In summer 2012, my boss asked everybody in the Reader‘s editorial department to pick a topic to blog about every week. I thought, “OK, what have I been really into lately?” And in October of that year, I debuted my Beer and Metal column, which ended up running every week or two till June 2015. I didn’t abandon it because I stopped enjoying the work, but rather because I’m also the Reader‘s music editor, and I couldn’t keep carrying both jobs. If you remember any of the foolishness I perpetrated under the Beer and Metal banner, bless you for reading.
Sometimes I could talk about both topics in the same breath: when Two Brothers named a barrel-aged stout Midwestern Death Metal, for instance, or when Three Floyds collaborated on a beer called Toxic Revolution with Virginia thrash band Municipal Waste. But mostly I had to pull a connection out of my ass. (I promise this is the only time I’ll mention my ass.)
What do I mean by that? In March 2015, when I interviewed Gary Gulley of Alarmist, Metropolitan Brewing cofounder Doug Hurst showed up to help Gulley transfer a batch to the bright tank. The two of them joked about the obsessions that had sucked them into beer careers: “There’s only two ways out of this,” Hurst said. “One is permanent insanity. Two is death.” And whether he knew it or not, he was paraphrasing an Ohio cop from a 1985 episode of 20/20 called “The Devil Worshippers.”
“When you get into one of these groups, there’s only a couple ways you can get out,” said police chief Dale Griffis, cynically inflaming the ongoing satanic panic by pretending to have insight into cults that didn’t exist. “One is death. The other is mental institutions.” And a sample of those words opens “Vinum Sabbathi,” the first song on the 2000 Electric Wizard album Dopethrone. And there you have it! My story was now about beer . . . and sort of about metal, I guess.
Today I’m bringing back my column for a one-off, four years after its not particularly tragic demise, because the perfect subject has presented itself: the Chicago brewery that got me into lagers has collaborated on a beer with the Chicago band that got me into metal. I won’t have to reach at all for this one.
Pelican, Young Widows, Cloakroom
Sat 6/29, 8 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, $18, 18+
The Reader has been loving on Metropolitan Brewing since July 2008, several months before it formally opened for business. That’s when my colleague Julia Thiel wrote about the brewery’s appearance at the second annual AleFest Chicago. To put the subsequent growth of the city’s craft beer scene in perspective, when she listed the “who’s who of area brewers” at the festival, she named Goose Island, Two Brothers, Flossmoor Station, Piece, Rock Bottom, Mickey Finn’s, and America’s Brewing Company. Half Acre was still so new it didn’t rate. By 2018, though, Chicagoland had 167 breweries.
I’ve also written about Metropolitan a few times. The brewery debuted in Beer and Metal in August 2013, when I reviewed the “ruthlessly fresh” zwickelbier version of Flywheel, soon to be renamed Heliostat. At that point I’d been a fan for almost five years. “When I was first getting into craft beer (and still intimidated by the terra incognita of traditional German styles), ‘lager’ to me meant the watery 30-pack swill I drank in grad school when I wanted to nerve myself up to light my arm on fire with grain alcohol for a laugh,” I wrote. “Metropolitan, who make nothing but lagers, changed all that for me.”
The gateway metal band I’m talking about (or instrumental postmetal band, if you insist) is of course Pelican, which you already know if you’ve read the headline. In July 2003, when I first covered them, I was far from self-identifying as a metalhead. “I don’t like stoner rock or metal, and I like Pelican,” I wrote, which will surprise anyone who’s seen how many black T-shirts I own. “It therefore follows that Pelican must play something else.” Whatever that “something else” was, the damage is done: today I’m the sort of dweeb who gets excited because Oranssi Pazuzu might play in Chicago on the way to Psycho Las Vegas.
Pelican have already turned up in Beer and Metal too. In 2013 I got a ride to Munster, Indiana, to try their second collaboration with Three Floyds straight out of the bright tank: the black IPA Immutable Dusk, which shared its name with a track from the contemporaneous album Forever Becoming.
The band’s first project with Floyds was a doppelbock called the Creeper, brewed in 2010 and named for a track from 2009’s What We All Come to Need. And Pelican’s third beer collaboration is the new Metropolitan biere de garde Cold Hope, which in keeping with the pattern is also a song on this month’s Nighttime Stories—their first record since Forever Becoming.
Pelican have slowed down in their second decade, not least because bassist Bryan Herweg and drummer Larry Herweg have moved to Los Angeles, while guitarists Trevor Shelley de Brauw and Dallas Thomas remain in Chicago. To further complicate matters, Thomas has a daughter, Larry Herweg has a son, and de Brauw, not to be outdone, has two sons, one only four months old.
Under those circumstances, the band’s collaboration with Metropolitan took almost as long as Nighttime Stories to come to fruition. The tale begins in March 2015, when brewer Sam Riggins from Cosmic Eye in Lincoln, Nebraska, visited Metropolitan while in town for Revolution Brewing’s fifth-anniversary party. He’s friends with Thomas, who’d replaced founding Pelican guitarist Laurent Schroeder-Lebec in 2012, shortly before the sessions for Forever Becoming (the new album is the first where Thomas has worked on every song from start to finish).
During Riggins’s visit, Thomas happened to be next door with his two dogs at Bow Wow Lounge, so he stopped at the brewery to say hello. Pelican and Metropolitan began an intermittent e-mail thread about a potential collaboration that continued for years. At some point de Brauw became the brewery’s contact, because his band Rlyr played shows so much more often than Pelican—Metropolitan kellermeister Logan Lippincott would go bother him at the merch table.
In October 2018, while Pelican was recording Nighttime Stories with Sanford Parker at Electrical Audio, they ended an unexpectedly short session by dropping in at the Metropolitan taproom a few blocks away. The new, larger brewery attached to that taproom meant Metropolitan finally had the extra capacity to do the Pelican collaboration they’d been kicking around for years.
The band already knew “Cold Hope” would be released as a single, and its name sounded most like a beer. Lippincott took the lead on the project. “These guys were just super helpful in being involved and having feedback,” he says. “They offered the track list, and unanimously as a group, ultimately we felt, ‘Cold Hope’—that’s really what a lager is. ‘I hope this goes well, as long as it stays cold!'”
This brings us to a question I needed answered myself: What the fuck is a biere de garde?
I’d always assumed it was basically a saison, just from farther north. It does have its origins in far northern France, but Lippincott says the term “biere de garde” defines a process more than a style. The final product can be an ale or a lager, for instance (and you get zero guesses as to which Metropolitan chose). Bieres de garde were traditionally brewed in the winter or spring to avoid the higher risk of spoilage that accompanied summer fermentation, and then cellared (“de garde” is usually translated as “for keeping”) till the warmer months.
Like the saison, the biere de garde arose in a rural agrarian economy, where farmers provided it to field workers who drank it for sustenance. It was also a safe source of potable water in the absence of modern sanitation. “It’s a beer for the people,” says de Brauw.
“Our motto is ‘Serving the public,'” says Lippincott. “We don’t do special releases, where people have to stand in line or buy tickets.”
Lippincott came in between production days and knocked out test batches of 15 or 20 gallons on the brewery’s pilot system. He used Metropolitan’s house lager yeast, which comes from Augustiner-Braü in Munich, and eventually chose two specialty malts from Weyermann in Bamberg: CaraRed and CaraAroma.
Those malts give the beer a gorgeous garnet hue—Lippincott wanted to capture the late-sunset colors of the album art—as well as pronounced aromas of dark raisin and ripe plum, which complement whiffs of caramel, toffee, honey, jasmine tea, and rising dough.
Cold Hope tastes as lush as a cinnamon bun at first, but it finishes dry and mineral, which keeps it from fatiguing your palate. It’s almost like a Belgian dubbel that pulls a vanishing act in the middle of every sip. Though Cold Hope is 7.2 percent alcohol—as strong as a typical dubbel—it doesn’t cling the same way. This one can sneak up on you.
“My guiding philosophy is subtlety and balance,” says Lippincott. Cold Hope offsets its dried fruit and caramel flavors with delicate hop spiciness: sumac, bay leaf, and cardamom. Horizon hops give the beer its anchoring bitterness, while a large late-boil addition of French Strisselspalt hops provides that spicy personality.
“I was attracted to how distinctive and hard to characterize it was,” says de Brauw. “It’s analogous to what we do.”
Speaking of what Pelican do: though they’ve recalibrated their music to accommodate Thomas as a songwriter, they’re still immediately recognizable as the same band. “There was a lot of foundation laying before we could figure out what we wanted to do and what it would sound like,” de Brauw says.
Nighttime Stories was informed by the deaths of Thomas’s father and of Jody Minnoch, formerly in the band Tusk with de Brauw, Schroeder-Lebec, and Larry Herweg. But despite that backdrop of grief, Pelican seem to have dialed down the lyricism and melancholy of their sinister abstractions in favor of stomping posthardcore aggression. It’s such an incremental shift, though, that I could be hearing it largely because I’m listening for it.
The focus remains on guitar tones, a wonderful side effect of the absence of vocals. Not everybody in metal can sing like Ronnie James Dio or even John Tardy, and vocals are often a band’s weakest link—I’m happy to be spared the trouble of listening around them for the good stuff.
In 2003, while describing Pelican’s early output, I commented that “criticizing this music for being monochromatic is a little like complaining that the ocean is all blue.” I was so pleased by my own wit that I quoted that line in my 2013 review of Immutable Dusk, and I’m bringing it up again to point out that Pelican’s sound has since evolved a coral reef’s diversity—either that, or I’ve grown more discerning about heavy guitar. On Nighttime Stories their instruments growl, blare, chime, buzz, and scream in a kaleidoscope of timbres. Each of these songs is an exercise in elaborating on an engrossing riff exactly the right number of times for the next one to arrive in a maximally satisfying way.
“I hope the next record is written quicker,” de Brauw says. “We’re still sitting on a bunch of songs we didn’t finish for this album.”
He says Pelican have a three-year plan that includes stepped-up touring and more regular album cycles. Their current tour ends Saturday, June 29, at Metro, but they’ll play a few more midwestern dates in September—followed by a couple weeks in Europe in October and a trip to Japan in December.
- Pelican’s set from Belgian postrock festival Dunk! in 2016. The first song starts at 1:57.
De Brauw says China has developed a thriving postrock scene, and Pelican hope to follow in the footsteps of friends who’ve played there. They also want to go to India and Mexico for the first time. “This is like Pelican 2.0,” he says.
Lippincott brewed a 30-barrel batch of Cold Hope, all for draft. He currently has no plans to make it again, though it sounds like he’d like to: “It was the most amazing opportunity to work alongside a band I love,” he says, “and explore a beer style that has a rich and elusive heritage and history.”
Cold Hope has been pouring at the Metropolitan taproom since May 30, and all four Kuma’s locations should have it at least till the end of June. Not at all by coincidence, the Burger of the Month at the Belmont Kuma’s is the Pelican, with smoked shiitake mushrooms, spinach, sun-dried tomato, pickled red onion, cheddar cheese, and white truffle aioli.
Kegs have also shipped to Big Star (where Schroeder-Lebec is bar manager), Maria’s, Twisted Spoke, the Map Room, Monk’s Pub, Logan Arcade, Links Taproom, Sleeping Village, the Hopleaf, the Bangers & Lace in Wicker Park, and the Whole Foods on Kingsbury, among other places—but I’d call ahead before making a special trip.
The GMan Tavern will tap Cold Hope this weekend for the Pelican release show next door. The Beer and Metal guy highly recommends both the beer and the metal—and at the rate of one column every four years, that might never happen again. v