1. Chicago beer is good, but like beer elsewhere, most of it is just pretty OK. Look, Goose Island is fine; but frankly I don't prefer most of their beer. It's just not my thing; I find most of it pretty boring and one-note. Occasionally I'm happy to have it, heck, might even voluntarily order it every now and then; but it's simple preferences and I don't really feel that Goose Island makes a single "must have" beer. Half-Acre is good. Metropolitan is good.
Even the new gleam in everyone's eye, Haymarket Pub & Brewery, is just OK. We went to Haymarket on Friday night and had a good selection to choose from - everything from a brown, a pale ale, a blonde, and a couple flavors of IPAs. If you aren't aware, Haymarket was started when the brewer from Rock Bottom bailed when Rock Bottom sold out to Gordon Biersch and decided to consolidate recipes in favor of a more "cohesive" nationwide experience. Of course, the slobber on Haymarket's knob is thick and sticky from local love. But hype is hype and the quality is there, even if there doesn't seem to be anything distinctive about the place.
Again, all of this is fine. Most beer is average. But, average today is significantly better than average even 5 years ago. We're lucky that here in Wisconsin we have a significantly greater proportion of "better than average" beer than the rest of the country. My only frustration (and the points of prior posts) is merely that it is shouting in a windstorm. In the long run, obscurity is a bigger problem than the occasional supply shortage.
2. Quality beer in Chicago is freaking expensive. Interestingly, Haymarket had multiple pour sizes and prices. For example, you could order 4oz, 12oz, 16oz, or 20oz of almost any beer on the menu. Which is great because you could try most beers for fairly reasonable prices. Our trip to The Publican and Bluebird was a little more expensive. In both locations, relatively widely-available good beer was around $9 per glass. Publican had one bottle for $62 (a gueze).
I don't see this as a bad thing. At a nice restaurant we don't blanche to see a $9 glass of wine, or a $62 bottle of wine. Why should high-quality beer be any different? Interestingly, as if to emphasize this connection even more, Publican advertises that all of its servers have completed the first level of the Cicerone program, a Sommelier-like certification program for beer. Indeed, our servers were able to provide reasonable recommendations, describe beers and styles, and seemed generally knowledgeable about pairings and presentation.
Do all restaurants need such quality?I can tell you that it can be frustrating when a server at a "beer restaurant" doesn't know what s/he is talking about. Is the Cicerone program even indicative of quality? Maybe, maybe not. Good questions that maybe we can play with in the comments. Nonetheless, having such expertise does demonstrate that these restaurants are taking their beer seriously. I'm not saying that restaurants here don't take beer seriously; not by any stretch. It's just an example of what is going on at the "front wave" of beer restaurants in large metropolitan areas.