Posts in Bar Towel Radio

Print

Golden Tap Talk with Ben Johnson and David Ort

August 29th, 2016 Posted by Bar Towel Radio, Feature, Golden Tap Awards No Comment yet

The Golden Tap Awards voting season is upon us, and during this time beer lovers in the province get talking. And this year is no different, so Ontario beer writers Ben Johnson, David Ort and I decided to record a podcast to discuss some of the issues of the past, present and future of the Awards.

Please give it a listen below or via iTunes:

 

DSC05200

Warm Smiles and Cold Beers at Cruz Blanca

July 19th, 2016 Posted by Bar Towel Radio, Feature, On The Road Reports No Comment yet

The bar on the main floor of Cruz Blanca.With so many breweries opening up nowadays (620 did in 2015 according to the Brewers Association), it is sometimes hard to get excited for a specific one to debut.  But there was much excitement this summer when Cruz Blanca, the new brewery from Rick Bayless, the restaurateur behind Chicago’s Frontera Grill, Topolobampo and Xoco, opened its doors.  Mr. Bayless is a legend in the Mexican cuisine world, a Michelin-starred chef known for creativity, accessibility, authenticity and passion.  And when we learned that he and his team were going to get into the brewing world, we began tracking the progress of his new venture with great anticipation.

Cruz Blanca is located in the West Loop neighbourhood of Chicago, an incredibly lively food and drink haven already home to The Publican, brewpub Haymarket, famed restaurant Girl and the Goat and its sister Little Goat Diner, the Three Floyds-focused pub Lone Wolf and the delicious Green Street Smoked Meats.  The area has transformed from a meatpacking district to a day and night playground for the senses with no indication of slowing down.  And with the simultaneous openings of Cruz Blanca and its adjoining neighbour Leña Brava (also by Rick Bayless), the area became even more of a magnet for food and drink lovers.

2nd floor taproom is usually open.Upon entering the attractively designed space one is immediately greeted with two options: the Cruz Blanca “Cervecería” or “Taquería”.  Beers are available directly from the 10-seat-long bar located on the left hand side of the room, and tacos are available from the counter located to the right.  Numerous communal tables (no reservations here) fill the space along with a front patio on Randolph Street.  A second taproom sits above the main room, featuring another long bar adorned with TV screens, although the large windows overlooking Randolph are equally if not more interesting.  Bar or counter service is the rule of the house, which means less waiting for a delicious beer which is very much appreciated.

There’s a story to this new brewery, one rooted in Mexican brewing history.  Emil Dercher was a European who left France to Mexico City in the 1860s and opened one of the first breweries there, naming it Cruz Blanca.  With this inspiration, the new Cruz Blanca brews interpretations of German, French and Austrian styles as would have been present in Mexico City during the original incarnation, but with a modern twist and featuring unique ingredients from the present day.

A view from Cruz Blanca's brewhouse.The three-level establishment integrates the brewery throughout the space.  On the upper floor lies the grain mill, feeding the 10 barrel Newlands brewhouse located behind the bar on the ground level.  From there bright tanks live in the basement directly feeding the main bar, as do a few more behind the bar on the top floor.  A immaculate cold room is also present on the lower level for kegs and guest brews.  Coming soon to the brewery is a bottle filler and a barrel program to even further the capability of this impressive new operation.

Cruz Blanca’s house brews are anchored by a trio of bière de garde styles under the La Guardia banner: Rubia, Ambar and Morena.  With consistent yeast and hops across all three brews, each beer has a unique malt bill and featured ingredient.  The Rubia, the lightest of the three clocking in at 6.8% is a sweet, orange coloured brew with local Illinois honey; Ambar features Mexican hominy at 7.5%; and the boozy Morena packs a punch at 9% with Mexican Piloncillo sugar resulting in a lingering sweetness.  A common theme amongst Rick Bayless’ restaurants is their commitment to local farms, and their beers follow this philosophy, as malts in their beers are from the Sugar Creek Malt Co. in northern Indiana.

Communal seating on the main floor of Cruz Blanca.Other beers in the house lineup include Smoke Alley, a 4% delicately smoked wheat ale inspired by Oaxaca’s taco corridor of the same name, Winnow, a rich and delicious 6.9% American porter made with cocoa bean husks from sister restaurant Xoco, and Básica, the hoppiest beer of the bunch, a crisp 6% wheat lager made with Chinook and Cascade hops.  The beers of Cruz Blanca are unique and interesting, accessible but flavourful.  It is clear that they do not follow the traditional pattern of new brewpubs today, but have carved their own path of originality with stories behind each recipe and the quality to match.  The remaining taps featured guest brews from local breweries that helped with the pilot batches as Cruz Blanca was getting up and running, including Perennial, Penrose, Revolution, Half Acre and Metropolitan, but in recent days more house brews have been coming on the line (a Vienna Lager and Hoppy Kolsch were in the works during our visit).  After only a few short weeks from visiting there is already more new to try.

Cruz Blanca's taco counter for delicious bites.

Cruz Blanca also features a daily radler, with a rotating agua fresca flavour mixed with Smoke Alley (and a mezcal option to turbocharge that), along with beer-to-go in freshly-poured growler (64 oz.) or howler (32 oz.) form.  And what would a Rick Bayless restaurant be without Mexican cuisine, and Cruz Blanca delivers with an all-fire kitchen (no gas lines in the building) featuring steak, pork, chicken, chorizo and mushroom tacos, alongside other snacks and sides.  As Todd White, Lead Bartender and Assistant Manager put it, “Come in, find a spot and make it your own”.  This encouraging rule is evident at Cruz Blanca: it is a welcoming spot to try many delicious varieties of beer and food where one could easily settle in for an entire day exploring the many tastes of this dynamic new brewery and taqueria.

After the visit, I was thrilled to be able to chat with Jacob Sembrano, Head Brewer of Cruz Blanca about his beers and brewery.  Please give it a listen below or via iTunes:

 

Cruz Blanca is an excellent addition to the already dynamic beer scene of Chicago.  Its beer list breaks the mold for most new breweries with a lineup full of unique beers made with interesting stories and ingredients.  The design is top notch, the beers are delicious and the experience is friendly and memorable.  As complex of an operation as Cruz Blanca is, their mantra was described to us as “warm smiles, cold beer.”  And here, there’s nothing else we’d rather have.

Cruz Blanca is located at 904 W. Randolph Street in Chicago, Illinois.  The brewery and taqueria is open from 11am until 11pm from Tuesday-Thursday, until midnight on Friday and Saturday, until 9pm on Sunday, and closed Monday.  Special thanks to Head Brewer Jacob Sembrano and Lead Bartender and Assistant Manager Todd White for their generous participation in this feature.

DSC04732

A Beer At…The Publican

May 15th, 2016 Posted by Bar Towel Radio, Feature, On The Road Reports 1 comment

The Bar Towel is proud to present a new series entitled “A Beer At…”, where we feature a single bar or restaurant, have a beer there and get a feel for what makes them special. Our first visit is to Chicago’s famed The Publican, a shrine to beer and pork in the city’s hot Fulton Market/West Loop area.

DSC04757

The Publican’s European beer hall feel is unmistakeable.

The Publican in Chicago is a beer destination in every sense. It is grand, it is unique, and the beers are always interesting, delicious and selected with an evident sense of great care and appreciation. It’s a place where I make it a point to stop in for a beer every time I’m in Chicago, so it’s a fitting to be the first feature of our new “A Beer At…” series, where we visit special beer spots and find out what makes them great. And in this first feature we are also fortunate to have a live chat with Adam Vavrick, Beer Director of The Publican for a complementary Bar Towel Radio podcast.

Upon entering The Publican you know you’re somewhere different. It’s a large, open space with numerous large communal tables lining the floor and rows of grand, bulbous lights hanging from the ceiling, reminiscent of a European beer hall. You can’t help but notice the massive murals of pig artwork adorning the walls – they love their pork (and more) here and aren’t shy to feature this fine animal throughout.

The Publican can be a place of juxtaposition. Although meticulously designed and refined, there is a definite casual and fun air to the place, with classic cheese rock jams from Journey, Aerosmith and Bon Jovi emanating through the bar on an early evening on Saturday. It’s a place where fun and fine come together seamlessly.

Local food is important to The Publican, and across their menu highlights of pork, oysters, fish and cheese, farmers or location are identified to provide provenance. And local beer is also important, but a wider reach is featured on the beer menu. Within their twelve draught taps alone five states are featured from the U.S.A., alongside Germany, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands. Breweries represented on tap at my visit included The Bruery, Stone, Left Hand, Half Acre, Allagash, Lindemans, Krombach, Andechs, Hirt and Koningshoeven. An extensive bottle list also includes the U.K., Japan, Canada and vintage offerings such at Aventinus, JW Lees and Orval. The beer list changes regularly, and every visit will provide a new experience when browsing the excellent menu.

DSC04763

The delicious Lambic Doux, served in a clay pitcher.

Now we’re here to have a beer, and the beer we’re having is Lambic Doux. This is one of the most unique beers you’ll find in Chicago, as it is literally one-of-a-kind at the Publican. The Lambic Doux is The Publican’s house blend lambic that features a unique mix of added flavours in small batch quantities. Served in a clay pitcher, having the Lambic Doux is a delicious and special treat, almost a sensory teleportation taking you from the bustle of the city to the farm table of Belgium. At this visit the Lambic Doux was flavoured with blackberry, mint and lemongrass, an orangey-pink hued beer with a light head and a rich sourness, with the added flavours evident. It’s simply delicious and a beer I find time for during every Chicago visit – and so should you.

The Publican is a dynamite place for a beer, and luckily during my visit I was able to have a quick chat with Adam Vavrick, the newly hired Beer Director of The Publican, which we are happy to present as as Bar Towel Radio podcast here. The podcast complements this feature, as you’ll hear from Adam about his background, The Publican’s beer philosophy and other interesting tidbits about this wonderful place. Give a listen below, on our Podcasts page, or via iTunes:

 

The Publican is located at 837 W. Fulton Market in the Fulton Market / West Loop area of Chicago. Formerly an industrial and meatpacking district, this area has transformed in recent years to house some of the city’s most renowned restaurants and bars. Across N. Green Street facing The Publican is their offshoot Publican Quality Meats, a delicious casual spot with sandwiches, beer and meat and food to go. The Publican will also be opening a location at O’Hare Airport in the near future.  The Publican is open afternoons and evenings seven days a week, with daytime brunch on weekends.

unibroue_pic

Unibroue on Bar Towel Radio

December 12th, 2015 Posted by Bar Towel Radio, Feature No Comment yet

Recently I was lucky enough to sit down for a live conversation and morning beer tasting with Jerry Vietz, Brewmaster and Sylvain Bouchard, Beer Sommelier of Quebec’s renowned Unibroue.

The pair of them were in Toronto to promote the launch of the limited edition 6-litre releases of Unibroue 17 Grand Réserve and La Fin du Monde, and alongside trying out some of Unibroue’s great beers we discussed everything from the brewery’s past, present and future as well as the craft beer landscape in Canada and beyond.

You can listen to the episode below, on our Podcasts page, or via iTunes.

IMG_7645

B-Side Brewing Label on Bar Towel Radio

September 7th, 2015 Posted by Bar Towel Radio, Feature 1 comment

Back in April we attended the Craft Brewers Conference in Portland, Oregon and recorded a number of podcasts with some of our beer friends.  We’re thrilled to unveil another one, this time a conversation about the B-Side Brewing Label with Steve Beauchesne of Beau’s All-Natural Brewing, Ben Love of Gigantic Brewing and Anders Kissmeyer of Kissmeyer Beer.

In the episode we chat about the history of how Beau’s started the B-Side Brewing Label, and its first two brands, Kissmeyer Nordic Pale Ale and Gigantic La Formidable.  During our chat, Ben from Gigantic also provides some insider highlights about great beer places to check out in Portland, Oregon.

You can listen to the episode below, on our Podcasts page, or via iTunes.

15637203852_31e57135a3_k

Almanac Beer Company on Bar Towel Radio

May 3rd, 2015 Posted by Bar Towel Radio, Feature No Comment yet

At the recent Craft Brewers Conference in Portland, Oregon we were fortunate to record a few conversations for Bar Towel Radio. And we’re thrilled to release another one of those chats, this one with Jesse Friedman of Almanac Beer Company of San Francisco.

In this episode of Bar Towel Radio we discuss with Jesse the history of Almanac and where the brewery is going, what makes for a good beer dinner, some of the great beer spots to check out in San Francisco, and more.

You can listen to the episode below, on our Podcasts page, or via iTunes.

(Photo above courtesy of Almanac Beer Company.)

Will we see this in an Ontario grocery store?

Retail Roundtable with Ontario Brewers

April 17th, 2015 Posted by Bar Towel Radio No Comment yet

This week is the Craft Brewers Conference in Portland, where there are a significant number of Canadian brewers present. So when the news broke that the Ontario government was making changes to the beer retail system in the province, many brewers and others within the industry were together to discuss its impact.

So, we recorded a “Retail Roundtable” for Bar Towel Radio to chat about the news!  In this episode we’ve got Ben Johnson from Ben’s Beer Blog, Jason Fisher from Indie Alehouse, Dimitri van Kampen from Spearhead and Rob McIsaac and Shane Clark, both from Beyond the Pale.  Give it a listen below or via iTunes:

Inside Magnolia's new Smokestack in San Francisco.

Bar Towel Radio with Dave McLean of Magnolia Brewing

April 13th, 2015 Posted by Bar Towel Radio, On The Road Reports No Comment yet

I’ve written fondly in the past about San Francisco, one of my favourite beer cities in North America. This year I was fortunate enough to visit again, and while I was there I recorded an interview with Dave McLean, the founder and brewmaster of Magnolia Brewing Company, now featured in our latest episode of Bar Towel Radio.

In the episode I chat with Dave at Magnolia’s Smokestack, their new production brewery and BBQ restaurant, and highlight some of San Francisco’s top beer destinations. Give it a listen here:

 

If you enjoy Bar Towel Radio, please consider subscribing to via iTunes.

IMG_6558

Ever Wanted to Tour Goose Island’s Brewpub?

March 11th, 2015 Posted by Bar Towel Radio No Comment yet

Our previous episode of Bar Towel Radio was a live recording of Goose Island’s Black Friday event at their brewpub in Chicago.  And now we’re thrilled to release the second part of our “Live at Goose Island” series, with a live recording of the Goose Island Brewpub tour!  The tour, recorded in November 2014, includes a visit to the brewhouse, located at 1800 N. Clybourn in Chicago, as well as a tutored tasting of a handful of beers that were available at the pub.

Within this episode I also have outlined a number of can’t-miss beer destinations in Chicago, making it a helpful beery companion when visiting this great city.  You can listen to it below or via iTunes:

Stay tuned for the next episode of Bar Towel Radio, where we’ll have a one-on-one interview with a special guest from San Francisco!