Looking forward to the year in beer, I asked brewers at four breweries that opened in 2015 to tell me about the just-released beers they're most excited to drink in 2016. Ones containing brettanomyces, lactobacillus, and pediococcus—strains of yeast and bacteria that make beer sour and/or funky—appeared on the lists of all the brewers I talked to, evidence the sour-beer trend doesn't appear to be waning anytime soon.
Brant Dubovick | Corridor Brewery & Provisions
A sibling of DryHop Brewers, Corridor (3446 N. Southport, 773-270-4272, corridorchicago.com) opened last October. The brewpub serves farmhouse-style beer to go with its farmhouse-style food. Dubovick is focusing on French and Belgian styles of beer, and currently has a fermenter dedicated to brettanomyces—a type of wild yeast that lives on the skin of fruit and is considered a contaminant in most beer but is key to the production of some traditional Belgian styles.
The Clock Strikes 13 (Corridor Brewery & Provisions) The brewpub's first kettle sour, a traditional Berliner Weiss, was released the last week of December. "It has that beautiful funkiness in the nose that we love from the sours," Dubovick says. (The Corridor beer he's most excited about, though, is fermenting now and won't be released until the spring. It's a sour imperial farmhouse ale with lemon verbena and juniper; brettanomyces is added in the secondary fermentation.)
Johnny Quest Thinks We're Sellouts (Begyle and DryHop) This is the third year that the two breweries have collaborated to create this black IPA brewed with Galaxy, Citra, Simcoe, and Cascade hops. According to Dubovick, it smells like citrus and "finishes with a touch of roast that really complements the citrus beautifully."
Hopslam Ale (Bell's) Dubovick puts this imperial IPA brewed with honey in his top five beers of 2015. "I love the malt sweetness, the way the honey plays in it, that bright citrus dank hoppy burst at the end," he says.
Le Seul III (Une Anee) An American wild ale fermented with a wild yeast strain and blackberries, Le Seul III is slated to land in early January. "Une Anee is doing some amazing things with their sour program," Dubovick says. "They're the sour to look out for in Chicago."
Brian Taylor | Whiner Beer
Located in the Plant, a vertical farm and "food incubator" in Back of the Yards, Whiner has been producing beer for a couple months now but is still waiting for the permits necessary to sell it (which should be arriving any day). Fortunately for brewer Brian Taylor, who co-owns Whiner with cicerone Ria Neri, waiting fits in with his plans to barrel-age nearly all the beer he produces. His brews are mainly French- and Belgian-style sours; an alum of Goose Island, Taylor has experience making aged sour and wild beers like Sofie and Matilda.
Le Tub (Whiner) "All the different bacteria and wild yeast we have in the beer is like a bathtub of growth," Taylor says. (The brew's name means "bathtub" in French.) Part of the saison is fermented for several months in cabernet barrels with lactobacillus, a bacteria that converts sugars to lactic acid, adding sour flavors to beer. Taylor then blends the aged saison with some fresh-brewed saison to achieve the desired taste.
Outlier (Penrose Brewing) A Belgian-style strong ale with an impressive 10 percent ABV, Outlier is aged in Four Roses bourbon barrels for 16 months before being released. "There's a ton of bourbon and chocolate notes," Taylor says, "a lot of fruitiness from the yeast."
Foeder Saison (Perennial Artisan Ales) This saison spent nine months in a foeder, a large wine barrel, prior to its recent inaugural release. It's fermented not only with yeast strains from the well-known Dupont and Fantome breweries but also brettanomyces and lactobacillus. Taylor describes it as tart and fruity: "With all these Belgian strains of yeast, you're going to get major fruit-punch-style taste on the back end."
Dantalion Wild Dark Ale (Upland Brewing Company) Another sour ale, Dantalion is based on the Belgian Oud Bruin (old brown) style and is aged for eight months in oak barrels with ginger, coriander, star anise, grains of paradise, and black pepper.
Bryan Shimkos | Blue Island Beer Company
Blue Island Beer Company (13357 Old Western, Blue Island, 708-954-8085, blueislandbeerco.com) just opened last May, but brewer Bryan Shimkos is hardly a newcomer to the Chicago beer scene. "I appreciate a lot of different styles," and "never wanted to brew one exclusive type of beer," says the veteran of Flossmoor Station and Ale Syndicate. Instead Shimkos focuses on classic styles, offering six to eight beers on tap at any given time.
Lost Weekend (Blue Island) A rye barleywine, Lost Weekend is being brewed now and won't be released until February; Shimkos also plans to save some to barrel-age so that next year he can offer side-by-side tastings of the new release and the aged version. The flavor, he says, is essentially what you'd expect from a barleywine, but with a little spiciness from the rye.
Chiberian Warmer (Arcade Brewery) Shimkos got to know the people behind Arcade when he worked at Ale Syndicate, since the two breweries share a space, and he's excited to try the brewery's newly released winter warmer, brewed with cranberries and orange peel.
Anything from Haymarket Pub & Brewery's "Beerthday" celebration on January 12 Each year Haymarket celebrates its anniversary by releasing special beers. While the lineup for the fifth "Beerthday" hasn't been announced, Shimkos says all of Haymarket's barrel-aged beers are impressive. If you can't make it to the event, Haymarket's Indignant Imperial Stout, aged for six months in Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels, is a regular fixture in the brewpub.
Red Skull (Revolution Brewing) According to Shimkos, Revolution does an especially good job at English-style beers, and Red Skull, an imperial red ale, is an excellent example of the brewery's prowess. "You've got a lot of caramel characteristics going on, and the hops really enhance the malt bill," he says.
Mike Pallen | Mikerphone Brewing
Longtime home brewer Mike Pallen made the leap to professional brewing a few years ago, working for 18th Street Brewery and Breakroom Brewery before officially launching his music-inspired Mikerphone Brewing a few months ago. The brewery, which focuses on sours, saisons, and "hoppy stuff," is temporarily contract-brewing at Une Année Brewery while the permanent brewery space in Elk Grove Village is being built out.
Innocent Criminal (Mikerphone) A double milk stout brewed with cacao nibs and aged with blackberries, Innocent Criminal is named for one of Pallen's favorite bands (Innocent Criminals). "I've brewed several beers in the past with blackberries, and truly love the extra layer and complexity they add to beers, especially stouts," he says.
Grand Cru (Flesk Brewing Company) Flesk's special anniversary release for 2015 is a sour ale aged for more than a year with brettanomyces, lactobacillus, and pediococcus. "I'm a huge sour-beer nut," Pallen says, "so this sour, funky beer is right up my alley."
Anything by Transient Artisan Ales Pallen recommends the recently released Neckbeard Nectar, an imperial stout with coconut, cinnamon, vanilla, and molasses. He also endorses the Pentameter #2, a lambic-inspired ale aged in oak barrels—or anything else by the gypsy brewery, which is so small and its beer so sought after that it can be difficult to find at all.
Smells Like Grahamma's Tarts (Burn 'Em Brewing) A saison with graham crackers in the mash and lemon peel in the boil, this beer was recently rereleased. Pallen, who collaborated with Burn 'Em for the first brewing of the beer about a year ago, calls it "incredibly unique, but darn delicious." v