One Sip: beers recently released in Chicago

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Henry Weinhards beers
  • Henry Weinhard's beers
A note about the headline: a more accurate description would be "beers released in the last couple months, which might count as recent in the minds of certain procrastinators, but possibly not to everyone." But my editor tends to disapprove of headlines that are longer than a David Foster Wallace footnote, so we'll just go with "recent."

I tried Omission, a gluten-free beer from Widmer Brothers in Oregon, a couple weeks ago at their release party at Fatpour Tap Works. I'd done a little research (i.e., googling) in advance, and most of what I found praised the brew for actually tasting like beer. Not being gluten intolerant myself, I haven't tried other gluten-free beers, but I can confirm that the two Omission offerings do, in fact, taste like beer. Not particularly exciting ones—the lager is light and inoffensive; the pale ale is a little hoppier but also fairly mild—but definitely beer that I wouldn't object to drinking if it were handed to me at a party. Omission seems to be one of the only gluten-free beers brewed with barley (if not the only one); the gluten is then removed through a supersecret "proprietary process" until it's well under 20 parts per million. It's $10.99 a six-pack at Binny's, which I'd probably pay happily if I were gluten intolerant—since I'm not, though, I want a little more flavor for that price.

Henry Weinhard's was also originally made in Oregon—it was founded more than 150 years ago by a German immigrant who named his company after himself—but its current owner, MillerCoors, has moved production out of the state (to where, it's not clear). They began distributing three of their beers nationally in September: Private Reserve, Redwood Flats Amber Ale, and Woodland Pass IPA. The press release calls them "affordable, uncomplicated craft beers," and the website proclaims: "while some breweries are focused on pushing boundaries, we're serving up rock solid, uncomplicated beers that are textbook examples of their style." Which seems pretty accurate. The beers are all decent, drinkable, and so straightforward that there's very little to say about them. The IPA isn't too hoppy, with some malt flavors coming through; the amber is lightly hopped, just enough to balance out the malt sweetness; and the Private Reserve, a lager, is lemony and light. And the "affordable" claim? It's $7.99 a six-pack at Binny's (or $6.99 with a Binny's card)—so yeah, more or less.

Newcastle recently started releasing "limited edition" beers in styles different from its well-known brown ale, and a month or two ago I got a sample of Werewolf, an Irish red ale. Several of us who tried it had cut our craft-beer-drinking teeth on Newcastle and fondly remembered the days when we thought it was amazing—before we discovered that in comparison to Bud Light almost anything seems good, and there was much better beer out there (for me, Leinenkugel's Honey Weiss also falls into this category). One colleague commented, "I used to really like Newcastle, and now it just tastes like dirty hippies to me." This tasted remarkably similar to the original Newcastle, but a bit maltier and flatter with a bitter aftertaste. My coworkers were more creative in their descriptions, claiming it tasted like everything from rubber cement to "burnt cardboard with McDonald's maple syrup" (and they weren't even drunk). I think this was released in honor of Halloween, but I saw it on the shelf yesterday at Jewel—so if you're dying to get your hands on some after that glowing recommendation, there may still be time.

Julia Thiel writes about booze every Wednesday.

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