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Airport Beer Doesn't Have to Suck

January 03, 2018

By Tucker Anders, January 03, 2018

One of my favorite times to drink beer is in an airport. Whether I’m traveling for a vacation or a work trip, a beer always seems appropriate. Even in the a.m. hours, the traffic through airport bars seems to back me up. It is like when you enter an airport – especially on a layover – the conventional food and drink clock ceases to exist.

If you can eat lunch at 9 a.m. because you’ve been up since four in the morning, why can’t you wash it down with a beer? After all, air travel isn’t exactly the most relaxing experience.

You want to cram me in a metal box in uncomfortably close proximity with total strangers, then launch me 30,000 feet in the air? Yeah, I’ll have a beer with that.

Of course the tragedy in all of this is that airport beer is typically both a) lacking in selection and interestingness, and b) ridiculously unbelievably expensive. While I’ve yet to come across an airport option that solves the latter, in my recent visits to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport I’ve noticed a gem of a beer menu in Terminal 3.

Across from gate K1 is the Publican Tavern, which features a strong beer list for any restaurant, much less one in an airport. The rotating tap list typically has a local slant and often includes an beer from Muenster, Indiana’s renowned Three Floyds Brewing.

The purveyors of craft whales Dark Lord and Zombie Dust have plenty of other worthwhile offerings as well. One of which I got my first taste of at the Publican in O’Hare – Three Floyds take on wheat beer, Gumballhead.

The body is light and allows the flavors to play up while remaining balanced.”

Named after a comic book character, Gumballhead is loaded with amarillo hops and toes the line between wheat beer and pale ale. It pours with the signature slight hazy hue of a beer brewed with wheat (this one is even bottle conditioned which adds to the haze), and boasts the head retention that wheat additions can bring as well. While it doesn’t offer much activity in the glass, the color is an inviting golden yellow.

The aroma is almost totally derived from the amarillo hops, and the heft it packs leads me to believe Gumballhead is dry hopped. Big notes of grapefruit and citrus dominate over supporting characteristics of bubble gum, pine and a hint of wheat. It is a bright, complex, room-filling aroma.

The taste is a showcase of how to use amarillo hops. Gumballhead is bright and fruit forward on the initial sip with grapefruit, peach and lemon dominating. The fruit is balanced by a punch of grassy flavor and spicy bitterness – almost like there is some rye in the malt bill. The bitterness more than I’d expect from 35 IBUs, which again points to something other than hops bringing some spice or astringency (yeast?).

This all plays over the slightly sweet flavors of the wheat before finishing dry, crisp, and with a big hit of lemon. Even at 5.6% this is an extremely quaffable brew. The body is light and allows the flavors to play up while remaining balanced.

In other words, it’s perfect at nine in the morning laying over in O’Hare.

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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