Reigning, Pouring—Hopvine Brewing Company

October 2014 View more

The explosive growth of the craft beer industry in recent years has spawned a number of amusing social phenomena, including, but not limited to, the entrance of the word growler into the common lexicon, the near-impossibility of ordering a simple beer without getting a full accounting of its genealogy, and the sight of grown men giddily anticipating the chance to purchase a limited-edition brew like kids waiting in line to see Santa Claus. 

Hopvine-053_800pxBeyond these assorted curiosities, however, the beer culture has also inspired one overwhelmingly positive trend—the interest in many brewers to pair their lovingly crafted beer with innovative and delicious cuisine. Here in the western suburbs, one of the more recent entrants into this suddenly crowded field of brewpubs is Hopvine Brewing Company, which occupies a building on the orbital belt encircling the Fox Valley Mall that once housed an indoor amusement park and arcade. Ironic, perhaps, considering how many parents in that former existence could have used a beer or two back in the day.

Tank Heaven

Hopvine-085_800pxAs one might expect at a place with “brewing” right in the name, the ample bar area is the first space that patrons encounter upon entering Hopvine. It is a spacious, handsome room bearing beer-focused quotes on the walls from the likes of founding father Benjamin Franklin and game show host Drew Carey.

The dining area boasts the same maroon-gold-black color palette, with rugged stone accents and a large glass wall offering a glimpse of the real stars of this show—the massive copper kettles where signature beers like Brew Monkey (a 9.67% ABV Belgian-style trippel), Ukranium Krusher (a Russian Imperial stout) and Ehrmagourd! (a smoked pumpkin porter, sure to be popular this time of year) come to intoxicating life. True to the communal spirit and bonhomie of the craft beer world, Hopvine also boasts a wide selection of local favorites on tap and in bottles, in addition to its dozen or so house brews, as well as a formidable wine and cocktail list.

Beer and Beyond

Hopvine-032_800pxBut while the drink list is indeed ambitious—befitting the centrality of alcohol in the brewpub template—the dining menu at Hopvine more than holds its own. Even here, though, beer is never far from the spotlight. Each and every appetizer, salad, sandwich, entrée and dessert option on the slate is accompanied by a pairing suggestion. Even the kids’ selections are paired with the house-made root beer. A few of the house ales figure prominently as ingredients in several dishes as well.

With a wide array of tastes to choose from to get things started, we opted to go small with a trio of soft, hot pretzel sticks, served with delicious dollops of beer cheese and cinnamon butter. In doing so, we passed on tempting but heavier possibilities such as spicy goat cheese dip, smoked chicken wings and that popular Canadian health food, poutine, hoping to conserve some space as we looked ahead to our dinner selections.

Hopvine-066_800pxThis strategy paid off nicely when the overstuffed turkey BLT wrap arrived, not to mention my smoked potato, a football-sized spud loaded with pulled pork, and topped with melted cheese, barbecue sauce, and crispy onion straws. Never have I felt more sheepish about my otherwise factual claim of having had “just a potato” for dinner. Still, the size and contents of that potato did not stop us from wrapping things up with the banana split, a delicious take on the soda fountain staple featuring brulee bananas and chunks of English toffee.

A great banana split at a brewpub? Count it as one more surprisingly quirky facet of the ever-expanding beer culture.

Photos by Greg Shapps