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It seems beer is extraordinarily important to humankind.
· A beer was first brewed in China about 9,000 years ago.
· The philosopher Plato is believed to have said, “He was a wise man who invented beer.”
· Benjamin Franklin asserted, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
· Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “God made yeast, as well as dough, and he loves fermentation just as dearly as he loves vegetation.”
· The late, great musician Frank Zappa devoted a song to a competition with the devil over a six-pack.
· And the Tempe, Ariz., heavy-metal band Psychostick hit the charts in 2007 with the single, “Beer,” that begins forthrightly: “I like beer ‘cos it is good/ I drink beer because I should.”
From long-ago intimate Chinese poetry competitions to Mardi Gras in New Orleans; from Oktoberfests in Germany – and here – to the “Great Japan Beer Festival” and more, human beings have celebrated great and small events with libations of beer.
Evanston, once the home of Prohibition, today hosts pub-restaurants that serve a surprising number of truly great beers. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, another holiday associated with the pleasures of drinking beer, the RoundTable checked in with some of these pubs to talk about – beer.
John and Jennifer Enright’s restaurant and bar, the Bluestone, at 1932 Central St., has eight handles; they get lots of requests for Guiness stout and Harp lager, both Irish beers, but American Blue Moon is often requested here.
Bluestone stocks more craft beers than it used to: Mr. Enright says, “We have to have Guinness and Harp, but we’ve tended to get in a lot of craft beers from microbreweries – they’re hot right now. I love them all.”
The RoundTable pub-crawled to Central Evanston, and began with Quince at the Homestead, at 1625 Hinman Ave., to ask Brenna Davis, events manager, about their beer dinners. The restaurant had held wine-pairing dinners for some time when the economy took a downtown, so they decided to offer something “more approachable by more people,” she says. Quince started teaming up with breweries to offer three-course meals matched with a different beer per course.
Ms. Davis says she remembers well how well the Sierra Nevada beer dinner was received. Last Friday the restaurant held their New Belgium Brewing Company (of Colorado) dinner, which featured the new and popular Ranger IPA (India Pale Ale), 1554 Black Ale and Fat Tire amber ale. Ms. Davis says the dinners, held in the restaurant’s “very lounge-y” space, are a lot of fun: The brewer reps are friendly, answer guests’ questions, and talk about their products. A Goose Island dinner (from Evanston’s nearest neighbor south) is planned for April 23. While Quince has has only bottled beers, they appear to take their bottled beers seriously.
On St. Patrick’s Day, they will be celebrating with $2 Irish beers and live music, a capella group CG singing Irish songs.
The Celtic Knot, 626 Church St., run by northeast County Down man Patrick Breslin, his Cook County (Ill.) wife, Liz, and Liverpudlians Debbie and Jamie Evans, serve up the Irish essentials – Guinness stout, Harp, Smithwick’s (pronounced Smiddick’s), Magners Cider, and other favorites from the seven handles in their public house. “We call it a ‘public house,’” says Mr. Breslin warmly, “because it’s a home away from home, where everybody is welcome to get together to find something in common and enjoy good food and good drink.”
He says hands down, their best-selling beer is Guinness, but people also like Harp, Stella Artois (a Belgian lager), Magners Cider and others. When asked what he would recommend – outside of Guinness – he says, “If you’re wanting something not so heavy as Guinness” but not so light either, he would recommend Smithwick’s, an Irish red ale brewed in Kilkenny, north of Waterford, and now owned by Guinness.
The Knot celebrates St. Patrick’s Day with heart as well as ale. Their annual hooley began on March 13 and continues through tonight at midnight. The Sheila Tully Irish Dancers, the Public House Band and Tim O’Shea and Patrick Buckley from County Kerry will be performing.
Tommy Nevins Pub, 1450-1458 Sherman Ave., is an Irish-themed pub with pictures on its walls of the likes of Brendan Behan and James Joyce, Nevins has also been celebrating with events leading up to today since March 13. Today’s performers will include Character Fleadh ( a fiddle trio), Sheila O’Connor and the Leahey Twins
(dancers), and the Chancey Brothers band.
Owner Rohit Sahajpal and barman Mason Hoffman-Dane counted out the number of taps in the open space that is the Nevins bar: 37 handles all told, among them five Irish beers, with Guinness stout commanding three and Harp two. American beers Samuel Adams, Blue Moon and Goose Island 312 are also two handles each; but eclectic beers such as American ales Rogue (Portland, Ore.) Dead Guy and Juniper, and Belgian Delirium Nocturnum and Tremens are also on tap. Celebrants can choose between an Imperial pint – 20 oz. – or an American pint – 16 oz. – or a half- or even a quarter-pint glass. Even the smallest glass of Guinness, says Mr. Hoffman-Dane, is dispensed in the traditional double-pour way.
Prairie Moon “All American Dining” is located at 1502 Sherman Ave., two doors up from Nevins. Owners Robert Strom and Paul White have more than 110 craft beers on tap, in bottles and in pub cans. Mr. Strom says, with great enthusiasm, that they try to get small-batch beers for their restaurant and try to highlight local beers: They work on their list every week. On April 3, from 10 a.m. to noon, Prairie Moon will be serving up a “beer and eggs breakfast,” as the venue for the official entry into the Chicago area of San Diego’s Stone Brewing Company, which BeerAdvocate magazine this past January called the “all-time top brewery on Planet Earth.”
Prairie Moon regularly has Guinness in pub cans – which do pour very well – and will have it on tap for their St. Patrick’s Day festivities, to go along, perhaps, with their Boston-Irish corned-beef-and-cabbage dinner.
Also available is Brian Boru, a Three Floyds (Indiana) ale named for the tenth-century Irish king; Rogue’s Kell’s lager; Great Lakes (Cleveland, Ohio) Conway’s Irish Ale and, of course, Harp lager.
Mr. Strom points out that Prairie Moon is the only place around that offers “Left-Hand Milk Stout with a nitrogen pour” and willingly explains what that means: 70-75 percent nitrogen is infused to a lesser percentage of carbon dioxide (CO2), injecting smaller bubbles but still propelling, “making the beer very creamy.”
One day, Mr. Strom says, with a gleam in his eye, he hopes to open a brewery himself.
“What people like is draft beer,” says Pete Rodrigues, managing partner of the Firehouse Grill (a Spare Time Inc. location), 750 Chicago Ave. “Craft beers are selling the most,” he adds. The “Draft Beer of the Month” this month has been Lagunitas (from Petaluma, Calif.) IPA (India Pale Ale), described on the Lagunitas website as “homicidally hoppy.” The Grill has varieties of bottled beers of as well, but Mr. Rodrigues says he would “love to have more” than the Grill’s six present handles, which now serve up Guinness, Stella Artois, Blue Moon, Fat Tire and Smithwick’s as well as the Lagunitas.
For the St. Patrick’s Day holiday, he says, the Grill may put up O’Hara’s Irish Red (from Co. Carlow, Ireland) or Goose Island Kilgubbin Red (from closer to home, i.e. Chicago).
This “pub crawl” from North Evanston to South demonstrates that Evanston at present, whatever its past may have been, and from whatever direction one looks at it, is no small potatoes when it comes to beer.