2500 beers in 28 countries. Except for North Korea, who reportedly makes one of the best beers on the planet, there isn’t a beer producing nation on earth I haven’t sampled. I’ve had beer on the frontlines around Sarajevo, with Gypsies in Romania, with brewers in the Czech Republic amid Roman ruins on the Dalmatian Coast and in a castle in Germany, and it all began in a small bar in Brookfield Illinois, sitting beside my father at the age of 7 sipping a small glass of Schlitz. I won’t divulge how long ago that was. After all that, I still get surprised by the amazing spectrum of beer styles and flavors. While others have moved off to whatever drink is fashionable this week, I remain loyal to that first taste of beer so many years ago.
Friday night was a special occasion. It was my wife’s birthday. We’d decided on a perennial favorite restaurant in the neighborhood to celebrate with a romantic dinner. Taste of Peru, which has been featured, and for good reason on shows such as the Cooking Channel’s Diners, Dine-in and Dives, easily won the toss. We arrived just after 6, and despite the cold and Super Bowl weekend, the restaurant was already packed. That says quite a lot in a neighborhood with perhaps the most diverse cuisine in the city, and a phenomenal number of competitors. That also says quite a lot about owner and Peruvian native Cesar Izquierdo. Add to that, the restaurant, at 6545 North Clark Street is unambiguous in a tiny strip mall beside a Dollar store, Laundromat and fast food place. You have to want to find Taste of Peru.
The same is true for the beer I brought along that evening. Out of Mundelein Illinois, Tighthead Brewing Company’s Scarlet Fire Roasty Red Ale promised the elements I was looking for to pair with Peruvian cuisine, which blends a variety of influences, from European and West African to traditional Incan. Here hearty sauces, rich spices, grilled meats, sea food and those eclectic influences are married under Peru’s truly unique culinary umbrella. I wanted something with a bit of sweetness and smokiness in the beer pairing. Scarlet Fire promised, now it remained to be seen how well it delivered.
There is an ambiance to Taste of Peru; a certain family quality and a community one might expect to find in a closely-knit barrio. Conversations overflow from table to table, feeding moments, all of it lofted upon the scents of grilling meats, warming bread and warmed Peruvian spices. The lighting is suitably low, the tables near enough to underscore the sense of community imbued within the cuisine. Amid all of this Scarlet Fire poured to a twilight red color with a full creamy head. The aroma was fruity. I’d ordered Aji de Gallino(Ah-gee day Guy-yeeno), a rich and creamy Chicken and walnut sauce served with rice, a deep-fried potato wedge and half a hard-boiled egg; the odd combination works in only a way Peruvian cuisine can.
At a modest and comfortable 5.6% ABV (Alcohol by Volume), the beer was light and pleasant, with smoky caramel notes and a neatly balanced sweetness that paired wonderfully with the food. This was the sort of beer that would work well on its own, and stands among some of the best local beers in and around Chicago. Also recommended by Tighthead Brewing is their Hat Trick Belgian Tripel, which stands up nicely to traditional Belgians.
It really is about the community, and like a great meal, the right beer really can play a powerful part in constructing that ambiance. I found both of those that night at Taste of Peru and with Tighthead’s Scarlet Fire Red Ale. Cesar, the owner of Taste of Peru, ultimately stopped by our table, the effort feeling more like a gesture of hospitality rather than one of obligation. He took one look at the beer and asked whether or not I’d ever had Peruvian beer. Obviously the gauntlet has been thrown, and for that challenge I am only too happy to pick it up. But that is another story.
Listen Saturday’s from 11am-1pm to WC Turck, Brian Murray and guests on Chicago’s real alternative media, AM1680, Q4 radio, streaming at www.que4.org.
WC Turck is an author, artist, playwright and talk radio host in Chicago. He has been called the most dangerous voice on the Left. His new book “Shoot Down: is an unflinching look at the events leading up to the shooting down of Malaysia Air Flight 17.” His first novel, “Broken” was recommended by NAMI for its treatment of PTSD. In 2006 he published “Everything for Love,” a memoir of his experiences during the siege of Sarajevo. He wrote and produced two critically acclaimed plays, “Occupy my Heart” and “The People’s Republic of Edward Snowden.” He works with the homeless and foreclosure victims in Chicago. He partners in a weekly radio show dedicated to issues, society and politics with cohost, activist and artist Brian Murray For more information, past shows, videos and articles, visit www.revolutioandbeer.com
The Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) is a conservative think tank with offices in Chicago and Springfield, Illinois, and member of the State Policy Network. IPI is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as of 2011. IPI is also a member of ALEC’s Health and Human Services Task Force and Education Task Force. Senior Budget and Tax Policy Analyst, Amanda Griffin-Johnson, presented model legislation (the “State Employee Health Savings Account Act”) to the HHS task force at ALEC’s 2011 annual meeting. Collin Hitt, Director of Education Policy, is a private sector member of the Education Task Force representing IPI. He sponsored the “Local Government Transparency Act” at the ALEC 2011 States and Nation Policy Summit. In its 2006 annual report the Cato Institute states that it made a grant of $50,000 to the Illinois Policy Institute. The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank founded by Charles G. Koch and funded by the Koch brothers.