The month-old taproom of Alarmist Brewing isn’t the type of place you stumble across by accident. Located in a warehouse on the far northwest side of Chicago, it’s hard to identify even after you find the parking lot. (Helpfully, the brewery has a diagram on its website for those who are confused.) But while its location amid the chain restaurants and auto repair shops of Sauganash is less than conducive to foot traffic, people are making the effort to get there: on a recent Friday night the taproom was nearly full, and one of the bartenders told me that it gets even busier on Sunday afternoons.
The room is simple but handsome, with slate-blue walls, large wooden tables, and a long concrete-and-wood bar. The industrial feel is appropriate for a space that was part of the brewery itself before being walled off to make the taproom. (The brewery is still visible through large windows on one wall.) A dozen taps topped by handles that resemble sticks of dynamite currently pour eight different beers. You can cover most of them by ordering a flight of six four-ounce pours for $12; individual tasters are $3, and pints are $6.
While there may be room for a few more varieties in the tap lineup, eight beers is still a big jump from the one that Alarmist started out with in 2015. (It now produces three beers that are available year-round.) Launching a brewery with just a single beer is pretty unusual, but so is the fact that founder Gary Gulley worked on the concept for nearly four years before Alarmist opened. (Gulley titled a 2012 post on his blog “What’s Faster, Me or a Glacier?”) He told my colleague Philip Montoro in early 2015 that he hoped to have a taproom open later that year; it finally happened early last month.
The beer that’s being poured is worth a six-year wait. (Some has been available at local bars and liquor stores over the last two years.) Alarmist’s original beer, Pantsless Pale Ale, is now what I’m most excited to drink this summer, especially since the brewery will soon release it in cans. Bright and grassy, with a distinctive hit of grapefruit, it’s a great porch beer, lawnmower beer, or any other term you prefer for “what to drink when it’s hot out.” In fact, almost any of Alarmist’s beers would pair well with some quality porch time, except for the Skewmageddon Oatmeal Stout, a roasty, chocolaty brew that would go better with a roaring fire than the blazing sun.
The rest of the current lineup is uniformly light in color and (mostly) in body. On the dangerously drinkable end of the spectrum are the Golden Shower blonde ale and the Phobophobia Patersbier, but even the IPAs go down pretty easy. Not a single beer tops 7 percent ABV, and there are no hop bombs lurking on the menu. Aaron’s Vision Quest is a floral Belgian IPA that’s dry but not overly bitter. Entrenched IPA has a heftier dose of hops that gives it notes of citrus zest, pine, and cucumber, but only a moderate level of bitterness. Entrenched is listed on the menu as an “Illinois-style” IPA, something I’d never heard of before, but a bartender informed me that midwestern IPAs tend to have more malt (which adds sweetness) to balance out the hops.
The Phobophobia (“fear of phobias,” or “fear of fear”) mentioned above is a patersbier, a style also known as “Belgian single” that was traditionally brewed in Trappist monasteries for the monks to consume. It’s much lower in alcohol and less sweet than the better-known Belgian dubbel, tripel, and quad styles. Alarmist’s version, delicate and highly carbonated, with a floral fruitiness from the Belgian yeast, reminds me of prosecco. The brewery is also doing dry-hopped versions of the beer, called Lupulinophobia: the current one features Citra hops, which add earthy, herbal notes that pleasantly dry out an otherwise slightly sweet beer. Comparing it to the original version, my friend noted, “It’s like you pulled the flowers off and kicked dirt over it.”
To go with the brewery’s name—which was originally Panic until a Sacramento brewery that makes a beer called Panic IPA objected—the beer names naturally reference things that could cause alarm. While the brewers seem to take their work seriously, that doesn’t apply to much else: the menu is full of jokes (some good, some bad), and the chalkboard includes a listing for “Butt Light,” noting, “It’s the lightest beer we have (JK it’s just water).” Many of the brewers double as bartenders and are more than happy to talk about the beer they make in as much detail as you’d like. One bartender mentioned that Alarmist would have a beer garden soon. When I glanced doubtfully at the parking lot, he took us on an impromptu tour of the brewery and cold-storage room before leading us through a door marked “Men’s Room” and down a short hallway to the grassy courtyard where the patio will be (the sign will be amended before the opening, he promised). The night was cold and drizzly, but it’s easy to imagine spending a pleasant summer evening out there, pale ale in hand.
Alarmist Brewing taproom Mon-Thu 4-11 PM, Fri noon-midnight, Sat 11 AM-midnight, Sun noon-10 PM, 4055 W. Peterson, 773-681-0877, alarmistbrewing.com. The taproom doesn’t have a kitchen but you can bring or order food. v