Fearful Symmetries

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29 June, 2017

Smoke from South of the Border: 15 Feet by Off Color Brewing



I am returning to my hometown of Chicago and Off Color Brewing here after having had a fine pilsner of theirs. Chicago has a large Polish/Polish-American population which once included my babcia. I have fond memories of eating her Polish cooking as well as other gustatory memories such as making a stop at a pierogi restaurant before seeing Son Volt at The Vic and nearly falling asleep behind the wheel after eating at a Polish all you can eat joint. It is only fitting then that Chicago's Off Color brews a Grodziskie. Native to Poland, the Grodziskie (a.k.a. - Grätzer) is a piwo that's light, smoky, and hoppy made from 100% smoked wheat. Or so the theory goes, anyway. Quite a ways away from the pilsners and Baltic porters that the country is known for.

15 Feet is one of Off Color's seasonal piwos and I bought a six pack back in the spring after stopping at a pierogi wholesaler in Portage Park. It has one foot in tradition with the other in today. While brewed with 100% applewood smoked wheat, the brewers either couldn't get their hands on any Polish hops or were keen on tweaking things to reflect the current microbrew ethos. Regardless, 15 Feet features Sorachi Ace hops, a Japanese variety that boasts lemon and lime scents and flavors. An odd-sounding pairing on paper, to be sure. But smoked beer is a passion of mine and I couldn't resist no matter how incongruent the ingredients.

Grodziskies as conceived today are not big beers – the Poles leave that to Baltic porters – and 15 Feet comes in at a mild 3.5% A.B.V. which, I have read, was standard, for at time at least. And so 15 Feet is a very light yellow color. It's got that wheat haze which made it only slightly difficult to see a fair number of bubbles inside. My glass was adorned only with a small white head and it didn't stick around very long.

The aroma was succulently smoky with a touch of fruity sweetness. It was applewood smoked, after all. I will admit to not being intimately familiar with Sorachi Ace hops but I found that they gave a pleasant citrus scent here.

I was in heaven as the first wave of smoke wafted over my tongue. It had that same fruity sweetness to it as I had smelled. Not mega-potent but rather a glorious golden mean. Those hops gave a definite lemon-lime flavor which, I have to say, reminded me of 7-Up but not in a sickly sweet cloying kind of way. A little wheat came through and the carbonation gave a little bite that made the piwo a tad dry.

On the finish the smoke lingered as did some citrus. But then a dash of Nugget hops brought forth a moderate dose of resiny bitterness which elevated the dryness.

My glass was left with lots of foamy spots.

This is really effin' good. As a lover of smoke I was entranced by the luscious smoke wrapped in its semi-sweet fruitiness. Kilometers away from the hackneyed "bacon" descriptor. The citrus taste went splendidly with the smoke which, if you think about it, isn't all that odd considering we put citrus juice on grilled meats. On top of all this was a gentle earthiness. Light, refreshing, and with just the right amount of smoke. Perfect refreshment for a summer day.

Junk food pairing: Root vegetables are a staple of the Polish diet and so I heartily recommend busting open a bag of potato chips to go along with your 15 Feet. Smoked gouda are highly recommended but Kettle Chips' Backyard BBQ variety go well too.

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|| Palmer, 5:05 AM

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