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Voyage to the Burbs: The Lucky Monk
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Voyage to the Burbs: The Lucky Monk

At Night of the Living Ales last year, the hubby and I were impressed by the number of breweries in attendance that were from the Chicago suburbs. Two Brothers and Flossmoor Station are popular and have been receiving (much deserved) accolades for years, but what about the other guys? Mickey Finns, Emmett’s, The Lucky Monk, and others are Chicagoland brewpubs that are producing quality beers as well. I decided it was time to venture out of my Chicago/city-girl comfort zone and try one of these more obscure breweries.

According to Google Maps, The Lucky Monk was the closest of the suburban Chicago breweries. It is located in South Barrington, about 45 minutes from the Northwest Side of the City, so the hubby and I hopped in the car and got on slow-moving 90/94 W. (Slight rant: why is that road ALWAYS packed??? On a SATURDAY??? REALLY??? OK, I feel better.) Even with the traffic, though, we made good time and The Lucky Monk was very easy to find as it is right off the highway.

From the outside, the restaurant/brewery looked nice but seemed to lack the character that so many buildings in Chicago have. It looked fairly new, or at least newly remodeled, and was a huge, stand-alone building. I was trying to keep an open mind (I’m a bit of a city snob, if you haven’t already noticed) and the hubby and I headed inside. We sat at the bar, facing the relatively small, 10-barrell brew house, and began speaking with Jose, the bartender, about Lucky Monk’s offerings.

The Lucky Monk bar overlooking the brew house.

The tap line at The Lucky Monk.

Apparently they always have six of their house beers on tap at all times. Their main beers are Tritica, a wheat ale; Gr’Ale, a Belgian-style Amber Ale; Cardinal Sin Pilsner; Fallen Angel Vienna Style Lager; Confessional IPA; and Solitude Stout. On this particular Saturday in July, they were out of the Tritica and the Gr’Ale but had an Imperial Wheat (their 100th batch) and a Kolsch in their place. The hubby and I opted to both get tasters (a collection of 2-ounce pours of all six of their beers) and got down to business.

While I should have started with one of their lighter beers (either the Pilsner or Kolsch), I was mesmerized by the Imperial Wheat and started with that one. I have been noticing that a lot of breweries are experimenting with Imperial versions of fairly lighter beers. For example, the recent popularity of Imperial Pilsners such as Dogfish Head’s My Antonia. Just the night before the hubby sampled another Imperial Wheat: Thick White Freaks by Three Floyds. I think I finally found a Three Floyds beer that the hubby doesn’t like. He said it was too sweet and tasted like cola, “and not good cola, like, generic cola. Like White Rock Cola.”

Tulip of Imperial Wheat, The Lucky Monk's 100th batch.

The Imperial Wheat at The Lucky Monk was not as sweet; it was drier and hoppier than the Three Floyds brew. Whoa! This beer is strong and catches you in the back of your throat; I was not expecting that! It had orange on the nose (was it brewed with orange peel?) and a hoppy-bitter aftertaste. The Belgian yeast contributed a slight banana flavor, and it was a cloudy-orange towards the top of the glass that cascaded to yellow toward the bottom. This beer is delicious and once all of the tasters were finished, I ordered a tulip-glass of this one. I then went to the Fallen Angel, an easy-drinking, malty Vienna-style lager. There was slight caramel on the nose and was golden or amber-hued, depending on how the light hit it. This beer is similar to Metropolitan Brewing’s Dynamo Copper Lager, although not quite as malty. All in all, an outstanding beer.

I’m not a big pilsner fan but as the temperature heats up, I’m finding myself reach for this refreshing style more and more. Cardinal Sin Pilsner is crisp and clean with a slight lingering bitterness. I have been noticing that a lot lately, too: aggressively hopped light lagers. If you like this style, other ones to try are Haymarket’s Speakerswagon Pilsner and Metropolitan’s Flywheel (not quite a pilsner but a delicious light, flavorful lager all the same).

The Kolsch was pale yellow in color with a slight bitterness on the finish. I am typically not a Kolsch fan and this didn’t convince me to become one; it was ok but not my favorite. Confessional IPA wasn’t a standout, either, but it was a solid representation of the IPA-style. It was deep amber in color and while not bitter at first there was a nice bitterness on the finish. The Solitude Stout was jet black and had a roasted nose. There was minimal carbonation and it was lighter than expected. It was similar in mouthfeel to Guinness, although it was not on Nitro. The flavor was pretty mild and dry (again, similar to Guinness).

As we were finishing the taster, the head brewer, Anthony Carollo, was running around obviously very excited. He was about to head out to the South Barrington Brewfest (if I had remembered that was going on, I wouldn’t have indulged so much at The Lucky Monk!) but before he did he added a specialty keg to the line-up of beers: Gr’Ale Belgian Amber Ale aged for two months in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. I immediately requested a taste. There was a combination of Belgian yeast character and wine on the nose. The taste was smooth with dry red wine on the finish. I wish the regular Gr’Ale was on tap as I would have liked to compare the standard Gr’Ale with the barrel-aged one to pick out more minute differences. But, alas, I had to make do with the barrel aged variety. And that was fine by me! The best part? The brewmaster let us purchase a growler of it even though it was an exclusive offering. We also got a growler of the Vienna Lager.

All in all, a fabulous afternoon. The staff was knowledgeable and friendly; the food was way above average; and the beer was top-notch. I would love to hit up some of the other suburban breweries and brewpubs. Where should I go next?

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