Monday, April 19, 2004

Special Ex

Growing up in an Old Style house, I thought beer was supposed to taste like, well, beer. Grainy but also corny, with a great slick of nothing in the middle. Beer also tasted like a Saturday afternoon while watching Richie Zisk and the White Sox play between Plochman's Mustard commercials. By the time I could order beer on my own, rather than just have a sip of my dad's, I wanted new-world beer. To a twenty-something with a 9-to-5 job and her own Marshall Field's card, Old Style was aptly named and wholly shunned. Old Style tasted like sucking the plastic on a couch in the living room of a brick bungalow. Give me a Miller Lite, please.

For kicks on a trip to the Mall of America (and to get out of the car for awhile) my mom and I stopped at the old G. Heileman brewery in La Crosse, Wisconsin (now the home of City Brewery, makers of City Lager). We were not really interested in the brewery tour but were still allowed a few free beers. The choices were Old Style and Special Export. Still believing that my dad's beer was too musty for me, I flipped the tap handle and took half a plastic tumbler of Special Export.

Now at that time my palate was not the refined hop detection device it is now. And today, Special Export’s hoppiness is overshadowed by that of many American microbrews not even trying to be especially hoppy (and the green bottle brew’s hop character is absolutely pulverized into oblivion by contenders like Three Floyd’s Dreadnaught). But for a regional macrobrew, Special Export is pretty hoppy and I knew this even while sampling it at the home of the large six-pack. Its a beer with a sparkly bite that knows its role and doesn’t bother you for more, like a pal you watch baseball with but would never invite over for dinner.

Lately, I’ve been drinking the Ex a lot because of my husband’s gall bladder. He’s off alcohol until the diseased bile warehouse can be removed. In solidarity, I have given up Sierra Nevada, Red Seal and even my husband’s Tripel, which rivals some Belgian brands. It’s Special Export for me because it’s not one of my husband’s favorites. But it’s one of mine, and proof that cheap beer doesn’t have to be bullied into ickiness by adjuncts.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Gettin' Krazy at Kenwood

So what is cheap beer? Is it mass marketed brew? Is it something typically priced under Bud, Miller and Coors products? Or can it be just what's on sale?

I think cheap beer can be all these things. I recently made a stop at one of my favorite places for cheep beer: Kenwood Liquors at 10750 S. Cicero Ave., in Oak Lawn, IL. If your in the area it's a great place for super-cheap southside beer -- you've got the likes of Bud, Miller and Coors (for quite cheap) as well as your other second-tier cheap beers such as Old Milwaukee, Milwaukee's Best, Keystone, etc. Kenwood is one of the few places left you can find Ballantine Ale. It's only available in 40-ounce bottles and only at certain times of the year. The last time I was at Kenwood I didn't see it, but when it's available, it can be had for a little more than $2 for a 40. Not bad at all.

Ballantine is cheap, but it's a beer with a long history that is well documented by John Smallshaw. He provides a pretty thorough history of Ballantine's one of the last surving historical American ales. The beer has lost some character through the years, but I believe it stil has an edge over other beers at the same price. It's also a great introduction to ales if you mostly drink macro-brewed lagers.
If you're at Kenwood and if you like better beer and don't spend that much you're in luck. There are usually a few microbrews to be found cheaper than you'd ever think possible. I recently found Ruedrich's Red Seal for quite cheap at $5.62 a six-pack. I normally see this beer for between $7-$8 a six. If you're interested in better beer, such as microbrews and imports, check out the Marcobrau Beer Pages. Meanwhile, I'll be looking for some Ballantine's.