Drink of the week:
A pint of Arcadia Whitsun and a Major Sampler at Chicago Ale House.
The damage: $4.75 for the pint; $6.75 for a three-brew major sampler.
Thousands of bars in Chicago, why this one? In college, my buddies and I would always order beer in bottles, partially because pint glasses often sported questionable spots and stains, but mostly because wherever you stand in a college town bar, you're usually just a few feet away from a tub full of Miller Lite and a waitress armed with dollar bills. This quick exchange put a brew in your hand far more quickly than an encounter with the bartender. But now that speed of delivery doesn't dictate what I drink, I prefer a perfectly poured pint to its pre-packaged counterpart. Boasting nearly 60 beers on tap, Chicago Ale House sounded like the perfect spot to relish suds the way anyone who's logged four years of drinking lukewarm domestics should: with an appropriate-sized head and in a proper glass.
How it went down: With a varied beer list that ranges from premium domestics like Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA and 3 Floyd's Alpha King to imports like New Zealand's Steinlager and Germany's Franziskaner Weissbier, the bar appropriately offers samplers of three or six brews in four-ounce (mini) or four-and-a-half ounce (major) tasting portions. I opted to sip on a pint of Arcadia Whitsun, a wheat beer brewed in Battle Creek, Michigan, while I pondered my picks for a major sampler. The cloudy, marigold beer seemed lighter than most wheats I've tried, and it had a pungent flavor of berries and lemon with a buttery aftertaste. By the time the waitress delivered a pile of nachos, drizzled with chili and covered in cheese, I had zeroed in on De Koninck Belgium, Kutscher Alt and BBK for my sampler.
I switched back and forth between the miniaturized glasses, scrutinizing the unique flavors of each brew. The Koninck was subtle and slightly zesty; the Alt tasted sweet and hoppy; and BBK's refreshing quality made me want to drink it by the stein-load. Though I enjoyed them all, none of them impressed me to such an extent that I wanted a full 16 ounces, so instead I ordered a Julius Echter Hefe-weiss, served in a weizen, an authentic, classic beer glass that's tall and thin.
Would I want to become a regular? When it first opened in July, Chicago Ale House caught a lot of flak for having a less-than-exciting beer list with too many crappy domestics. Since then, the owners have clearly re-assessed their selection, and they now cater to beer snobs without scaring away friendly Lincoln Square locals who just want to eat pizza and watch the Cubs game…or slurp up a heaping portion of pad thai. Yeah, its menu oddly lists thai dishes right next to pub grub, and the table I sat at had seashells lining the perimeter and an odd '80s-inspired geometric print tacked to the booth, but the quirky details are easily overlooked, at least for someone who used to buy beer out of a tub.
Dana Kavan scours the city for drink deals so good you'll offer to buy a round and creative libations that outshine your average on-the-rocks concoctions. Want to give Dana tips on where to rack up a bar tab? Share your finds before her next night out.