Ale Syndicate's Sunday Session: Also good on every other day

by

comment

PICT5002.JPG
Chicago brewers Ale Syndicate, who started selling beer in March 2013, introduced their Sunday Session ale on draft last spring, and I first tried it at the Mash Tun Fest in June. I didn't know that's what I was drinking at the time, because I was judging, but when the hurly-burly was done, I learned it'd been one of three finalists my judging partner and I had picked from among the 22 entries in the session-beer category, "Every Day Is Like Sunday."

The other finalists were a Half Acre Kölsch called C Change and the Lagunitas pale ale Fusion 16, which eventually won the category. All three beers were amazing, though, and when I recapped the festival I wrote that Sunday Session had "great body for a low-alcohol beer, with peachy, grassy hops." (I tried 49 beers that afternoon, so my tasting notes didn't get much more extensive than that.)

As of last week, you can finally buy Sunday Session in bottles—at a release party on Tuesday at the Library (on the 40th floor of 190 S. LaSalle), Ale Syndicate celebrated its debut on store shelves. Sunday Session, Municipal IPA, and Van de Velde Belgio-Pale Ale are available in six-packs, and Omega Midnight Foreign-Style Stout comes in large-format 750-milliliter bottles. The big Binny's in Lincoln Park has already sold out of its first shipment of Sunday Session—it only took about a day.

Beer specs--not the same as beer goggles
  • Beer specs—not the same as beer goggles
Ale Syndicate's founders, brothers Jesse Edwin Evans and Samuel Evans, grew up in Champaign and took up home brewing together in 2004. They went pro in 2007 with Lucky Hand, a contract-brewing operation based in Oakland, California, that they sold in late 2009, when they moved back to Illinois and settled in Chicago. The protracted process of establishing Ale Syndicate—which now has six employees—began in early 2010. My colleague Julia Thiel has been following their story since July 2011, and previously wrote about their 2012 move from eco-compound the Plant in Back of the Yards (the space turned out to be too big for them) to the Green Exchange in Logan Square.

Ale Syndicate has maintained offices at the Green Exchange since November 2012, but because its brew house there remains under construction, it's still contract brewing—Samuel Evans and head brewer Bryan Shimkos currently work at 5 Rabbit in Bedford Park and Excel Bottling in Breese (they're also about to get under way at Big Chicago Brewing in Zion).

In a month or two the 30-barrel brew house at the Green Exchange ought to start water brews (they're like dress rehearsals for the hardware), and it could be producing beer by the end of April. The Evans brothers are ready: they've already folded the Web-design firm, 30 Proof, that they were running together when they started Lucky Hand. Their equipment, which includes three 40-barrel fermenters, arrived January 20. An Indiegogo campaign that ended on December 8 raised $15,378 toward a fourth fermenter—a 20-barrel tank intended for collaborative beers. Right now Ale Syndicate is licensed as an ordinary brewery, with none of the baggage that comes with a craft brewer's license; the proposed tap room at the Green Exchange space, which will have its own five-barrel system (to facilitate experimentation with one-off beers), should open late this year.

I dutifully poured Sunday Session into a 16-ounce pub glass, as instructed by the beer specs.
  • I dutifully poured Sunday Session into a 16-ounce pub glass, as instructed by the beer specs.
The Evans brothers developed the recipe for what would become Sunday Session in 2005, when they were home brewing almost seven days a week. It was their day-off beer, their lawnmower beer, their beer for drinking while they were brewing. According to Ale Syndicate's info sheet, Sunday Session uses three malts (pale two-row, wheat, and Ashburne) and three hops (Glacier, Crystal, and Ahtanum). It's a simple, less-is-more beer whose gentle, carefully balanced flavors require a lot of precision in the brewing process.

Ale Syndicate sales manager Jake Williams delivered me a mixed sixer of the brewery's beers on Saturday afternoon, and I made a beeline for the Sunday Session. Bright gold in color and slightly hazy, it's got a modest but persistent head of brilliantly white, almost silky foam.

"Peachy" and "grassy" continue to make for a good thumbnail description of Sunday Session's aroma. It smells great, thanks to loads of hops added late in the boil and dry-hopping during fermentation. I also get lemon, pink grapefruit, orange peel, and new-growth pine, all of which maintain a beautiful balance with malts that remind me of a split buttermilk biscuit or a bowl of cream of wheat. As the beer warms, a touch of floral honey comes forward.

In June I also wrote that Sunday Session had "great body for a low-alcohol beer," and now I know that "low-alcohol" means 4.8 percent. Fine-grained, frothy carbonation helps it feel creamy, though it's hardly thick. I taste apricot as well as peach, plus tangerine and cedar and something very gently tart, like white grape or green apple. Grain and fruit dominate the flavor—despite the neon-sign obviousness of its hops, Sunday Session isn't especially bitter. What bitterness I do pick up is subtle, herbal, and slightly peppery, a little like that purple-stemmed Thai basil you sometimes get with pho. It's rounded off by full-bodied malts, which again remind me of milky cream of wheat with honey. Despite that flicker of sweetness, though, the beer finishes clean and dry.

Ale Syndicates 1950s bowling-alley look is the responsibility of Scout Driscoll and her firm DesignScout, who have also done work for Metropolis Coffee.
  • Ale Syndicate's 1950s bowling-alley look is the responsibility of Scout Driscoll and her firm DesignScout, who have also done work for Metropolis Coffee.
At some shops Sunday Session has been selling out in a flash (I already mentioned the Lincoln Park Binny's), but Ale Syndicate has bottled a lot of this stuff—deliveries will continue throughout the week. And even if this batch does get snapped up, Sunday Session will keep coming back—it's one of the brewery's year-round beers.

Ale Syndicate works with Lake Shore Beverage (the new distributor formed by the consolidation of City Beverage and River North) and already has kegs in 50 to 60 bars around the city at any given time. The Evans brothers don't yet have a complete list of stores that will end up with their bottles, but they're sure about Binny's, Capone's, Bottles & Cans, Whole Foods, and West Lakeview Liquors.

Six-packs should cost $9.99, though some retailers will undoubtedly mark them up; large-format bottles start at $10.99. New six-pack beers are in development, and on the large-format front Ale Syndicate has plans for an "Infusion Series," in partnership with Milwaukee's Rishi Tea.

Now, what metal should I pair with Sunday Session? It's a distinctive but accessible beer that could appeal to just about anyone who's ever had a drink, so let's start with a song that appeals to just about anyone who's ever thrown the horns: the title track from Black Sabbath's 1973 classic Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. I realize that this beer isn't called "Sabbath Session," and that the sabbath isn't Sunday for everybody. But there's a relative shortage of metal songs with "Sunday" in their titles.

And of course there are darker, uglier places to go once you start hunting for the word "sabbath." Foundational second-wave Norwegian black-metal band Emperor released "Witches Sabbath" on the 1994 EP As the Shadows Rise.

"Curse of the Necromantical Sabbath" comes from the 2004 EP of the same name by German blackened death-metal group Necros Christos.

I did find a few worthwhile "Sunday" songs too. This one is by Bay Area weirdos Oxbow, from the 1995 album Let Me Be a Woman. Their front man, Eugene Robinson (author of A Long Slow Screw and Fight: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Ass-Kicking but Were Afraid You'd Get Your Ass Kicked for Asking), has the same name as a newspaper columnist and a football player, which makes for an odd page of Google image-search results.

Philip Montoro writes about beer and metal, singly or in combination, every Monday.

Add a comment