Friday, February 26, 2010

Downtown Champaign 4 bar exBEERiment

If you saw the CU Beer Weekend Feb. 19, you might have noticed that the Thursday Beer Class was supposed to be a trip to the Bayern Stube in Gibson City. That plan got changed as they said they wouldn't be able to seat more than 4 people (we had at least 8 going).

So on short notice I put together a beer experiment, the exBEERiment. The goal was to find out which beer bar in downtown Champaign serves beer the best. It was a slight bar crawl, but with intent of finding who presents the beer the best. The goal wasn't inebriation, that was a byproduct. The plan was to compare the same beer at as many different bars as possible, to see which bar served the best glass of beer. Sadly, the Blind Pig didn't seem to have any beers on tap as the other bars downtown.

The first bar we went to was Seven Saints. 7s has two rotating taps. The beer we had was Dark Horse Tres Blueberry Stout. At Saints it is served in a tulip glass and costs $5. It has a huge dark brown head sitting on a opaque black beer. It smelled of coffee and a bit of blueberry. It tasted roasty, and of coffee. The blueberry flavor isn't as pronounced as in previous years. It's definitely not BooBerry cereal like it has been in the past (which wasn't a problem). It was very effervescent almost painfully tingly on the tongue. The GM of 7S got mad at me when I said that the beer might actually be too cold. None of the bars downtown have the ability to serve multiple taps at different temperatures. (Beer Advocate lists the recommended serving temperature between 45-50).

My drinking buddy John said it had the carbonation of a soda. He didn't get much of the berry, but some chocolate. As it warmed he got more bitter blueberry flavor.

Kristy initially noticed no blueberry flavor, but it seemed heavy on the coffee. She didn't like last years that was very blueberry, so she liked this more.

I thought that as it warmed it turned into a brownie flavor, almost like drinking brownie batter with a hint of blueberry.

It's definitely not the same beer as Dark Horse Tres from last year. The recipe must have changed. (I've heard that it did). Before hearing that it may have changed, Andy thought that he had a bad keg of the beer.

If you were expecting last years Tres (and liked it) you are going to be very disappointed.

We finished up at Saints and headed down the street and through the alley to the Blind Pig Brewery (Piglet). BPB also had Dark Horse Tres Blueberry Stout on tap. There it was served in an imperial pint glass (Guinness glass) for the same $5 as at 7 Saints. If the beer was the same, then the Piglet would be the better deal.

Again, it had a thick brown head on an opaque black beer. It smelled blueberry-er and didn't have as much chocolate. Andy picked up a solvent smell, like some sort of cleaning chemicals. I noticed a slight bleach flavor in the beer.

At BPB it wasn't as effervescent. The bubbles in the beer weren't as painful. At Saints it was almost pop-rock-ish, BPB didn't have that. John again noticed coffee. One of the others on the exBEERiment thought it was sort of acidic in the finish. As it warmed up, John did notice a lot more of the blueberry. Both Andy and Brandon didn't like the beer. "I don't like anything about this beer," said Andy.

There were additional factors that may have skewed the opinion. If it's just about the beer, it still wasn't as good as at 7 Saints, but another issue may have caused some of the negative feelings.

The table we sat at was next to a waste water pipe. The pipe runs down the wall, inside the bar. I'm sure it's perfectly, completely sanitary; however, every time water was ran from the apartments above, you could hear it at our table. Being waste water, we joked that the people upstairs were flushing their toilets. They must have been having a party, because that toilet got flushed continually for about 10 minutes. That really threw off the enjoyment of the beer. the Brewery needs to conceal and insulate that pipe so that people sitting at the bar don't have to listen to water running next to them.

We left BPB and down the alley to Radio Maria. Radio didn't have Dark Horse Tres on tap, so we went with Lost Abbey the Angel's Share. The Angel's Share is an American Strong Ale (a catch all group, for high ABV beers that aren't stouts or barleywines) the beer is served in a 6-8 ounce snifter for $7.

As usual, the beer was flat with no head or bubbles. It was black, not as black as Tres, but still black and opaque. It smelled of molasses. Brandon is still kind of new to describing beer, so he smelled something that he couldn't place, but he knew was familiar. I think he was thinking of dark dried fruits like raisins, prunes, and dates.

It had the same taste of syrup, molasses and sugar; along with the dark fruits.

It's a good beer and $7 for a snifter is still a great price that will wind up being cheaper than a bottle... BUT...

The last bar we went to was Mike 'N Molly's. When we got there it was around midnight, and there was a $1 cover to pay for the DJ. I dislike paying a cover. It almost upset me to the point of ending the evening before completion. Also I don't carry cash anymore. I'm not there for entertainment, I'm there for beer. If I go to a bar to see a band, I will purchase a ticket. The person who suffered because of taking my dollar at the door is the bartender. If I tip $1 a beer, and you make me pay to get in, that's money that won't be going to the bartender. Nobody likes a Mr. Pink, but you brought it on yourself when you charged me to get in the door.

The beer we had was, again, Lost Abbey the Angel's Share. The board indicated the beer was $5.75, which would be $1.25 less than just down the alley at Radio Maria. Additionally, there was 12 ounces served in a tulip. If Radio serves 6 ounces of $7, then it costs $14 for 12 ounces; meanwhile MnM is $5.75 for 12 ounces; that's a slightly better deal...If the beer is the same.

My tab was $9.50 for two of them, making it $4.25 each, which may have been an error on the server's side. I tipped $1 on the two beers. I had planned on not tipping any (my $2 was at the door), but just couldn't do it.

The beer did have a bit of head when it was poured. It quickly dissipated. It looked the same (despite being in a much larger glass). It smelled the same. It tasted the same. It did have a bit more bubble feeling, but not much. Essentially it was the same beer. There were differences in Tres between 7S and BPB, but not any noticeable difference in the Angel's share between Radio and MnM.

Based on results from the exBEERiment, the best place to have the BEST beer, is Mike N' Molly's. The worst place of the 4 was definitely Blind Pig Brewery. If the beer was the same price for the exact same product, the results may be different. Last night it came out like that.

The next exBEERiment will be a comparison of Guinness at as many downtown bars as possible. That will leave Radio Maria out of the equation, but will open up some other bars for a look at the quality of the beer they sell, how they sell it, and the atmosphere around selling it.

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