I realize it doesn’t feel much like spring at the moment, but the fact is, winter ended more than three weeks ago, and Spiteful Brewing is celebrating the thaw with its newest beer, an English-style barleywine called Dibs Are for Dummies—a dig at the Chicago postblizzard tradition that presumes some sort of parking-related equivalence between lawn furniture and a car. Bomber bottles shipped late last week.

It’s been a while since I’ve checked in with Spiteful, founded by childhood friends Brad Shaffer and Jason Klein in January 2010 and now employing five paid staff (and providing them with health insurance, I might add). In December 2012, I reviewed their first bottled beer, G.F.Y. Stout, which came out a month after their public debut at FOBAB with a barrel-aged imperial version.

In the intervening months, the brewery has packaged at least 36 different beers (I’m assuming a few haven’t made it onto the Spiteful website). It’s knocked down a wall at its Ravenswood facility to add more than 600 square feet to the 480 it was using in 2012—thus growing from “ludicrously tiny” to “unusually small.” Most surprising, it’s been canning beer since September 2013, using a two-head Cask Manual Canning System. The conventional wisdom I’ve absorbed by talking to industry folks says small operations like Spiteful can’t use cans—preprinted cans have to be bought a truckload at a time, which is prohibitive in terms of floor space and cash flow. Spiteful gets around this by buying blank cans and labeling them by hand.

  • Dibs Are for Dummies joins Worst Driver in Spiteful’s Idiot Awards series of beers.

As a cycle commuter I’m very much in favor of canned craft beer—a six-pack of cans is lighter and smaller than a six-pack of bottles, which makes it easier to carry one in a messenger bag. (It’s also a lot less trouble to haul the recycling down three flights of stairs if it’s not mostly glass.)

Spiteful currently has a modest two-and-a-half-barrel brew house, with seven five-barrel fermenters. It installed its first seven-barrel fermenter last week, and it’s got four more coming, all built by Chicago firm Corcoran Fabrication & Design; once they’re all in, the brewery’s capacity will have doubled. But “doubled” is a relative term, of course—Pipeworks, itself a pretty small operation, lists roughly 160 Chicagoland accounts on its website, while Spiteful ships to just 42 liquor stores and eight bars. Spiteful cans are available only within the city limits, at least for now.

Dibs Are for Dummies is part of Spiteful’s Idiot Awards series, so far packaged only in bomber bottles. Each will “honor” a kind of idiot—the previous entry, Worst Driver Award Honey Stout, came out in early March. The other thing the beers in the series have in common is the addition of about 60 pounds of honey to each batch, from Lorence’s Honey Bee Haven in Aurora, Illinois. Dibs Are for Dummies typically costs $10.49 or so, but Spiteful’s Calvin Fredrickson, who calls himself “business guy number two,” gave me a bottle to review.

  • Here’s the head on Dibs Are for Dummies ten minutes after the pour. Definitely a good sign.

Where barleywines are concerned, “English style” (as opposed to “American style”) basically means “not hopped to within an inch of its life.” Dibs Are for Dummies smells of rich, honeyed malts, milk caramel, and toffee, with something toasty like the browned crust of a fresh bun that’s been brushed with melted butter. Peach, cherry, and baked apple round out the beer’s aroma, and it’s finished off with clean, grassy hops—they’re a little like that fresh, earthy smell that comes up from the ground in the first few seconds after it starts raining on a warm day.

  • If you were an extremely tiny person hiding behind my glass, you’d have a view a lot like this.

The fine-grained carbonation of Dibs Are for Dummies helps give it a slightly unctuous mouthfeel—it’s pleasantly silky, though maybe not to the degree you’d expect given its persistent, frothy head. The sweet malts hit the palate up front, followed by biting, herbal bitterness in the back—they set up a kind of tug-of-war, fueled by a bit of boozy heat. (The beer is 10.5 percent alcohol.)

At first I mostly picked up those two notes, and I caught myself wishing for a flavor as well-rounded and balanced as the aroma. But as I got used to the beer’s lingering, peppery bitterness, I started to perceive more depth and complexity: some of the toasty, buttery business from the nose, a clovelike astringency, creamy caramel, apricot, honey, raisin, and spiced applesauce, among other things. If it were any of my business, I might roll back the bittering hops in this one, but then again, I’m a sucker for a sticky, desserty barleywine. Your results may vary. I can always just leave it in the fridge for a few months to get a similar effect.

In fact, it wouldn’t hurt to buy your bottles of Dibs Are for Dummies now and lay them up till barleywine weather comes back, especially since Spiteful has some summery beers in the pipeline. (I’m operating under the assumption that we’ll eventually have a summer.) The extra capacity from its new tanks—and the small batch sizes made possible by hand-labeling cans—will give the brewery the flexibility to try more novelties and one-offs. In the next few months we can expect a traditional German-style hefeweizen and a French-style saison, both in four-packs of 16-ounce cans, plus a gruit beer in bomber bottles. (“Gruit” is a blend of botanicals that was used to flavor and bitter beer before the widespread adoption of hops in the 12th century, and Spiteful’s version will use bog myrtle, yarrow, and mugwort, among other things.)

Spiteful’s canning experiments have already begun. In December it released 16-ounce four-packs of two beers previously bottled in bombers, Ghost Bike Pale Ale and Bitter Biker Double IPA. (The brewery’s employees are all cyclists, and Shaffer worked as a bike messenger for a couple years before the brewery got off the ground.) In February it canned the first batch of Diggable IPA.

All three will come out again at some point, but they’re not regular-rotation beers—Spiteful’s year-rounders are Alley Time Pale Ale and Spiteful IPA, in six-packs of 12-ounce cans (the other beers in that format, In the Weeds Wheat Ale and Fat Badger Irish Red Ale, have become seasonals, released in the summer and fall). Six-packs tend to sell for $9.99, four-packs for $10.99—though of course the usual caveat about retailer prerogative applies.

  • Sure, I do a beer column, but I buy my Dark Lord Day ticket one leg at a time, just like everybody else.

My Dark Lord Day ticket arrived in the mail this week, so I figured I’d take care of the “metal” portion of today’s post with some music from one of the bands playing the festival. You know what High on Fire and Eyehategod sound like, right? And the Reader has covered Corrections House too.

So how about Minneapolis group Vulgaari? They began as a recording project by guitarists Zack Kinsey and Brent Hedtke (Kinsey also sings), but they’re now a five-piece live band—with third guitarist Todd Haug of Surly Brewing. Vulgaari play sludgy, vaguely psychedelic death-doom, and both these songs appear on their self-titled 2012 debut album.

Philip Montoro writes about beer and metal, singly or in combination, every Monday.

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.