As friendly and collaborative as the craft beer world can be, there are occasionally disputes among breweries and sometimes those disputes turn litigious. Especially when it comes to names. It’s inevitable. With 4,000 breweries and counting (and too many individual beers to count at all), you’re going to get some repetition, and sometimes breweries who are well into their branding have to change their names. Burnt City, in Chicago, is just such a brewery, having to change their name (from Atlas Brewing) four years into their business. It’s a bummer, but Burnt City is bouncing back, rebranding and continuing to brew a solid lineup of core styles. Even more impressive, their taproom has a bowling alley, a fact that begs the question, why don’t more breweries have bowling alleys? I’m talking to you, God. Why?
Here’s a look at five core beers from Burnt City, which seems to be rising from the ashes of their legal battle.
This is certainly the most easy-drinking of Burnt City’s lineup that we got to try—a 5% ABV farmhouse wheat ale built for sessioning during Chicago’s summer. It’s light as a feather, with a soft mouthfeel that practically disappears on your palate, kind of like a magic trick. The beer pours light straw with a huge head and has champagne-like qualities—effervescent, and light to the point of being ethereal. There’s a slight peppery element, along with a bit of lemon and that yeasty, farmhouse funk. It’s not a groundbreaking beer by any means, but it’s refreshing as hell.
Remember when I said Balloon Boy was the most easy drinking beer in Burnt City’s lineup? I spoke a little too soon. Retrofit is a radler that comes in at a slim 3.7% ABV and has that lemon-lime soda quality that radlers are known for. Burnt City actually uses key lime juice in this summer seasonal, which pours darker than I expected and has an enticing, almost farmhouse style nose to it with a bit of funk. The lime is present throughout, but not overpowering. Some radlers feel like a watered down lemon soda that someone spilled a bit of beer into, but Retrofit is definitely a beer first, with the lime playing second fiddle.
Speaking of seasonals, Burnt City knocks it out of the park with this on-point Oktoberfest, a 5.3% ABV Marzen style lager. It’s an amber through and through, with a soft nose and super thin head. The beer itself is packed with biscuit malt notes and just a touch of caramel to push it over the top. But then you get a bit of hop zing on the back end, with the beer tingling on your tongue as it disappears. The beer has a relatively crisp mouthfeel up front, but it gets smoother if you let it linger a bit in the glass. Most importantly, this beer does what all good Oktoberfests should do—it gets your mind set for the bigger, maltier beers coming in the colder months. Also, I like the dinosaur on the can.
This is Burnt City’s core pale ale, which has an old school makeup with a hop bill that leans heavily on Centennial and Cascade hops which pack a grapefruit-heavy bitter punch. It’s an extremely floral beer, to the point of being perfume-like. The malt bill is a little light for my taste—so light that it plays out like more like a session IPA than a balanced pale. It’s heavy on the bitter, floral hop notes, but short on the fruity elements that would keep things in check.
I saved the best for last. Face Melter is a hibiscus IPA that pours so rosy, it looks like a fruity sour. And it smells fantastic, like rolling around in a bed of hibiscus flowers inside citrus grove in Hawaii. It’s flowery and fruity as hell on the nose, and the sip follows suit. There’s plenty of malt upfront with a host of fruity notes, from lime to pineapple to the bitter rind of oranges. The bitterness picks up as you move through the sip, to the point where it becomes downright biting at the very end. It’s 7% ABV, really good, and I’d drink another one just so I could have the chance to smell it.