A water tasting on a brewery tour would usually seem beside the point—the point, of course, being to drink beer. But when you’ve already got a lager in one hand and a hefeweizen is on its way, drinking a little water doesn’t sound so bad.
As it turns out, the water tasting is one of the most interesting parts of a tour of Dovetail Brewery in Ravenswood. Beer is 95 percent water, co-owner Hagen Dost explains, so of course the water you use affects the beer you produce. Dovetail uses a reverse osmosis system to try to re-create the water of Pilsen—not the Chicago neighborhood, but the city in Bohemia where pilsner originated. After tasting Chicago tap water, with its distinctive notes of chlorine, as well as neutral-flavored charcoal-filtered water, we tasted the reverse osmosis water with which Dovetail brews most of its beer. Far from neutral, it’s mineral in flavor and so funky that it’s off-putting. The beers made from that water, though, are a different story entirely.
Dovetail’s taproom launched last month with three beers, all European styles: a lager, a hefeweizen, and a rauchbier, a German smoked beer; still to come (in two years, once it’s done aging) is the brewery’s lambic-style beer. Noticeably absent from the list is the most beloved and ubiquitous style in craft brewing: pale ale. Dost and co-owner Bill Wesselink are more interested in German and Belgian beers. And while “lager” might call to mind tasteless macrobrews, Dovetail proves that the style can be much more.
I’ve always thought that describing a beer as “drinkable” is damning it with faint praise, but Dovetail’s lager changed my mind. It’s straightforward, crisp and a touch creamy, with more malt flavor than expected and a bit of caramel. I’ll be ordering it whenever I see it on a tap list for the rest of the summer.
The hefeweizen is another good warm-weather beer, with plenty of citrus that balances out the sweet banana and spicy notes of clove and cinnamon. The rauchbier is full-bodied but not heavy and smells remarkably like smoky bacon—which might suggest pandering to the undying bacon trend if rauchbier weren’t a couple thousand years old.
Ten-ounce pours of all three beers are included in the $15 price tag for the brewery tour—which happens to be exactly what you’d pay for the beers if you ordered them at the bar, but you drink them while strolling instead of sitting. It provides an informative, interactive explanation of what goes on behind the scenes of a brewery; you can taste pilsner malt and smell Tettnang hops pellets by rubbing them between your palms to release citrus aromas (don’t try eating these) and see some of the equipment that makes Dovetail unusual, like its open-top fermentation tanks (which are exactly what they sound like), aging barrels of lambic, and another fermentation vessel called a coolship.
The coolship—a large, shallow stainless-steel tank that takes up most of the room it occupies—is a crucial part of lambic production, allowing the introduction of wild yeasts and bacteria that will ferment the beer. Native microflora can vary dramatically, so while Dovetail’s wild beers are being made in the same way as lambics produced in Belgium (the only country where the style can be made, which is why Dost was careful to point out that they’re making lambic-style beers, not lambic), they’re likely to taste completely different. It’s still not a particularly common style in the U.S., and as far as I can tell, Dovetail’s coolship is the first in Chicago (though Whiner Beer in Back of the Yards is having one built).
The tour ends in the tasting room, where you can finish your last beer—and, if three beers on a Saturday morning isn’t enough for you, order more. Dovetail also offers radlers: Filbert’s lemon-lime soda mixed with the lager or hefeweizen, and in a more unusual combination, Filbert’s root beer combined with the rauchbier. The food is limited to giant pretzels, landjaeger sausage, and, incongruously, alfajores (sandwich cookies made with dulce de leche), but you can also order in. And there are worse places to while away a Saturday afternoon drinking beer and listening to the Metra trains rumble by than Dovetail’s sunny, dog-friendly taproom.
Dovetail Brewery, 1800 W. Belle Plaine, 773-683-1414, dovetailbrewery.net. Wed-Thu 4-10 PM, Fri 2-10 PM, Sat 11:30 AM-10 PM. Tours take place Saturdays at 11 AM; call for reservations.