Posts tagged: beer

How to Discover Craft Beer and Local Breweries

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By , February 12, 2014 12:28 pm

There’s nothing wrong with sticking to your tried and true, go-to beer. But with the number of craft breweries popping up these days, why not branch out and sip something a little different? Many local breweries offer informational tours, beer samples, and tasting rooms to purchase a pint of your new favorites.

At FunSherpa, we’d like to introduce you to the wonderful world of craft beer, and we have a variety of experiences to tempt your taste buds. These are some of our most popular craft beer offerings to choose from!

Photo credit: Alyssa L. Ochs

Photo credit: Alyssa L. Ochs

Beer School 101

Want to expand your beer knowledge beyond telling the difference between Bud Light and Miller Light? Beer School 101 classes give you a crash course in beer basics so you feel more comfortable ordering from craft beer menus. Learn about the ingredients, brewing processes, and taste differences between stouts, IPAs, Belgian beers, ciders, porters, pilsners, and more!

Beer and Food Tastings

Beer and food go hand-in-hand, so why not learn a little something about beer and food pairing? This craft beer and artisanal cheese tasting in Philadelphia, for example, will introduce you to eight distinct craft beers paired with delicious specialties from a local cheese shop. Craft beer can be paired with a variety of foods, making this experience perfect for birthdays, anniversaries, date nights, and entertaining out-of-town guests.

Brewery Tours

Learn more about the brewing process and fully appreciate all the hard work that goes into quality craft beer by taking a brewery tour.  Beer brewing has become a treasured art form in many areas of the world, and tours give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how it’s brewed to perfection. Brewery tours vary by location, but most allow you walk through the production areas, ask questions about the process, and sample the brews.

Homebrew Classes

Homebrewing has become more popular than ever before! If you’re interested creating your own delicious brews in the comfort of your home, sign up for a homebrew class to learn the basics. Some classes operate as DIY breweries, where you can utilize professional steam kettles, temperature-controlled fermentation rooms, and automatic bottle fillers. Other classes teach you the fundamentals of buying, processing, and fermenting small amounts of homemade beer in your own home.

Photo credit: Alyssa L. Ochs

Photo credit: Alyssa L. Ochs

This is the perfect time of year to kick back and relax with a delicious new beer that you discovered and can tell your friends all about. Some cities even offer craft beer crawls to let you sample beers from a variety of local brewers in the area. To learn more about craft breweries near you or somewhere that you’re traveling, check out the brewery finder at the Brewers Association or

Chicago Beers! Three Floyds Brewing is the Rave for Chicago Beer Enthusiasts

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By , December 11, 2011 9:04 am

Funsherpa is on a mission to discover what Chicagoans love.  We are going beyond the tour books and yelp reviews and are asking YOU, Chicago.  Funsherpa kicked off our series of surveys in honor of the Chicago Craft Brewery Convention with our beer survey.  The contenders were Allagash, Dogfish Head, Goose Island, Half Acre, Metropolitan, SKA Brewing, Three Floyds, and Two Brothers.  We are excited to announce that Three Floyds Brewery took the prize as Chicago’s favorite craft beer, with Chicago’s own Goose Island Brewing in a close second.

Who Are The Three Floyds

Three Floyds

Three Floyds Rules in Neighboring Chicago

Brothers Nick and Simon and father Mike Floyd founded Three Floyds Brewing Company in 1996 in a small warehouse in Hammond, Indiana.  To give you an idea of their humble beginnings, their first brewery housed a used 5 barrel kettle, attached to a wok burner, with swiss cheese tanks turned into beer fermentation vessels.  But this simple brew house was all the Floyd’s boys needed to turn their dream into a reality.  They set out to brew beer that distinguished itself from other craft brews, with a motto of “it’s not normal”.  Three Floyds grew in popularity and eventually moved to Munster, Indiana which today is still the home of the brewery and their brew pub.

It’s Not Normal

With names like Alpha King, Gumball Head and Apocalypse Cow, and bottles featuring labels with trippy artwork, you can tell that Three Floyds Brewing is not your average brewery.  But it’s more than their unique branding that has given Three Floyds their cult-following – it’s their absolutely amazing tasting beer.  One of the Funsherpa team’s favorite brews is Gumball Head, named after a little known comic book cat.  Gumball Head was created to be a summer time wheat ale, but due to the great demand, it is now available all year round.  This wheat beer has a refreshing hoppy aroma, with hints of grapefruit, lemon, marmalade, and peach.  Three Floyds says “these flavors combined with low bitterness make Gumball Head a refreshing American Wheat Beer that doesn’t suck”.  Now if that doesn’t sell you, we don’t know what does.

I’ve Got a Golden Ticket

While Three Floyds doesn’t have a chocolate river or freaky little Oompa Loompas, their golden ticket is equally coveted.  Three Floyds Dark Lord Day is an annual

Dark Lord planning its takeover of the beer world

“Fantasy Beer Drinking Event” that happens on the last Saturday of April.  Selling out every year, Dark Lord Day gives beer enthusiasts from around the world a chance to sample craft beers, including Three Floyds own Dark Lord.  The Dark Lord Russian Style Imperial Stout is brewed with Chicago’s own Intelligentsia coffee, mixed with Mexican vanilla, and Indian sugar.  These intense flavors and the 13% alcohol content make Dark Lord Chicago’s most sought after beer.  To get your chance to try the Dark Lord you must buy a golden ticket, usually open for sale in early March, which entitles you to buy four bottles of the brew.  But don’t drink up just yet, the Dark Lord gets better with age, and most beer enthusiasts just now opened their 2009 bottle.

What You Crave

While we at Funsherpa definitely recommend taking a trip over to Munster for a brewery tour or a bite at the Brew Pub, you can find Three Floyds right here in Chicago too.  Try the Map Room or Sheffield’s Beer Garden.

Gulp! Expanding the beer horizon with Mark McDermott

By , June 8, 2009 5:39 pm

Activating beer vision with Mark

Activating beer vision with Mark

Interested in getting past the traditional Coors, Bud, and Stella bottles? Today’s feature presents Chicago’s very own beer connoisseur. Fortunate enough to catch Mark McDermott in between a few of his favorite barley wines and Russian Imperial Stouts, we chat with him to discover the world of craft beers and local breweries. Aside from being a beer geek, writing about his favorite drink, and rating beers (he’s rated over 1700), Mark is a proud parent and former Trekkie / comic book geek!

Mark’s thoughts about beers and comic books…

F: Lets talk about you for a minute.  You are a beer connoisseur, collector, and a guy who keeps beer coasters.  What do you do that doesn’t revolve around beer?

M: In real life, I’m a husband and father of an adorable 8-year old boy and an equally adorable 16-month old girl, yet I just celebrated my 50th birthday. My day job has me setting covers and other parts of catalogs and doctor directories for Chicago’s largest printing firm. Before I was a beer geek, I was a Trekkie and comic book geek: in the past year I’ve had essays published in scholarly books on Star Wars and on Captain America.

F: How did you get started in drinking beer?  Do you remember your first drink of beer?  What was it like?

M: When I was a pimply adolescent, my Dad would allow me sips of whatever was in the fridge, meaning Grain Belt of Hamms. It was an interesting drink that made me feel like I was part of the adult world, but also light, fizzy barley water with a little bitterness you don’t find in other kid drinks. When I finally turned legal (18 in Iowa in those days) it was not a big deal; I didn’t need to go and get plowed. That summer, on a visit to the “real” Adventureland, an amusement park near Des Moines, I discovered my first different “kind” of beer: Schlitz Dark.

I finally hit upon craft beer when I moved to Chicago in 1987 and shortly discovered the new Goose Island brewpub, when it was still part of a repurposed warehouse on an iffy block of Clybourn. On one visit, they debuted Bourbon County Stout, which made me say “Oh… My… God!” Beer can be like this!

F: Why do alcoholic beverages have connoisseurs and non-alcoholic beverages have no one but vending machines?  You never hear of an orange juice connoisseur.

M: I can’t speak for orange juice, but I think we could find more than a few raters of sodas out there. Look at the “Throwback” Pepsi and Mountain Dew, a limited release that uses real cane sugar, and the people who get Coke at Mexican mercados for the real sugar. A lot of craft brewers make root beer and sods, but as far as I know there’s no professional taste competition for them, perhaps because they’re still aimed at the kids.

F: You brew your own beer.  What is the hardest part in the home brew process?  Do you ever get sick from your own beer?

M: The hardest part is cleaning up afterward, because there’s always some sticky, scorched on wort on the floor or the stove somewhere, just waiting to attract ants. When we moved to our current house with an attached garage, my wife banned me from brewing in the kitchen, so I’ll need to add a high-powered propane burner to my brewing arsenal.

One of the truisms of homebrewing is that even if you get a nasty bacterial infestation, it still won’t make you sick. Probably. The alcohol in the beer will knock most dangerous bugs, so you’ll just get a bad taste or a “gusher” bottle. As homebrew guru Charlie Papazian says, “Relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew.”

F: What are your favorite beer varieties and how are they different from each other?

M: Like most beer nuts, I tend toward barley wines and Russian imperial stouts. Both are high-alcohol behemoths that can be cellared, and which develop complex tastes depending on how old they are when you pop the cap. Barley wines push lots of caramel malts and can be light brown in color, and will tend to a slightly fruity ale character. Imperial stouts have much darker roast grains in their malt bill, and can run the taste gamut from coffee to chocolate to what you think motor oil must taste like. It’s a bonus when they’ve been aged by the brewer in whiskey or bourbon barrels, like the aforementioned Bourbon County Stout. Both these style came from England: Imperial stout was created for the court of Catherine the Great in 1796, while Bass first marketed “Barley Wine” in 1900. I’ve got whole cases of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barley Wine from 2002 and 2004 in my cellar, waiting for me to finally want to dig in, among others. I’ve also had the patience to hold on to a 2003 Brooklyn Brewing Black Chocolate Stout, plus their 2003 Monster Ale, and a few 2002, 2003 and 2004 bottles of Dogfish Head Worldwide Stout, which clock in at up to 23% alcohol by volume. This is a very modest collection as most beer cellars go. It actually resides in a root cellar built under the front stoop of our house.

My favorite style to make has been chile beer. Rather than just try to cause people pain, I’ve looked for styles and pepper blends that work well together, like Molé porter or Chipotle Scotch ale.

F: You’ve rated over 1700 beers.  How do you keep your rating consistent?  Do you test yourself with blind tastes and see if your score comes out quite similar?

M: I just can’t worry about consistency; beer ratings can also involve the circumstances and environment in which you try the beer. I enjoyed a cheap Schafer Light much better when I tried it at a hot, southern Illinois roadhouse in July than I could have sitting before my computer with a tasting glass.

I’ve done two taste comparisons around Old Style. For years, Old Style has been contract brewed for Pabst by Miller in whatever plant they have available. But the original brewery in LaCrosse, Wisconsin re-organized as City Brewing and makes LaCrosse Lager, which is said to have the actual Old Style yeast and recipe, plus the added step of Kraeusening before packaging. LaCrosse came out the clear winner. This year, when Pabst announced they were going back to Krausening, I matched up the revised old style with the older version. Found they had different factors weighing for and against them.

F: Food critics tend to pair food with their favorite wines.  Any suggestions as to what food to pair with specific beers?

M: There are two different ways to match a beer to a food: contrast or compliment. I would go with contrast: spicy foods like chili or barbequed meats need malty beers like bocks or Oktoberfest beer to cool the fire. Something lighter, like fish, or steak with few seasonings, can take a hoppy IPA.

A local’s secrets to the rich Chicago beer culture…

F: Chicago locals tend to like what type/brand of beer?  Why do you think so?

M: The local beer most represented on bar taps seems to be Goose Island 312. I think that’s simply because it’s the local beer that tastes most like the usual pale lager, even if it is a wheat ale.

F: What is your favorite place to drink beer in Chicago?

M: I lived for many years in the south suburbs so I was quite attached to Flossmoor Station. Through the tenure of two brewmasters, they came up with some fantastic beers in different styles, served in a casual atmosphere that got it named Best Small Brewpub in America at the 2006 Great American Beer Festival. I have not made it back out since their latest brewmaster, Brian Shimkos, took over, but he assisted Pete Crowley at Rock Bottom Chicago, so I have no worries. RB Chicago, on State & Grand, is also a great destination when you’re downtown.

F: What brewery do you recommend people check out?

M: Everyone knows Goose Island, but in the past few months, Metropolitan Brewing in Ravenswood has come out with some German style lagers, Half Acre on N. Lincoln has just come on line. I would also recommend keeping an eye open for Revolution Brewing in Logan Square, started by one of the principals behind Handlebar restaurant.

The best-kept secret in Chicago is the Wild Blossom Meadery and Winery in Beverly. It’s an offshoot of the Bev-Art homebrew supply store that makes meads in a “dry” precinct, so they can’t sell on-premises. You have to go across Western Avenue to a liquor store in Evergreen Park to buy them.

F: Favorite beer that you can only find in Chicago?

M: Taking the question literally, Half Acre has been popular enough that its entire production is distributed on the North Side, so I haven’t even been able to get some yet. My favorites to find are the Flossmoor Station Brewer’s Whim series of india Pale Ales. It’s a  fancy silkscreened 22 oz. bottle filled with whatever IPA they’re brewing at the time; the only difference being the color of the wax seal on top. Those are available at fine liquor stores throughout the region. You need this guide to know what you’re getting.

F: Favorite festival to taste or drink beer?

The rare and highly rated Dark Lord

The rare and highly rated Dark Lord

M: You will not find a more amazing, spontaneous local fest than Dark Lord Day at Three Floyds. On the last Saturday of April, an inudstrial park in Munster is overrun with thousands of beer geeks, hoping to get a bottle or just a taste of Three Floyds Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout, ranked as one of the very best beers in the world. No matter how tightly they limit purchases, the Floyds always sell out within a few hours. So they provide live music, food and other beer at their brewpub. Meantime, there are tables set up in the parking lot where attendees bring beers of their own to trade, taste and share.

If you want a better chance at some headlining beers, there the “Night of the Living Ales,” a cask beer fest put on in March by the Chicago Beer Society.

F: If you are still reading this, then you can probably help us out.  Fill out our survey (if you haven’t already) and get a chance to win a $100 dining certificate to Avec.

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