American Craft Brewing, like so many things American, is about ingenuity. It’s about experimentation. It’s about asking questions like, “What if I put these two things together that everyone says shouldn’t go together?” There’s a long history and tradition surrounding Belgian beers. There’s a long history and tradition surrounding India Pale Ales (IPAs). There’s even a history (albeit shorter) of IPAs in American craft brewing. It’s therefore not surprising that American craft brewers would decide that they should play with Belgian influences when creating IPA recipes.
This brings us to Penrose. Penrose has only been open since early 2014, but they’ve already made a splash in the Chicago beer scene. (Yes, there is a Chicago beer scene, and Chicago is one of the most vibrant and interesting beer markets in the country.) Named the #7 brewery in Chicagoland by thrillist, these guys are doing some really interesting stuff.
The brewery was started by two former employees of Goose Island, the craft brewing legend and godfather of Chicago craft brewing, and they have proclaimed themselves as wanting to highlight yeast and its attributes in their beers. They’ve therefore created a list of core beers that can all be described as Belgian inspired or having Belgian characteristics. This means that when it came time to create an IPA, they created what’s come to be known in the craft beer world as a Belgian IPA or Belgo-American IPA. (For those wondering, the IPA originated in Britain in the 18th century.) The beer is Fractal, and it’s the Beer Passport Selection tonight at The Pub.
Fractal begins with two-row barley malt and carapils malt (a malt produced in Wisconsin, hi neighbors!). Two-row barley is a classic malt favored in European beers (over six-row barley malt that is favored by American macro-brewers for it’s higher enzyme content and concomitant potential for fermenting the most common adjunct in American macrobrews – corn). Nothing fancy, just a solid base. To this is added carapils, a malt that really just helps the beer have more consistent head and impacts the mouthfeel.
For hopping the beer, three hops varieties are used, none of which are particularly unusual, meaning they are well established and therefore provide characteristics familiar to American craft beer drinkers. First, there’s Cascade Hops. Cascade is the granddaddy of American Hops and American craft beer. Familiar from beers like Anchor Liberty Ale and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Cascade was the first hopes to come out of the USDA’s cultivation program in the 1950s and was made available to brewers in 1970. It has a long history in craft brewing and so should be familiar to you if you have tried very many IPAs or American pale ales.
Second in the hop bill is Columbus. This hop variety can be described as flashy insofar as it has a very pronounced aroma that can be described as dank, evoking marijuana or pine resin. It is used for bittering in beers and gives the beer a distinctively herbaceous aroma and taste.
Last but not least is Amarillo. This hop is familiar to many patrons of The Pub because of its prominence in 3Floyds Gumballhead. By industry folks, it is considered as a type of Cascade hop, but ultimately this hop variety is proprietary and grown by a single producer who owns a patent on the plant, Virgil Gamache Farms. This hop is used especially for its aroma, producing a floral-citrusy scent with spice notes throughout. It adds a similar flavor to beers that use it.
The star of Fractal, though, is the Belgian yeast, in this case a strain called Bastogne. History buffs (or fans of HBO’s Band of Brothers) will recall Bastogne as the site of an important WWII battle that was part of the larger Battle of the Bulge. As far as beer is concerned, Bastogne yeast is a strand of Trappist style yeast, most familiar to the casual American drinker in Dubbel and Tripel style beers.
The artistry of Fractal emerges from the way Penrose has brought together some familiar ingredients and made something distinctive out of them. They describe the beer as follows:
With notes of mango and fresh pine on the nose, this damn fine Belgian IPA is loaded with citrusy hop bitterness up front, and finishes with a dank, resinous flavor.
Generally speaking, we think that you’ll love this beer. You have to try it if you love Gumballhead, Sierra Pale Ale, or just generally love IPAs. It’s part of a group of beers that I like to call “Midwest IPAs,” because it is not aggressive, is very drinkable, and is eminently interesting. Let us know what you think in the comments section or talk to Victor to let him know if you like it.