Penrose Brewing barely just opened, and it's already expanding. During Monday night's launch at Good Beer Hunting Studios, Penrose brewer Tom Korder and fellow founder Eric Hobbs told us about the new fermentation tanks on order, in addition to the many tanks in various sizes already bubbling with beer at their Geneva-based brewery. I'd list all the sizes but A) this piece would quickly devolve into what looks like an engineering diagram and B) just trust me, they're ready to make a lot of beer.
Penrose is the newest of a few highly anticipated breweries from ex–Goose Island employees (Korder and Hobbs both worked there), and its focus on Belgian inspiration is clear in its first three beers. Wild fermentation, experiments with wine barrels and other fun stuff is on the horizon as well, along with bottling in 12oz four-packs and larger-format bottles, but beyond all that, the overarching theme I get from Penrose is this: precision paired with experience.
This isn't homebrew writ large like other upstarts (and no negative judgment implied there at all), and the beer is dialed in and made by knowledgeable brewers with an appreciation for subtlety. The Proto Gradus Belgian-inspired single defines drinkability—it goes down fast, sweet and light on the palate and the 4.2% ABV will keep you coming back for a few more. If your impression of a Belgian single is something sticky and overly saccharine, you're in for a surprise, as the restrained grain bill allows the hops and yeast flavors to shine through. As far as Chicago-area summer beers go, this one is an up-and-comer, good for those long afternoons atop the riding mower.
The P2 Belgian Pale may disappoint hopheads used to the blast of bitterness and Belgian from beers like Brewery Vivant's Triomph, but they'll get over it. It's a mix of wheat, candi sugar and four kinds of hops. Those include Brambling Cross, a new-to-me variety of English hop Korder says has fruity black currant flavors. While that sounds like a lot, the floral/herbal mix paired with the clove-y yeast makes the 5.4% ABV beer slightly heftier than the Proto.
The Navette is my favorite of the first three beers. This could be because I'm still in a darker-beer state of mind or this winter has made me permanently appreciate heftier, richer flavors, but this black ale comes with rich but not overwhelming roasted flavors, complicated with coriander and backed up by a smooth-drinking body. It's toasty without getting too bitter, it's not too sweet, it's just hearty and straight-up tasty. I can see it pairing great with a plate of the Radler schnitzel.
Another year-round offering, a saison called Devoir, will be released soon as well, and multiple other options will be available at the Geneva taproom, like a collaboration gose, a blackberry saison and a raspberry dubbel. I'm also intrigued by their plans for a variety of "day beers" showing off a variety of yeasts.
Penrose has rolled out its initial releases to the Tri-Cities area in a series of events around Geneva, Batavia and St. Charles, and have only just begun expanding into the city at places like Northdown, Bad Apple and Fountainhead. You'll be seeing this beer in plenty of other places soon enough, though. A good start would be the Penrose Pop-Up at Small Bar Division on April 14.