Drink this now: 4 Paws Brewing’s Fawn Blonde Ale
The brewer left the market this week, so you need to scramble to try their beers.
Wed Jan 8 2014
I’d been meaning to turn my attention to Andersonville’s 4 Paws Brewing and their Fawn blonde ale for a while, largely as a palate cleanser from the many stouts and porters I’ve been seasonally focused on for a good couple of months now. Sadly, my hand was forced this week to move up my schedule—you need to Drink This Now because 4 Paws left the market this week.
They’re the first craft brewery in the recent wave of Chicago-based production facilities, taprooms, brewpubs and contract setups to close up shop, having passed the gear and the facility off to the Strange Pelican team. It was an opportunity the owners, Matt and Meghan Gebhardt, couldn’t pass up, even though “had it not worked out, it’s not like the business would have closed—we would have kept making beer,” Matt said.
Their two beers, Fawn blonde and Brindle amber, could be found on a few dozen accounts around the North Side, with brewer Matt handling it all, from brewing to bottling to self-distributing, along with the help of his wife and some friends. Freshness was paramount, along with making easy-drinking beer they liked imbibing themselves.
The Fawn is (well, was) a great example of how to add complexity to an otherwise simple style without going overboard. Right off the nose you get a friendly blast of Belgian yeast aroma, rich and sweet and citrusy and fruity. The hazy straw-gold body boasts a thin white head of foam that’s light but persistent thanks to the addition of a small amount of carapils malt.
A bouquet of Czech Saaz, Liberty and German Hersbrucker hops greets you right up front with a minty, herbal kiss while notes of lemongrass and big, bready biscuit flavors from Vienna malts flash across the palate in the beer’s crazy-creamy body. The bright, slightly vegetal flavor carries through to the brief but noticeably bitter tail, and the 5.5% ABV hits the sweet spot for something you can have a few of, but with enough heft to let you know something’s there.
If you can still find Fawn, grab it—but beware that you might find yourself craving it come summer when it’s not around.
As an outgoing brewer, I wondered what thoughts Matt had for the dozens of operations in the startup or planning stages. First and foremost: “Be flexible. You need to be flexible. We didn’t really envision a ton of bottling, but we did more than we thought we’d do. We thought we’d do a lot more beer in one-sixth-barrel kegs.”
Also, put some extra thought into nailing down your space. “We didn’t have as many headaches during the installation, or during any brew days. It all ran really smoothly [and] our layout was good. We could have added more tanks if we wanted to and it wouldn’t have cramped our process at all. A lot of people don’t have that.”
With a Chicago brewer closing up its shop, the elephant in the room here is the one of the “bubble”; i.e., is there one, and is the burst beginning? “I don’t necessarily think it’s a brewery problem. I think we can stand to have more breweries in this town,” Gebhardt said. “I think it’s more of a bar/distribution/store issue. Your average corner bar [is] still the Heineken, Miller Lite kinda place.”
“I mean, there’s what, 2,000 bars in this town? If there’s 50—let’s say, benefit of the doubt, 75—really destination beer bars, just in that respect, we have a ways to go. At some point, Hopleaf can only take so many beers. It’s a huge undertaking to add draft lines and many people won’t do it,” Gebhardt said.
(On a related note, if you haven’t read Solemn Oath’s “Start a Great Beer Bar” post from last month, now is a good time.)
Lest this come off at all unhappy, the Gebhardts are by all appearances perfectly fine with where they took the 4 Paws brand, which they still own and can revive later should they choose. “[Moving on is] a nice way for a small business owner to get something at the other end of it. We did what we wanted to do. We made good beer, had some fun, and it worked out for us.”
Should you stumble across the last Fawn and Brindle in the world, give it a try. When it’s gone, the otherwise seemingly endless parade of the onward-and-upward Chicago craft beer world will have gotten a bit smaller.