I trekked out to Aurora on Saturday for the annual Two Brothers Summer Festival
. I'd planned to bike there and take the Metra back, but the heat and humidity (as well as the realization that the bike trails that I was planning to ride on aren't paved) dissuaded me. The crowd was much different than the bearded beer geeks and bros I see at most beer events in Chicago; the festival seemed to draw more people from the suburbs than the city. It was a relaxed, low-key affair, nearly empty when I arrived in the early afternoon, though it did fill up some over the next couple of hours. There was never a line for beer, and inside the Roundhouse and in the courtyard (the VIP area, to which my press pass gained me access) there were plenty of comfortable seats. It's definitely one of the most pleasant tastings I've been to.
There was one downside, though. Most of the beers being served were Two Brothers year-round or seasonal offerings, with only a couple of their harder-to-find beers on tap at a time. A tent outdoors served guest beers—dozens of unusual offerings, actually—but only four were on tap at any given time. The reason, I think, is that this isn't really a tasting event so much as an outdoor festival where you're expected to get a beer and settle in to listen to the live music or chat with family and friends (there were lots of families there). Beers were served not in tasting portions but full pours (16-ounce cups for the Two Brothers beers, smaller ones—maybe 10 ounces—for guest beers), which made it hard to try many of them. That's not to criticize the event, just to point out that it's a wildly different beast than the tastings that boast hundreds of beers from dozens of breweries.
I did manage to try a few brews I hadn't tasted before, though. I'd always avoided buying the Red Eye Coffee Porter because I'm not a big fan of coffee and was afraid the coffee flavor would be too intense, but its flavor is much more dark chocolate than coffee, sweet but balanced by a slightly bitter finish. A new release, the Laughing Panda Green Tea IPA, was citrusy and less bitter than most IPAs; the bartender said the green tea mellowed out the hops. I couldn't identify green tea in the flavor but there were definitely some herbal notes, a little grassiness. My favorite, though, was the Revelry Imperial Red Ale. Dark and intensely sweet with deep caramel and molasses notes, it tasted more like a hoppy barleywine than an imperial red ale, the hops preventing the sweetness from becoming syrupy.
We only tried a couple beers from the guest tent, and I only took notes on the Stone Oak-Smoked Old Guardian. Released this spring as part of Stone's "Odd Beers for Odd Years" program, it's a version of their Old Guardian barleywine brewed with German oak-smoked malts. It's intensely smoky with a dry, almost acrid finish—it's not exactly unpleasant, but the taste is so strong I wouldn't want to drink much of it. Though since it's 11.5 percent ABV, that's probably for the best.
(Mostly unrelated) bonus: from the Rumpus, "Gertrude Stein Reviews Beer." A sample entry:
"Holsten Diat Pils (4.90% ABV): Sulfate, mineral, plaster, drywall. It is not so rudimentary to be analyzed, to be fruitful upon completion of the swallow. Aftertaste comes after tasting, a moment. Zest of orange, Zest of lavender, Zest of what comes with no special protection. If the lemon in a lager were a lemon in a tree, all the stouter symmetry. But not astute. Modified, codified, enhanced greatly by a generous head." (h/t Sam Worley)
Julia Thiel writes about booze every Wednesday.