Hophead: Prime (But Cold) Beer At The Meridian Room

Civilization begins with distillation.--Meridian Room motto, attributed to William Faulkner. (We would argue that civilization begins with brewing, but that doesn't rhyme.)

I wanted to visit the Meridian Room even before it closed and reopened back in the fall, but only managed to get there this week. Before as well as after the change in ownership, the place was and is renowned for its food, from gingerbread pancakes to jalapeno hummus to Guinness steak sandwiches. But as I discovered recently, the beer selection is not to be overlooked.

The menu lists more than 50 beers and a handful of ciders, ranging from light lagers to imperial stouts and featuring a new selection each week on the rotator tap for a very reasonable $3.75.

This week's special was Breckenridge Vanilla Porter. The vanilla, while noticeable, isn't overwhelming. It has the subtlety of vanilla bean rather than the sharp extract quality associated with cake frosting. Furthermore, the aroma and gentle flavor complemented the creamy porter's coffee notes rather nicely. Lady Hophead, on a Belgian ale kick of late, started with a Duvel.

But pairing with food is important. I ordered the Trio of Burgers (a plate of tuna-steak, pulled-pork and hamburger sliders) and potato-leek soup, and she requested the grilled-cheese sandwich with avocado and sweet-potato fries. The soup was good, but I really had my eye on the Samuel Smith Imperial Stout. And she was sold on the Maredsous 8 after our waitress offered a sample sip. She picked it over the sweet Maudite.

The pork burger was good. The tuna, as well, although far too subtle to pair with such a formidable beer. After a few sips, the stout's roasted-malt, chocolate and bitter espresso decided to gang up and beat the ever-loving shit out of the poor tuna. The pork managed to hold its own against the imperial bullies, though.

Anyway, be careful.

The Maredsous, of course, was fantastic, even in spite of a chilly service. I'll have to encourage Lady Hophead's fascination with Belgians--the high ABV makes it hard for her to finish her second or third beers of the night. What's left becomes mine.

Unfortunately, the overly chilled condition of the beers detracted from the taste. Certain beers like to live in certain temperatures, of course. As a general rule, though, cold numbs your appreciation of flavor. The Maudite in particular needed time to warm up. Another complaint is the absence of pricing on the menu. Exposition Park ain't exactly Highland Park, you know? The clientele isn't from the "If you have to ask, you can't afford it" set. I'd have liked to know that my Samuel Smith cost $7 a bottle before I ordered it.

But those sizable free tastes made those lapses forgivable.

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