Champaign-Urbana really is a beer enthusiast’s paradise. Though C-U lacks its own brewery, beer drinkers have virtually hundreds of quality beers to choose from at the local watering holes. Many of the area bars make a concerted effort to provide their customers with a worthy variety of North American craft and choice European beers on tap and in bottles. What’s even better is that a number of bars bring in new selections on a regular basis. In this monthly column, you can find out what’s new on tap and in bottle in the bars, taverns, lounges and saloons of C-U.
Esquire Lounge (106 N. Walnut, Downtown Champaign)
The Esquire regularly has Hacker Pschorr Weisse (German wheat), Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Smithwick’s Irish Ale, Guinness Stout, Bass and Blue Moon Belgian Style Wheat on tap, all for $3.75 per pint. Recently the Esquire added two new draughts: Founders Red’s Rye and Ommegang Hennepin Farmhouse Saison. Red’s Rye from Founders Brewing in Grand Rapids, Mich., is a Red Ale made from rye with a lively hop flavor. The Hennepin Farmhouse Saison is a citrusy Belgian style Ale out of Brewery Ommegang, based in Cooperstown, N.Y. The Brewery Ommegang is one of the finer North American, Belgian-style breweries. The Esquire serves both the Red’s Rye and Hennepin at an affordable $3.75 per pint.
New in bottle at the Esquire are Fat Tire and Mothership Witt, both from Fort Collins, Colo.’s New Belgium Brewery. Fat Tire is an Amber Ale, and Mothership Witt is an organic wheat beer. Both are 22-ounce bottles for $7 apiece. Also new in bottle is the True Blonde Ale from Ska Brewing for $3.75. Other bottles of interest include La Fin du Monde – a triple fermented Golden Ale ( Ed. note – La Fin du Monde is not to be trifled with, proceed with caution ), Tucher Helles (German Wheat) and Dunkel (dark Lager) , and Abita Turbodog – a dark Brown Ale brewed with chocolate malts.
Blind Pig (120 N. Walnut, Downtown Champaign)
The Blind Pig is one of the best beer drinking bars anywhere – hands down. Blind Pig has 26 taps plus a cask beer, as well as close to 100 different bottles. Beers are served in the appropriate vessel according to its style. The draught prices typically range between $4 and $5 per pint. Regular draughts include Delirium Tremens (Belgian Strong Ale), Konig Ludwig Weiss (German Hefewiezen), Strongbow Cider and Guinness.
New brews are rotated in on a weekly basis. I’ll highlight a few brews currently at the Blind Pig: Avery Fifteen, a seasonal Belgian Ale out of Avery Brewing in Boulder, Colo., is served in a 14-ounce Tulip glass for $4, has a fruity flavor and uses a strain of wild yeast in the brewing process. Jever Pilsener, served in a 14-ounce Pilsner glass for $5, is a classic German style Pilsner from Friesland, Germany. Three Floyds Robert The Bruce and Alpha King are also on tap. Hailing from Munster, Ind., Three Floyds Robert The Bruce is a rich, malty Scottish Ale and comes in a 20-ounce mug for $4.50. The Three Floyds Alpha King is a hoppy American Pale Ale. The Alpha King is $4 for a 16-ounce regular pint.
Coming soon to The Blind Pig are Saison DuPont, Two Brothers Oh Brother, Dog Fish Head 90 Minute IPA, Old Speckled Hen Bitter, Moylans Tipperary, New Holland Mad Hatter and Flying Dog Wooden Creek. I need to mention the cask beer, a unique feature of the Blind Pig, before I move on. Two ways a cask beer differs from keg beer are: the cask beer uses hardly any carbonation and the beer is served at a warmer temperature. This significantly enriches the flavor. The Blind Pig regularly features Arcadia Brewing Company on cask and serves the beer chilled to 55 degrees in a 20-ounce mug.
Radio Maria Tapas Bar (117 N. Walnut, Downtown Champaign)
Radio Maria has over 20 taps and also rotates their selection frequently. Two popular regulars are Celis White (a citrusy, wheaty Belgian White) and Krusovice Cerne (a delicious Black Beer from the Czech Republic). Currently IPAs, Red Ales and North American Belgians make up a large share of Radio Maria’s beer list. The Ballast Point Big Eye IPA out of San Diego, Calif., has a sharp, hoppy flavor and is $4. Another beer for the hop lover is Eugene City Hopped Red Ale from Eugene, Ore. This Rogue subsidiary beer, priced at $5, tastily blends the hoppy punch of an IPA with the Red Ale style. Another Oregon based Rogue subsidiary on tap is the Issaquah Brewhouse Ménage a Frog. This $5 Belgian Style Tripel is uses Belgian Candi Sugar to give it a sweet taste.
Also of note are New Holland Dragon’s Milk Ale and Golden Cap Saison Ale. The Dragon’s Milk is a caramelly, malty Ale and the Golden Cap is aromatic and wheaty Farmhouse Ale. Both are $5. A taste of what’s next at Radio Maria is Danny’s Irish Red from Moylan’s Brewery and North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout. Manager David Bohula mentioned a number of true Belgians are on the way in coming weeks.
Crane Alley (115 W. Main, Downtown Urbana)
Crane Alley offers 16 taps, 11 of which change as soon the beer runs out. They regularly feature Stella Artois, Guinness, Blue Moon, Rogue Dead Guy Ale and PBR. Outside of these 5 regulars, Crane Alley never has more than two kegs at a time of a particular beer, therefore, the on-deck circle is pretty lively. A few beers of note currently on tap are Two Brothers Domaine Du Page French Country Ale ($4.50), Issaquah Bullfrog Wheat Ale ($4.50), Breckenridge 471 Small Batch IPA ($5), Kasteel Rouge Kriek ($6 for 8 oz snifter) and Radeberger Pilsner ($4.50). The Two Brothers Domaine Du Page French Country Ale from Warrenville, Ill., has a nice fruit and hop flavor. The Issaquah Bullfrog Wheat Ale is a solid and refreshing American wheat. For the hop heads, the Breckenridge 471 Small Batch IPA out of Breckenridge, Colo., is a smooth, creamy yet highly hoppy double IPA with a hint of vanilla oakiness. Fans of fruit beers need to check out the Belgian Kasteel Rouge Kriek for its lively, zesty cherry flavor. A bottle is $15 for 750 mL, which might be more bang for your buck. The highlight of what I sampled at Crane Alley was the Radeberger Pilsner from Germany. This full flavored Pilsner hit the spot.
Coming up, Left Handed Chainsaw, Three Floyds Alpha King, Lagunitas Lucky 13 and Rogue JLS Love & Hoppiness are set to make an appearance on tap at Crane Alley. 145 bottles are also available at Crane Alley. New bottles of interest include Cisk Lager from Malta ($4.50 for 11.3 ounces), Dragon Head Stout ($7 for 1 pint, 9 ounces), He’brew Origin Stout Pomegranate Ale ($13 for 22 ounces) and Two Brothers Bare Tree Weiss Wine ($15 for 1 pint 9 ounces).
In next month’s B-double E-double R-U-N, Beer Run! column, I’ll highlight a few other area bars and give a quick update on what’s new at the above mentioned bars.