night knowing it might be my only chance to patronize a local beer joint. I went to Churchkey, and it was so packed I had to wait outside for a while because it was at capacity. Once I got upstairs, I had to push my way to the bar and asked for a Bengali Tiger. They had just sold the last draft — F#*@. I ended up finding some early on Saturday morning at a Whole Foods. I put it on ice in my hotel room sink and drank it out of a tiny paper cup. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was a successful hunt, and a tasty one at that!
What’s a beer on your wishlist?
I’ve yet to try Goose Island Bourbon County Stout. Anyone willing to donate to my cause, feel free; I have no aversion to handouts. I also didn’t get a chance to sample Half Acre’s Galactic Double Daisy Cutter last summer. Does this make me less of a person?
A couple weekends ago, I had the chance to spend some time with Goose Island’s brewer, John Laffler. What’s special about John is that he’s specifically in charge of overseeing Goose’s incredible barrel aging program. And with Anheuser Bush’s recent investments in the company, this barrel room might be what puts Goose Island out in front — for good.
The new space across the street from the main brewery on Fulton and Wood in Chicago’s west side is a raw, cavernous series of rooms with a stunning barrel-vaulted ceiling and crumbling brick walls. It’s a space out of Chicago’s undocumented past — the forgettable blue door reads: King Auto, Body Repair & Body Shop Inc. And this is where John nurtures each barrel into the beautiful, mysterious beer it was seemingly meant to be. John uses a mix of bourbon, oak and wine barrels to get what he wants out of each one.
In these stacks, each barrel of Juliet, Bourbon Country Stout, Madame Rose and fruity variations of them all, flex and bulge as they grapple with the bizarre manifestations inside. On this visit, a barrel of Lolita overflowed with rasberries, coughed up with the CO2 being produced by the secondary fermentation.
Off in another, darker room, sits a separate reserve of the Bourbon County stock. Whether for the barrel itself, or alternative ingredients like rye, this is a special watch. And as you heard from Paul Schneider yesterday, Bourbon County Stout is going into year-round production.
Afterwards, we had a few drinks up on the mezzanine inside the main brewery. Old Town Yard and the new En Passant were on tap. But also a 1/6th keg from a barrel of Pere Jacque that went long forgotten. Stuffed with pear by who-knows-who and lost in the stacks like a signed copy of The Old Man and the Sea, this brew was boozy as hell, and almost like a crazy-tart cyser. Whatever happened in that barrel along time ago, we all agreed that it could have used a watchful eye like John’s.