Saint Louis brewery 4 Hands (not to be confused with Tired Hands, which is based in Pennsylvania) has been distributing in Chicago for months now. Unless you leave the autopilot on when you do your beer shopping, you’ve seen their stuff—including Cast Iron Oatmeal Brown, Divided Sky Rye IPA, Reprise Centennial Red, and Smoked Pigasus porter. But I hadn’t spotted any 4 Hands cans till a couple weeks ago, when I noticed a gold-and-orange six-pack of Contact High at Andersonville Wine & Spirits.
Cans are great for this time of year. They’re lighter and more compact than bottles, so they’re easier to carry on a bike, and of course they’re handy for parks that don’t allow glass containers. But I didn’t decide to review Contact High right away, despite the glowing, summery colors of its psychedelic label art—seasonal beers are all well and good, but I find weed jokes almost as tedious as hippies. Plus I was entertaining fantasies of somehow writing about 4 Hands’ Passion Fruit Prussia instead. Guys Drinking Beer brought this astounding fruited Berliner weisse to the Green Lady for their South of 80 event during Chicago Craft Beer Week, and I hadn’t yet accepted that I’d probably never see it again.
I changed my mind about Contact High after trying a sample glass at Jerry’s Andersonville. I took a whiff and got a face full of almost comically perfumey orange, like a rapidly melting Creamsicle. I might’ve even laughed to myself, like a crazy person.
Contact High is an American-style pale wheat ale brewed with orange zest, which I knew going in—I’m not that easily amused. It wasn’t the orange that entertained me; it was the goofball alchemy the fruit worked with the wheat to create that Creamsicle smell. As soon as the comparison occurred to me, it was stuck in my brain forever. Contact High was never going to smell like anything else. The same sort of thing happened the first time I tried Goose Island’s Bramble Rye Bourbon County—the fateful thought “Twizzlers!” lodged in my head.
Fortunately, I like Creamsicles better than Twizzlers, especially when it’s hot out. And Contact High smells like other things too—sugar cookie, a bit of caramel, and a ball of rising bread dough that’s been hanging out in a big glass bowl under a dish towel. I get something faintly grassy in the tail end of the aroma, like sweet green hay or blossoming clover.
The flavor isn’t the cloying mess you might’ve braced yourself for after smelling this beer. Sure, you’ll taste some sweet orange, a little like sherbet, but it’s cut with bitter citrus oils—there’s definitely some pith and peel involved. The mellow, creamy wheat malts are light and clean, with a flavor like a honeyed biscuit, and the dry finish carries something peppery from the hops.
A word of caution: Like many pale ales, wheat or otherwise, Contact High doesn’t improve as it warms. Straight after the pour, it’s got a nice crackle and zing from the marriage of citrus and carbonation, but that sparkle goes out of it fast—it seems to go flat in a hurry. A sweaty, fridge-cold can of this stuff would hit the spot when the you’re having one of those sticking-to-the-furniture days—and if you’re not farting around with a camera, taking pictures of beer that won’t turn out worth a damn anyway, you’ll finish it so fast that the last sip will be as good as the first. After my dipshit living-room photo shoot, I confirmed this by making short work of a second Contact High (not pictured).
Given my feelings about weed jokes, I wasn’t about to go looking for a metal song that riffs on the name “Contact High.” But the word “orange” (close enough for horseshoes) leads me straight to hard-partying UK heavy-metal band Orange Goblin. The groovy burner “Alcofuel” comes from their 2000 album The Big Black.
If you get the chance to see these guys live, I highly recommend you take it. Ben Ward, Orange Goblin’s front man, may look like a tattooed sasquatch, but he can play a crowd like a fiddle.