Its a good thing Penrose gave me some photos, because when its cloudy this time of year my apartment never gets light enough for a decent shot.
  • Courtesy of Penrose Brewing
  • It’s a good thing Penrose gave me some photos, because when it’s cloudy this time of year my apartment never gets light enough for a decent shot.

Penrose Brewing‘s bottle rollout, which began this summer with four-packs of P-2 and Proto Gradus, has been a little spotty so far—not that I’ve been keeping a logbook, but it feels like months since I’ve seen any of their product in my neighborhood snooty-beer stores. Thankfully the young Geneva brewery has addressed the trouble, making a big push onto retail shelves shortly before Thanksgiving with two new-to-bottles beers—a Belgian-style white IPA called Desirous and a Belgian-style IPA called Fractal, which might be my favorite regular-rotation offering from Penrose to date.

At 6.5 percent alcohol, Fractal is as far as I know the strongest Penrose beer I’ve had so far (it’s definitely stronger than anything else they’ve bottled for retail distribution). I don’t point this out to drive off drinkers who prefer stouts that can double as embalming fluids, but rather to remind you that Penrose generally prefers to brew low-alcohol session beers rather than palate-wrecking whoppers. Brewmaster Tom Korder is a wizard with yeast, and because yeast flavors tend to be subtle and delicate, he can’t make what’s basically a monster truck in a bottle and still expect to show them off. Accordingly, Fractal is less assertive and more nuanced than some of my other favorite midwestern Belgian IPAs—Revolution’s A Little Crazy, for instance, or Ale Asylum’s Bedlam (A Little Crazy calls itself a Belgian pale, but given that “Belgian IPA” is a made-up style in the first place, I’m not sure there’s a real difference).

Fractal smells almost tropical as it hits your glass, like meltingly ripe mango, white grape, and yellow cherry. If you take a moment to breathe it in, at the tail end of that fruitiness you can pick up young pine needles, wintergreen, and white pepper. Rich malts extend deep beneath those aromas (and get stronger as the beer warms), contributing caramel flan and toasted animal cracker.

The beer’s lively, fluffy carbonation reminds me of fresh powder snow. The fruit seems darker on the palate—the mango and cherry are still there, but now they’re undergirded by unsweetened dried pineapple and dried apricot. A pronounced bitterness arrives halfway through, bright and mineral, with a frostiness that’s equal parts minty and peppery; its clean bite lingers as the initial fruit flavors segue into sugar cookie, toffee, cedar bark, and dried papaya.

  • Courtesy of Penrose Brewing
  • That’s rinse water on those bottles of Fractal, not condensation. The Penrose folks aren’t crazy enough to heat their brewery like that.

Bottles of Penrose’s Devoir saison will follow Fractal and Desirous onto shelves beginning Mon 12/1, followed in a few weeks by the return of P-2 Belgian-style pale—at which point the brewery will have more than doubled the number of beers it’s distributed at retail. (Full disclosure: Penrose delivered me a four-pack of Fractal for free. But we both already knew I liked it, because I’d tried it at the tap room in early October.) When the weather finally warms up again, Proto Gradus—the Belgian-inspired single that I declared “Best New Summer Session Beer” in this year’s Best of Chicago issue—will come back too.

Penrose also has plans for a series of small-batch bottle releases restricted to the brewery’s tap room in Geneva. On Sat 12/20 you can pick up Wild V, Korder’s first oak-aged wild ale (a favorite of mine at FOBAB), and a dry-hopped sour called Wild VI. Further releases will follow in January (Wild VII, a sour golden, and Wild VIII, an oak-aged Brett beer with cherries), February (two variants of a barrel aged stout), and March (a session Brett IPA and a single-barrel wild ale). Exact dates to be announced.

The end of the post is in sight, which can mean only one thing: It’s time for the metal! Specifically, metal that has some probably inconsequential connection to the beer I’m reviewing! What do you think? Maybe Vader‘s “Fractal Light”? Well, as much as I appreciate Vader, that’s really more an interlude than a song—plus I posted one of their tunes when I reviewed Nomad’s Batch #1. I’d rather give props to a local. Here’s the first half of the two-part title track from the Avichi album The Devil’s Fractal, released in 2011 by Profound Lore. Avichi is basically the one-man project of Andrew “Aamonael” Markuszewski from Chicago’s Lord Mantis, though on this record he used an outside drummer.

Markuszewski learned to play drums himself for his latest full-length, Catharsis Absolute, which came out in January of this year. It’s a fine record—definitely start there if you’ve never heard Avichi and you love hypnotizing occult black metal—but it doesn’t have a song with the word “fractal” in its title.

Philip Montoro

Philip Montoro has been an editorial employee of the Reader since 1996 and its music editor since 2004. Pieces he has edited have appeared in Da Capo’s annual Best Music Writing anthologies in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. He shared two Lisagor Awards in 2019 for a story on gospel pioneer Lou Della Evans-Reid and another in 2021 for Leor Galil's history of Neo, and he’s also split three national awards from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia: one for multimedia in 2019 for his work on the TRiiBE collaboration the Block Beat, and two (in 2020 and 2022) for editing the music writing of Reader staffer Leor Galil. Philip has played scrap metal in Lozenge, drummed with the Disasters, the Afflictions, and Brilliant Pebbles, and sung for the White Outs. He wrote the column Beer and Metal from 2012 till 2015, and hopes to do so again one day. You can also follow him on Twitter.