Great Storm Brewing
204 Mount View Lane, #3, 266-4200, greatstormbrewing.com
Four-year-old Great Storm continues its collaborative efforts to serve more than the expected flagship styles — though yes, the super-hopped Seven Wolves IPA ($2/half-pint) remains a fixture, with both C02 and nitro versions. Several brewers' names appear on the menu, which is great for diversity and playfulness. But that also speaks to wider consistency issues — outside of the sweet Rum-Raisin Stout (individual samples $1 to $1.25) — mostly related to imperfect textures and listed tasting notes that don't always follow through in the flavor.
Examples: We don't perceive "wine-like" tart notes on the Shine-On Oaked Belgian Golden Strong Ale as much as yeast characteristics. And we don't pull much pepper or citrus on the Black Bear Zwartbier, but instead, big roasted flavor. Creative points though for the Plastered Ponies, a Mint Julep mimicry made with bourbon-soaked oak spirals. Booze leads the aroma, but it finishes creamy with big mint. — MS
Peak 31 at Union Station
2419 N. Union Blvd., 227-7168, peak31csprings.com
Thirteen years in, Union Station's co-owner, Mary Ketterer, still makes time to mingle and chat with her customers. She's sweet and helpful when we stop in for lunch — my dining companion's soda never sits empty — but it's her pinch-bartending son, Randy, who recommends the sriracha garlic wings ($8.95). Wings are wings, yes, but these are damn good ones, crispy exterior covered with a sauce that balances heat, acidic tang and deep garlickiness. The only drawback: The accompanying fries get too much seasoned salt.
Build-your-own-pizza ($7.95) shows up small, but packed high with toppings. Pesto with chicken, bacon, basil, artichoke, sun-dried tomatoes and pepperoncinis deliver a good bite. Maybe painting the plate with balsamic reduction works for more intense flavors, but the powerful sweetness plays heavy here. Still, you can't go wrong with a french dip ($8.95), piled with prime rib, though cheese is a buck extra. — GS
Manitou Brewing Company
725 Manitou Ave., 282-7709, manitou-brewing.com
We shy away from using the word "best" here, in part because we let our readers decide each fall. But I'm compelled to text a trusted beer source as I work my way through a double sampler ($16/eight 5-ounce pours): "Is it possible Manitou Brewing is our best brewery?"
"Easy. They are the best in town," he replies. So I sigh with relief, feeling validated in having placed MBC above 25-plus others. One bit of evidence: I don't even like sours usually, but brewer Dominic Koh's Camarillo Brillo is sensational, (a great gateway beer) kettle soured with lactobacillus and dry hopped for a tropical, not funky finish — orange essence everywhere. From there seven other beers command their respective styles with interesting departures, and none stumble. Wow. I could go on about each, or praise the pork belly tacos ($10). Or the rich prime rib and Brie croissant ($13) with killer rosemary fries ($2 extra). But just this once, I'd rather condense it all to one word: best. — MS