- Une Annee’s Quad with bottled siblings present and future: Airing of Grievances, Maya, and Life Beyond Death
When I reviewed Goose Island’s Belgian Fest in September, I pointed out that not one brewer had brought a quadrupel—a conspicuous lapse, given that the quad is among the few Belgian styles that even an entry-level beer nerd can tell you about. They’re customarily dark and strong, with a rich, malty body and mellow flavors of fruit and spice from specialized yeasts; Rochefort, La Trappe, St. Bernardus, and Westvleteren all make famous examples. When winter is getting all up in my business, quads are one of my favorite beers to drink—in a dead heat with doppelbocks.
So it pleased me greatly to hear that local upstarts Une Annee (“Chicago Beer, Belgian Inspired”) were making a quad. I’d had four of their beers already, including a fabulously fruity Russian imperial stout called Airing of Grievances, and I’d liked every one of them—so I decided to take the quad as an excuse to bestow this column’s puny imprimatur on the brewery. To the seven Beer and Metal readers who aren’t already paying attention to Une Annee: It’s time to start!
Une Annee founder Jerry Nelson first got into home brewing as a Marine in the mid-90s. Launching a commercial brewery took him roughly three years, but most of the visible progress happened in 2013. Nelson previously worked as an architect, and after renting a space in West Town in May, he built his brew house himself. In early September he introduced Une Annee to Chicago by tapping three beers at a release party at Fountainhead: a Belgian-style IPA named Maya, after his daughter, the session saison Less Is More, and a golden strong ale called the Devil’s Reign, brewed in collaboration with DryHop. I tried the third a few days later at Belgian Fest; the first two have since become the brewery’s year-round offerings.
Nelson started out distributing his beer by driving kegs to bars in a truck, but in October he signed on with the Wirtz Beverage Group. Une Annee’s first bottles, Airing of Grievances and a tripel that’s just called “Tripel,” arrived in stores in early December. The Quad is the brewery’s third beer to get that treatment.
Even poured roughly, Une Annee’s Quad doesn’t foam much, but its scanty head persists more or less indefinitely, like a tiny lace doily made of even tinier bubbles—though I suppose it’s possible that this is less a feature of the beer than of the little Westy goblet I’m using, which for all I know has etched nucleation sites on the bottom of its bowl to encourage exactly this phenomenon. The beer’s aroma is malty and fruity, as it should be: I smell brandied cherries, red grape skin, cinnamon cider, fruitcake, and dark raisins cooked in oatmeal.
Une Annee’s Quad is bottle conditioned for two weeks, but that’s not especially noteworthy for a beer of this style. More interesting is that Nelson uses a Rochefort yeast strain to do it—he says it contributes notes of cherry, fig, and plum, and I have no reason to doubt him (though I might say “black cherry” and “prune” instead). Of course the crazy heaps of malts in the recipe provide their share of huge flavors too: toffee, custard, bread pudding, and cocoa. After all that desserty lusciousness, the beer wraps up with a nice dry finish, and its gentle alcohol bite has an undertow like rice wine. It’s pretty important to let this one warm up from fridge temperature—you’ll be rewarded for your patience.
I could’ve wished for a denser, creamier body, and now that I’ve tried the Westvleteren XII, I suspect I’ll always find other examples of the style wanting in complexity. But make no mistake, Une Annee’s Quad is a beautiful beer—and for those of you who care about carbon footprints, it’s not shipped across an ocean.
At the moment, unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of the Quad to go around. Une Annee has a yearly capacity of roughly 700 barrels, and Nelson’s only full-time employee is head brewer Dustin Zimmerman. (Justin Fox, Zimmerman’s roommate, works part-time doing sales.) The brewery’s batches are about 15 barrels—it has two fermenters of that size, with a nine-barrel brew house—and though Airing of Grievances and the Quad were both brewed as single batches, the Quad had a smaller yield. Une Annee shipped around 70 cases of big 750-milliliter bottles (at 12 bottles to the case) and filled a dozen sixth-barrel kegs. Nelson is sure that Twisted Spoke has a sixtel, but he couldn’t remember any other bars off the top of his head.
Bottles arrived at the Beer Temple and Bottles & Cans last week, and the Binny’s in Lincoln Park will get them on Wednesday. Andersonville Wine & Spirits carries Une Annee and should start selling the Quad any day now, if it hasn’t already.
Next to be bottled are Maya (in late January) and the black saison Life Beyond Death (which ships this week). I haven’t tried Life Beyond Death yet—it hasn’t been brewed before—but I have had Maya, and it stands out in its crowded field (Belgian-style IPAs, like IPAs in general, have proliferated beyond reason). Brewed with grains of paradise, it’s wonderfully spicy and floral—I don’t have any tasting notes at hand, but I remember pink guava, kaffir lime, and white pepper. Une Annee’s bottles tend to cost $9.99 or $10.99, depending on the retailer; Maya will be two bucks cheaper, as will Less Is More when it arrives.
Coming in February is a red variant of the Devil’s Reign, with more hops and what Nelson will only call a “surprise.” And Une Anne is starting a sour-beer program: Nelson has acquired a third 15-barrel fermenter, which he plans to dedicate to sours to minimize the risk of cross-contamination. First up is a Flanders-style ale, but you’ll have to wait a spell: he’s going to age it for a year.
And now for the fucking metal! This week I gotta give a holler to my boys in Arriver. “Quadrogy” closes their 2012 full-length Tsushima, a concept record about the major naval battle of the Russo-Japanese War, fought in May 1905 in the Strait of Tsushima between Korea and southern Japan. The Japanese won a decisive victory, as detailed in the lyrics: “The fleet is shattered / All battleships lost by sunset / Togo’s torpedo boats and destroyers / Hunt their prey through the night / Twenty-one vessels sunk by dawn / Four thousand Russian sailors drowned / The tsar’s last armada is lost / And with it the war.”
On Arriver’s Bandcamp page for this album, one of the tags is “fuck yeah.”
Every time I listen to these guys, I have to ask myself why they aren’t numbered among the leading lights of Chicago’s metal scene. Do they need a bigger production budget? More tattoos? It’s a mystery.