By Brian Skaggs
Price Range : $25 - 28
Region: Chicago, Illinois ABV: 13.5% Availability: at the brewery, limited distribution
Oak smells good. Bourbon smells good. Fermented sugar water extracted from deeply roasted barley smells good. Certain Cannibaceae family members smell good. Combine them in judicious yet balanced measures, and—behold!—the greatest aroma known to any human.
Although putting beer into oak barrels is not a radical idea (see John’s review of Firestone Walker’s Union Jack), extracting flavors from previously-utilized vessels might very well have had its birth about two miles southeast of Revolution’s Milwaukee and Fullerton location in the (obviously) amazing city of Chicago. This other brewery, named after a piece of land surrounded by two forks of the Chicago River, experimented with putting a high-gravity stout into used Jim Beam barrels in the early 1990s. The resulting beer, named after either a county in Kentucky or a county in Kansas (themselves named after a type of whiskey made with corn), was so delicious…
How delicious was it?
It was so delicious that certain graduate students from the University of Chicago were rumoured to drive up all the way from the south side to Clybourn and Willow to have one (or four) for a weekday lunch. Many times. All hail bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout!
Irrelevant asides aside, REVOLUTION BREWERY’s Deth’s Tar is amazing. It should be a nationwide benchmark for the current wave¹ of bourbon barrel-aged stouts. In addition to all of the above goodies that smell good, this thick reddish-black beer with a milk chocolate-coloured head² also shows off cold-fermented stone fruit aromas (let’s call them Santa Rosa plums and Michigan sour cherries). Right on top of all those scrumptious smells is an herby brightness made of equal parts mint, piney hops, and a freshly cut Christmas tree/Hanukkah bush.
After basking in the true greatest aroma known to any human for a few minutes, you might think to yourself, “Self. The aromas of this beer are too good to be true. Tasting it might only lead to disappointment.” Or… you might end up involved in a months-long project you’ve stalled on that is due in twelve hours, or maybe you’re desperately trying to figure out how the Baudelaire orphans will survive the medusoid mycelium, or perhaps you’ve even been sucked into a professional cycling event on the telly you didn’t expect to see in the US and A. When you return to your Deth’s Tar an hour (or four) later, you think to yourself, “Self. How did you forget about this delicious beer you’re supposed to review?”
Luckily, it’s even better warm. The humongous bourbony tannic mouthfeel delivers vanilla, mint, and small winery barrel room flavors, with a syrupy return of the fermented Santa Rosas and cherries. An oaky vanilla taste is pretty prominent, yet vanilla aromas—usually one of the first to waft up in wood-aged beer—were conspicuously absent. Melted bittersweet chocolate arrives a bit later and seamlessly blends with the vanilla while tempering the sweetness. But wait! There’s more! If you can believe it, the piney, holiday-time hop bitterness returns at the top of your mouth. It’s as if you found yourself in a stolen shuttle approaching a far-off speck in space. Said speck didn’t seem so big at first, but, as you fully grasped the three huge dimensions of the not-quite-round galactic orb, you muttered, almost to yourself, “That’s no moon. It’s a space station!³”
As of the November 2017 release, Revolution is selling Deth’s Tar and its single-serving variants (coffee and cherries) as four-packs of 355 ml cans. This change from the glass bomber should be applauded for myriad reasons—the most relevant, of course, that you can take Deth’s Tar camping. Other variants (Currants! Plums! Bourbon-soaked vanilla beans! Ecuadorian cocoa nibs! Coffee beans pooped out of a monkey’s butt, maybe?) are available on draft after release and show up periodically on tap at the Revolution brewpub or at their production facility on Kedzie. Naturally, this beer is tough to find—especially when you don’t live in the obviously amazing city of Chicago—and many thanks must be given to Marc and Jon, the Beer Twins of Wrightwood, for sending this my way. —B.S.
¹ ‘Trend?’ ‘Fascination?’ ‘Oversaturation?’ ‘Twenty five-year old kids all huddled en masse around a football with ‘BBA’ stamped on it while the poor five-year old goalies, Jenny Pilsner and Johnny ‘Sticke’ Alt, stay in place and mutter, ‘But what about me?’ Too much? Too soon?!
² Please note, Dear Reader, that the Deth’s Tar reviewed was NOT consumed from the pictured glassware. The shaker pint glass pictured above was used for photo purposes only—it was the only Revolution glassware around—then was unceremoniously dumped into a Henhouse Brewing goblet for optimal olfactory and gustatory pleasure.
³ …yeah, yeah, come on. It’s downright impossible not to throw in a Star Wars quote. Revolution head brewer Josh Deth’s last name must have been equal parts awesome and exhausting when he was growing up. To be fair, the 2016 Deth’s Tar box even paraphrases ol’ Darth Sidious: ‘Witness the firepower of this fully [armed and] operational imperial stout!’