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Ciders and Lambics and Meads (Oh My!)

These alternatives to beer pack sumptuous fruit flavor that will get you thinking about summer.
Monday May 12, 2008.     By K. Tighe
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Raspberry lambic oozes with fruity flavor
As summer nears and a warm breeze starts to blow, the mind wanders to all the freshly plucked fruits that will soon tumble over farmers' market stalls. You know—the ones that aren't trucked in from California. Such seasonal sentiments could be pondered over a frosty brewski, but once you've got a taste for tangy raspberries, juicy blueberries and fuzzy peaches, it's hard to appreciate your hop-laden beverage. No worries: These beer-alternatives pack sumptuous fruit flavor (and enough alcohol to get you toasted by happy hour).

Lindeman's Framboise ($5) at Map Room
Although this lambic began with a mash of 70-percent malt barley and 30-percent wheat, the final product resembles champagne rather than beer. The high carbonation and general tartness can be attributed to a centuries-old fermentation process that more closely resembles the birth passages of wine. After the ingredients are brewed and warmed, they're transferred to vats in the attic of Lindeman's Brussels brewery, where they catch the natural airborne microflora that happen through open, vented windows. This spontaneous fermentation process, called "pitching," is followed by a turn in oak caskets for up to two years. The pulp and juice of fresh raspberries is blended with the aged lambic, and the entire brew takes another nap.

With only four-percent ABV, this crisp little tipple oozes with fresh fruit flavor, tickles like bubbly and takes the edge off of those warm summer nights.

Wild Blossom Blueberry Nectar ($7) at Hopleaf
Why should drama geeks and Dungeons & Dragons hobbyists have the only claim to this antiquated beverage? For a soothing wine with major charm (and 12-percent ABV), you can't go wrong with a goblet of mead. Since Wild Blossom Meadery is located in Chicago, you get to pat yourself on the back for supporting a local business, but the fuzzy feel-goods don't stop there: Mead happens to be one of the most sustainable and earth-friendly ways to get drunk. Forget the acres of farmland and the pesticides; the only thing needed to make mead is a swarm of busy bees. The little buzzers set out to pollinate every flower for miles, ultimately gathering the nectar of over two-million local blooms.

The natural process is fresh, intuitive and absolutely sustainable—and refreshing as all-get-out. That fresh floral honey, aromatic and sweet, is fermented with 20-percent whole Michigan blueberries. During the six-month aging period, the honey soaks up all of those superfood nutrients that blueberries are known for, making this libation's antioxidant count sky-rocket.

A fruity cider for summer
photo: courtesy of Bridget Montgomery; Wyder's Peach at Red Line

Wyder's Peach Cider ($4.25) at Red Line Tap
You might be tempted to sip on a mimosa during brunch at the Heartland Cafe, but this would be a mistake. Heartland's adjoining bar, Red Line Tap, carries a cider that's the perfect accompaniment for a leisurely stroll down hangover-busting road. Wyder's may be your typical Canadian cider, but its juicy blend of tongue-tingling ripe fruit is the only peach cider available in the States—and it's mighty damn tasty to boot. While the profile of this one gives a juicy fruit bite, it's mild enough to pair with pretty much anything, is rockin' a 5-percent ABV and also happens to be naturally gluten-free.

Few things cut through summertime heat like this thirst-quencher, and if you're really crafty about the way you order, ask for a peach float: A dollop of ice cream mixed with this cider goes down like a Dreamsicle.

Unibroue Ephemere ($6.50) at Delilah's
If you're a life-long beer devotee, or you worry that mumbling the words "lambic," "mead," or "cider" to your regular bartender may compromise your masculinity, look no further than Unibroue's Éphémère to keep your machismo intact. Technically a beer, with its base of spring barley and plenty of wheat, this ale is so hopped up on apples that it's practically got an identity crisis. Crisp, tart tones of McIntosh and Granny Smith run crazy through this delicate brew, making it the ideal refreshment on a toasty afternoon or a great accompaniment to a light dessert.

While apple is a fruit that's not often added to beers, Unibroue has figured out how to work it. The balanced, dreamy blend delivers a ripe, juicy kick—without all of the palate-killing syrupy sweetness you'd expect from the combo. Bright yellow with hints of green, a frothy cream head and enough effervescence to tickle your nose, the beer clocks in at a deceiving five-point-five ABV.


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