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Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark's Parachute didn't win the James Beard Foundation Award for best new restaurant last night, but it was one of Chicago's five national nominees on that portion of the slate, alongside Topolobampo, the Violet Hour, Donnie Madia, and Tanya Baker of Boarding House. (Madia and the Violet Hour both won.) This celebrated Korean-American joint offers just one draft beer at a time to complement its funky, soulful food, and since October that beer has come from fledgling Chicago operation Illuminated Brew Works, which I profiled in February.
Throughout fall and winter that beer was IBW's Brown Reason to Live, a hybrid style that's probably closer to a low-alcohol Belgian dubbel than to anything else. "We knew we wanted to have one tap at Parachute that featured local brewers and changed seasonally," says the restaurant's beverage director, Matty Colston. (He also serves ten other beers and ciders in bottles or cans.) "Last summer we poured Revolution's Rosa, which was a big hit."
As the warm weather returned, Colston decided he wanted to work directly with Illuminated brewer Brian Buckman on a new beer exclusive to Parachute. Their collaboration, now christened Pareidolia, had been in the works for almost as long as the restaurant. "Brian knocked on our door before we opened. He lives across the street," says Colston. "Because Brown Reason to Live was so successful, I wanted to propose the idea of developing a beer from scratch to fit the profile I wanted. Brian and I made plans to meet on a Sunday, and we'd both bring a sack full of beers to help fuel the inspiration. It actually started with a French beer I had cellared called L'Amalthée, a biere de garde from Brasserie Lebbe. It's made by a guy on a goat farm who fully sustains his operation by making cheese and beer."
Colston knew he wanted something dry, fresh, low in alcohol, and slightly acidic. "Acid is a key factor in complementing food—much like with wine," he says. The recipe they devised can be loosely described as a Belgian-style farmhouse table beer. "Brian invited me back to taste Pareidolia right out of the fermenter," Colston adds. "Not much needed to be said, because he totally nailed it."
"Pareidolia" is a word for the phenomenon of perceiving specious significance in visual or auditory stimuli. You may remember a local instance from 2005, when believers took a water stain in the Fullerton underpass of the Kennedy to be an image of the Virgin Mary. The Illuminated crew provide a few more examples: "Seeing faces in clouds, hearing messages when playing records backwards, seeing ghosts, observing order in governments." The name doesn't have squat to do with the beer, though "Parachute" does share its first three letters.
Colston didn't want a lot of extra ingredients that would interfere with the flavor of Pareidolia's Belgian yeast (Buckman prefers not to specify the strain, beyond calling it "obscure"). Consequently the beer uses only a pinch of lemon zest—two lemons per five barrels—and a bit of palm sugar. "I think the yeasts eating that complex sugar created a lot of nuance in the final product," says Colston.
Pareidolia is also kettle soured, and in case you're like me and need a hand defining that term concisely, Buckman can help: "A kettle sour basically means we created a small starter culture of lactobacillus, grew it for a few days, and then pitched it into the boil to kill off the bacteria but keep the flavor compounds," he says. "It’s made to properly accentuate the fantastic menu from Johnny and Beverly, and scrape clean your tongue to keep you heading back for more."
Parachute tapped its first keg of Pareidolia on Friday, and yesterday Illuminated business maestro Matt Shirley delivered me a couple hand-bottled samples at the Reader. (I haven't eaten at Parachute yet, but I'd love to—first, though, my budget has to recover from Dark Lord Day, to say nothing of the fancy new bike I bought last fall.)
Pareidolia has a clingy, pillowy head, and its slight turbidity gives its golden color a diffuse glow. At first blush it smells startlingly like a white wine—maybe a vinho verde, though I don't know dick about wine. Its clean, bright aroma is fruity and herbal up top, full of white grape, green plum, cut grass, and blooming clover, with an understory of sweet, barely toasted grain that reminds me of buckwheat honey and cream of wheat.
The beer's firm, lively carbonation helps give it a body that's surprisingly lush and full considering its 4.4 percent alcohol content. Bready, yeasty flavors, bordering on floral, segue into honeydew melon, more white wine, and an astringent, citrusy tartness reminiscent of white grapefruit and lemon. With every sip, Pareidolia makes a pronounced swing from its sunny, creamy malt base to a dry, crackling finish with a lick of acidity. It's a lovely, distinctive beer with a lot going on, but it's not too assertive to enjoy with food.
Colston says Parachute will pour Pareidolia through spring and summer, and you can expect to pay seven bucks for a 13-ounce tulip glass.
If you think it'd be a long shot for me to find a metal song called "Pareidolia" to sign off with, well, you're seriously underestimating the number of metal songs in the universe. This is "Pareidolia," from the 2012 EP of same name by Las Vegas doom band Demon Lung—who take their name from an Electric Wizard song. I think that's the third time I've mentioned Electric Wizard in Beer and Metal so far this year, and I regret nothing.
Correction: This post has been updated to reflect Matty Colston's actual job at Parachute.