Bentley’s Pub – 419 N. Neil, Downtown Champaign
Bentley’s features 12 taps and around 70 bottles. The draft selection leans heavily toward English and Irish beers such as Guinness, Harp Lager, Bass Ale, Smithwicks Irish Ale and Strongbow Cider. Prices run from $3.75 – $4.75, and the brews come in a 20-oz pint glass. Bentley’s draft offerings stay pretty consistent, and new taps are introduced one at a time. Two beers of interest are Schlafly’s Hefeweizen and Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. Schlafly’s Hefeweizen, from St. Louis, Missouri, is an American-style wheat ale. It differs from other German wheats by its lighter body and crisper taste, and it also lacks the clove flavor. Schlafly’s Hefeweizen is quite refreshing and runs $3.75 a pint. Young’s Double Chocolate Stout ($4.50 a pint), from London, England, is a delicious beer. Its rich, creamy flavor, enhanced by chocolate malts, makes for a smooth stout.
Relatively recent arrivals in bottles are Arcadia London Porter ($4), Arcadia Whitsun ($4), Dark Horse Crooked Tree IPA ($4.50), New Holland Zoomer Wheat ($4.25) and Wild Blue Blueberry Lager ($4.25). The Arcadia London Porter from Battle Creek, Michigan is a smoky, malty Porter with a nice hop finish. The New Holland Zoomer Wheat is a seasonal wheat that has a citrusy bouquet. The Wild Blue Blueberry Lager from Blue Dawg Brewing in Baldwinsville, New York has a lively blueberry taste that avoids the cough syrup pitfall of other fruit beers.
Mike ‘N Molly’s – 105 N. Market, downtown Champaign
Mike ‘N Molly’s is another bar that regularly rotates new beers on tap and bottle into their lineup. The bartenders are very knowledgeable and accommodating with recommendations. A few recent additions currently on tap are: Rogue Tracktown 100 Meter Ale – a heavily hopped ale, Vlas Kop Wit – a dry, crisp and flavorful Belgian wit, Magic Hat #9 Not Quite Pale Ale – another dry and crisp brew but with an apricot undertaste, and finally there’s Konig Pilsener – a straight forward yet solid German pilsner.
One of the unique aspects of Mike ‘N Molly’s bottle options is their offering of Russian, Lithuanian and Polish beers. Unfortunately, beers from these former Communist countries are sorely overlooked. These beers are tasty, affordable and often pack a punch without the alcohol content taking over the flavor. From Russia, the Baltika 4 is a dark lager that falls somewhere between a German dunkel and a black beer. Rich in flavor and very satisfying. The Baltika 6 is a porter that is similar in body to the 4 but has a headier malt content. Poland’s Okocim lager is a solid beverage. The best way I can describe it is that whenever I drink an Okocim, I think, “Man, this is a damn beer!” The other former Soviet bloc beer at Mike N’ Molly’s is Svyturys Ekstra made in Lithuania. Svyturys Ekstra has a lighter body but a strong and hearty flavor.
A couple other bottles of note are the Taras Boulba from Belgium and Tusker) from Nairobi, Kenya. The Taras Boulba is a citrusy and slightly sweet Belgian Ale. This is a nice beer to share. Tusker is one of my favorites. Tusker is a well blended, malty lager that is satisfying to the taste. Plus, it’s from Africa!
Next time I’ll be chatting with Tom Sheehan, one of Champaign-Urbana’s premier beer experts, as well as provide a rundown of Oktoberfest brews.