I have a pair of northern Illinois area brews that you should be trying tonight in honor of Northern Illinois’ first game. The game between NIU and Boston College starts in just about four hours; so if you hurry you can get these beers cold in time for kickoff!
First up, a brewery I had never heard of before...
Sketchbook has been pouring beers in Evanston, Illinois (a northern suburb of Chicago) since late 2014. But, since they only recently began distributing their cans/bottles (and in a very limited area at that), I just found out about them a few weeks ago when I stumbled upon a four-pack of their beer.
I saw a really cool orange can that drew me in…then I saw the words “India pale ale” on it and knew I wanted to try it. The 16-ounce cans, called Orange Door, came in a four-pack for $10 which is right around the average price. Each can packs a punch though, with a 7.2% ABV and 71 IBU. Totally worth it.
Orange Door pours a darker amber color with some lighter copper hues towards the bottom and when shined with light. Two fingers of dense, slightly off-white, foam topped the beer. The head lasts for a few moments before leaving some accumulation around the edges and a light dusting across the rest of the glass.
Like most double dry-hopped IPAs there is a huge orange/tangerine aroma bursting from this brew with just a hint of hops lingering behind all the citrus. It’s truly a wonderful aroma…very similar to a New England IPA, just a lot less hazy. I couldn’t wait to dig in.
My first taste begins with a solid rush of carbonation and light, more watery mouthfeel. The effervescent fizz doesn’t last too long and, with in a few milliseconds, the flavors burst through on to my taste buds.
It starts with a bitter bite that showcases the hops and the citrus flavors – orange, tangerine, and some light grapefruit. However, the scent of Orange Door was far more juicy and citrusy than the taste.
Instead, on the backend, there was a lot more pine and a lot of toasted malt sweetness that I wasn’t expecting, nor would I have guessed would be in there based on the aroma. The sip then ends with the tiniest bit of dryness and a lingering orange hop taste.
That’s not to say this brew didn’t have its fair share of juicy flavor to it…the first half was all orange and tangerine before it shifted. That shift was just far more dramatic than I was expecting.
As the beer was (quickly) drained from my glass, the remaining head laced the sides really well by creating a web-work of intertwining bubbles with thicker bands marking each sip I took. And that 7.2% ABV was so well hidden that I had forgotten it was that high until I began to feel the warming effects of the booze on my cheeks and in my chest.
Overall, this beer was a great introduction to Sketchbook for me. I was extremely happy to have gotten my hands on a four-pack of this beer and can’t wait to find more of their cans as they continue to expand. Orange Door was like half New England IPA and half West Coast IPA…super juicy up front but hoppy and slightly bitter on the backend. It was a great combination.
Next up, a brewery that’s just 38 miles from Huskie Stadium (sadly, that’s one of the closest breweries to DeKalb).
Scorched Earth is from the far western suburb of Algonquin, Illinois. Over the past few years they have began to build a name for themselves and move out of the ‘burbs and into the city. They offer a wide variety of beers…including a smoked beer called Foraging Swine that totally tastes like bacon!! It’s weird but good! Sadly, today I don’t have their bacon beer…I have one of their hoppier brews – Giant Killer, which is an IPA.
This American IPA has a solid alcohol base, at 6.7%, and a decent IBU rating (64). It does cost just a tad bit more than most at $11.99 for a six-pack though.
Giant Killer poured a cloudy amber color with just under two fingers of fluffy off-white head building up. The dense foam hung around for a little while before finally dissipating enough to where I could get to the beer below.
On the nose the hops and malts played well together to create a surprisingly balanced aroma. There were hints of toasted malt and some caramel sweetness as well as some citrus hoppyness. And, while there still was that balance, this IPA seemed to be a more maltier than hop-forward beer.
My first sip began with just a tiny carbonation fizz and an incredibly smooth and creamy mouthfeel. The flavors billowed up from the carbonation and danced across my palate for just a few moments.
But in that tiny amount of time a lot hit my taste buds. It starts with the light citrus – lemon with some hints of grapefruit and orange – before the malts add a nice toasted caramel sweetness that worked really well with the fruit flavors. However, on the backend, the hops really shined through with a piney bitter sting that stayed on my tongue for a surprisingly long time.
Giant Killer was an intriguing beer…in that it seemed to fluctuate between tastes. It starts off seeming like it will be a maltier brew and then initially tastes really balanced in the middle before finally shifting heavily to the hoppier side of things. And, even though it only has 64 IBU, that bitterness is certainly well detected on the last part of the sip and long after all is said and done.
As I continued to drink the beer down there was some really solid lacing across the glass. The sticky foam left well-defined sip marks as well as stringy cloud formations down the whole side.
A lot happened to this brew as it warmed up, and most of it was a good change. That creamy, heavier mouthfeel seemed to lighten up some and, while it still had a thicker feel to it, it definitely became lighter and lighter as the foam faded away. Another big change was that the last third of the beer didn’t seem to have that same hop bite that the rest of the beer did…it mellowed out and that initial balance continued through to the end.
The final third of the beer was by far my favorite and I finished it off maybe quicker than I should have. So if you do try Giant Killer, my advice is to let it warm up some first…that really seemed to help.
Overall, this was a really balanced IPA that did even better as time passed. It’s not a beer that will blow your socks off but it is certainly a tasty local brew.