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A Visit To Scorched Earth Brewing Company – Algonquin, IL

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Is there better way to spend a day than sampling beers with family? My dad, my brother, and I had a fantastic bonding experience while sampling beers at two new breweries in the area where I spent my first eighteen years—the Northwest suburbs of Chicago. Here, I will recap our experience at the first venue, Scorched Earth, with the second brewery recap coming soon.

Scorched Earth Brewing Company (@ScorchedEarthBr) is right in my hometown of Algonquin, Illinois. Although they started brewing in June 2014 for festival and restaurant engagements, the taproom itself has only been open for about two months. It was perfect timing for my hop-loving brother, Joe (@J_Ross023), my porter-loving dad (@BigDaddyR), and I to form a well-balanced panel for trying their ten tasty drafts (ABV/IBU).

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We started with their American Cream Ale, Hickster (5.5/14), which featured cracked corn direct from Farm and Fleet as its defining, yet subtle, flavor. To me, this filling ale was reminiscent of a witbier, but with a drier finish. To please those with a craving for a little more sweetness in their creamy pale drafts, Scorched Earth also offers Guildmeister (4.8/16), a German-style Kölsch. Despite the usage of German malt and hops, this beer cannot TECHNICALLY be considered a Kölsch, according to the Kölsch-Konvention of 1986, because it was not brewed within the Cologne region of Germany; however, this crisp beer was inspired by founder Michael Dallas’s German heritage. When I saw name Guildmeister, I conjured images of Dungeons and Dragons, but Dallas shared with me the name’s simpler origins. Guildmeister is reflective of those who form communities based on a shared hobby, like homebrewing—those “individuals who put such pride in what they do and share it with others.” Although I greatly enjoyed the smoothness of Hickster and the sweetness of Guildmeister, Dad and Joe were ready for something more aggressive.

We moved onto Public Servant (6/60), a Rye Pale Ale. I was intrigued by the combination of rye malt and hops, but this ale was too aggressive and too bitter for my taste. Dad and Joe seemed to enjoy this complex blend, but they both preferred the traditional IPA, Base Jumper (7.2/80). Despite the higher IBU rating, I actually could tolerate the bitterness of Base Jumper because it didn’t linger and build on the palate, but I would not have ordered a whole pint like Joe did. Scorched Earth also offered another beer with a crisp aftertaste—their sour Berliner Weisse, Der Sommer Besitzer (3.4/4), but we were more excited for their line of porters.

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Dad and Joe were fans of Rugged Coalminer (5.9/35), a robust porter reminiscent of Guinness.  The menu described a “smooth caramel body softly [balancing] the chocolate coffee,” and I could not help but to expect something much more decadent, like KSBC’s fantastic PB Cup Porter. Although the coffee flavor is good, the caramel and chocolate flavors were masked by the smokiness of this porter. The Imperial Pumpkin Porter, Crypt Keeper (8.3/25) seemed to be more my speed. We were lucky enough to try two different versions of this Pumpkin brew. For the traditional draft, I didn’t taste any pumpkin, just pumpkin spices, to which Dad replied, “Pumpkin flavor is all spice anyway.” Dad and Joe enjoyed this porter, but preferred the Coalminer. The second version of the Crypt Keeper was cask-conditioned in a firkin (which allows secondary fermentation but without additional nitrogen or carbon dioxide pressure). For the Crypt Keeper firkin, extra molasses and pumpkin spices were added for the secondary fermentation process, which gave the beer a much more aggressive pumpkin flavor and aroma. I preferred the firkin to the traditional draft because of its bolder flavors.

Finally, I was most excited to try their saison, the French Merchant (5.5/25), and the wide variety of bold spices did not disappoint; however, my favorite Scorched Earth brew had to be their German-style Marzen brew, aptly called Oktoberfest (6/28). This amber lager was as pretty in color as it was delicious in taste. As this was one beer my dad, my brother, and I could all enjoy, one could say that Oktoberfest truly brings families together.

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Karl Strauss Brewing – A Great Universal City Pit Stop

Karl Strauss Universal

Karl Strauss Brewing

As a graduate student in Cincinnati, I do not often have the chance to travel. When a recent opportunity to go to Los Angeles presented itself, I jumped on it. Although the trip was very short, preventing much sightseeing, I managed to stumble upon a cute local brewery on the one free evening I had there. I was staying near the Universal Studios in Hollywood and walked over to the Universal CityWalk when the signs for Karl Strauss Brewing Company (KSBC) caught my eye. If there is one thing that grad students love (besides their research), it is beer. I had to try this place!

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As I learned from the bartender and confirmed by researching their website, the KSBC is a regional craft brewer with its main operations in San Diego. They have 7 brewery restaurants in California, and have won over fifty awards including WBC medals for two of their brews, the Red Trolley Ale (reviewed below) and Two Tortugas, along with being considered a top 3 up-and-coming craft brewer of the Western US. If the vibe of the well-appointed and modern, but not pretentious, restaurant had not already pulled me in, these accolades would have substantially piqued my interest. By this point, the bartender and I had become fast friends, and I ordered a flight of four craft beers of my choosing from the 14 on tap (including a number of limited releases). I was relieved to see that super hoppy or bitter beers did not dominate their draft list; the variety of malts and hops promised something for everyone. I had a hard time picking just four beers, but I arrived at this combination (here with their menu descriptions and ABV/SRM/IBU):


1) Endless Summer Light
A refreshingly light American Blonde Ale with clean malt flavors, subtle Cascade hop undertones, and a crisp finish (3.4%/4/15).

The Endless Summer Light seemed to me like the quintessential “girlie beer,” so I had to try it. It was very light in flavor; to this grad student/consummate beer drinker, this was a bit too similar to water. I would not hesitate in calling it the Bud Light of KSBC.

GOOD FOR: People who want to look like they’re drinking craft beer but actually just prefer to drink what they play beer pong with, people on diets, people who don’t usually like beer but want something with a low alcohol content

2) Red Trolley Ale
Brewed with half a ton of carmelized malts, our award-winning Irish red has rich toffee flavors, notes of dried fruit, and a slightly sweet finish (5.8%/30/17).

I had to taste the Red Trolley Ale when I saw the numerous awards it has received. I believe they were well-deserved. This spicy and bold, yet still light tasting, beer enticed me to have another full pint even after filling up with my flight and samples. It was definitely worth the trip.

GOOD FOR: Anyone with a passion for beer

3) Peanut Butter Cup Porter
This decadent twist on a robust porter packs rich layers of smooth peanut butter and dark chocolate flavors. The lingering, slightly dry finish is sure to keep you going back for the next sip (5.6%/56/30)

Being a peanut butter and chocolate addict, I wanted to see for myself if the Peanut Butter Cup Porter could live up to its name. This is a seasonal/limited brew that KSBC has been brewing since 2012 with has a reputation for selling out. With my sample, I could really see the wide appeal of this crowd-pleaser. It is a well-executed representation of the flavor and aroma of peanut butter and chocolate in a substantially heavy porter.

GOOD FOR: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup lovers, dessert

4) Windansea Wheat
A centuries-old strain of German weissbier yeast gives our Bavarian-style Hefeweizen its trademark banana and clove flavors that linger through a refreshingly smooth finish (5.1%/3/12).

The description of the Windansea Wheat really set my expectations high. When I actually tasted the light wheat beer, I was left a bit disappointed. The aroma of bananas (another one of my favorite flavors) was very strong, but the flavor of the beer was lacking. If the discrepancies between these could be resolved, I think this beer would be a real winner in my book.

GOOD FOR: Blue Moon/Shocktop fans who prefer bananas to oranges


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There was still so much unexplored territory at KSBC after my flight, so I had to try a few more samples. I was feeling particularly adventurous at this point, so I decided to taste their Tower 10 IPA (IBU of 70). Unsurprisingly, it was a bit too bitter for me, but for IPA fans, I would encourage you to try this or one of their two other IPAs: the Big Barrel Double IPA and the Tower 20 IIPA (IBU of 90 and 100, respectively). I also sampled their Fullsuit Belgian Brown Ale, a characteristically substantial and bold ale that I highly enjoyed. The only disappointment I had with this one was that it was too filling for me to get a pint. I ended up settling with one more pint of Red Trolley Ale, but my bartender gave me one last treat. He made me and a few other patrons a shot of the Wreck Alley Imperial Stout with a splash of vanilla vodka, which IMHO tasted exactly like an A&W root beer float. It would be sure to please anyone feeling nostalgic for childhood, or fans of unique, non-syrupy shots. What a fantastic way to end a night!

Special note for people trying to parent me: I did eat dinner while I was consuming this massive quantity of beer during my time at KSBC. It was a Wednesday night, so I had their Wednesday Meatloaf. The meatloaf itself was nothing special, but the gravy it was smothered in (made with Wreck Alley Imperial Stout) was fantastic and it paired well with the garlic mashed potatoes and sautéed zucchini. The zucchini was also finely cut lengthwise to resemble a kind of vegetable spaghetti, which was one of the more unique ways I’ve seen to prepare food in a while, and I’m sure it lessens cooking time.

Karl Strauss Brewing Company
Universal CityWalk
1000 Universal Studios Blvd
Universal City, CA 91608
(818) 753-2739

karlstrauss.com