Beer geeks, you have a new home.
Well, maybe not a home but, thanks to Lemon Tree Grocer, you have a night.
Beginning last month, every Tuesday night from 5.30 p.m. to close is designated Beer Geek Tuesdays at Zest Café located inside the Lemon Tree Grocer.
For me, this means an end to cold pizza and "Murder She Wrote" reruns on AMC (my typical Tuesday night routine), and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve always considered myself a geek at heart—I have the complete Mystery Science Theater collection on DVD—but beer beats Tom Servo any day.
This weekly event is the brainchild of resident Lemon Tree beer specialist (and proud beer geek) James Hammack, who also came up with the name. “Everyone hated it," James said last Tuesday when I sat down with him on the event's premier night. ‘But after a week or so, the name stuck. Everyone came around”.
Long time readers of my column (both of you) are probably asking, "Hey wait, he’s always going on about how much he loves Schlitz. How can a beer geek love Schlitz?"
Simple. First of all, Schlitz rules. Secondly, most beer aficionados have a go-to beer, something they keep in the fridge for watching a ball game with friends or cutting the lawn on a Saturday. My low brow of choice is Schlitz; for James, it's Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR to you), another great American vintage brew. Man (or geek) cannot live on Doppelbock alone.
Beer Geek Tuesdays coincides with the introduction of Zest, the Lemon Tree's expanded café, and the premise is simple. Each week, James will select a beer from the diverse and well stocked beer cooler and aisle, and house chef Joseph Lessard will prepare an entrée to accompany it—something unique to enhance the flavor of the beer. Typically, the libation (traditionally wine) is chosen to enhance the flavors of the dish, but this is Beer Geek Tuesday and it’s all about the beer, baby.
Last week featured a 22-ounce Chipotle Ale by Rogue Brewery of Ashland, OR, paired with a dish of braised bacon with chorizo potatoes and seasonal vegetables.
You heard me, bacon and beer.
The dish and accompanying beer selection can be purchased separately or together for a special price, in this case for $18.99. Honestly, I never even looked at the price. They had me at "bacon."
I grabbed a spot at the bar and my server brought out the ale first so I had a chance to sample it on its own. It is, without a doubt, one of the most unusual beers I’ve ever tasted. If you could bottle one of Clint Eastwood’s westerns, this is what it would taste like.
The ale has a deep chipotle smokiness that tastes authentic, not at all "flavored" like a chip or sauce. On its own I would consider it more a novelty brew, but paired with plump cuts of bacon, it's genius.
The braising enhanced both the flavor and the fattiness of the meat, and the accompanying brussel sprouts were tender and slightly firm, definitely benefiting from hanging out on the same plate with all that glorious bacon. After a few savory bites, I sampled the ale again and found the smokiness to be almost sweet, less smoke and more flavor. Perfect match.
Do you know what love is? Love is restraining yourself from devouring your braised bacon entrée and asking for a to-go container to bring half home for the wife.
Patrons on Beer Geek Tuesday also can enjoy any 22-ounce beer from the cooler for no additional corkage fee. If you pick out a beer from the beer aisle that’s not in the cooler, James will chill it for you in 30 minutes. I have to admit, there’s something oddly mischievous about picking out a beer from the cooler in a grocery store and drinking it right there in the store. Try that at Piggly Wiggly.
James is always on hand to enthusiastically answer any questions or share his expertise. Not only is he the professor of hops, he’s also a home brewer who has produced over 75 gallons of his own brew. I asked him what he thought about local brewer Goose Island selling out to St Louis beer behemoth Annhueser Busch.
He shook his head. "I hate it," he said. “Goose Island is Chicago. They have a beer called 312 (Chicago’s area code) and another called Green Line, whose taps are made from wood salvaged from local trees that were killed by the emerald ash borer. How is that St Louis? It’s not.”
Spoken like a true beer geek.
There is also a new Beer Club at Lemon Tree that features a monthly 12-pack (two each of six different beers) based around a theme for $24.99 a month. Themes will revolve around a wide variety of styles and flavors, local and national. Just ask the cashier for an enrollment form. You can skip a month by calling or emailing by the first Wednesday of the month. Considering the choices, you won’t be canceling often.
Fortunately for me, I left enough room after my meal to indulge in a Three Floyds GumballHead Pale Wheat (on tap!) for dessert. For those who have never heard of it, Gumballhead is brewed locally in Munster, IN, by Three Floyds Brewing and is revered by beer geeks everywhere—this one included. I wouldn’t expect that keg to last very long. Not if I can help it.
James said the first few Beer Geek Tuesdays will focus on bacon as a component of the entrée, which means I’ll be setting the DVR for Angela Lansbury and taking my place at the bar. Hope to see you there.
With the incredible selection of microbrews, not to mention the expert food pairings, maybe we beer geeks have found a home after all.
Beer Geek Tuesdays
Where: Zest Café, located in the Lemon Tree Grocer, 5101 Mochel Drive, 630-969-9869
When: 5:30 p.m. to close, Tuesday
How Much: The Featured beer is 22 ounces and, paired with your entrée, costs $18.99. Both can be purchased separately. Entrée costs may vary depending on ingredients.
What other beers do you like? Check out Metropolitan Brewery from Chicago. Lemon Tree features both of their Lagers (Dynamo and Flywheel), as well as a Kolsch-style beer (clear beer with a straw-yellow hue and prominent hoppiness) called Krank Shaft. Tried 'em all and love 'em all.
Is Three Floyds Gumballhead really that amazing? You’ll never know. I’m on my way there now to drain that keg before its all gone.
"Murder, She Wrote?" I thought Angela Landsbury was dead. What?No! She played Aunt Adelaide in "Nanny McPhee" in 2005. Unlike Betty White, she can actually act.
Did you join the beer club at Lemon Tree? I filled out my form but forgot to bring it to the cashier. Guess I’ll have to go back again Tuesday.