This time last year, Chicago’s RAM Restaurant and Brewery introduced us to Chaos Day, an event aimed to celebrate the release of Chaos, their barrel aged stout. Within two months, the event sold out. Fast forward just one year, and tickets to Chaos Day 2017 sold old out in just seconds. So what happened in between? Well, Side Note – a series of five non-barrel aged stouts—was released, gaining the attention of beer nerds not only in the Chicago area, but across the country. To really understand how this all happened, look no further than the man behind these beers, Shaun Berns.
Shaun started at RAM years ago as a host, however, once he turned 21 he quickly picked up the hobby of homebrewing. His interest in craft beer snowballed as he began helping RAM’s headbrewer out around the brewery. He went on to study at Siebel Institute, taking courses in brewing science and technology, eventually taking a full-time position at the very place it all started for him years before, RAM.
While RAM has been brewing beer since 1995, the Side Note series didn’t exist before last year’s Chaos Festival, at which a variant of Chaos, Cocoa Chaos, received raved reviews. In fact, the overwhelming positive response from that event alone gave Shaun the idea to spin-off a non-barrel aged version of Cocoa Chaos. That first spin-off would become Brewtella, Cocoa Chaos with hazelnuts, cocoa nibs and vanilla, better known as Side Note #1. From there the Side Note series took off; there was Gimme Samoa, ChocoLatte, S’more Luv, and most recently Meh-he-coco. While the bottle count started at 90, it’s grown to 900 – and it’s still not enough to keep up with the demand.
So how can Shaun and RAM keep this momentum going as we enter 2017? With that same event that started it all – Chaos Day. For this year’s festivities, Shaun decided to switch it up rather than release a barrel-aged version of the base stout, and instead age in bourbon barrels an “old” favorite Side Note #2, AKA Gimme Samoa, which is Cocoa Chaos with toasted coconut, cinnamon, and cocoa nibs.
A barrel-aged stout with coconut and cinnamon coming out of the Chicago area that now has an event named after it…sounds somewhat familiar. If you’re not following, I’m referring to the 2014 edition of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Proprietors. It’s impossible not to compare the two beers, so let’s see if there are any similarities between the two.
Chaos 2017 pours a jet black with a medium head that slowly dissipates, giving off a cinnamon forward aroma and faint notes of coconut. So far, very similar to 2014 BC Prop. The mouthfeel, however, is where these two begin to diverge, as the cocoa in Chaos provides a thicker, more viscous impression.
Then there’s the taste, which is where the toasted coconut takes center stage. Upfront you’re hit with a bit of chocolate, then immediately the toasted coconut takes over. It’s not a coconut bomb, but just the right amount to coat your palate and satisfy that craving. On the backend, there is a tame amount of cinnamon and barrel character to round out the beer.
If I had to pick one word to describe Chaos 2017, it would be “balanced.” Anytime you have a barrel-aged stout with a number of adjuncts there’s a worry that one might overpower rest, but that isn’t the case with Chaos 2017. Shaun’s ability to execute the interplay of multiple adjuncts is what makes Chaos 2017 truly shine.
RAM’s Chaos day is this Saturday, January 14. If you don’t already have tickets, we suggest you find a friend who’s going and offer an interesting trade.
Jason Stein is a New York-based beer nerd. You can find more of his writing on NYC Beer Society.