On Saturday Revolution Brewing threw itself a huge sold-out birthday party at its Kedzie tap room and brewery, which opened in May 2012, a little more than two years after its Logan Square brewpub. The 4th Year Crazy Party, as it was called, featured 13 food-and-beer pairings, showing off not just the talents of Revolution’s brewers but also the considerable ingenuity of the kitchen staff at the pub.
Some of the pairings worked brilliantly: I especially liked the Cross of Gold Ale with beer-grain falafel, by brewpub manager Tim Heise (neither is spectacular on its own, but they’re wonderful together), and the Congressional Approval Wheat Wine with s’mores, by head pastry chef Courtney Baldy (the s’mores had been fancied up with peach marshmallows and cherry coulis, on top of the usual chocolate and graham cracker—and for the record, I think that’s the first time I’ve ever used the word “coulis”).
I also remember loving the Sriracha beef jerky (from head pub brewer Wil Turner), the goat mole taco (from Revolution founder Josh Deth, identified on the menu as “Chairman of the Party”), and the beer cheese soup with buttered popcorn (from executive chef Charlie Eure). But in those cases I didn’t manage to try the pairing—because I only had one glass, I often found myself with the “wrong” beer in it.
Anyhow. I’m not trying to make you sorry if you weren’t there (though that’s an entirely understandable reaction). I’m setting the scene! Late in the party’s afternoon session, when most folks were dazed with deliciousness and alcohol, Deth climbed onto the tap-room bar with a microphone and gave a brief thank-you speech, which met with vigorous, unsober applause.
He called Revolution the fastest-growing craft brewery in the country (a claim I’m no better able to fact check now than I was then) and announced that on Friday, February 7, it had signed a lease on the space immediately north of the Kedzie facility—which I’d later learn is being vacated for bigger digs by the Illinois office of wine distributor Winebow. Revolution hopes to expand into that part of the building by late summer.
After corralling Deth for an interview in the storeroom and chatting briefly with brewmaster Jim Cibak, I headed back out into the snow—and on the way, I picked up my complimentary bomber of Revolution’s 4th Year Beer. It’s the first Belgian-style quad the brewery has bottled (and its second quad overall, after a tap-only pub beer called Foursome). It was officially released last Wednesday, both on tap and in bottles, and in the real world a bomber ought to cost $10.99.
I wish I could compare 4th Year Beer directly to the Une Annee Quad. But I didn’t plan ahead, and I wasn’t about to open two big bottles of beer that strong with nobody here to help me drink them. One thing I can say with confidence, based on photographic evidence, is that Revolution’s version is redder in color—a deep, lovely garnet.
The 4th Year Beer smells vividly of stewed plums and raisins, red grape skin, apricot jam, and black cherry. The other aromas—light brown sugar, unsweetened cocoa, cakelike gingerbread—balance the gentle tartness of the fruit.
The flavor is quite sweet, especially compared to the Une Annee. Cibak says the finished beer contains a fair amount of residual sugar, to help prevent it from tasting thin and hot—a serious concern, given its 11.5 percent alcohol content. It’s silky but not thick, and I can pick out toffee, dried apricot, prunes, black cherry, and date syrup; the lush malts remind me of a milk chocolate croissant. As the beer warms, its brandylike booziness grows more pronounced, but it never feels disagreeably sharp—partly because this stuff coats your tongue, like you’ve just eaten a soft, buttery caramel.
The recipe for the 4th Year Beer includes five pounds of dried chamomile flowers, added after a prodigious three-and-a-half-hour boil—they go in during the whirlpool stage, which separates out any particulates left after the removal of the spent grain. I can’t say for sure whether I taste them or not. Their flavor could be contributing to the subtle, herbaceous bitterness in the beer’s finish—maybe they’re hiding among the hops (not the easiest trick, given that a quad tends to call for just a handful).
This beer could use more spice, maybe a nice peppery yeast—it’s dominated by rich, desserty flavors, and as delicious as they are, by the time I got to the bottom of the glass I was wanting something extra in there to give ’em the business. Of course, that’s not to say 4th Year Beer isn’t a very fine quad. It just isn’t perfect.
Revolution has also whipped up a tap-only west-coast IPA called Time & Inclination from the second runnings of the 4th Year Beer—that is, reusing the same mash. It’s an entirely different animal, brewed with English ale yeast and lots of American hops and then heavily dry-hopped.
- That’s my party-favor glass, with “Revolution Brewing” on the side. It seems to have been designed for beers of a different color.
To return to the question of Revolution’s ongoing expansion: as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the brewery produced 24,000 barrels in 2013 and hopes to reach 42,000 or more this year. This probably won’t give Revolution a distribution footprint that extends much beyond its current territory in Illinois and Ohio, though; it’s more likely to allow the brewery to meet demand in those markets, which it isn’t doing now. And it definitely means that Revolution will have to contend with the 30,000-barrel production cap built into a craft brewer’s license.
The Kedzie facility is licensed as a brewery, and the brewpub is licensed as a brewpub, of course. Deth says the state required Revolution to procure a third license—a craft brewer’s license, which comes with the production cap—in order to own both a brewery and a brewpub. (Destihl and Two Brothers have run into the same problem, or will very soon.)
I think there’s a good argument to be made that some of these old three-tier regulations don’t properly serve the Chicago craft-beer scene—it’s not exactly suffering from a proliferation of tied houses. (“Tied houses” are bars compelled by a brewery to serve only its products, either by contract or outright ownership; they’ve been illegal in most of the U.S. since the repeal of Prohibition.) Admittedly, I don’t have a great sense for how things work in smaller markets, but around these parts, craft-beer dominance through that kind of vertical integration just isn’t possible—Revolution may be a big local player, but it’s small potatoes compared to the companies those regulations were written to rein in.
Even if Rev grows hugely and ends up owning, say, five more brewpubs, what kind of dent will that make in Chicago? Will it prevent anyone else from doing the same? Craft brewers wanted a cap of 200,000 barrels, not 30,000—and even that larger number is a small fraction of the potential output of Lagunitas’s new North Lawndale brewery. I see the sense in forbidding brewers from owning distributors—that could easily choke off consumer choice and freeze out new operations or smaller competitors. But distribution isn’t at issue here.
Deth isn’t sure what’s going to happen—in some ways Revolution is a test case. But he says he’s considering relicensing the Kedzie facility as a brewpub, so he’ll no longer need the restrictive craft brewer’s license. (Brewpubs don’t have to serve food, so he’s pretty sure it qualifies just on account of its tap room.) Or maybe these regulations will get rewritten before that’s necessary.
I forgot to ask if the monk on the 4th Year Beer label represents an actual historical personage, as is often the case with Revolution. (That’s IWW cofounder and five-time socialist presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs on cans of Eugene Porter, for instance.) But speaking of sinister clergymen, have you heard the Ruins of Beverast? In 2013 this avant-garde black-metal project released Blood Vaults: The Blazing Gospel of Heinrich Kramer, an album about the German churchman and inquisitor who in 1486 wrote the Malleus Maleficarum, also known as “The Hammer of Witches” (or in German, splendidly, “Der Hexenhammer”). Published dozens of times over the next two centuries, Kramer’s guide to the identification and prosecution of witches was eventually adopted as a manual by secular courts, despite the skepticism or hostility of some Catholic authorities (after all, in the tenth century the Church held that witchcraft and magic did not exist).
Anyway. If you’re wondering who to blame for the popular notion of witches as predominantly women, it’s probably this guy. He had issues.