Welcome to the Revolution! Chicago’s Revolution Brewing

Posted by | Posted in Beer | Posted on 06-27-2012

While this is normally a wine blog, it’s impossible to ignore the momentum of America’s craft beer movement.

Here in Chicago, we’ve seen a major boom, with new producers and brewpubs opening regularly. One of our brewpubs — Revolution Brewing in Logan Square — recently became a full-fledged commercial producer.

Revolution opened in February of 2010 and I’ve been visiting frequently ever since. Late last month, the company opened a full production facility complete with a tap room, where the owners hope to always serve 12 of their own brews on tap. The facility is massive, clocking in at around 35,000 square feet.

Major brewpubs aren’t new, of course.

Chicago’s “Original Brewpub” is Goose Island’s Clybourn Brewery, which traces its roots to 1988. Piece Brewery and Pizzeria on North Avenue and Haymarket Pub in the West Loop community are two other popular destinations.

While Piece and Goose Island make great beer, neither are completely focused the brewpub experience. Goose Island is often crammed, as it fills up fast. Piece is mainly focused on providing tasty beer to accompany its New Haven-style pizza. Haymarket is closest to Revolution, but it doesn’t give the feel that I want from a brewpub, although I do enjoy going there. While Haymarket gives off more of a sports bar vibe, Revolution wants its customers to focus on the beer. Revolution has TVs, but the sound is usually turned off.

Put simply, Revolution is very much about the beer. The food, while delicious, is secondary. In just two years, Revolution has arguably become Chicago’s top beer destination. It’s one of those places that you need to visit if you fashion yourself a craft beer fan.

This isn’t to say that all the beers are amazing — but almost everything is consistently very good. Indeed, Revolution recently won two gold medals at the 2012 World Beer Cup. The Cross of Gold won gold in the English-Style Summer Ale category, and Rise Up Stout  won the American-Style Stout category.

Revolution has a solid stable of 5 beers available all year, another 3 or 4 seasonal brews at any given time, and many short run brews. The brewery doesn’t focus on one specific style — its offerings regularly include German, Belgian, English, and American style beers. Revolution’s “Barrel Aged” program is the highlight of its portfolio. For the most part, these are one-offs — and its been fascinating to see how wine, bourbon, and whiskey barrels influence a beer. While most of the barrel-aged beers have been stouts, Revolution has included Scotch AlesBarleywines, and Rye beers in the program. All told, Revolution releases about 35 beers annually.

Recently, I had the good fortune of attending the opening party of Revolution’s Brewery. It is an impressive facility — and will surely have a bright future. Below the fold, please find my tasting notes on Revolution’s main stable of beers along with two of its seasonal brews. Read the rest of this entry »

The 14 Days of Younger

Posted by | Posted in Beer | Posted on 02-16-2012

Beer: it’s the drink winemakers drink when they aren’t drinking wine, which happens a lot more than some might imagine. There is a phrase in the industry, “it takes a lot of good beer to make a great wine,” but sometimes it takes a lot of wine to make a great beer. Such is the case at Russian River Brewing Company in my current hometown of Santa Rosa, California; at least  for their barrel aged sours such as Temptation — aged in used Chardonnay barrels.

Normally, I’d opt for one of these barrel-aged beers, but not in the first two weeks of February. That would be a total waste at this special time of year known as the “14 days of Younger.” While I typically couldn’t care less about scores, ratings, badges, and the like, I must admit that living within walking distance of the brewery producing the beer currently rated number one out of every beer in the world on Beer Advocate is pretty sweet.

Having heard the hype, I had to swing by on the first day of the 14 to try it out. This was a bad idea. The line was almost literally around the block, and I have a feeling that not many people were going to be giving up their spots at 6 p.m. on a Friday. The next day proved even more daunting. There must easily have been more people in line than living in the state of Delaware. Regardless, I finally made it in at 11 a.m. on Tuesday. And 11 a.m. on Wednesday. This stuff is good.

Now for the beer: Russian River Brewing Company Pliny the Younger (2012 release): The Younger is a triple IPA, none of that wussie double stuff of his Elder equivalent. The nose is pure oranges and hops that smell as if they’d just been picked fresh from the highest peaks of the Cascades. Normally I’m not a huge IPA drinker, nevermind triple IPAs, but the balance between fruitiness and hoppy bitterness on this is astounding. Coming in 10.7% alcohol and IBUs that probably can’t even be measured, balance isn’t the first word that comes to mind. But the Younger pulls it off, and it pulls it off in style.

Unfortunately, today, February 16, is the final of the 14 days of Younger. I can only hope the end of the world holds off until I get to taste the 2013 version, and for anyone who thinks February is a bad time to visit wine country, I beg to differ. Not only was it 65 and sunny yesterday, but early February in Sonoma County is also beer country; beer so good that I forgot about wine for a brief moment, and that doesn’t happen very often.

An Introduction to Beer!

Posted by | Posted in Beer | Posted on 11-30-2011

Editor’s note: As craft beer becomes more popular, an increasing number of oenophiles (myself included!) are interested in learning more about it. So we’ve brought on a beer blogger. Justin Dietz first became interested in beer thanks to craft breweries across the Midwest, and he soon became obsessed with it. Today, Justin doesn’t just drink beer – he also brews it. His first post is a primer, and we’ll get geekier from here. –David White

Believe it or not, there are more styles of beer than just Bud Heavy and Bud Light (and the future Bud Light Platinum). And no, dark and light aren’t the two words one would use to categorize beer. Much like wine, beer comes in many different styles with some room within each category for variations.

A beer’s style is largely based on the interaction of the malt, hops, yeast and any special ingredients (e.g. spices in a fall pumpkin beer) used on brewing day. A beer’s style is assessed according to four characteristics: Aroma, Appearance, Flavor and Mouthfeel.

According to the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) there are 23 different categories of beer, each with multiple styles. With so many types of beer to explore, it’s no wonder the craft brewing industry has exploded in recent decades.

The beer industry has come a long way since The Reinheitsgebot, or the “German Beer Purity Law” of 1516, which stated that beer could only be brewed with water, barley and hops. It’s a good thing too — as yeast wasn’t known to humankind in the 16th century, and therefore wasn’t included in the law. Read the rest of this entry »