Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Six-Pack Project: Illinois Breweries

Earlier this summer, I was asked to contribute to a collaborative beer blogging effort called the Six-Pack Project. Headed up by Bryan Roth from This Is Why I’m Drunk, the project highlights six beers from six different states each month. Considering the ever-rising number of breweries in Illinois, Bryan decided to split the state into two regions: Chicago and Everywhere Else.

Last month, Grant at Hop Brained took on the formidable task of spotlighting breweries in Chicago itself, including some choice selections from Half Acre, Spiteful, Revolution, Metropolitan, Pipeworks, and Chi-Town. This month, I’ve been challenged with focusing on non-city beers, including breweries in the Chicago suburbs and, as we call it around here, Downstate.


The rules of the Six-Pack Project:

  • Pick a six-pack of beers that best represents your state and/or state’s beer culture.
  • Beer must be made in your state, but “gypsy” brewers are acceptable, so long as that beer is brewed with an in-state brewery and sold in your state.
  • Any size bottle or can is acceptable to include.
  • Current seasonal offerings are fine, but try to keep selections to year-round brews as much as possible. No out-of-season brews preferred.
Now, the rebellious nature buried deep in my heart instantly made me wants to break these rules, and you’ll see below that I have at least bent some of them to my will. And while everyone has their own opinion on which beers "best represent" our state, and tastes can change from season to season, I think this six-pack provides a solid representation of the diversity and quality of Illinois craft beer, as well as some of my favorite offerings over the course of this summer.

With that said, here are six beers from the Chicago suburbs and beyond that anyone traveling to Illinois should check out if given the chance:
  1. Phat Chance Blonde Ale – Wild Onion Brewing Company
  2. Barrington, IL. Summer and canned beer just go together. Wild Onion has several canned offerings to choose from, but Phat Chance maintains a top position on my list of summertime picks due to its refreshing simplicity. Not overly hoppy or bitter and with a tinge of citrus to quench your thirst, this blonde ale doesn't hit too hard or fast, either, at 5.2% ABV. Take it camping or keep it within arm's reach in your garage.

  3. Gnomon Saison – Flesk Brewing Company
  4. Lombard, IL. Bombers of Gnomon started floating around the Chicago area not long after Flesk Brewing started up their nanobrewery earlier this year. And while I personally liked each of their initial releases, Gnomon definitely stood out. Right off the bat, the coriander and funk hit your nose, and the lemon and lavender take you through the farmhouse finish. Perfect for the porch.

  5. SideKick Extra Pale Ale – Two Brothers Brewing Company
  6. Warrenville, IL. Earlier this summer, Two Brothers released SideKick as one of its small but mighty lineup of cans, and it was just in time to become my new summer favorite. One of the clearest, brightest craft beers you'll ever meet, SideKick looks suspiciously like a commercial beer, but packs far more flavor than your eyes try to fool you into expecting. Crisp, dry, and clean, it fits perfectly into any outdoor setting or activity.

  7. 5 Lizard Witbeir – 5 Rabbit Cerveceria
  8. Bedford Park, IL. Far enough southwest of Chicago to be considered a suburban brewery, 5 Rabbit infuses their beers with Latin influences in such interesting ways that you'll ponder how you ever thought commercial imports were somehow unique. Their 5 Lizard witbier is a perfect example. Combining wheat and oats with their malt for extra creaminess and adding lime, coriander and a passion fruit puree, this spicy twist on the style still goes down easy in the sun at just 4.3% ABV. Don't even get me started on using it in your Mexican recipes and marinades.

  9. Galaxy IPA – Big Muddy Brewing
  10. Murphysboro, IL. Let's escape northern Illinois and head south, past St. Louis on the Missouri border, to the little town of Murphysboro. Big Muddy Brewing made their debut just three years ago, but their beers have already made their way to the Windy City in a big way. Powerfully hopped but balanced out with rich malt, their Galaxy IPA hides its 7.5% ABV in a highly drinkable beverage. Be sure to keep track of how many you've downed before it's too late.

  11. Zombie Dust American Pale Ale – Three Floyds Brewing Company
  12. Munster, IN. Queue the hate comments. "Three Floyds isn't an Illinois brewer." Yeah, yeah, I know. Geographically, they aren't. But let's face it...Three Floyds has a huge advantage by being so close to Chicago's enormous population and growing beer industry. And we, too, reap the benefits by having a fresh supply of their beers at our fingertips. Besides, they're an Illinois Craft Brewers Guild member, which probably gives them some kind of bonus points. While many of their offerings would top other people's lists, Zombie Dust holds my heart in its cold, dead hands. Clean, dry, and hopped to a citrus frenzy, it leaves stores just about as fast as it comes in. Grab it if you see it, trade for it, stand outside in line for it...just get it. 
So, what do you think? What would be your ultimate Illinois craft beer six-pack?

Check out the other local editions of the Six-Pack Project: