Babes in Beerland: Barley's Angels takes on Chicago

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Monday, November 19, 2012 - 6:38pm

Beer profiling against women is a huge problem the city of Chicago doesn’t seem ready to face.

I remember the first time it happened to me.

I walked into one of my favorite craft beer joints, girlfriends in tow, and approached the bar with confidence. After perusing the menu, I opened my mouth to order when something very strange happened.

The bartender gave me a head nod, smirked and then said (rather smugly, may I add) – “Allagash White?”

I gasped, my girlfriends giggled. Nothing against Allagash White, but what about me screams light and citrusy with a touch of coriander? Oh – it’s the boobs right?

Just as this problem has been brought to my attention, a fellow beer loving woman with extensive knowledge has come around to help fight against it. Lorna Juett, beer writer and bartender at local craft brew joint Local Option, has started a Chicago chapter of Barley’s Angels. These angels aren’t the kind that fight crime in bell bottoms or are situated innocently on top of a Christmas tree. These are angels who can drink you under the table and then walk you step-by-step through how that beer was made. The growing global network of Barley’s Angels is for women interested in becoming seriously educated on craft beer.

During monthly meetings, Juett and chosen collaborators educate the ladies with beer pairings. This past week, I was lucky to attend the chapter’s second meeting. This meeting’s theme was beer and sweets, with beer provided largely by Colorado based Oskar Blues and sweets provided by Katherine Anne Confections.

The meeting was held in Katherine Anne’s cozy Logan Square space. The comfy couches, delicate heart-detailed white chairs and vintage chic ambiance make this the perfect spot to hide from the cold. Those who do some munch on homemade caramels, truffles and marshmallows while sipping some of the best hot chocolate in Chicago. In this case, we ditched the hot chocolate for some serious craft beer.

Oskar Blues G'Knight

Now, let me add that I am not the first person to realize what a great idea Barley’s Angels is. The morning of this meeting, Juett and the group were featured in the RedEye. When I walked in that evening, I was greeted by the camera crew of ABC Chicago’s 190 North. While the atmosphere was very warm and welcoming, there was also a hint of excitement in the air. Would the cameras catch a glimpse of our beautiful beer drinking faces? We were all ready for our close-ups.

The beer list included three Oskar Blues beers, one by Avery Brewing Company and one by Ska Brewing Company. While Juett walked around with the beer, Wesley Phillips, sales manager from Windy City Distribution and token male, gave an expert description. 

Katherine Anne soon followed with the tasty treats each brew was paired with. Each attending lady was given a sheet of vocabulary to help describe the various flavor profiles of each beer, as well as a sheet with the information of each brew and area for taking notes.

We started with Oskar Blues Imperial Red, G’Knight (8.7%) paired with the Rosemary Caramel, followed by their Scottish Style Ale Old Chub (8%) paired with a Pecan Pie Truffle. Avery Brewing Company’s Belgian Dark Ale, The Beast (16%) was paired with the Hazelnut Truffle and Ska Brewing Company’s Mole Stout (5.5%) with the Spicy Caramel. To end the evening, Juett and Phillips paired Oskar Blue’s Imperial Stout Ten Fidy (10.5%) with Katherine Anne’s Coffee Marshmallow.

During his descriptions, Phillips often referenced his meetings with Juett to create the pairings. What I adored most about that was every pairing made sense, even if first impression seemed a bit strange. I enjoyed the G’Knight and Rosemary Caramel for the contrast, the way the three variations of fruity hops cut the rosemary spice in half. Another one of my favorites, the last pairing of Ten Fidy and the Coffee Marshmallow, was for the way one complimented the other. Both had a roasty, coffee sweetness that pretty much melted together in your mouth.

My number one favorite pairing was the Ska Mole Stout and Spicy Caramel. Spice beers can be really hit or miss, with some completely missing the flavor and some overdoing it. Ska Brewing Company hits the nail on Ska Brewing Company Mole Stoutthe head with this chocolate chile stout. The pairing had both a compliment and contrast effect, as both had very different versions of spice. The Mole Stout had a sweet, chocolate chile spice while the caramel had a sharp cayenne spice note.

In addition to the tasty sweets, various pastries from local bakery Beurrage were available for munching. This was a very good thing, as beers average between 8% and 16% ABV. The first rule to Barley’s Angels is to never underestimate Barley’s Angels.

Both during and after the pairing, I had the chance to chat with ladies whose interest in craft beer mirrored mine. Everyone from female home brewers to those with minimal knowledge determined to become experts were around to add their input. The experience was not only educational, but refreshing. I could spew about my obsession to someone who wasn’t tipping me or silently begging me to stop talking.

What sort of effect will Barley’s Angels have on Chicago women? Don’t worry – they won’t be running amuck through the city streets, de-masculinizing men at Sheffield’s Beer Garden by challenging them to beer chugging contests. But they will be ending this silly beer profiling epidemic. With Juett leading the pack, women throughout Chicago have a secure safe house during this craft beer craze.  

So ladies, next time someone offers you a Blue Moon, MGD 64 or Sunset Wheat without hesitation, just smirk and tell them you’ll take the 11% Imperial IPA. Then share your experience at the next Barley’s Angels meeting  at Local Option on December 7th. Find out more on the Barley's Angels Facebook page.


sa_oneill's picture
Sarah O'Neill
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