A little more than a year ago, Pipeworks Brewing Co. was named Best New Brewery in the World by Ratebeer, an announcement the Chicago beer world collectively greeted with both “holy shit!” and “well, of course!” On January 29, it passed the mantle to a small Southwestern operation called Arizona Wilderness; this year it'll have to be content with being named one of the top 100 breweries on the planet, alongside other Chicagoans like Half Acre, Revolution and Goose Island. Plus, it collaborated on a beer with one of the best restaurant and hospitality teams on the planet.
That beer is the One Horned Wonder, very likely the first chile beer made specifically not to be spicy, thanks to the wonders of a rotary evaporator brought in by the Aviary team. That fun little toy allowed them to purify the flavor of green fresno chilies down to its distillate form, leaving the spicy capsaicin behind.
Brewer Beejay Oslon described that distillate as “mind-boggling... it’s a clear liquid that smells intensely like fresno chilies. You can literally guzzle this stuff.” Along with 100 pounds of passionfruit puree per batch and bright, citrusy hops, this is a humdinger of a pale ale.
“We’re well known for our double IPAs, so we wanted to approach this as a double pale ale, with a large amount of hops but not quite the usual bitterness,” Oslon said. A hefty grain bill gets this beer up to a healthy 9% ABV, but doesn’t make the body so big it becomes a slog to drink. “We wanted the fruit flavors to shine... we didn’t quite go so heavy on the bittering hops but big on the late-addition galaxy and citra.”
After the primary fermentation period, the passionfruit is added for acidity. The fresno is added later “to taste.”
“It’s important for people to realize it is an experimental beer—it’s delicious, but it’s a culinary thing, too,” Oslon says. “It’s not spicy, you just get that flavor. It’s a beer to be approached with an open mind.”
The beer pours a hazy golden amber with a full-bodied, long-lasting white head. The aroma blasts you with citrusy hops right out of the bottle, then tempers to allow just enough of the fresh green chile note to come singing through. The passionfruit is up front and center in the flavor, and it’s bright and distinct over the thicker-than-expected body, while the chile’s flavor is very much present on the finish. It’s a distinctly tropical beer, one that is nothing but refreshing in the middle of this particular winter.
While most chile beers range from back-of-the-throat-scratchy heat (Rogue’s Chipotle Ale and the Ancho Chile Double Dutch Chocolate porter from Traverse City’s Brewery Terra Firma) to blow-your-head-off habanero fire (looking at you, Sculpin), it’s worth noting again that this beer has no burn, just fresh, green vegetal flavors from the fresnos. Even though the beer was made with and for the Aviary, the amount of booze, fruit and tropics in this makes me think this should have a place as the house beer at Three Dots and a Dash.
In other Pipeworks news, a planned bottle shop and growler-filling location is on hold pending some real estate leasing issues, but is still expected to move forward, along with a small expansion to some of its brewing equipment—if you have a decent-size mash tun, we might have a buyer for you.
Otherwise, Pipeworks is still cranking along, churning out more than 90 different beers by Oslon’s count, including multiple variations on favorites like Ninja vs. Unicorn and the Abduction stout series, along with weirder things like the much-discussed Lebowski-inspired beer, Hey Man, There’s a Beverage Here, and the S’more Money S’more Problems graham cracker/marshmallow/chocolate/vanilla imperial stout that tastes like… well, you know.
Only a sliver of the first release of One Horned Wonder was available to the public, and the rest was delivered to the Aviary and Next. [Ed. note: At Next: Chicago Steak, the beer is served during the lobster thermidor course. It’s the richest course of the night, and the beer cuts through the creaminess of the dish. More Next thoughts coming soon!]
But worry not! You won’t need to spend hundreds of dollars for a tasting portion of the Wonder. A large fresh batch has just been bottled, and should be making its way to shelves within days.