Chicago Beer Club goes to Ultra Fresh II

There’re a lot of different beer festivals, not just in Chicago but across the country. Each one tries to make itself stand out, either by featuring neighborhood brews, a certain style of beer or otherwise. One unique event we stumbled across this spring was The Hop Review‘s Ultra Fresh II at Right Way Signs. While this was the event’s second year, it was our first time attending.

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Ultra Fresh featured some of the best breweries in and around Chicago, and all of the beers being poured were canned or kegged within five days of the event! Based on our experience with beer fests, this one was a cut above the rest. Breweries included Chicago staples such as Revolution and Half Acre as well as others formerly unknown to us (Hop Butcher for the World and Lo Rez).

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Courtesy of Right Way Signs on Instagram

We were a little surprised by the choice in venue, Right Way Signs’ workspace. A quick Google search informed us of the impact Right Way has had on the literal face of Chicago. If there’s a sign or mural that’s caught your attention outside your favorite bar, brewery or restaurant, you’ve likely noticed their work. But just because they’re supremely talented, we weren’t sure if the space would accommodate the 25 breweries that would be on tap at Ultra Fresh.

Upon arrival, we found the perfect setup: Two small indoor work areas and the outdoor drive leading up to the building made enough room for each coolered keg and plenty of room to socialize. The layout made it easy to flow in and out to grab your next pour with little wait (except for at Hop Butcher, whose line extended from the back to the front of the space).

9df6b6017f13d68e365e2c83ebfb5746_640x640OK, now it’s time for the beers:

Our first stop was to get Hopewell‘s Cold Brew, a session coffee ale (4.8%, IBU: N/A) we were excited to revisit. This time around, the ale was brewed with Peruvian coffee beans and left a lasting impression — we’d be back for more.

Staying with the coffee theme, we headed over to Maplewood to try their Wokeberries, a fruit and coffee hybrid (ABV: N/A, IBU: N/A). The raspberries and java made for a uniquely delicious combination. It was a favorite of the day.

After stops at Forbidden Root and Noon Whistle, we decided to get in the long line for Hop Butcher’s Galaxy Bowl, a double IPA (8%, IBU: N/A). This one was worth the wait, the bold flavor  — complete with peach, pineapple and passion pit — floored us.

At Illuminated Brew Works, we checked out Watermelon Gun, a fruited farmhouse ale (6.5%, IBU: N/A). This one was light, with a subtle watermelon flavor perfect for enjoying on a hot summer day.

Formerly Atlas Brewing Company, Burnt City showed up with their Orb Weaver, a golden session IPA (5.2%, IBU: N/A). Made with citra hops, this one was surprisingly good.

IMG_20170520_161541Lo Rez, whose taproom opens June 8, was a nice surprise. This Pilsen brewery’s Whitespace, a Belgian-style wit (5.5%, IBU: N/A), was crisp, clean and refreshingly delicious.

At Marz Community Brewing, owned by Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar’s co-founder Ed Marszewski, we grabbed a pour of Double Splash, a New England Double IPA (8%, IBU: N/A). This beer had an unfiltered hazy color and a hefty, juicy flavor.

We wrapped up our tastings with Pollyanna, BuckleDown, Temperance, Penrose and Metropolitan before going back to get another pour of some of our favorites from the day.

Overall, Ultra Fresh II was a complete success. Two tips for next year: More bathrooms and better food. Until next time, we’ll be looking forward to the trilogy.

 

 

Chicago Beer Club goes to San Diego

Today wraps up a week of exploring San Diego, and taking full advantage of it’s beer culture. Since Saturday, I went to a Padres’ game, visited the San Diego Zoo and spent a day at Ocean Beach. I also took in Logan Heights like a local, and spent plenty of time in front of my laptop writing and planning.

But, let’s talk more about what you’re here for: The beer! Below is a list of spots I stopped and drank:

Half Door Brewing Co.

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Street view of Half Door Brewing Co.

I swung by Half Door before the Padres’ game, it’s right by the ballpark. Stone also has a location in the area, but my husband had told me it wasn’t worth visiting. While I didn’t try the food here, everything I saw come out of the kitchen looked great. Very interesting layout, with a ton of outdoor seating and upstairs bar. I stuck to the main bar on the first level.

I tried two of their beers, both were great. First was a refreshing IPA, House of Hops (7.2%, IBU: N/A). This beer was piney, resinous and full of citrus hops. Next up, #Buzzwords Super Dank Pale Ale (8.7%, IBU: N/A). This beer offered an assault of resinous hop nectar, including: simcoe, citra, amarillo and mosaic.

The Point at Petco Park

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View from The Point

The Point by Ballast Point is located in left field, with high-top rail seating. The ticket price ($35) included waitstaff who took and served food and drink orders. I stuck with Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA (7%, IBU: 70), which has hints of apricot, peach, mango and lemon flavors, and still packs in the hops. I’ve enjoyed this before, but was happy to sip it on draft in San Diego. To eat I had the steak sandwich, it was delicious. I was told there’s plenty of good craft beer at the park, but I stuck with two Scuplins at my seat and didn’t do a ton of exploring. That will have to wait until next time.

Iron Fist Brewery Barrio Logan

This brewery was about a mile from where I stayed, so I walked over when they opened on Monday. The Barrio Logan tasting room has an industrial vibe and a nice outdoor space. While they don’t have a kitchen, you can bring food in and there’s even a spot (MishMash) right next door. Between the two beers I tried, I wasn’t blown away.

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Counter Strike bomber

Nelson the ImPALEr, an extra pale ale (5%, IBU: 28), was up first. This beer was brewed using only the exceedingly rare  Nelson Sauvin hops, grown exclusively in Nelson, New Zealand. The flavor of grapefruit and hints of pineapple and mango quickly leave for a dry finish.

Next, I wanted to try Counter Strike, a single IPA (6.5%, IBU: 38). I should have gone back to the menu when they told me they were out and only had a bomber, but someone else was sipping on it at the bar so I figured it must be good. The citrus flavor was mild and overall taste came off flat. It was missing the fruit flavor of mango, passion fruit and tangerine that are listed on the website. Overall, this was a miss.

Ballast Point

With six locations in the area, you have a few options when it comes to checking out Ballast Point. I opted for their Little Italy taproom, per my husband’s and locals’ recommendations. They have a kitchen, so I headed over after a day of trekking around the San Diego Zoo (which also has solid craft beer options to keep you refreshed).

I’ve gotten to try a lot of their beers, as they distribute in Chicago. So I was hoping to see some new stuff on the menu. The first to catch my eye was Sea Rose, a tart cherry wheat ale (4%, IBU: 8). In retrospect, this was similar to a beer I’d try the next day, but not done nearly as well. The beer was light and clean, but the cherry flavor was subtle and not very tart.

The Manta Ray is a double IPA (8.5%, IBU: 70) that delivers. Aromas of fresh, citrus flavor, melon and pine all announce themselves before a smooth finish. This paired well with my dinner: La Conquistadora Burger with a roasted tomato chorizo relish to drool over. I wrapped things up with something familiar, the Grapefruit Sculpin, an IPA with grapefruit (7%, IBU: 70). This beer is tart and the grapefruit flavor fresh, pairing well with a hoppy citrus character.

Culture Brewing Co.

I spent most of Wednesday at Ocean Beach, which is full of breweries. It was hard to decide which to go to, but I’d liked what I’d seen at Culture online. So, that’s where I headed. When I first walked by, no one was at the bar and I was hesitant, but went in anyway. It was the right choice. No food at this tasting room, but plenty of great beer to try. So much so that I ended up staying put and didn’t check out any other breweries in the neighborhood. Plus, the bartender was super nice — she ended up giving me an amazing dinner recommendation (OB Noodle House) that was absolutely delicious.

Back to the beer. I tried a few here and none of them disappointed. To start, a flight.

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2X IPA (right), Amarillo IPA (center), Tart Cherry Wit (left)

The Tart Cherry Wit (5.2%, IBU: 18) was probably my favorite beer here. This was a new brew for them and I couldn’t find it listed on their website. Hopefully it stays around, because this Witbier is refreshingly tart, not sour. The bartender mentioned that their head brewer plans to do more and more sours in the future — and there’s always a sour-adjacent beer on tap. As for the Amarillo SIPA, a session IPA (4.8%, IBU: 66), it was filled with flowery and citrus aromas. Simple and subtle. And the final taster in this flight, the 2X IPA (8.2%, IBU: 80), packed a punch of hoppy flavor with those same citrus and flowery aromas.

From there, I moved onto two full pours. First was the Mosaic IPA, another session IPA (4.8%, IBU: 66). Single hopped, this IPA maintains a full-hopped flavor. I wrapped things up with Kottbusser, an Altbier (8.4%, IBU: 18). This guy only comes in a half pour due to the high ABV. True to it’s German style, the Altbier had a dry, almost tangy aroma and notes of honey.

Border X Brewing

Another brewery within walking distance from the house I stayed at, Border X Brewing gets creative. Unless I make a stop on my way to the airport, this will be my last taste of local brews in San Diego, and it was a great one to go out on. They’re new to the location and it has the feel of a traditional bar, but there’s a huge beer garden out back where they also serve up traditional street tacos. The (super nice) bartender informed me that while they currently brew down the street, they’ll be moving things in-house soon.

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Blood Saison

With six of their beers on the menu, I was excited to see three I knew I had to try. To start, the Blood Saison, a farmhouse ale (7.5%, IBU: 10). This beer was inspired by the traditional Mexican drink Jamaica. It’s tart and made with real hibiscus and agave. 4.5 out of 5 stars from me. I had to get a taster of the Chicano Triple IPA (12.5%, IBU: N/A), which was sweet as can be. Finally, El Chiquitin, another session IPA (4.4%, IBU: N/A) that was smooth and slightly hoppy.

Overall, I really enjoyed Border X. The staff and regulars were so welcoming, and it was a great way to end my trip. I’ll be back to San Diego to visit some of the breweries again, as well as all the ones on my list I didn’t make it to (AleSmith, Stone, Mission, OB and more).

Cheers!