One of Kristin Miaso's designs for Lions, Tigers and Beers. No origami artists were harmed in the making of this poster.
I wrote about Lions, Tigers and Beers last year, when the event raised $10,000 for the Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minnesota, and generally I try not to repeat myself in this column. But I'm a cat person—ask anybody. Plus Kate Gallagher and her husband, Tom Lee, who run Northdown together, let me stop by this past weekend to sample a couple of the rarest beers on the Lions, Tigers and Beers tap list—which runs more than 50 deep. I got early tastes of a one-off apricot sour called La Fosse from Cory King's Side Project Brewing (made from the same base beer as Fuzzy, which won gold at FOBAB last November) and the barrel-aged Firestone Walker barleywine Helldorado, making what I'm pretty sure is its first appearance in Illinois (it's ordinarily available only at the brewery's Barrelworks tap room).
This Friday, June 13, is the third Lions, Tigers and Beers; the first, in 2012, raised $5,370, or a little more than it costs to feed two full-grown tigers for a year. The Wildcat Sanctuary is a nonprofit no-kill rescue center for unwanted or abused captive wildcats—not just lions and tigers but also cougars, jaguars, lynxes, bobcats, caracals, servals, and more. It takes over when unscrupulous or overwhelmed private exhibitors (or clueless civilians who thought it'd be cool to have king-size pets with wild blood) can no longer care for their animals. "They may never know freedom," says the sanctuary's website. "Can they at least know compassion?"
The "N" stands for "Stop here and have a beer."
Mikkeller, Firestone Walker, and Three Floyds sponsored Lions, Tigers and Beers last year; Surly joins the roster for 2014, bringing the total to four. Between them they've brewed about half the lineup. Because Northdown has only 12 handles, beers will be tapped in two-hour shifts from 11 AM till close; for the benefit of folks who can't go to a bar during the business day, the staff will start retapping the afternoon kegs at 11 PM, rotating through the best stuff that hasn't already kicked. When I checked in with Gallagher last night, she and Lee were whittling down a list of 83 beers and expected to settle on maybe 55 for Friday's event. (There's also a ticketed art auction on Thursday, but I'll get to that in a minute.) By the time this is published, though, the final lineup, with tapping times, ought to be posted on the Lions, Tigers and Beers site.
Each of the sponsors will have something pouring all day: Lee told me those selections would be Three Floyds' Yum Yum APA, Firestone Walker's Pivo Pils, Surly's Bitter Brewer ESB, and Mikkeller's George! imperial stout. The half dozen other Three Floyds beers on hand will include Backmasking oatmeal stout and a double IPA called Cimmerian Sabertooth Berzerker; Firestone Walker will be further represented by Lil Opal barrel-aged saison, the XVII anniversary blend, and last year's Velvet Merkin barrel-aged oatmeal stout and Agrestic wild red ale, among others.
Surly will also have 2012 Darkness, 2013 Pentagram (a dark sour aged in red wine barrels), and white-wine-barreled Sÿx (its sixth-birthday strong ale, originally aged on six types of wood and released in 2012). The Mikkeller beers aren't entirely settled yet, but you can count on last year's Black Hole, oak-aged SpontanElderflower sour, Rauch Geek Breakfast Stout, Show Me Cuvee (which blends a sour and a quadrupel), and a collaborative IPA with Prairie Artisan Ales called American Style.
Firestone Walker's Helldorado barleywine, in an adorable snifter with a bowl the size of a small plum
It's hard to convey the craziness of the Lions, Tigers and Beers lineup without resorting to a list too long for anybody to want to read. But I'll gamble that I'm not at "too long" yet—let's hit some more highlights. The Northdown folks have secured a keg of Notorious triple IPA from Boneyard Beer in Bend, Oregon, not usually available here and a big hit at Mikkeller's Copenhagen Beer Celebration in early May. They've also tracked down a De Struise one-off called T.H.R.E.E. ("Tangerine Heated Rare Evil Edition") brewed for a Dutch festival last year; it's a fruited tripel aged in Wild Turkey barrels.
What else? You can have a Cantillon or three—Gallagher and Lee are choosing among the Rose de Gambrinus, the Iris, and the Fou' Foune apricot lambic. (The gueuze is definitely part of Thursday's lineup.) Kamala Brewing in Austin is sending a whiskey-barreled oud bruin, and New Belgium will have La Folie, last year's Biere de Peach, and a grätzer it made with Three Floyds. I think the oldest offering will be a 2008 keg of Lost Abbey's Gift of the Magi Kriek, a beer that only ever barely existed in the first place.
Among the locals making showings at Lions, Tigers and Beers are Off Color (with Ice Predator, a freeze-distilled version of their excellent Apex Predator farmhouse ale) and Penrose (with the new Desirous white IPA). Still-in-planning Indianapolis operation Central State collaborated with Gary's 18th Street Brewery for Garce Selé, a French saison with pink Himalayan sea salt (don't quote me on this, but I think the name means "salty bitch").
Lions, Tigers and Beers poster with art by Tim Biedron of Pioneer Tattoo. These will be for sale.
Oh right—about those beers I actually drank! And which will definitely be on tap Friday! Firestone Walker's Helldorado is a blond American barleywine brewed using El Dorado hops and aged in bourbon barrels, with an alcohol content in the neighborhood of 12 percent (it varies a bit from batch to batch). It smells like toffee, vanilla, and whiskey—and probably other things too, but once this stuff hit my mouth I couldn't go back to just sniffing at it.
A closer look at the metallic ink on the Biedron poster
Helldorado is super sticky and rich, with lots of caramel and chocolate; it starts oaky and buttery, then shades into a mellow, leathery bitterness touched by a grassy prickle of rye. As it warms (and in the comically tiny snifter I was using, that didn't take long) it gets even more decadent, picking up flavors of black cherry, baked raisin, and bread pudding.
Now, concerning La Fosse—the nerds will lose their shit over this one. That is, pay attention to the tapping time—if you go out for a smoke at the wrong moment, the beer will be gone when you get back. The keg that Cory King brought to Lions, Tigers and Beers last year wasn't even from Side Project, since he had yet to make his official public debut under that name—it was a Perennial one-off called Blackberry Wild—but Lee says it kicked in 17 minutes. (One of Side Project's first Chicago appearances was at Northdown, in fact, at a FOBAB preview party last fall—as Gallagher puts it, landing rare beers from hugely hyped brewers is "a matter of the relationships we've built over the years.")
Anyway! La Fosse spent 18 months in chardonnay barrels with Turkish apricots, and it smells more powerfully of apricot than lots of the apricots I've eaten. White grape, lychee, and apple cider vinegar finish the aroma.
Even with your nose telegraphing "sour," the acidity of this beer can be alarming—but its sharpness is instantly rounded off by a huge, floral fruitiness that combines apricot with mango and tart yellow cherry. A mild funk like fermented pineapple juice complements a lingering whiff of white wine and a tiny touch of vanilla; in the finish, I also get a delicate astringency like almond skin. This is an unreasonably good wild ale—clean, bright, and complex, it manages to be dry and sour as well as juicy and sweet. I wasn't the only person to preview La Fosse this weekend—I figure half a dozen people shared the pitcher behind the bar—and I heard it variously described as "the best sour I've ever had" and "the best beer I've tasted in my life."
Side Project's spectacular one-off apricot sour, La Fosse (French for "the pit" and a play on the name of the brewery's peach sour, Fuzzy)
Lions, Tigers and Beers is cash only, and there's a $10 suggested donation at the door. The de facto cover charge notwithstanding, it can get a little hectic, so come prepared—last year there was a line outside at opening time.
The fund-raising raffle has two tiers again, one for the grand prizes and another for everything else. Grand-prize tickets go on sale Tuesday, and can be bought till the end of the event Friday; they're $10 apiece, and you have to specify which prize you're hoping to win. Regular raffle tickets are $5 each or five for $20.
Grand prizes include a New Belgium Fat Tire cruiser bike; a Firestone Walker package with a four-year vertical of Abacus/Sucaba, three Barrelworks bottles (Feral One, Lil Opal, Bretta Rosé), and a tacker sign; a Three Floyds bundle that consists of a private brewery tour, a shirt, a $50 gift certificate, and bottles of Dark Lord, War Mullet, and Space Station Middle Finger; and a five-volume deluxe edition of the award-winning comic-book series 100 Bullets, with original art by series illustrator Eduardo Risso. Among the "regular" prizes are an eight-person private brewery tour from Penrose, a month of free Corepower yoga, gift certificates from Superdawg and Pioneer Tattoo, and signed sticks from Municipal Waste drummer Dave Witte.
I said I'd get back to Thursday night's art auction, and though it took me a bit longer than I expected, here we are. The auction is a ticketed event, and though $75 might seem like a lot, proceeds go to the cats—plus the price includes all the beer you might care to drink (the night's 12 kegs are listed on the ticketing page). The event runs from 6 till 10 PM at Northdown, and attendance is limited to 80 people; the work that's up for bid comes from Gumballhead the Cat creator Rob Syers, street artist Left Handed Wave, illustrator Phineas X. Jones (well-known on the Chicago beer scene for his work with Half Acre), comics artist Ryan Browne (creator of God Hates Astronauts), and others.
If you follow Beer and Metal, you know I'm not much of a power-metal fan. But Swedish band Sabaton has a song on 2012's Carolus Rex called "The Lion From the North," and I found the double-barreled pun impossible to resist. For the record, the lyrics are actually about Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus, who died in 1632 at the Battle of Lützen in Germany during the Thirty Years' War—but not before establishing Sweden as one of the great military powers of Europe for the first time in its history.