Old Bust Head Brewing Co.
Dudes order a Jack-and-Coke. Men order a Manhattan. Gentlemen order a Rob Roy. Created in 1894 by a bartender at the Manhattan Waldorf Astoria, the timeless cocktail is similar to a Manhattan but replaces the customary bourbon or rye with Scotch. It’s a drink that makes you feel sophisticated and wise—and Old Bust Head’s version replicates it perfectly. Oranges and cherries stand in for the angostura bitters and sweet vermouth usually found in the cocktail, lending a clear but tasteful fruitiness that harmonizes perfectly with the mild smokiness derived through additions of smoked rye malt as well as some rye whiskey barrel-aging. The bitter orange-and-cherry finish even reminds us of another classic cocktail: the Negroni. May the booze-inspired beer trend never end.
Dire Wolf – Port Barrel
Wolf’s Ridge Brewing
Once upon a time there was a beer called Kate the Great. It was an imperial stout aged in port barrels, and it was one of the most well-regarded beers in the world. But it wasn’t for her intensity that Kate was so beloved; it was for her subtlety and refinement, the way she deftly wove the winelike notes of the port barrels amid her chocolaty roasted malts. Sadly, Kate left us in 2012, but this port-aged version of Wolf Ridge’s 10.4% ABV imperial stout does a damn good impression. Rich and intricately layered, the aroma overlaps natural peanut butter, nougat and smooth dark chocolate on its malty side, while winelike oakiness and a hint of luxardo cherry nod at the barrel’s influence. Each sip delivers chocolate-covered prunes with soft marshmallow and a hint of steak char before slight burnt malt ashiness appears at the swallow. The body, soft and silky, seems to melt in the mouth like spun sugar before the gentle, dry finish of shaved and dried tobacco.
You’ll be hearing much more about Mikerphone next week (that’s what people in this business call a teaser), but suffice it to say this music-themed brewery located in an industrial park in the Chicago suburb of Elk Grove Village is making some rocking beer. Thursty is a Northeast IPA, which is a focus at Mikerphone and one of the reasons the brewery has so quickly become so beloved, and as such glows with a pineapple-gold hue. Bright tangerine, honeydew rind, a hint of juicy apricot and a splash of sticky, stinky weed radiate across the palate with each sip; the finish is fairly sweet, with a spicy hop heat that tingles the tongue long after the swallow.
Steel String Brewery
We don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that Brett Mon is the best brettanomyces-fermented IPA we’ve ever had (it’s a small sample size, but still). Built from Steel String’s Centennial-, Cascade- and Mosaic-hopped Big Mon IPA, Brett Mon adds hints of crunchy hay and horsey funk to the base beer’s pineapple, nectarine, lawn clipping and yuzu hop notes. The surprise is how much of its character the IPA retains—there’s a bold pine needle bite up front, an oyster-cracker malt base and a tenacious bitterness at the finish. The brett contributes a little to the hops’ grilled pineapple and dries out the finish like a sponge, while coriander and underripe nectarine fade out slowly after the swallow. It’s very clearly an IPA, but also clearly brett-fermented. Phenomenal stuff.
Dire Wolf – Canis Mexicanus
Wolf’s Ridge Brewing
Two Dire Wolves in the same roundup? We actually tried five treatments of Wolf Ridge’s imperial stout: this one, the port barrel-aged guy above, a sherry barrel-aged version, a bourbon barrel-aged version, and a coffee- and cinnamon-spiked version called Yub Nub. Canis Mexicanus, brewed with cocoa nibs, chili peppers, cinnamon and coffee was our favorite of the five due to its perfectly managed chipotle heat; it isn’t distracting but certainly becomes warm enough to get your ears tingling. Notes of mole and toasted marshmallows spread on cinnamon graham crackers just sealed the deal.
Here Be Monsters
Picture, if you will, your average American brewery’s barrel-aged stout. It’s probably pretty sweet, right? Most likely heavy on the bourbon, too. Now swap out all the American barley malts used to make it—the toasty Chocolate, the sugary Caramel malt, the bready Pale—for British varieties. That is, in essence, what Cerebral has done with Here Be Monsters. British Chocolate, Crystal and Maris Otter malts give this imperial stout an intriguing across-the-pond quality that replaces the intensely sugary chocolate and caramel flavors common in so many American stouts with sun-dried cherries, anise, dry cocoa nibs and graham flour. The whiskey character—derived from 12 months spent in Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels—is present almost entirely in the front of the sip, so while the beer has a typically sweet BA stout kickoff, it finishes more like your classic, dry, spicy-acrid, un-oaked English stout.