“Bet your bottom dollar you’ll lose the blues in Chicago…” – Fred Fisher, “Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)”
If eating well is a cure for depression, then Mr. Fisher’s assertion undoubtedly rings true. Chicago is, indeed, a great food city. The most recent edition of the Michelin guide awarded 23 stars (appropriately evoking the jersey number of one of the city’s most famous athletes) with longtime molecular gastronomy favorite Alinea garnering a full three star rating.
The food for which Chicago is best known, however, is more workaday fare. Most out-of-towners will be familiar with the hot dog (all beef dog, yellow mustard, diced onion, neon green relish, sport peppers, tomato wedges, pickle spear, and celery salt, on a poppy seed bun) or pizza (deep dish) to which the city lends its name. Natives, meanwhile, enjoy all manner of ethnic cuisine, from Devon Avenue’s numerous Indian restaurants, down through Greektown and into the Mexican culinary paradise that is the South Side’s Pilsen neighborhood.
Chicago has begun exporting another local delicacy: Garrett Popcorn. From starting in a home kitchen, to a Madison Street storefront in the downtown Loop district (in front of which there was nearly always a line of customers), Garrett now has outposts all over the Chicagoland area, a packaged retail offering, and a kiosk in O’Hare airport for those wishing to spread the Gospel of Garrett worldwide.
The company’s signature snack is “Garrett Mix” (as it is known in the USA; it goes by “Chicago Mix” at the company’s 50 international locations): a sweet-and-savory blend of caramel popcorn and cheese popcorn initially tossed together by Garrett customers, and sold as a formal combination beginning in 1977.
Though Garrett has been around for more than 70 years, the modern history of craft brewing in Chicago is significantly more brief. After the last of the small breweries petered out in 1978, a decade passed until Goose Island (now owned by Anheuser-Busch, of Budweiser fame) opened its doors in 1988. Like… well, everywhere else on Earth, Chicago saw an explosion of craft breweries in the past two decades. Among the most successful is Revolution Brewing, the brainchild of Goose Island alumni Josh Deth, who opened for business in 2010.
Revolution’s mainstay Anti-Hero IPA has been a fridge staple for me since I first tasted it. My wife once joked that it now tasted like water to her, after consuming an untold number of cans at home, at bars, at sporting events and concerts and cookouts and anywhere else one might reach for a frosty brewski.
The company’s experimental forays into different styles have been generally well-received. They’ve also been eager collaborators; I took a look at the Jameson Caskmates expression aged in ex-Revolution casks back in 2019.
The subject of today’s review is just such a mash-up. Revolution’s own site for this beer indicates that it is “The ultimate Chicago pairing, made with more than 450 pounds of Garrett Popcorn.” The brewery’s blog elaborates further:
“A recipe that included Garrett CaramelCrisp popcorn in the mash, brown sugar caramelizing in the boil, rye malt and lactose for mouthfeel, and a finish of kosher salt to complete the flavor profile.”
To say that my inner (OK, fine: outer) fat boy was elated when I got wind of this concoction is an understatement. I am both a Revolution fan and a junk food junkie, so the combination of the two was nigh irresistible to me. I hightailed it down to Binny’s Beverage Depot (itself a Chicago institution whose fame is spreading farther and wider over time) and secured myself a few cans, one of which I will be revieweing for you here today.
Before I pull the tab, however, a few final specifics: This comes in at 7% ABV. A four pack of 16 ounce cans runs $11; I’ll be evaluating this as though it were $2/ 12 ounce can, or roughly $12 for a six pack, which is in-line with most of the better craft beers around these parts.
Revolution Brewing CaramelCrisp – Review
Color: Hazy medium-dark brown with ruby glints.
On the nose: Malty, and nutty, in the manner of brown ales. I’m getting a subtly rich, red fruitiness on this, as well as some baked, honeyed notes of graham cracker. With time, the sweet scent of molasses beginning to emerge. I also start to notice an appealingly herbaceous scent here that brings to mind the freshly cut pine boughs of Christmastime. In total, this smells very autumnal.
In the mouth: The first sip produces a mellow sweetness that, indeed, evokes caramelized sugar. This tilts into a more savory off-bitter flavor in the middle of the mouth, though the effect is relatively mild compared with the full-on bitterness of the brewery’s heavily hopped IPAs. That maltiness again sings out momentarily toward the back of the mouth. On the finish, the aforementioned lactose is evident in a milky, mouth-coating texture that is the predominant lingering influence here.
This is nice enough, but the beer plays it far too safe. Revolution is capable of pushing flavor to the types of extremes that earn the respect of hardcore beer geeks. In contrast, this seems like it is aimed at more of a mass market audience, perhaps reflecting the desire to appeal to the Garrett fan base, which presumably includes a lot of folks whose beer experience is limited to innocuous local mediocrities like Old Style. I’m glad I tried this as a one-off experiment, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to the similarly curious consumers out there, but it’s in no danger of supplanting Anti-Hero as my Revolution beer of choice. To reflect all of that, I am awarding a score bang in the middle of our price-sensitive scoring bands.