Beer School, Week 4: Ringing Matt's Bell's

Every Wednesday, from roughly 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., Delmar Loop institution Cicero's hosts beer school. As part of a semi-regular account of the beer sampling and sudsy knowledge gained, RFT editorial fellow Matt Kasper will write about the beer he tastes and the people who present it.

If you are reading this at work and get thirsty, Matt apologizes. But maybe you shouldn't be wasting company time.

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Bell's Brewery came all the way from Kalamazoo, Michigan, to beer school last night to offer samples of its Amber Ale, the unique gold pale ale Third Coast and -- my personal favorite -- the hoppilicious Two Hearted Ale.

Jim O'Connor, a brewery representative for Bell's, started off talking about the history of the company, including how how a $200 donation from Larry Bell's mother in 1984 helped launch his investment in home brewing. The brewery opened in 1985.

The amber ale, 5. 8 percent ABV, is made with Munich and caramel malts. It offered a bitter, sharp taste that I wasn't expecting. O'Connor said Bell's sold 35 barrels the first year - for those keeping score at home, a brewer's barrel equals 31 gallons -- and used to be called Great Lakes Amber Ale.

(Remember: Kalamazoo is wayyyy up there.)

What the hell is a melange of hops? Find out after the jump...

Somewhat reluctantly, O'Connor said, "This beer has a melange of hops." (I think he doesn't like the way melange sounds.)

The second beer, Third Coast is 4.8 percent ABV and uses fuggle hops. Cascade hops are added for aroma. Though some people thought the aroma smelled like cat urine, I thought it offered a nice, breezy whiff. O'Connor said the origin of the name comes from the geographical location of Bell's on the Great Lakes -- a.k.a., the "third coast".

"Some of you might consider the Gulf Coast the third coast," he acknowledged. Instead, he said it is merely a subsection of the east coast. You learn something new every day at beer school.

Taste-wise, Third Coast isn't bad -- nothing to write home about, though.

Okay, enough sudsy foreplay. The Two Hearted Ale, an India Pale Ale, was by far the best of the night's beers. My motley crew had two pitchers after class and I could have had at least two more. But a M.A.D.D. member would probably say at 7 percent ABV it's not a good idea to drink a lot of it unless you plan on staying put.

Taste-wise, I would say it is most similar to Arcadia Ale's HopMouth Double IPA, which we sampled during the first week of beer school. In my notebook, the two are a close tie for the best.

(What's with the name? The Two Hearted is named after a river in northern Michigan where Ernest Hemingway supposedly went fishing.)

In what was probably the best anecdote of the night, Connor said that the beer is even inspiring gang signs: Aa guy in baggy jeans walked up to him and hit his heart with two fingers.

- Matt Kasper

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