Wildfire Series | An Example of a Brewery with the Wind at its Back
Maybe you haven’t noticed, but Chicago’s Burnt City Brewing is making waves. The brewery already boasts of a chic brewpub and bowling alley on the always-hip Lincoln Avenue, a brewhouse located in the locally-famous, former Jay’s plant, eye-catching label artwork and a recent collaboration with Chicago’s illustrious Art Institute. But now it’s also churning out a diverse, impressive collection of beers including its Brett and Yeast friendly “Wildfire Series.”
“We are at a point now where everything is clicking. Moving forward, I want every beer we make to excite me… to help push our beer program,” says Ben Saller, co-founder and head brewer.
Chicago’s crowded beer market is rivaled only by its congested highways. But, Burnt City is one of those breweries that’s been around for a while (six years). And, with time and experience comes an ability to expand the beer portfolio while also strengthening all aspects of the brand.
The difficulty facing all brewers, of course, is how to approach that.
Along with Ben, there’s (among others) marketing guru Amy Jones, brewpub brewer Christian and the other half of the Saller team — bother, fellow head brewer and owner — John. The four of them put their collective heads together and forged a plan. “We see trends out there; some we like; some we don’t. We didn’t want to go hard down a path that wasn’t in our hearts.”
That path took them to the world of Brett, the world of yeast. The world of Wildfire.
The Wildfire Series (so far)
- #005: Blood of Jupiter Saison with Cherries and Brett L.
- #004: Cryo Wild Dry Hopped Belgian Farmhouse Ale “fermented with three types of yeast, including brettanomyces and dry-hopped with Lupulin Ekuanot Hops.”
- #003: Mango Lime Saison with Brett
- #002: Apricot Belgian Golden Ale with Brett.
- #001: Firestarter Wild Saison “fermented with three types of yeast including Brettanomyces. “
At first, the Burnt City crew were reluctant to use Brett in its brewpub, and also in the new southside brewhouse. “We have always been great with having our tanks completely clean and avoiding any issues, but there’s that fear [of infection] obviously,” says Ben. “But we got tired of those worries and wanted to do something… the market isn’t saturated with them. It’s slightly more nuanced. So it’s not like jumping on a bandwagon. It’s a beer we love and wanted to do it.”
One aspect of the Burnt City creative process involves the occasional partnering with a group that many brewers in the city have come to embrace — if not love — Omega Yeast (A.K.A. Omega Labs) in Chicago.
Mark Schwarz heads the business side of Omega while Lance Shiner, Ph.D. handles the science; he did his work in microbiology and molecular genetics at the University of Texas – Houston. Lance has spent more than five of those years researching the “stress response of Saccharomyces cerevisiae (a.k.a. brewer’s yeast).”
“It’s great to call up Lance and say, ‘I want to do an apricot saison, or whatever and I want to use such and such yeast.’ They are always quick to say, ‘Yeah that would be great,’ or sometimes they will introduce something new for us to play with. It’s really great working with them and experimenting.”
To be clear, though, an exploration of the Wildfire Series does more than satisfy the taste buds, it allows one to peer into the “wild” imagination that comes from Burnt City; the crew has a penchant for making innovative “regular” beer, too.
A few examples include:
- Artist As Alchemist Session IPA with Lupin Oil, brewed in collaboration with the Art Institute of Chicago for its Gauguin Exhibit.
- Face Melter Hibiscus IPA
- Aviator Demon Coffee Blueberry Imperial Stout Stout (with coffee from Asado Coffee Company.)
- Double Dry Hopped Series comprised of Pterodactyl Deathscream Double Dry-Hopped DIPA
and Megalodon Double Dry-Hopped DIPA
(Yes, they have a thing for pre-historic creatures. Who says brewing has to be so serious?)
No matter what one samples from Burnt City, expect to enjoy harmonious flavors that purposely showcase certain notes, but not at the expense of the other ingredients — akin to chef serving a well-executed meal. The malt typically is not that sweet (tends to be dryer in character), the hazy IPAs never hide the “IPA” traits and each Wildfire brew offers lovely individual nuances while also maintaining the consistency necessary to consider it part of a series.
Two years removed from its frustrating naming-rights legal battle, Burnt City is exhibiting forward momentum similar to the city from which it hails after its Great Fire. “The legal battle did grind us down a bit, but… we never stopped being creative,” notes Saller. “But, we definitely have a renewed energy.” And the growth has allowed for expanding the staff, or “an amazing staff,” Ben explains, which has afforded Ben the opportunity to concentrate more on research and brewing execution.
So, now it’s all about the future.
They have room to grow; room to experiment; room to do what they intended when they decided to get into the craft business — brew great beer.