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Belt's Beer Garden: round of sixty-POUR

With the biggest tournament of the year just starting, what better way to kick it off than two new craft beers.

"Beer...it makes you see double and feel single!"
"Beer...it makes you see double and feel single!"

Everyone will, and should be, watching the NCAA tournament this weekend. Since we'll all be sitting back and drinking as our brackets are busted (looking at you Georgia State and UAB!!), Norm and I have found two new beers you should be trying.

Norm's up first with a Chicago favorite.

whisper kisses

One of the best things about craft beers can be their locality. We feel a small sense of community and pride when we say that a certain beer comes from "around by where I live". For people living in the Chicagoland far western suburbs, mainly Dupage County, that brewery of pride is Solemn Oath out of Naperville, Illinois.

Naperville is a town that already has some pretty hefty bragging rights. It was once rated the second best city to live in the United States by Money Magazine. It also had the best third string, 145-pound wide receiver on the 1986 NCHS football team bench, in yours truly. Now they can add a new feather in their cap, one of the better microbrews in the state.

I'm not saying Revolution or Pipeworks should be upping their game to stay ahead but Solemn Oath is an up and coming, strong brand that has built a nice following. As they mention on their web-site, "we are driven by our passion for Belgian-inspired and barrel-aged beers."

The kind of beer I'll be tasting today is a new pleasure of mine, the saison. Also known as a Belgian farmhouse ale, this brew started in the French speaking area of Belgium during the nineteenth century. It was brewed in the fall season (saison is the French word for season) with the purpose of refreshment to the farm workers. Solemn Oath's saison goes by the name of Whisper Kisses, and carries an ABV of 8.3% (high for this style). A 22oz bottle can be purchased for around $7.99.

Whisper Kisses will fill your glass with a brilliant golden and mostly clear color. A thick, foamy white head fills the glass and leaves a fair amount of lacing behind.

There's a hell of a nose on this baby. I'm talking Jimmy Durante. Immediately yeast penetrates your sinuses; malt and a touch of citrus, mostly lemon, follow.

To no surprise, the aroma gives away what your taste buds expect.  Yeast, malt and lemon dominate, but a trace of caramel and pepper are notable.  The pepper really creeps up. It's still a lighter style fair, not much hop bitterness to speak of. Drinkable and somehow is able to mask the 8+% ABV very well.

Saisons are a nice switch from the heavy IPAs and stouts I enjoy so much. This one, in particular, is good but maybe not great. Compared to say a Saison DuPont, I can't recommend it. But if you want to give this style a try, you'll get a good representation of what this light, Belgian ale is all about. I'm giving it a 6/10. Solemn Oath has some better offerings.

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Dave: I went with another Chicago brew...but this one is more widely available. Lagunitas' Hairy Eyeball.

hairy eyeball

Lagunitas began way back in 1993 in Petaluma, California with members from cities like Chicago, Memphis, and St. Louis. Since then they've grown immensely and have just recently opened up a second taproom in Chicago. As Norm pointed out a few month ago, their founder, Tony Magee, is a Huskie alum. So yeah, you know it's good beer.

The Hairy Eyeball is an American strong ale and pours a dark dark brown color, almost the color of Coke. It's topped with just the slightest bit of head and smells of chocolate, malts, and dried fruit.

The first sip is intriguing, as nothing really pops out at you. Naturally, I went back for seconds (and thirds, ect...). When you drink it, there is not much flavor on your tongue, but you feel the carbonation. Then the taste hits. A strong malt flavor with some alcohol burn - and as this beer is 9.1% ABV, the burn is expected but actually hidden rather well.

The farther I got through my glass, the more the chocolate I smelled earlier makes an appearance. There still isn't nearly as much chocolate as malt, but you definitely begin to taste it.

Lagunitas claims the IBU on this beer is 56.66, but there is very little bitterness to it. I would have guessed something around 20 had I not read the bottle. And it's really well priced, at just $4.50 for a 22 ounce bomber - with the high ABV just adding to the allure of Hairy Eyeball.

As I am a self-proclaimed hophead, I wasn't sure how I was going to like it, but overall this is a rather nice and balanced strong ale. I wish the chocolate came out more but, outside of that, it's quite nice. 7/10

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