Boy oh boy, bring a thirsty horse to a stream and I guarantee it’ll drink. Bring a beer enthusiast to Hopleaf (5148 N. Clark St.), a bar with more than fifty beers on draft and more than twelve pages of bottled beer, and good luck getting them home.
I’ve been into craft beer since I discovered some monks brewing their own near Loyola’s Rome campus. One of my roommates and I homebrew our own unique beers and give them to our friends, because, like my cooking, they’re my culinary guinea pigs. Beer, like wine, can be complex, vary based on the slightest detail and bring people closer together. Hopleaf is a no-brainer if you’re interested in expanding your beer taste or you’re looking to get into craft beer. Let’s drink!
Hopleaf, located in Andersonville right in front of the CTA 22 bus southbound stop, is an answer to a beer geek’s prayers. Inconspicuous from the outside, this bar looks like any other, with its neon lights illuminating the sidewalk. Once inside, the old-timey lights illuminate the dozens of beer taps on the counter. Modern jazz music hums in the air as the bartender tilts the tap handle, allowing the nectar of the gods to pour smoothly and delicately into the glass. Foam almost levitates to the brink of the glass and cascades off the peak in a seductive motion. “ID, please,” muttered a gentleman at the door for the second time, breaking my trance-like state of mind. My bad.
Hopleaf is a bar that not only serves a constantly evolving roster of beer, mead and wine but has an extensive dinner menu for those who want a side of food to go with their Belgian Tripel beer. Keep in mind you must be 21 to enter whether you’re drinking or not. The food menu is heavily influenced by Belgian pub food but with an American twist; options include steamed mussels cooked in Belgian beer or a house-made sausage platter.
I made the cardinal sin of eating dinner prior to my visit here so I only drank heavily.
The bartender was swift and knowledgeable providing countless suggestions based on my beer taste while also helping me explore different beers I never knew existed. The first libation the bartender recommended was called “Boon,” a spontaneously fermented Kriek. This is beer speak for a fruit beer aged for a few years in oak barrels and then soured by yeast breaking down the fruit which, in this case, was cherries.
The “Boon” was a frothy burgundy color, hazy, and it fizzed like an alka-seltzer tablet in water. The beer punched my palette with an explosion of tart cherries, bitter tannins and a hint of a woody afternote.
The second round — imported from the Chicago brewery 5 Rabbits — was a fruit-based beer fermented with passion fruit juice and Azacca hops called “Crimines de passion.” The aroma was effervescent, floral and had a hint of tropical fruit. The taste was smooth and light as opposed to the bulldozer of flavor of the previous beer. This was a fantastic palate cleanser before the final round.
Going big instead of heading home, round three was a Belgian Quad by “Petrus.” This beer is pressurized with nitrogen rather than carbon dioxide to create finer bubbles which emulates a creamy mouth feel. (Yes, that’s a real phrase in the beer tasting world.) This Quad was stronger than most beers with 11.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) and had a color similar to Coca-Cola or soy sauce.
It’s smell — a combination of nutmeg, ginger, colve, molasses and a touch of banana — brought me back to Christmas. The banana aroma is due to the yeast used in the brewing process. Once I took a sip, my mouth was flooded with dried fig, dates, bittersweet chocolate and cream. There was a slight alcoholic note on my palate but this was to be expected from such a high ABV beer. Delicious.
If you and your friends want to get more stamps on your beer passport, Hopleaf is for you, and there are plenty of seats available in one of the three rooms. Each beer’s price varies between $6-$12 while food is between $12-$25. Just remember to have some water between your beers or you’ll see that Belgian Quad for a second time — on the floor.
Visit Hopleaf’s website at www.hopleafbar.com for an updated tap list and special events calendar.