I got to Evanston's Temperance Beer Company a bit late—I didn't manage a column till last May, when their kegs had been turning up in Chicago bars for seven or eight months and they'd just debuted on retail shelves with Gatecrasher English IPA. (I felt a little better, and even a tad prescient, when Gatecrasher won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival that summer—I'd given it an immoderately positive review.)
This is just to say I'm keen not to miss any more milestones from Temperance. And there's one coming up on Saturday, January 31, when the brewery releases its first bottles—specifically, two barrel-aged variants of its Might Meets Right imperial stout in an extremely limited run of 22-ounce bombers. Since March 2014 this beer has been soaking up goodness inside white oak barrels that Utah's High West Distillery used either for its 36th Vote Barreled Manhattan or its Barreled Boulevardier. In November at FOBAB the Boulevardier version took bronze in the "Experimental" category. (To save you a Google search, a Boulevardier is—in this case at least—a cocktail of bourbon, vermouth, and amaro.)
Starting at noon on Saturday, bottles of both will go on sale at the Temperance tap room (2000 Dempster). It's cash only, and the Windy City Patty Wagon will be parked outside to sell burgers to the nerds in line. The manhattan variant of Might Meets Right will be tapped at Temperance the night before at 5 PM; the Boulevardier will follow suit when the release party begins.
Now, when I say "extremely limited," I am not fucking around. Fewer than 100 Boulevardier bottles exist; they cost $25 each, and they're limited to one per person. Thankfully the situation is more forgiving with the manhattan bottles: Temperance will have more than 1,000 of those on Saturday, with a limit of three per person and a price of $20 apiece. Roughly 30 cases (that's 360 bottles) will be sold through local shops, and nine sixth-barrel kegs will be distributed to bars. Temperance had hoped to end up with more, says founder Josh Gilbert (early press materials promised 150 bottles of the Boulevardier), but a greater fraction of the beer had evaporated from the barrels than anybody anticipated—and packaging always involves some spillage.
Speaking of packaging, Gilbert tells me that Brad Shaffer of Spiteful Brewing brought his brewery's bottling line to Temperance—and that's not an easy piece of machinery to move. "We couldn't have bottled anything without Spiteful," Gilbert says. "They are the best." Shaffer helped run the line last weekend, alongside a Spiteful affiliate who goes by Beer Me Fitz. Tony Magee at Lagunitas can rattle his saber at Sierra Nevada all he wants—in the trenches of Chicago beer, the prevailing ethos is still "I got your back."
It's also worth stressing that the Temperance folks have never before dealt with the logistics of an on-site bottle release where the number of people who want a beer is all but certain to dwarf the number of beers for sale. So if you go to the tap room on Saturday morning, please don't be a dick. You don't want to discourage local breweries from learning how to do this sort of thing, do you?
At my request, Gilbert graciously brought me a bottle of the manhattan Might Meets Right on Wednesday night. (I figured it'd be more useful to review the beer that'd be easier for folks to get. And I'm not deluded enough about the importance of this column to imagine I'd rate a preview of a two-digit bottle release!)
My first thought, which came before my first sip, was to wish I'd had a manhattan a little more recently, so that I'd be better prepared to locate its flavors in this massive stout. (Barrel-aged Might Meets Right is 10.9 percent alcohol.) While I was taking pictures of this beer in its glass, I got a whiff of the liquor rising off it from across the room—and it actually did smell more like a cocktail than like straight whiskey. (High West's manhattan consists of rye whiskey, red vermouth, and Angostura bitters.)
On closer inspection, the booze on the nose isn't just rye whiskey but also, by some trick of the olfactory apparatus, amaretto. Otherwise the beer's aroma tilts toward dessert: black cherry, dark chocolate cake, burnt caramel flan, black coffee with chicory.
I was half expecting the manhattan Might Meets Right to taste much more aggressively bitter than it smells, given how often that happens with this species of stout. But nope. It's lush and sticky, with a lovely zing of carbonation that keeps it from cloying. Milk chocolate and vanilla come through strongly, along with roasty, sugary espresso and something densely fruity, like dried figs and dates. The note that I'd identified as cherry in the aroma comes across more like raspberry here. The booze is prominent, with a bit of an herbal bite, but it's not hot.
In short, though it's sure to be too sweet for some tastes, this is a damn tasty beer. But is it worth $20 (or more) for a bottle? I suspect that will depend largely on how much money you have. Such a price certainly isn't off the charts for a beer I'd bring to a friend's birthday dinner. But, you know, I don't get invited to that many birthday dinners, so your results may vary.
For the record, the Might Meets Right that's on draft around Evanston and Chicago right now—it comes in coffee, vanilla, and unadulterated versions—is a new batch, not barrel aged. You should be seeing it here and there for a few more weeks.
Temperance will bring back its Evenfall imperial red ale on draft on Friday, February 13. The rye pale ale Restless Years should hit cans in the spring, joining Gatecrasher and Smittytown ESB (and the summer seasonal Greenwood Beach, brewed with pineapple) in that lineup.
Every Thursday in January, the Temperance tap room has tapped a keg of an IPA dosed with citrus—last week it was Gatecrasher with Cuties brand clementines, and last night it was Escapist with grapefruit. February's weekly theme is still in development, with the help of local bartenders and chefs.
One last thing: Sunday at noon, the Hopleaf hosts Super Stout Sunday, whose gonzo tap list includes Temperance's barrel-aged Root Down porter. Brewed with chicory, licorice, and smoked malt and aged in Few Spirits rye whiskey barrels, it was rolled out for the brewery's first birthday on September 18. (Gilbert says he's surprised there's any still around, since only ten sixth-barrel kegs left the tap room.) Also on offer are Founders KBS, Firestone Walker XVIII, Surly Eight, and seven Bourbon County beers, among them all five 2014 variants and 2012's Cherry Rye. There's no cover, so expect the bar to be mobbed.
And now, the metal! This is "Might Is Right," from the 2010 album War of All Against All by New Zealand's Diocletian. Due to a family emergency they canceled a tour that would've brought them to Chicago last May. They don't appear to be playing Maryland Deathfest this year (that was their ticket to the States in 2014), but a guy can hope.