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Monday, September 29, 2014

New Chicago Beers on the Scene at 2014 Logan Square Beer Fest

A Saturday or so ago I took the Blue Line down a few stops to visit this year's 2014 Logan Square Beer Fest.  It's a two year old fest held on the second floor of the Logan Square Auditorium. The location gives the gathering an almost high school gym assembly (with booze) sort of experience.  What excited me about this year's fest beyond it's smaller size was it's focus on local breweries.  It's the perfect sort of event for the younger guys who can easily get over looked at the larger fests which litter the Summer and early Autumn months (AKA Festival Season AKA Beer Geek O Rama Season AKA Ouch, My  Liver Hurts Season).

The local big four of Revolution, Lagunitias, Half Acre and Metropolitan were in attendance and at least three of them brought out a just released seasonal, or at the very least, some interesting spin on their beers.  Of the three that did, Metro brought it the hardest with a mind changing  firkin of Krankshaft that was infused with oranges and habenero peppers (I walked into the festival hating peppers in my beer and left with a completely different out look on life.  Was not expecting that.)  And Lagunitas, well, Lagunitas my friend, apparently you want to call yourself a Chicago brewery now.  How about you brew a beer or two that are unique to Chicago?   Laguintas was the one table I didn't even bother to fight my way towards.  Why push and shove for something that I can just as easily pick up at my local grocery store.

 I did happily brave the crowd for pours from breweries like Lake Effect, who poured the least caramel forward Marzen that I've ever had the pleasure of trying.  If they bottled their Marzen Pale Lager, I really think that Lake Effects could give Revolution's Oktoberfest and Metropolotian's AfterBurner a run for their Autumn in Chicago money.   Begyle didn't pull out any of their small batches as they had during other Summer fest and I'll admit, I was initially a bit disappointed by this.  Until brewer Matt Ritchey informed me that they did bring a keg of Hophazardly which was barely two days old.  Disappointment was quickly drown in concurrent  swallows of fresh, hoppy goodness.  It also severed to remind me that if you know what you are brewing, you don't need any tricks to create a great pour.  And Solemn Oath cranked the room's ABV% up a notch with their American Barleywine, Ticklefight aged in Woodford Reserve barrels. I'm not a huge barleywine fan, but Solemn Oath's Ticklefight was mellow and just boozy enough to act as a reverse pallet cleanser from a strongly bitter drinking day.

What I was most excited about that Saturday was the opportunity to try beers some some of the brand new breweries on the Chicagoland craft scene.  You may remember the name Middle Brow from a piece I wrote earlier this Summer on their dark Saison, A Life's Pursuit (click here if you need a refresher )  Head brewer, Nick Burica, worked with Lula Cafe (located directly under the auditorium floor that we were standing on) to create two culinary infused mixes of this delicious already food friendly Saison.  Since I had not yet had my mind blown by the habenero Krankshaft, I steered clear of the pepper influenced mix.  However, I happily dove into the Lula Mix #2 which Burica described as "weird and beautiful."  The 6.6% ABV Saison was aged for two weeks in a cask with yellow plums and cardamom to create an aromatically evolved version of A Life's Pursuit.  It was easy to appreciate how the spicy, citrusy, herbalness  from the cardamon and juicy fruitiness of the plums immediately complimented the bready malt forwardness of the original beer.  Sometimes when a brewer messes around with their original beer, the qualities that made that
beer special are buried under gimmicky additions.  Middle Brow got it right with Mix #2 by adding ingredients that highlighted the already successful notes withing their base beer. Their Abbey Inspired Farmhouse ale, Robyn, can currently be found on craft beer shelves in Chicago.  Burica randalled Robyn with Dark Matter Coffee (Barrel Aged beans, no less) to create a version of the ale with a coffee forward nose.  There were notes of brewed coffee mixed with fruity esters, a little orange citrus and a hint of green pepper. I could have sniffed this one all day.

Logan Square will soon be the home to Mercenary Brewery, what I believe to be Chicago's first combined brewhouse distillery. Such a wonderland is not yet open for business, but they were pouring their initial beer offering for the first time that afternoon.  The Charlatan is a 5.9% ABV Pale Ale brewed with Simcoe and Citra hops.  It poured a cloudy, light amber orange beer with highlights of gold around the edges.  The nose and taste were very similar, boasting a citrus heavy quality that was tempered by scents of passion fruit and mango. A dry, crisp mouthfeel rounded out the short finish nicely.  It was a solid APA from a just beginning baby brewery.  One of Mercenary's owners, Paul Megalis, informed me that they should be opening their brewpub/distillery before the end of the year and are hoping to release an IPA and a Porter by early 2015.  They also plan on reusing their in house barrels to create an on going barrel program for the just off future.  So keep your eyes open.  I'm predicting interesting things from these guys in the coming years. 
 Evanston's own Temperance Brewing had the unfortunate luck of being placed directly to the right of the stage.  The stage where a series of bands (including the one fronted by Lagunitas owner Tony Magee) played.  Loudly.  Like O'Hare runway deafening loudly.  Brewer Alex Lovingood withstood the ear drum shattering pounding to pour a series of beers (and apparently give away some very popular red coozies. I've never seen so many tasting glasses wrapped in insulated foam before.)  Yes, he had the expected IPA offering, but I was much more interested in the other two beers that he was serving.  Birdsong was a Saison brewed with French Saison yeast and honey procured from Michigan City, Indiana.  The juicy,
golden, straw colored beer tasted of stone fruit, bready yeast, sweet honey with a finish ending kick of pepper.  So lovely.  But as much as I enjoyed the soft loveliness of Birdsong, I was completely amazed by Temperance's Smittytown ESB infused with Michigan cherries.  Yes, you read that correctly.  An ESB with cherries.   And yes, it was beautiful.  And, yes, of course I had two glasses (it's like you don't know me at all.)  It poured a dark golden liquid with hints of red dancing around the edges.  The subtle tartness of the cherries complimented the dry bitterness and clean crispness of Smittytown's typical ESB character perfectly.  Before I had gotten my chance to try this beer myself, I had over heard a few people complain that they couldn't taste the cherries in the "cherry beer."  After my first sip, I considered hunting down those whiners and explaining the concept of layering to them.  I resisted, mainly because I wanted a second glass and I was afraid that Temperance would run out while I was away.   Most other breweries, when designing their Autumn line up, go one of two ways: a Marzen lager or a pumpkin ale.  Temperance has now thrown their hat in the ring with a third option.  This cherry infused ESB would make the absolute perfect beer to serve with Thanksgiving dinner this year.   Hook a girl up, Temperance.      

Transient Ales has gotten a lot of good press in the last few weeks.  Their Reserve Society released their first set of sours during a huge, can't miss event (which I did.  Because apparently I'm an idiot and did not buy the membership when I had the chance.  Because I'm an idiot.  It's a vicious circle, folks.)  With an at least one hundred name long waiting list (or so I've been told) threatening to keep me in the pit of regret for a good long time, so I was very pleased to find Buckley and his owner, Chris Betts, manning (dogging) a table at this fest.
Transient was pouring their Gose, named Salaruim, that I had the good fortune to try at a different fest in August.  This made choosing a glass of Wayward, their APA with Brett, so much simpler to make.  Wayward was a hazy straw yellow color in my tasting glass.  I could smell the abundant aroma of Brett as Chris handed me my glass back. Let me tell you, the ability to detect that sort of distinct Brett aroma in a unventilated room of sweaty beer geeks should give you an idea of the detailed nose on this beer right away.  A lighter scent of citrus was layered under the gorgeous funk.  The taste contained a heavier citrus presence than the nose.  I could easily pick out notes of orange, lemon and grapefruit from the Brett character.  A crisp and light mouthfeel balanced out the tartness of the ale.  I couldn't help but start pairing this extremely easy drinking sour with food in my head.   A savory roasted chicken, it's cavity stuffed with roasted lemons and basil, would be just about heaven with a glass or three of Wayward on the side.  Buckey, in his infinite wisdom and advanced culinary palate seemed to agree. He also seemed to really enjoy a good scratch behind the ear.  

September in Chicago is a crazy craft beer sort of time of year.  Fest after fest, event after event, tapping after tapping all seem to happen on the same day.  Every weekend.  It's as if we all suddenly realize that Summer is just about over and that we beer geeks will have to spend the next six months huddled around a space heater sipping our snifters of Porter by our lonesome selves.  I understand that many of you may do this even in July, but for a vast majority of people, beer gatherings are something to be treasured and enjoyed for as long as fickle Mother Nature allows us to.  My advise to you when you hit up the remaining events of 2014 is to play your session a bit different than normal.  Don't follow the flock and make a beeline for the big guns.  The whalez.  The "anything aged in a barrel" beers.  Check out the brewery that you know nothing about.  Enjoy your first sips of the unknown. And maybe you'll find a new place to obsess over before the day is through.