A Visit to the Hopleaf

July 23, 2009 at 10:16 am

Sharon and I met up last night with Mr. Michael Morowitz, aka editor in chief and grand sovereign-for-life of The Local Beet. We were at one of city’s great beer joints – the Hopleaf, in Andersonville (5148 N Clark St.). We even got there early enough to get a small table in the front room – no small accomplishment, even on a weekday evening. (Note: front room is primarily for serious drinking – meaning focusing on the quality beers, not downing massive quantities. Back room and mezzanine are more oriented toward the mostly-Belgian food menu. But you can do some serious, contemplative beer drinking there, too.)

Aside from Mr. Morowitz’s scintillating personality (and, yes, of course, I’m sucking up, so he’ll keep publishing this drek I write), we all enjoyed the mussels.

(Conversation with Sharon beforehand: Me: “Yknow, we always get the mussels at the Hopleaf – we should get something else – they’ve got a lot of good stuff there.” Then, at the bar, after ordering beers Me: “And I’d like an order of the mussels.” I really don’t mean to be a creature of habit. But it’s just so damn reflexive to order mussels at the Hopleaf. And they do go well with the beers.)

The real reason to go to the Hopleaf, as any beer drinker within a 50-mile radius knows, is for the beers. (Hopleaf is particularly known for its Belgians.) We limited ourselves to choosing among the 40 – 50 beers on tap on tap. Between the three of us, we had (locally-produced beers in bold):

Half Acre Daisy Cutter Pale Ale – a very good beer, from Half Acre, the newest brewery in the city of Chicago (at least until Revolution Brewing opens in Wicker Park later this year). However, it’s not particularly dis-similar from a lot of other hop-bombs out there. I liked it. I loves me lots o’ hops.

Surly Bender – a domestic beer, but from the far-away land called Minnesota. They claim to have 10,000 lakes there. Apparently they’re proud of that. Yet, next-door neighbor Wisconsin is secure enough in its own self to not have to laud over them the fact that Wisconsin has 15,000 lakes spread over 1/3 less acreage. (Yeah, Wisconsin has smaller lakes, but what the hell.) I’ve never thought of Minnesota as a particularly hot place, but based on this beer, the guys at Surly surely know how to roast their malts. It was what you’d get if an English Brown Ale and a Belgian Dubbel mated.

Goose Island Sofie – A Chicago take on a Belgian farmhouse-style ale. In many ways, the US craft beer industry has a lot more going for it than the Belgians do – despite the fact that a brewing guru no less than Charlie Papazian has described Belgium as “The Disneyland of Beers.”

Bell’s Two Hearted: Michael chose this Michigan beer to go with his mussels.

De Koninck – Served in a traditional a “ Bolleke,” the famous bowl-shaped glass that’s de rigueur for De Koninck, it’s an appealing session beer (5% ABV), but not as interesting as some of the other Belgians.

Van Honsebrouck, Gueuze Fond Tradition was an exceptionally sour (in a good way) gueuze, although the sourness might have slightly masked the oak flavors from the barrel-aging. Another at 5% ABV, it’s not going to hit you over the head any time soon.

Brouweij Bockor, Cuvee Des Jacobins Rouge was my personal favorite of the evening. Another gueuze, it had less sourness, and that seemed to accentuate some of the cherry fruitiness – likely from crystal malts, and possibly from the yeasts. Those Belgians love their weird yeasts, floating through the air …

Boon Mariage Parfait Oud Gueuze had notes of apricot playing off the gueuze sourness, for a mellow, agreeable character. (Is this getting to sound like a pompous wine review, with tons of made-up, meaningless words? Okay, I’ll try to avoid that … next time.)

Note that the last three beers are difficult, if not impossible, to find anywhere in the region (or, maybe, in the country?) other than at the Hopleaf.

Chicago is a great city for drinking beer.

And, after all this, I decided on the next beer I’m going to make. It’ll be a slightly sour, somewhat Belgian-style beer, made with beets. Local beets. Yes, I’m sucking up to Morowitz again.



  1. Diane says:

    The Hopleaf is one of my absolute favorite things about Chicago. And yes, Chicago ‘is’ a great city for drinking beer. Thanks for the descriptions… I don’t mind pompous beer reviews at all and would love to try the Boon Mariage Parfait. :)

  2. Deanna says:

    Cuvee Des Jacobins Rouge is fantastic, isn’t it? My husband and I recently had the opportunity to taste it a Two Brothers Tap House.
    - Deanna

    For those who have not yet heard…

    Brouwerij Bockor Flemish Sour Blending Seminar
    Hopleaf Bar
    Date From March 22, 2010 7:00 PM
    Until March 22, 2010 9:00 PM

    A unique opportunity to learn from an expert!
    Brouwerij Bockor brewmaster Sam Quartier will be leading this seminar about one of Belgium’s oldest traditions.

    A keg each of new and aged West Flemish Sour will be provided for on-site blending. You’ll also get to taste 5 samples of the new, aged and lambic blends, with the Cuve des Jacobins Rouge (on tap!) as the closer.

    There will only be 18 of these seminars around the US, and ours will be held upstairs at Hopleaf, so seating is limited.

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