There is still an assortment of unique beers at the Beerhead Bar & Eatery chain, the result of their “Collab AF” promotion with 37 different brewers in four states. Yeah, they say the "AF" means "All February."
I has a chance to sit with Elonzo King, Beerhead’s Beer Director at their Elmhurst restaurant, where we talked about (and drank) some of the 26 beers they made in collaboration with several Illinois breweries.
“Every beer we put on tap was a representative of a certain style,” Elonzo explained. “We could have asked for seven or eight IPAs, separated only by Northeastern or fruity styles. But was also wanted to see representation for milk stouts, pastry stouts and meads, whatever people might seek out. We wanted this to be an authentic, informative experience.”
The collaboration idea was hatched last year, and Beerhead brought the idea to all the brewers near their restaurant locations. “There was a lot of positive response to the idea. For one reason, we would be buying the end result directly from them. Some of the brewers couldn’t take part because their operation was too big to make just a six, seven, eight barrel batch.
”We asked each brewer to pick out five of 50 possible styles,” Elonzo said. “Then we went over each of the choices to narrow out duplication of style, and to see how the brewers could showcase their strengths, or to work with a kind of beer that was new to them.”
The resulting beers proved to be all over the map: there were brews intended to exemplars or their style, like an ESB, Belgian Quad, Czech Pils or Red Ale. There were also plenty of experimental or otherwise oddball beers, like Crystal Lake's Midnight Rambler Black IPA, a raspberry seltzer from Odd Side Ales, or Hoppin' Frog's Chocolate Covered Strawberry Stout.
Elonzo walked me through a tray of some of the collars, paired with some of their spicy meatballs, and then a “Campfire Pizza,” a pizza crust baked with marshmallows, chocolate sauce and Nutella.
A straightforward stout, inspired by Young’s Chocolate Stout, made with chocolate roast malts, but no chocolate. There was also a slight note of coffee, and this just might have been improved by a nitro tap, but this was a nice step outside the box for this itinerant Chicago brewer.
A saison made with Kveik yeast, hops from Michigan and France, and then apricots. Elonzo said he thought the Kveik already gave it a stone fruit character. I found more apricot in the palate, but the finish did kind of dry out in the end. Apricot can overpower a beer, but this style met the fruit on its own terms.
Illuminated Brew Works Millennial Munchies
The most “out there” of the local beers, this was a “Pastry Stout” inspired by a Zagnut bar. The inspiration came in the form of coconut, peanut butter powder, marshmallow, and chocolate malt. I’ve managed to enjoy a few coconut beers, but for once this one went overboard. But that seems to be the way of pastry stouts. My philosophy if I didn’t care for a beer like this, was that you may like it, so go right ahead.
B. Nektar Cordial Hoptimist
A mead based on orange blossom honey, with added cocoa nibs, vanilla and tart cherries, then dry-hopped with Santiago hops. Served sparkling, this one bridged that tenuous gap between a mead and a milk stout. I could not nail down specific tastes, but instead enjoyed the whole thing.
We wrapped up with some sweet dessert beers to go with the Campfire Pizza, and discussed whether you should match sweet desserts to sweet beers, or contrast with something hoppy.
Temperance Oatmeal Raisin Old Ale
Uses macerated dried plums instead of raisins, along with flaked oats, brown sugar, and vanilla. One of the few oatmeal-based beers I’ve found to actually taste like oatmeal, otherwise it’s added for smoothness. Definitely a “cookie stout,” which I guess I can enjoy a little better than a pastry stout.
Wild Onion Double Puft
An imperial brown ale with extra malt and marshmallow. This had a light nose for an imperial style, but then marshmallow by itself doesn’t have a very strong smell. Alcohol impression is not that strong, but then again, this was my last of seven tasters.
The restaurant also installed some "outside” collaborations, like Dogfish Head's Grateful Dead Collaboration, American Beauty, Tighthead's Longsnapper collab with Chicago Bear Patrick Mannelly, and Florida’s Hidden Springs, Banana in the Tailpipe, a Berliner Weisse with coconut, a collaboration with Barrel Culture Brewing of North Carolina. I bring this one up because it was one of the samples Elonzo had poured for me. It had very little sourness for the style, but a lot of what seemed like banana-flavored marshmallow. Dipped in pineapple juice.
The beer menu list only had a few items stamped “Keg Kicked,” but that is likely to increase as the end of the promotion draws near. Elonzo said he has been trying to get extra kegs from the brewers, but some of the liked the results so much, they put them on draft at their own tap rooms. Both the restaurant and the brewers might be expected to repeat the collaboration in the future.
Beerhead has locations in Elmhurst, Vernon Hills and Schaumburg, Illinois, with five other franchises in Ohio, New York and Michigan. The beer-centered chain keeps up to 50 beers on tap and a large selection of packaged beers, with crowlers where permitted.