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I wrote 32 Beer and Metal posts in 2014, down from 42 last year, but the Chicago craft community was busier than ever. Though I like to think I made up for the drop in quantity with an increase in quality (and I did break a few stories, in my own way), I definitely overlooked some solid breweries. When I finally meet Clint Bautz from Lake Effect, I'm going to feel like apologizing to the guy.
Not too many people bother to read about beer—the traditional approach, of course, is to simply drink it—so it's fair to assume that the folks who visit this corner of the Internet have unusually strong opinions on the subject. Among the posts I did publish, which found special favor with that crowd? I mean, with y'all? (I grew up in Texas. I'm allowed to say "y'all.")
My recent post on Marz's collaborative Umami Stout just missed the top ten, and might've cracked it if I'd waited another week or two to pull the traffic numbers. The next two runners-up probably drew some extra eyeballs because they're both reviews of beers that won silver at this summer's Great American Beer Festival: Temperance's Gatecrasher English IPA and Half Acre's Heyoka IPA.
As far as the top ten itself, my posts on Dark Lord Day, the Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer, and the Goose Island Bourbon County releases all make appearances—just as their 2013 counterparts did last year. Six of the seven remaining entries are about operations that opened in 2014, though—and to accompany the list, I found some halfway decent photos in my files that I hadn't used already.
10. An early taste of Aquanaut Brewing's core lineup "Early" turned out to mean earlier than I'd hoped when I wrote this in late July, but Aquanaut's beers have been pouring around town since early November. Better late than never—and they're at least as good as I remember. For reasons unclear to me, this feature had the longest average "time on page" of any 2014 Beer and Metal post—eight minutes. I guess even a few people listening through the 12-minute Buried at Sea song I embedded at the end could've bumped that number up.
9. The debut of Uncommon Ground's Greenstar, the first organic brewery in Illinois I'd love to see organic farming proliferate so widely that brewers could make the switch to organic ingredients without sacrificing access to dozens of hop varieties. (Given how much I drink, it's probably pointless for me to seek out organics for health reasons, but my well-being isn't the important part—the process of producing such food does less harm to the environment.) Greenstar brewmaster Martin Coad has a limited palette to work with, but he does a bang-up job with it.
8. Beermiscuous does craft beer coffee-shop style If Beermiscuous's strong, locally focused tap list and well-stocked coolers don't make a sufficiently compelling case for this Lakeview beer cafe, consider the close proximity of Gyros on the Spit, purveyors of Chicago's finest drunk food. On an unrelated subject, while writing this post I discovered the unofficial Beer and Metal theme song:
7. First visit: Evanston's Smylie Brothers Brewing Co. I've been back to Smylie Brothers a couple times since this review, once specifically for the Steinbier—the mere existence of which demonstrates that brewmaster Brad Pulver has branched out from the "down-the-middle, easy-drinking traditional styles" that dominated his early output. (Of course, Steinbier is traditional, but it's hardly entry-level stuff.) I wonder how many people noticed my link to a clip from the 1981 Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy TV series.
6. Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer gold medalists include Pipeworks, Revolution, and Off Color I've been writing about beer professionally for more than four years. I should never end up so drunk after a festival that I have to concentrate with desperate intensity in order to walk. As far as I'm concerned, the only good to come out of this post was the phrase "pretty badly FOBABed." I don't care to revisit the rest of it, because of the shame.
5. Empirical Brewery hits the market hard with its IBU Overload IPA This ambitious Ravenswood operation has rolled out several new beers since my visit in August (including Wavelength White Pepper Ale and the Honey Hypothesis version of their Atomic Amber), but I've caught up with only one, Phase Transition Porter. It's a distinctive take on the style, like many of Empirical's beers, with a rich flavor that freights the usual chocolate malts with notes of molasses and raisin.
4. New proposed state distribution rules would choke the growth of Chicago's biggest craft brewers I'm certainly glad that a shit ton of people read this post, given how much legalese I had to slog through to write it. Alas, the last I heard, the distribution rules in question were still on the books (albeit in a sort of limbo). The Illinois legislature has tasked the Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois and the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild with hammering out a compromise, and it seems to be taking a while—especially considering that both parties agree the rules are nonsense.
3. Dark Lord Day 2014: Three Floyds tweaks the festival's new model for speed This was my best Dark Lord Day yet in terms of fun per hour—even though I lost my camera's lens cap, took a nasty blow to the knee when overserved Eyehategod fans toppled the steel crowd-control barriers, and speckled my clothes with my own blood after failing to notice that I'd somehow scooped a chunk out of one of my knuckles. Also I'm pretty sure I blacked out for 90 percent of High on Fire's set. I just reread my review for the first time in eight months (it's longer and more ludicrous than I remember*), and now I want a Three Floyds Boom Over Pow. What the hell happened to that beer? Why can't I drink one? This seems unfair.
* "That's what she said."
2. Goose Island's 2014 Bourbon County beers, reviewed by six increasingly drunk people This year my living-room Bourbon County tasting became an annual affair. I don't know what I like more, the company or the beer—let's just call it apples and oranges. On top of the 2014 Bourbon County variants, we split an old bomber of Rare, a fresh growler of Revolution's Riot pils, and a bottle of Fantome's La Dalmatienne, among other things. A crowd of friends is the best way to prove that the value of shmancy beers can't be realized when they're accruing gravitas in a cellar or fridge—until you pop the top and pass it around, even the finest bottle is just an expensive paperweight.
1. An early look at the finally-about-to-open Lagunitas tap room The opening of Lagunitas's gargantuan new brewery was almost certainly the biggest thing to happen to the Chicago craft-beer community this year, so I'm hardly surprised to see my photo tour of its tap room topping this list. Last week Lagunitas began installing a second brew house, three more bottling tanks, and several giant fermenters. The cranes handling all that gear are inside the cavernous brewery building, clearly visible from the tap-room windows—in other words, it might be a fun time to visit.
I feel like posting one more metal song before the calendar rolls over, so you're not rid of me just yet. When Horrendous opened for Deceased at the Beat Kitchen in October, shortly before the release of their second full-length, Ecdysis (Dark Descent), I didn't even realize the show was happening. Horrendous are usually described as an "east coast" band, but that's shorthand for "split between Pennsylvania and South Carolina," so I'm not holding my breath for another Chicago date soon. And because Ecdysis is one of the best death-metal records of the year, I've been looking for an opportunity to show these guys a little love. I especially like the ragged, jury-rigged feel of these otherwise sophisticated songs—it's as though their off-kilter structures and occasional metrical complications arise less from avant-garde impulses and more from the necessity to work with whatever spare parts the band could scavenge from the graveyard of 90s death metal.
Enjoy the rest of the official merriest time of the year, and I'll be back in 2015.