The collaboration beers of summer

Restaurants and breweries team up on custom drafts

By Kate Bernot, RedEye

9:43 AM CDT, June 4, 2014


If you seek out good food, you probably care about good beer, too. It's no different for Chicago restaurants, who increasingly are collaborating with local breweries on exclusive beers that are specific to just one restaurant or bar. "It's no question that cooks like beer," said Kevin Hickey, chef and partner at Bottlefork in River North, which opened in February with a beer Hickey brewed with North Center's Begyle Brewing. "I've found over the last five to 10 years, more of my cooks are homebrewing and really getting into it." Hickey created his first collaboration beer with Goose Island's Clybourn brewpub four years ago when he was working at The Four Seasons. "I've been obsessed with brewing and beer since I was about 15 or 16 years old. It really came to a head, though, when I met Jared Rouben." Rouben, formerly of Goose Island Clybourn, will soon launch Moody Tongue Brewing Company, his own project that furthers his style of "culinary brewing." This commingling of the food and beer worlds—cooks making beer, brewers partnering with restaurants—only seems to be gaining steam. Come hungry and thirsty, because these are the four new Chicago-centric restaurant collaboration beers you'll be sipping this summer. kbernot@tribune.com | @redeyeeatdrink

Fist City extra pale ale

Brewed by: Revolution Brewing for Big Star (1531 N. Damen Ave. 773-235-4039)

How it happened: After a Revolution beer dinner at Big Star in Wicker Park in the fall, Big Star's assistant manager Laurent Lebec and the Revolution team casually decided—over shots, naturally—to team up for a summer beer. "We've been pouring Revolution [beers] for a while and just think the world of those guys," Lebec said. "And we love the idea of doing a beer with someone just up the street." The result is Fist City ($5), an easy-drinking extra pale ale with some tropical- and citrus-leaning hops that's made for long days on the patio.

Drink it with: The al pastor tacos ($3 each), which feature charred pineapple that helps pick up the tropical hop flavors in the beer.

What's next: Look for Fist City to hit taps at other restaurants owned by One Off Hospitality, including Nico Osteria, Avec and The Publican, plus other select bars.


Root Cellar Rye amber ale

Brewed by: Begyle Brewing for Bottlefork (441 N. Clark St. 312-955-1900)

How it happened: Bottlefork chef/partner Kevin Hickey met the Begyle team through mutual friends when the brewery was just getting off the ground. "I feel really lucky to have been there with them at the true start of it all," said Hickey, remembering brewing sessions on some of Begyle's one-step-up-from-homebrewing equipment. Now that Begyle has expanded, Root Cellar Rye ($9 at Bottlefork) is available not only at the restaurant but in growlers at the Begyle's North Center taproom as well. The beer's name comes from some of the winter vegetables—parsnips, sugar beets and celery root—used in the brewing process.

Drink it with: The lunch menu's smoked corned beef sandwich ($15), which has spices that mirror the beer's caraway, rye and juniper flavors.

What's next: A rhubarb saison, also from Begyle, will debut at Bottlefork later this summer.


Haus Helles and Haus Maibock

Brewed by: Flesk Brewing for The Radler (2375 N. Milwaukee Ave. 773-276-0270)

How it happened: Adam Hebert, managing partner at Logan Square restaurant The Radler, has been friends with one of Flesk's brewers since high school. When he opened the German-style beer hall six months ago, reaching out to Flesk to brew two house lagers was a no-brainer. "James [O'Brien] went to brewing school in Munich, so his ability to make German beers is ridiculous," Hebert said. "He nailed it on the first shot." The helles ($6 per half liter, $11 per liter) always will remain on tap, while the maibock ($7 per half liter, $13 per liter) will rotate out this summer in favor of another seasonal brew from Flesk. For a refreshing heat-beater, try the helles in a Lemon Radler ($6), which combines the beer with lemon soda.

Drink it with: The helles pairs well with most of the restaurant's beer hall fare, including a Bavarian pretzel with barley-malt butter ($7), while the maibock works especially well with the smoked pork belly ($14).

What's next: A Flesk hefeweizen will debut in mid-June, which Hebert said will "kick ass" with The Radler's schnitzel ($22).

Coming-soon chamomile wit

Brewed by: Atlas Brewing Company for Parachute (3500 N. Elston Ave. 773-654-1460)

How it happened: Parachute's beverage director Matty Colston previously worked for Telegraph and Webster's Wine Bar, where Atlas brewer Ben Saller was a regular. "Ben always came into Webster's with a growler, with new beers or experiments. I got to know his style of beer really well," Colston said. "I got a sense of balance from his beers. They reminded me of European beers that I liked." In the lead-up to the opening of Parachute, a new Korean-American restaurant in Avondale, Colston worked with Saller to brew a chamomile wit beer that should debut within the month.

Drink it with: The pork belly and mung bean pancake ($10), a twist on Korean pub food that Colston said is "just crying for that beer."

What's next: After the chamomile wit hits Parachute's lone draft line within the month, Colston said he's open to teaming up on more seasonal collaborations with Atlas or other area breweries.


One more to try: Barracuda Blue

Logan Square's new Slippery Slope bar worked with Marshall, Mich.-based Dark Horse Brewing Co. on this blueberry ale ($4) available in Chicago only at Slippery Slope and sibling bar Scofflaw. If you've ever tried Dark Horse's raspberry ale, you know that these creations aren't overly sweet, retaining their beer flavor with just a hint of fruit.

One more to try: Une Anne wit for Bangers & Lace

West Town-based Une Annee brewery will brew a second collaboration beer for Wicker Park's Bangers & Lace, set to debut the final week of June. The wit beer will be brewed with cascara (the "cherries" of a coffee plant), imparting a very slight tobacco and leather flavor.