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Chicago Brewing Company’s beer sampler rules

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The Chicago Brewing Company. C’mon inside — beer heaven awaits.

Let’s face it—there are a number of great brewpubs in the Las Vegas Valley. I had the opportunity to meet up with a buddy who lives in the north side of town last weekend, and we decided on Chicago Brewing Company (2201 S. Fort Apache, 254-3333), as it was an almost equal distance from both our homes. Being beer buffs, we wasted no time in ordering the beer sampler, a staple of any respectable brewpub.

What a great choice that was. For starters, the sampler is ridiculously cheap for what you get—$9.99 for nine, count ‘em, nine beers. Sure, they’re not full-sized glasses (they come in the mugs you typically get at beer festivals), but this is a sampler. You sacrifice size for the chance to try everything.

And, with one or two minor exceptions, everything here is worth tasting.

Let’s start with the presentation, which is fantastic. Your beers come on a split-level lazy Susan-type of contraption, with the staples on the bottom and the seasonals on top. Even better, in case you forget what you’re drinking, just lift the glass—the name of each beer is printed on a tab beneath each one.

First up: the “All-Nighter,” a premium light ale. “Light” is the key word here. A very easy-to-drink beer, but just as instantly forgettable. Still, if you’re looking for something to pound during a game, this is the one to get.

The “Rambling Reck,” an amber ale, was a pleasant surprise, one of the only of its type I’ve tried with a nice, orange-y aftertaste. I’ve never been a big amber ale fan, but this was definitely unique and worthwhile.

A definite disappointment in this crowd was the “Old Town Brown,” a German-style brown ale. First of all, it had almost no aroma, and I’m a big fan of getting a whiff of my drink before imbibing. Worse, all I tasted was chocolate. I couldn’t even sense much of an alcohol kick, leaving me with something great for sundaes, but not much else.

Then came two revelations: The “Hardway IPA,” an unfiltered American-style IPA, and “Weisenheimer,” a Bavarian unfiltered wheat beer. Wow! Talk about a one-two punch. The IPA is one of the best locally produced I’ve tasted—crisp, unending flavor and plenty of character. The unfiltered wheat was the perfect blend of sweetness and pure beer taste. I usually eschew all hefeweizens, but this has me seriously rethinking that stance.

It would be hard for any beer to follow those two, and unfortunately the task falls to the “Black Widow Stout,” an Irish stout that’s smooth with a hint of coffee, but otherwise unremarkable.

Now onto the seasonals. This is the truly great part of any brewpub—not only does the seasonal menu change and give a never-ending excuse to hit your favorite brewpub, it also allows for some mind-bending experimentation by the experts. Sometimes they work, sometimes not, but isn’t the best part of beer tasting something that really works?

This segment was all over the map, quality-wise, but never boring. The fruit seasonal had a serious mango edge to it. I’m not averse to fruit-based beer, but I prefer hints, not sledgehammers. Not one I’d revisit.

Not so with the black IPA. My newest passion happens to be black IPAs, and I’ve had great ones and miserable ones. This one is high up on the “great” list, crafted with obvious love for those who love the drink as much as I do. I look forward to getting a growler of this bad boy before it’s all gone. Oh, did I mention it’s got a 10 percent ABV?

And just as my buddy and I hoped, Chicago Brewing Company saved the most unique—and almost the best—for last: “Hawaiian Coconut Porter.” It sounds daunting, I know. After all, coconut isn’t something that’s used much in beer. However, I loved the sweet but malty aroma, and the taste was … well, imagine drinking a Mounds bar with some serious alcohol aftertaste, and you’re pretty much there. Most of the samplers I tasted and placed back in their holders with some beer left. I downed this one almost in one swig.

Bottom line? This is probably one of the best overall samplers in the Valley at the moment. It’s certainly one of the best bargains, especially considering the variety and overall high quality.

One final note: There is another Chicago Brewing Company in the Four Queens Resort and Casino (385-4011), which I have yet to check out. But if it's anywhere near the quality of this one, and if it's closer to your neighborhood, I'd recommend checking it out sooner rather than later.

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Ken Miller is Las Vegas Weekly's associate editor, having previously served as assistant features editor at the Las Vegas Sun ...

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