At CHAOS Brew Club's fabulous Cerveza de Mayo party, I encountered a jockey box from a new-to-me Chicago brewery called Around the Bend. I tried their galangal pale ale, Silk Road (how could I not be curious?), then filed them in the back of my mind as an operation to check up on in six or eight months, once they'd had time to complete the tortuous permitting and licensing process and start actually selling beer instead of just pouring it at festivals. Little did I know that Around the Bend would clear that hurdle less than a week later. I like to think of myself as pretty plugged in when it comes to Chicago breweries, but they're propagating at such a rate that I can get surprised by a new one reaching the market.
Founder and CEO Dan Schedler, who's worked in marketing for 18 years and home brewed for 20, incorporated Around the Bend last year. He's studied brewing technology at the Siebel Institute, but he's not his own head brewer: to fill that job he hired Joe Cuozzo, whose 17 years of experience in the industry have mostly been in southern California, where he was an assistant brewer at two top-tier operations, Pizza Port and Alesmith (he also served as brewmaster at the defunct Sports City Cafe & Brewery). So far Around the Bend's only other full-time employee is sales director Lindsey Stocks, who was kind enough to answer my questions for this post.
For now Around the Bend lease space at Ale Syndicate, where they've got two 40-barrel fermenters of their own. (Arcade Brewery share that facility too.) Working with Chicago distributor Louis Glunz Beer, they're selling Silk Road and a Kölsch called Ghost of 'Lectricity on tap only. In a few months they hope to start packaging (in six-packs of 12-ounce bottles, thank goodness, not more bombers), and early this fall they'll introduce a third beer, an as-yet-unnamed brown ale.
The hand-bottled samples Glunz sent me at work took a mysteriously long time to arrive at my office—Stocks thinks they shipped two weeks ago—so I decided to review Silk Road, since I'd had it before and would thus be able to tell if it'd gone off. (It hadn't, which is why you're reading this at all.)
Silk Road is 5.9 percent alcohol and a moderate 58 IBU (that stands for "International Bittering Units," in case you're reading a craft-beer column but have somehow failed to encounter that abbreviation before). Cuozzo hops the beer with Chinook, Simcoe, Ahtanum, Amarillo, and Citra, but the ingredient on the marquee ringed with rows of chasing lights is definitely the galangal. It's a rhizome (aka rootstock) related to ginger, and you'll often see slices of it in tom kha or tom yum soups ("kha" is Thai for galangal, though I'm not confident about my transliteration). Around the Bend use it dried and powdered in Silk Road.
For a pale ale, Silk Road is surprisingly dark, bordering on a sort of ruby chestnut—even the head isn't white but rather the color of unbleached paper. The beer smells invigoratingly like a greenhouse, its aroma earthy, spicy, and forest-floor thick. I can pick out cedar bark, orange blossom water, dried apricot, pine, a touch of strawberry, and of course tons of galangal.
The fruity, prickly hops contribute flavors of tangerine peel, pine, jasmine, and mandarin orange, reinforced by the sharp bitterness of the galangal's woody resins and tannins. The rhizome comes through powerfully, woven into the hops and coloring the long, astringent finish. Thankfully a rich but not cloying understory of sweet malts, with a burnt-sugar intensity like caramel and toffee, provides a sturdy counterbalance.
It'd be fair to call Silk Road "distinctive," in that the necessity to accommodate its blast of galangal makes it radically unlike a conventional pale ale. This isn't one of those beers where you and your friends will have to struggle to tell whose is whose after you get four different pales back to your table from the bar. And it's definitely worth a try if you like to pluck the slices of galangal out of your tom kha and gnaw on them.
Since Cerveza de Mayo, Around the Bend beers have appeared at Beer Under Glass, the Glunz Beer Expo, and a launch party June 11 at the Beer Bistro on Madison. The brewery's current accounts include Small Bar, Owen & Engine, Parlor Pizza, the Atwood at Hotel Burnham, the Publican, Timothy O'Toole's, DryHop, Riverview Tavern, Sheffield's, Links Taproom, Beermiscuous, and the Brass Tap in Orland Park.
To sign off the Beer and Metal way, I'm posting "Silk Road," four minutes and change of doomy, hard-rocking old-school heavy metal from the self-titled 2014 album by short-lived Berlin-based band the Oath. Vocalist Johanna Sadonis has since formed the heavily hyped Lucifer with the Oath's touring drummer, Andrew Prestridge; their self-titled full-length came out last month, and it's definitely worth a listen.
I know it's weird to embed an NPR music player, but I couldn't find this song anywhere else.