Fountainhead chef Cleetus Friedman has racked up more beer collaborations than many breweries have beers—the tap list from Return of the Cleetus, a tasting event last month, had 13 of his beers. And on the whole, they've been pretty successful. At Guys Drinking Beer, we called the Sarsaparilla Stout (brewed with Dark Horse Brewery from Marshall, MI) our favorite beer of 2011.
Friedman’s new collaboration, with Solemn Oath Brewery, was released this week. ChocoTsuris, a porter inspired by Black Forest and German chocolate cakes, is laced with coconut and cacao nibs that called to me like a 5.6% ABV siren song sung by a Bavarian temptress.
The beer pours pitch black with just the barest wisp of head retention, and it’s comfortingly syrupy. It coats your innards the way you want a cold weather beer to do, but it doesn't weigh you down. Just a little lacing hangs onto the side of the glass. It smells as if there’s a cherry-chocolate cake baking and coffee brewing in the next room.
Those cherries don't add much flavor, though—there’s a little lingering tartness, but not much fruity sweetness. Let this sit a bit and it develops into a flavor reminiscent of chocolate pudding—the guilty-pleasure Jell-O kind, the stuff that's a little gritty but so good with a squirt of Reddi-wip. The aroma of cherry cake wears off eventually and develops into roasty malts and bitter chocolate, which I assume is from the cacao nibs added to the fermenter.
Wait long enough and that melange of coconut begins to emerge, enough to coat the palate with some welcome toasty notes that waft through the aroma as the beer warms. It's not overwhelming, and if you were turned off by the coconut in recent brews like the Pahoehoe from Two Brothers or the Stone Coconut IPA, you probably won't have those issues here.
This brew finishes both roasty and nicely chocolatey at the very end, dropping in like a milk-chocolate candy kiss at the last moment. Is it truly cake in fermented form? I don't know about that, but it is pretty damn good. If you assume Solemn Oath produces nothing but a hophead’s dream-parade of bitter bombs of lupulin like Snaggletooth Bandanna and Ravaged by Vikings, one sip of this will change your perspective of the brewery.
Fountainhead has been a beer destination since opening in 2010, and the addition of Friedman as executive chef earlier this year has done nothing to slow down that reputation in the slightest. (In fact, City Provisions' Friedman fit so well with the restaurant, the general attitude on the day he was announced in that position could be best summed up with two words: "Well, duh.")
Since this is a week to vent/bitch/wail about the Michelin awards, it's worth noting that a number of beer destinations earned a small form of distinction this year. The Publican, Paramount Room, Hopleaf and Owen & Engine all earned Bib Gourmands, some not for the first time. Fountainhead’s kitchen certainly aspires to the same level of elevated beer cuisine and it’s just as good a drinking destination. While no Chicago beer-focused restaurant has yet to achieve a Michelin star, if we see Fountainhead passed over for a Bib next year, we'll rightfully have something else to bitch about.
Find ChocoTsuris on draft at Fountainhead right now, though many of Chef Friedman’s collaborations have found their way outside the restaurant in the past.