Immutable Dusk black IPA, straight from the bright tank in Munster
I go way back with Pelican. Not all the way to 2000, granted, but I first saw them play in January 2003. And when I wrote about them at length for the Reader in July of that year, four months before the release of their debut full-length, Australasia, guitarist Trevor de Brauw told me it was the first meaningful coverage they'd gotten outside a metal publication. He especially appreciated the Phill Niblock comparison.
It no longer makes much sense to liken a Pelican concert to a high-decibel microtonal drone installation, because these days the band's songs rely more on badass riffs than on skull-softening volume and brain-effacing repetition. They continue to use some of both, though, as Kevin Warwick points out in his preview of the band's Wednesday show at Bottom Lounge: the new Forever Becoming, their first long-player in four years, "combines the drive and hooks of Pelican's late career with the awesome hugeness of its earliest material." But there's still no singer, which means you'll get pretty intimate with their guitar tones by the end of the record. It also means that the best one-liner in my old review still applies: "Criticizing this music for being monochromatic is a little like complaining that the ocean is all blue."
Everybody in Pelican cares about beer, though de Brauw and fellow founding guitarist Laurent Schroeder-Lebec (who left the band before Forever Becoming was recorded) are probably the biggest nerds about it. On the occasion of the band's tenth anniversary in 2010, they enjoyed the rare honor of collaborating on a beer with Three Floyds—a spectacular doppelbock called the Creeper. Now they've got a second, to be tapped for the first time at Wednesday's concert: Immutable Dusk, a black IPA named after the fourth track on Forever Becoming.
De Brauw says the band chose the song "Immutable Dusk" because it's "sort of the centerpiece of the album," and that the title obviously called for a dark beer. "We were aiming for something slightly more sessionable than the doppelbock was and initially suggested a black lager," he explains. "We settled on a black IPA since it's more of a developing style and a bit more current." The beer turned out to be a hair over 7 percent alcohol, noticeably less than the Creeper's 9 percent.
Discussions with Three Floyds about recipe specifics were "fairly minimal," says de Brauw. "As with last time we put our trust in Three Floyds to develop something great while we took the lead on commissioning artwork that would best represent what we were going for. The label art is by our longtime shirt designer Mike Wohlberg, who did the Creeper labels."
The tanks in question
Bomber bottles won't go on sale for another week or so, which is why I took a picture of a lonely pint glass. And because Immutable Dusk won't even be available on tap till that Wednesday show, I had a bit of an uphill climb reviewing it this past weekend. De Brauw, who was on the road in Texas at the time, got in touch with Three Floyds cofounder Nick Floyd about letting me try the beer at the brewery. Next I had to persuade a friend to drive my sorry no-car-having self to Munster, Indiana, and when we got there I was obliged to hassle a very busy Ryan Parkes, the lone brewer on duty that Saturday afternoon. Parkes, who couldn't have been more accommodating, told me that Immutable Dusk was still carbonating in two bright tanks (one for bottles, one for kegs) and wouldn't be ready for at least an hour—he'd come find me when it was done. Fortunately the Three Floyds brewpub is a great place to kill time, at least once you get inside. And I have to admit, it was a kick to walk through a door at the back of the pub that said "Keep Out" and have Parkes pour me a glass of a new Three Floyds beer straight from the tank, less than 20 minutes after it'd finished conditioning. It doesn't get much fresher than that.
It does feel wrong, though, that I got to taste Immutable Dusk before anybody in Pelican could. Guys, I hope the review I'm about to give your beer will make up for it.
Immutable Dusk has a brisk, bracing aroma—imagine you're tromping around in a trackless, snow-covered swath of the taiga, and from somewhere out of sight among the trees the smell of baking reaches your nose. (Sort of helps you sympathize with Hansel and Gretel.) Loads of fresh pine and toasted black bread mingle with juniper berry, white grapefruit, and touches of caramel, molasses, spearmint, and orange peel.
KEG ALL OF THIS TANK
The taste leans hard on kilned malts, as you'd expect from a black IPA. A roasty bitterness like chicory coffee is softened by flavors of toffee and cedar, and even the beer's slight astringency manages to be pleasant, like those sticky little jewels of half-dried pine resin you find studding the bark of leaky trees.
I'll be honest, in most cases I could take or leave a black IPA. Too often, bittering compounds from the hops team up with those dark malts to create an acrid, burnt flavor that barges in first and leaves last, making it hard to perceive any nuance in the beer. But Immutable Dusk achieves a much more humane balance—beneath the charred roastiness and sharp pine I can taste caramel, baked pineapple, honey tangerine, and even some tart blackberry. Whether a beer that tops 7 percent alcohol counts as "sessionable" for you depends on your constitution and body mass, I suppose, but at least this one won't fatigue your palate so badly that you couldn't face a second glass. I want a pint of it now, just from writing this out.
Alas, this time I'll have to wait till Wednesday night at Bottom Lounge, along with everybody else. Doors are at seven and music starts at eight. Bongripper and Enabler open the show; Pelican headline, of course, because it's their party. Lately they've been playing in town maybe once or twice a year—this is their second and last Chicago date of 2013—so before you decide to wait for the next one, be advised it could be a while.
In case you're the kind of person who'd read an entire blog post about a Pelican beer without having listened to the band, here's "Immutable Dusk." If you don't like the bit at 4:41 when the distortion kicks back in, I suspect you just don't like Pelican.
And for good measure I'll post "The Creeper," from 2009's What We All Come to Need.