Beer and Metal

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Listen to the gorgeous black metal on Austin Lunn's new Panopticon album—and drink his Viking beers

Posted By on 10.15.15 at 12:00 PM

The cover of Autumn Eternal, the brand-new Panopticon record
  • The cover of Autumn Eternal, the brand-new Panopticon record
This week Austin Lunn, mountain-man mastermind of black-metal project Panopticon, completes a trilogy of albums he began three years ago, releasing Autumn Eternal via Bindrune Recordings. The 2012 masterpiece Kentucky started the series, fusing black metal and bluegrass in an arresting homage to the Appalachians—as well as to the courage and suffering of the ordinary people who fought the coal companies despoiling those mountains. Roads to the North, a more orthodox black-metal album, followed in 2014, and Autumn Eternal—which features John Becker of Chicago goth-pop group Vaskula playing violin on two tracks—comes out tomorrow.

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Monday, June 22, 2015

Local brewery Around the Bend debuts with an aggressive Thai-spiced pale ale

Posted By on 06.22.15 at 07:00 AM

For now you can only drink Around the Bends beers on tap. The brewery shipped this hand-bottled sample to me.
  • For now you can only drink Around the Bend's beers on tap. The brewery shipped this hand-bottled sample to me.

At CHAOS Brew Club's fabulous Cerveza de Mayo party, I encountered a jockey box from a new-to-me Chicago brewery called Around the Bend. I tried their galangal pale ale, Silk Road (how could I not be curious?), then filed them in the back of my mind as an operation to check up on in six or eight months, once they'd had time to complete the tortuous permitting and licensing process and start actually selling beer instead of just pouring it at festivals. Little did I know that Around the Bend would clear that hurdle less than a week later. I like to think of myself as pretty plugged in when it comes to Chicago breweries, but they're propagating at such a rate that I can get surprised by a new one reaching the market.

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Monday, June 15, 2015

Pipeworks' big new brewery means Ninja vs. Unicorn in cans

Posted By on 06.15.15 at 11:02 AM

Pipeworks partners Kaighan Pigott, Gerrit Lewis, and Will Johnston
  • Pipeworks partners Kaighan Pigott, Gerrit Lewis, and Will Johnston

Like a lot of Chicago beer weenies, I got pretty heated up about Pipeworks Brewing in their early days. Heck, I started writing about them almost two years before anybody could buy their beer—first to review their appearance at Goose Island's Stout Fest in March 2010, then again in December of that year, when they were raising funds on Kickstarter. In June 2011, I included Pipeworks in the Reader's Best of Chicago issue, declaring them the Best Craft Brewery That Doesn't Exist Yet.

Pipeworks debuted at retail in late February 2012, and in that year's Best of Chicago issue I named Ninja vs. Unicorn the city's Best New Bottled Beer. I started writing Beer and Metal in the fall, and within six months I'd reviewed three Pipeworks beers: Abduction, Citra Ninja, and Raspberry Truffle Abduction.

I'm not one of those pathologically unimpressed snobs who've decided that Pipeworks beers have jumped the shark, but I decided to cool it with coverage till I had a big story, lest the reading public assume I was on the brewery's payroll. Now that story has arrived: Pipeworks' long-anticipated new facility, which has more than six times the square footage of their current space and will open with more than triple the capacity, starts making beer in less than a week.

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Friday, May 29, 2015

Transient Artisan Ales makes slow beer that sells out quick

Posted By on 05.29.15 at 12:30 PM

Transient founder Chris Betts with some of the barrels in which his beers acquire their special qualities
  • Transient founder Chris Betts with some of the barrels in which his beers acquire their special qualities

As much as it must suck to make beer that nobody cares about, making beer that rivets the attention of bottle-trading nerds comes with its own aggravations. Count yourself lucky if you've never seen a full-grown man whining like a spoiled child in an attempt to guilt a brewer or shop manager into parting with a small-batch bottle that's reserved for someone else.

The expensive and interminable rigamarole of the Dark Lord Day bottle line is one way for a brewer to cope with demand that far outstrips supply. But most craft-beer producers don't have the staff or the infrastructure to take that route, even if they want to. Chris Betts of Transient Artisan Ales runs a subscription service instead, in part to help ensure that his most loyal customers get their fair share.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Thalia Hall's Crap Beer Day asks: Does it even matter which cheap lager you drink?

Posted By on 05.21.15 at 10:00 AM

Seven of the eight contestants in the blind tasting
  • Kim Vavrick
  • Seven of the eight contestants in the Beer and Metal blind tasting

On Sunday, May 24, the last day of Chicago Craft Beer Week ("Chicago Craft Beer Eleven Days" doesn't appear to be catching on), Thalia Hall comes down to earth with Crap Beer Day, a celebration of the Kamino clone troopers of the beer world—disposable, mass-produced, useful mostly in large quantities, and a source of widespread regret. Tickets are ten dollars, and starting at 4 PM the venue will sell bottles and cans for a buck apiece: Miller High Life, Schlitz, Mickey's grenades, Hamm's, Old Milwaukee, Tecate, Lone Star, and Icehouse. The Golden Horse Ranch Band will lead square-dance lessons starting at 5 PM.

You'll also have the chance to compete in blind taste tests against "experts" (it's in quotes because I was invited to be one of them—unfortunately I don't have the time). In that spirit I enlisted my buddy Adam Vavrick, beer manager at the Binny's on Marcey, for a blind tasting of our own selection of cheap lagers.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

What's the only beer on tap at Beard nominee Parachute?

Posted By on 05.05.15 at 10:30 AM

A hand-bottled sample of Pareidolia, wrested from its natural habitat and delivered to the Reader offices.
  • Andrea Bauer
  • A hand-bottled sample of Pareidolia, wrested from its natural habitat and delivered to the Reader offices.

Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark's Parachute didn't win the James Beard Foundation Award for best new restaurant last night, but it was one of Chicago's five national nominees on that portion of the slate, alongside Topolobampo, the Violet Hour, Donnie Madia, and Tanya Baker of Boarding House. (Madia and the Violet Hour both won.) This celebrated Korean-American joint offers just one draft beer at a time to complement its funky, soulful food, and since October that beer has come from fledgling Chicago operation Illuminated Brew Works, which I profiled in February.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Moody Tongue beers finally reach retail

Posted By on 04.20.15 at 12:30 PM

Steeped Emperors Lemon Saison is one of three Moody Tongue beers to start shipping in four-packs this month.
  • Steeped Emperor's Lemon Saison is one of three Moody Tongue beers to start shipping in four-packs this month.

The Reader has been on top of Moody Tongue from day one, though when I say "the Reader" I don't mean Beer and Metal—I mean our food writer Michael Gebert. He's thoroughly interviewed Jared Rouben, who left his position as head brewer at the Goose Island brewpubs in early 2013 to found this Pilsen operation. Before Moody Tongue's launch he spoke with Rouben about "culinary brewing," which loosely speaking means approaching ingredients like a chef and sourcing them from local farmers' markets whenever possible. Rouben thinks of beer as food, and he pretty much always puts food in it—pawpaws, green coriander, nectarines, cinnamon, purple raspberries, Padron chile peppers, you name it.

Moody Tongue beers debuted on tap in June 2014, but till now the only thing the brewery has bottled has been Rouben's notorious Shaved Black Truffle Pilsner. In November it sold 500 bombers by lottery at $120 a pop, and the beer attracted nationwide attention, though much of that was driven by people snarking at what they assumed was a pretentious bougie stunt. Early this month, though, Moody Tongue hit store shelves for the first time, shipping much more affordable four-packs of Sliced Nectarine IPA, Caramelized Chocolate Churro Baltic Porter, and Steeped Emperor's Lemon Saison.

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Friday, April 17, 2015

Mikerphone Brewing launches with music-inspired beers and monster cans

Posted By on 04.17.15 at 01:30 PM

Slapshot brewer Mike Pallen has used some of that operations surplus floor space to set up his Mikerphone side project.
  • Slapshot brewer Mike Pallen has used some of that operation's surplus floor space to set up his Mikerphone side project.

In mid-January, I visited Breakroom Brewery in Irving Park and sampled two beers that its head brewer, Mike Pallen, had whipped up on a pilot system in his basement in Park Ridge while waiting for the brewpub's system to come online: a double IPA called Hoppy Citra-ation and an orange-peel stout called Truss Me on This One.

Pallen had developed nearly three dozen beers for Breakroom since coming aboard in September 2013. "I'm always writing recipes. I'm lucky to have a test-batch facility at home," he says. "New hops are coming out all the time, so you've got to play with them."

However, the Breakroom folks weren't ready for prime time in January—they eventually opened their gorgeous facility at the end of March—and in February, as I tried to schedule another visit, I learned that Pallen had resigned. On March 16 he started as head brewer for Slapshot in Little Village, taking over from cofounder Steven Miller. Pallen has also moved some of his own gear into the Slapshot space to launch his home-brew label, Mikerphone, as a commercial enterprise. I'd liked the two Breakroom beers of his I'd tried, so I decided to see what he was up to.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Middle Brow Beer helps Jimmy Whispers celebrate Summer in Pain

Posted By on 03.23.15 at 12:30 PM

If you rub this bottle, Jimmy Whispers will magically emerge* and not grant you any wishes. (*No he wont.)
  • If you rub this bottle, Jimmy Whispers will magically emerge* and not grant you any wishes. (*No he won't.)

Chicago singer-songwriter Jimmy Whispers, who describes himself with disarmingly transparent bravado as "the greatest bedroom popper in the tri-state area," recorded his new debut album, Summer in Pain, way back in 2011. For years he's been holding out for the right label (and the right moment), refusing until very recently to post any music online, and on March 24 he finally releases the album through local imprint Moniker. The Owl held a listening party on March 12, and on Tuesday the Empty Bottle hosts Jimmy's release show.

The fine folks at Middle Brow Beer Company, who launched their operation about a year ago with bottles of a dark spiced saison called the Life Pursuit, have brewed a Belgian-style IPA called Summer in Pain to help Jimmy celebrate—they poured it at the listening party, and it's now appearing on store shelves. (It'll be available at the Bottle show too, of course.) My industrious colleague Leor Galil has already written a ton about Jimmy Whispers—including a feature story in October 2013 and a preview for Tuesday's concert—but what you may not know about Leor is that he doesn't drink. Fortunately, I don't much care whether Beer and Metal touches occasionally on other, less evil kinds of music, so I can step in and review the Summer in Pain beer.

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Four years of preparation pay off in Alarmist Brewing's Pantsless Pale Ale

Posted By on 03.20.15 at 09:00 AM

Alarmist founder Gary Gulley gets into the Beer and Metal spirit. That hydrometer jar should really be the skull of a fallen enemy, but I dont think he has any enemies.
  • Alarmist founder Gary Gulley gets into the Beer and Metal spirit. That hydrometer jar should really be the skull of a fallen enemy, but I don't think he has any enemies.

Two years ago, when I talked to John Laffler of Off Color and Jess Straka of Revolution Brewing (then of Metropolitan) as part of the Reader's Chicago Craft Beer Week coverage, the conversation turned to emerging brewers who had business plans robust enough to help them survive increasing competition for shelf space and tap handles.

"Gary Gulley of Panic is taking his time," said Straka. (Gulley's Alarmist Brewing was called Panic until Sacramento's Track 7 intervened—they make a Panic IPA.) "He's a home brewer associated with Square Kegs in Lincoln Square. He interned for Metropolitan last winter."

"Good brewer," interjected Laffler.

"Solid. Has a family. Is putting everything on the line for his dream," said Straka.

It was the first time I'd heard Gulley's name, and what I didn't know then was that he'd already been working on Alarmist for nearly two years. He has a troubleshooting mind—he graduated from Purdue in 1990 with a civil engineering degree—and to build his brewery he's put his plans and processes through uncountable rounds of iteration and revision (what laypersons call "trial and error"). Since October 2011 he's shared candid, detailed reports of his slow but steady progress on the Alarmist blog, where in December 2012 he headlined a post "What's Faster, Me or a Glacier?" Helpfully, he added a photo of a glacier. "Once I kick this guy's ass in the 1,000,000 year hurdle," reads the caption, "I'm going to boil him and make beer."

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