With intense flavors and higher alcohol content, trendy new ‘extreme’ beers pack a punch.
By Mark Andel
Looking for a beer with a more intense flavor-and more alcohol-than your average Bud? The latest trend in beers has local and national brewers taking their brewing process to extremes to produce supercharged, flavorful brews for
"When we introduced Honker's Ale in 1988, it was considered pretty hoppy and esoteric," Goose Island brewmaster Greg Hall says. "Now, that generation has grown accustomed to
higher-quality beer and has made beers like Honkers their everyday beer. They're ready to take it to the next level. That's what these new beers are about."
Goose Island's new Imperial IPA, for example, uses eight
pounds of hops per barrel, where typical lagers use three ounces. The result is a hopped-up, extremely flavorful brew.
In addition to the Imperial IPA, Goose Island will introduce three other extreme beers this week:
Bourbon County Stout, a strong Imperial stout stored for 100 days in Jim Beam bourbon barrels; Demolition 1800, an intense Belgian-style golden ale; and Pere Jacque, a Belgian-style beer similar to Chimay. All are between 8.5
and 11 percent alcohol, making them more than twice as potent as your typical mass-produced brew.
Try these other extreme beers:
Jaks Tap in the West Loop is pouring this stiff "all season" Belgian brew with 8-percent alcohol and a surprisingly smooth taste. Maredsous resembles one of those rich Bavarian browns typically hoisted by men in lederhosen, but it's actually much lighter than it looks. Hints of coffee and licorice, especially in the finish, make it a great summer after-dinner beer.
The undisputed German "King of Beers" (at least in terms of alcohol content, at 11.8 percent) is EKU-28 (Erste Kulmbacher), a double-bock beer that's casked for at least nine months,
resulting in a deep reddish color and an overall finish that's malty, with overtones of caramel apple. At Quenchers, it's poured into a snifter, allowing it to develop a head of foam that quiets down quickly and a good "nose" that hints at its powerful kick. It's available only in the bottle. Also try Maudite, a 9 percent alcohol Canadian draft beer that's served in a 10-ounce glass for $4.
Chimay Premiere, $6
Head to Lincoln Park's Four Farthings to try this sturdy Belgian Trappist ale with a manageable 7 percent alcohol content. It starts off soft with lots of apricot and berry character, then turns slighly sharp. It's a beautiful beer to look at, with a classic, creamy head and a nice amber hue. It's best served lightly chilled.
ESB Fuller's, $4.50
Regulars at Duke of Perth rave about this slightly sweet (think clover and honeysuckle) but rich and hoppy 6-percent-alcohol beer with a dry, honey and malt finish. ESB (Extra Special Bitter) is a bit of a misnomer--dispite its hoppy character, the overall flavor is mostly sweet. Be careful--it's easy to down a few of these on a hot summer day.
Train Wreck of Flavor, $6
Flossmoor Station Brewery ages this rich, complex collision of barley wine and brown ale for a whole year in charred barrels from the Jack Daniels distillery. The extended casking imparts hints of coconut, vanilla and oak to this 7-percent-alcohol beer, ranked as the champion specialty ale at the 2003 Real Ale Festival and second place winner at the 2002 Chicago Beer Society Fall Tasting.
Sam Adams Utopias, $100
This concoction is the champion of extreme beer in terms of cost (around $100 per
25-ounce bottle) and alcohol content (25 percent). It's aged in port, scotch and cognac barrels, which lend a heady aroma of cinnamon, vanilla, citrus and even pine to the rarefied brew. It doesn't have a head and is best
served in a large snifter at room temperature, like fine cognac. It's made with four Noble hops, plus pricey Vienna malts, and the bottle resembles the copper kettle used to brew it. It's not for the faint of heart--or
wallet--but it's a great treat for special occasions. As Sam Adams brewmaster Jim Koch says, it goes down like "sweet fire." You won't find it in bars, but it's available at Binny's or try your luck on ebay.
Mark Andel is a metromix special contributor.
Originally published June 17, 2003.