Whenever I get surprised by a brand-new brewery—which doesn’t happen too often, now that I’ve encountered so many—I’m especially grateful to have a platform from which to alert my fellow nerds that something special is on the way.
Two Saturdays ago, heading home from a Charlemagne Palestine concert at Constellation, I stopped at Northdown for a few drinks—I’d missed a Middle Brow event there that Thursday, so it was on my mind. What I’d forgotten, if I’d ever known, was that the event had also featured a brand-new Oak Park operation called Cahoots Brewing. Both breweries’ kegs had kicked in a flash, but the bar still had bombers of the only Cahoots beer so far—No S’more Imperial Stout, specifically its barrel-aged incarnation. The bartender spoke so highly of it that the fellow sitting to my right went ahead and bought one—and better yet, he shared it with everybody in pouring distance, including me.
Even in my nonsober state, I could tell we were in the presence of uncommon deliciousness. Since then I’ve visited Cahoots founder Dustin Adkison at home to talk about the brewery and try No S’more under more controlled circumstances. And here we are! If I’m doing my job properly, by the end of this post you’ll want to drink his beer too.
Cahoots and Middle Brow have a lot in common besides Northdown: both are run by guys with day jobs who contract brew at Big Chicago in Zion (which Adkison tells me is in the process of being bought by Ten Ninety), and both hope to involve the beer-drinking public via home-brewing contests whose winners get their recipes commercially brewed. They even share a distributor, Brian Kerby’s fledgling Heartland Beverage.
Adkison, 30, has been home brewing since he was six—well, technically he was helping his dad, but he did get to try the beers. He started scheming about a brewery of his own a little less than four years ago—shortly after he perfected No S’more—and in January 2013 he formally launched Cahoots. It’d probably be a little grandiose to refer to the brewery as having “employees” at this point, but he’s gotten a couple other people involved: Lucas Moser helps with test batches and recipes (Adkison calls him the most technically perfect home brewer he’s ever met), and Chris Loechel handles some of the business aspects (Adkison works with him at the consulting firm Inertia Analytics). Adkison’s wife, Amanda, pitches in as a taste tester—he says that of the two of them, she has the more sensitive palate.
The label for No S’more was approved in December—the same month Cahoots cleared $7,910 in a Kickstarter campaign intended to fund the inaugural batch. The brewery intends to focus on high-gravity beers with big flavors, with a business model that’s at least partly social-media driven; according to its Kickstarter page, it plans to use “forums and polls to determine what styles of beers will be made, label design, logo design, and even recipes.”
Even knowing that No S’more is Adkison’s recipe, you might assume the public voted to brew it now, given the recent rash of s’mores stouts in Chicago (Pipeworks S’more Money S’more Problems, Off Color DinoS’mores, et cetera). But so far Cahoots has made all its decisions in-house.
No S’more doesn’t use any graham flour, chocolate, or marshmallow fluff—the only adjunct in this 15-barrel batch is a mess of vanilla beans. Adkison steeped all 180 of them in 16-year-old Lagavulin, a wonderfully smoky and impractically expensive Islay scotch; the beer I drank was also aged for four months in barrels that’d held Blanton’s bourbon, bumping it up to 10 percent alcohol. It’s worth emphasizing at this point that No S’more began as a failed attempt to make a s’mores stout—hence the name. At most it’s supposed to taste sort of like s’mores.
My first whiff of this beer hit me with bittersweet chocolate, caramel, and vanilla. As I spent time with it, I picked up toffee, molasses, and graham-cracker pie crust, which intersected with the peat smoke from the scotch to produce a kind of phantom spiciness that reminded me of gingerbread cake. Subtle fruitiness like dried apricots and dates capped off the aroma.
All those things come out in the flavor too, alongside plenty of whiskey (both scotch and bourbon), chocolate cookies, burnt raisins, and a lick of wood smoke. I taste rich, custardy vanilla, touched by caramelized sugar, which brings me to the best thing about drinking No S’more—its sexy texture, like a flan or creme brulee.
Adkison says this texture comes from lactose and Munich malt—the grain bill for No S’more is 17 percent Munich malt, compared to 5 or maybe 10 percent in a typical stout. “What the hell is Munich malt?” you may be asking, and I can hardly blame you. Bocks and doppelbocks use a ton of it, so if you can call to mind such a beer, you’ll have a good idea—Metropolitan’s Generator Doppelbock, for instance, is made with 80 percent Munich. “Generator cuts its silky mouthfeel with an initial burst of prickly carbonation,” I wrote in my review, “but the lush, creamy malts linger on the tongue.”
This unusual bump of Munich malt arose from a mistake during recipe development—Adkison got more of it than he’d ordered, and didn’t double-check the amount before adding it to the beer. Luckily it turned out great.
Only part of this batch of No S’more was barrel aged. If you drink it from a bottle, you’re getting the bourbon-barrel variant; if you try it on tap, you’re not. Bottles ought to start hitting stores this week, and Adkison is pretty sure they’ll cost $13.99, give or take a dollar. He knows they’ll show up at several Binny’s and Whole Foods locations, but given that Heartland Beverage is handling the specifics (and that this is the first Cahoots beer to be distributed), he’s not yet sure which other places will get it.
- I didn’t notice till late in the interview, but this tiny dancing duckling was watching me the whole time.
Cahoots wants to make collaborations with other breweries a big part of its business, but so far it’s only gotten as far as talking with Ten Ninety. The first Cahoots home-brewing contest is under way right now, though, and it will accept entries till late May. Brewers are required to incorporate a salt-free version of the “Smoky Bourbon” spice blend by a new Chicago company called Tonguespank, run by Adkison’s friend Zack Jordan. Cahoots has already had a logo contest—the winner, Shawn Tegtmeier, also designs the brewery’s bottle labels.
Adkison says Cahoots will release four beers a year, all of them seasonal—No S’more is its (slightly delayed) winter beer. The first home-brew winner will come out this summer, and for spring Cahoots will introduce another of Adkison’s creations, a Belgian strong ale with pineapple and rhubarb. (It doesn’t have a name yet—there’s going to be a contest for that too.) I tried a bit of base beer, minus the fruit, and as far as I’m concerned it’s good enough to release already. It’s just as distinctive as No S’more, but in an entirely different way—I didn’t have time to take detailed notes, but I remember honeyed peaches and strawberries, something cleanly floral, and malts as buttery as a croissant.
Bam! Out of nowhere, it’s the metal. Once again I’m abandoning my usual wordplay-based technique for deciding what to post—the devil’s music seems to have little use for s’mores (or for “cahoots”). Instead I’m sharing a track from another imminent record I think you should know about—”Anteinfierno” is the first song on Death, the long-in-coming second full-length from Spanish band Teitanblood.
The press materials for this record go above and beyond the call of duty: “If death metal is an animal, then Teitanblood is the sickened thought inside its tormented brain.” The band’s focus, we’re told, is “the fear that the black threshold of life is meant to sound like.” This album will “correct the misconception about death metal being just music.” (It would’ve been a bolder statement without the “just,” but point taken.) There’s even a bit of Latin: “Mortui vivos docent.” Loosely translated as “The dead teach the living,” it’s long been used to justify human dissection, especially when such exercises were still associated with the unsavory practice of grave robbing.
Teitanblood’s Death comes out in North America on May 13.