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.
The Middle Brow crew—Nick Burica, Bryan Grohnke, and Pete Ternes—are all Jimmy Whispers fans, having seen him open for Dan Deacon last March at Subterranean and warm up for Chain & the Gang in August at the Bottle. They approached him about working together, and once they'd decided that their collaboration would take the form of a beer, Jimmy suggested an IPA named after his album (and the zine he published in 2012, and the festival he organized at the Hideout in 2013, and so on). He wanted something summery but bitter, says Ternes, and Middle Brow had a recipe for a Belgian-style IPA that they'd been meaning to use. (Many Middle Brow beers use recipes contributed by the winners of home-brewing contests, but this one originated in-house.)
Like Middle Brow's other beers, Summer in Pain is contract brewed at Big Chicago in Zion, Illinois, which was purchased last winter by Ten Ninety. It's 6.5 percent alcohol and uses Mandarina, Hull Melon, and Galaxy hops. Mandarina hops, unsurprisingly, taste like mandarin orange—Revolution's new draft-only fifth-birthday IPA is packed with them, so if you've tried that, you already know what they can do to a beer.
Take a whiff of Summer in Pain, and it hits you with a face full of fruit—not just tangerine and cantaloupe from the hops but also peach and apricot, presumably from the Belgian yeast. The smell is bright and invigorating but also woody and a bit sharp, with notes of pine, cedar resin, and underripe strawberry. The caramel malts (which you can see plenty of in the beer's color) struggle to announce themselves in the company of all those powerful aromatics.
Mandarin orange and melon come through in the flavor too, but much less prominently—they're hardly subdued, but they have to compete with an aggressive rush of tannic, resinous bitterness that hangs around into the finish. Summery? Check. Bitter? Double check.
Summer in Pain has a pretty full body for its strength, and its hop flavors are ramped up to a level you'd expect in an imperial IPA. This comes at the expense of the malts, though—you've really got to hunt for a taste of them. (Ubiquitous locally available examples of better-rounded Belgian-style IPAs include Rev's A Little Crazy and Ale Asylum's Bedlam.) I know that not all of you care whether you can get a good handle on the malts when you go in for a hoppy beer, so this isn't necessarily intended as a complaint. I mean, some of you maniacs drink Malört on purpose. By contrast the bitterness here is downright pleasant, like the sort of bracingly concentrated herbal tincture you might take a few drops of to wake yourself up in the morning.
Ternes tells me he expects Summer in Pain to cost $7.99 for a 22-ounce bomber. It'll be as widely available as Middle Brow's other beers, and subsequent batches may be bottled in 12-ounce four-packs. In keeping with the brewery's commitment to charity, half the profits generated by Summer in Pain will go to Cure Violence, the Chicago-based organization profiled in The Interrupters.
Tuesday's show is $8 or free with RSVP. Jimmy Whispers has at least two songs from Summer in Pain on various Bandcamp pages now, so I'm posting them below. He cut the whole album at his apartment on a battered old Thomas Californian electric organ, recording his singing using his iPhone's voice-memo function.