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Belt’s Beer Garden: Dank You Very Much

Two dank brews: Energy City’s Hop Reefer & Wild Onion’s Crazy Fingers

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Today I have a few dank brews from the Chicagoland area not to be missed.

First up, a super small brewery that’s made a huge name for themselves.

Energy City has made huge waves across Chicagoland. The Batavia, Illinois brewery, which has been around since late 2017, is only open for three hours a month (from 11-2 p.m. on the first Saturday of each month) but their stuff sells out quickly anywhere it’s distributed.

It’s hard to find in Chicagoland and damn near impossible to find anywhere else so if you see a can…do yourself a favor and grab it!!

Today I have one of their newer releases, Hop Reefer, a New England-style IPA made with Centennial and Columbus hops. It’s sold in four-packs of 16-ounce cans that cost $16, with each of the cans having a bold 7.2% ABV.

They claim it’s not named after weed but instead after a reefer boat – a refrigerated cargo ship – but the can says it’s quite dank…so who really knows but we’ll see.

This brew was super hazy as it poured a murky copper color with a massive amount of off-white head building up. Three full fingers of sticky, thick foam blocked me from the beer below and took a few minutes to finally fizzle down to a moderate amount.

On the nose there was some light dankness to it but it was mostly flowing with tropical fruit and citrus notes. Orange, tangerine, pineapple, and mango lead the way with some lighter notes of guava and papaya peeking through. A bready malt sat quietly in the background, allowing the hops to shine.

This brew had a very creamy mouthfeel and a heavier body, as it started with that pillowy thickness and a minute fizzle of carbonation.

From there the hops begin their tasty assault on my tongue. There was a bitter twinge leading it off with some earthy notes of pine and grass.

However, it quickly shifted profiles and the fruit begin to appear. Pineapple and grapefruit led the way with some lemon rind and orange following suit.

The more the beer warmed up (and the more it disappeared from my glass) the less those herbal/earthy flavors appeared and the more the citrus became the star of the show.

A lighter honeydew melon and guava taste joined the pineapple as the lead flavors. Right behind those was the grapefruit and that citrus rind bitterness.

For as thick as Hop Reefer was, it certainly didn’t sit heavy in my stomach. Combine that with how incredibly well the high ABV was hidden, and this was a dangerously sessionable beer. That 7.2% remained hidden the entire time…until a few minutes after it was all gone, when I got a nice buzz and started to feel flush.

Energy City’s reputation as a great brewery is well deserved and Hop Reefer is just another example of that. It’s a really great New England-style beer that does have a bit more bitterness to it than most but makes up for it with a ton of great flavors.

A-

Next up, a single hopped pale ale from one of Illinois’ oldest breweries.

Wild Onion is actually one of Chicagoland’s first breweries, starting up all the way back in 1996 in Lake Barrington, Illinois, a village about 45 miles northwest of Chicago. However, it wasn’t until 2003 that they opened their pub and brewery. Right now you can find their brews across Illinois and in five other Midwestern states.

The brewery took their name from the Potawatomi phrase Che-cau-gua, which described the wild onions growing around Lake Michigan and eventually led to city being called Chicago.

Today I have their Crazy Fingers, a Mosaic pale ale first released in 2018 and was their first crack at a “hazy” style beer. A six-pack costs the usual $10 with each of the cans having a moderate 5.4% ABV.

This APA poured a bright, slightly hazy copper color with minimal head. No more than half a finger ever built up and, within a minute, all that remained was a super thin line of white bubbles around the edge of the glass.

On the nose this beer was juicy and dank. There were loads of tropical fruits – like mango, pineapple, grapefruit, and papaya – but there was also a huge dankness coming through; the hops showing off just how closely they’re related to weed. Behind the hops sat a light bready malt with some biscuity notes.

My first sip started off with a minimal hum of carbonation before the Mosaic hops really kicked things off.

First up is a wave of fruit. A very nice dose of mango, papaya, and juicy oranges washed over my tongue and settled in for a brief moment. However, midway through, the hops switched gears.

After a couple of seconds of fruit juice, a slight hoppy bitterness started to creep forward with that weed-like sting following closely behind.

The tropical flavors were completely overpowered in the second half of the beer. And, while the bitterness wasn’t too harsh, I was surprised at just how quickly the fruits were gone. There was no hint of them, no last push of orange or grapefruit rind, just a dank hoppiness.

As Crazy Fingers ends, the flavors don’t linger too much. There is a little dryness and a twang of bitterness that sticks around for a few moments but, otherwise, it ends relatively clean.

Overall, it certainly was a tale of two brews. The first half was so tasty and juicy while the second half was much harsher and hoppier.

It was a sold brew but had a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde kind of thing going for it.