Middle Brow Brewing isn't trying to big-time it. In fact, they're specifically keeping things modest.
Every so often, they announce a blind homebrew contest with a theme on Facebook. And the winner gets to help develop a full-scale recipe done on contract with a local production brewery. The proceeds go to charity. That's the plan at least, and so far the team comprised of Nick Burica and Bryan Grohnke, both with day jobs, has been able to piece together the first few recipes for the portfolio.
The guys explain: "We sort of started the beer company backwards: we're a couple beer nerds with unfulfilling desk jobs and bleeding hearts who wanted to "give something back to the community," as they say in after-school specials. After lots of brainstorming, we finally linked our two passions and decided to raise money for charities by brewing and selling homebrewed beers. So, we'll be giving half of whatever money we make to local charities."
For each competition, the duo gathers a few beer community members to help judge — bar tenders, homebrew shop employees and the likes. For the coffee brew challenge, I met with them in the back of a furniture consignment warehouse in the Clybourn corridor (which still strikes me as falling on the lower end of the brow scale) and after the first few beers, things weren't looking promising. Plenty of oxidation, ashtray coffee, and accidental sourness. But then we struck gold.
Winner, Frank Costanzo and Co. made an Imperial Stout with Ipsento Coffee that made us toss out the first 10 beers on our scoresheets. The aroma had a big malty-sweet, brewery-house nose that was packed with roast, juicy & spicy hop character and a moderate level of coffee. The full body was creamy and smooth and had a wonderful roast, chocolate and smooth coffee flavor, all of which were in great balance with the moderately-high hop presence. Just a superbly executed beer.
Soon following, there were others that vied for the title as well, lifting the final consideration set to a solid three.
David Gibbons of Inebriated Brewing made a Russian Imperial Coffee Stout — an immensely complex brew, in all the right ways, that continuously transformed during the tasting. The nose had a bright fruity ester profile, along with a moderate coffee note, hazelnut, anise, chocolate....the list goes on. The palate was extremely consistent with the nose, accompanied by an assertive hop bitterness and huge body.
Matt Holley made a Black IPA with coffee — a well executed black IPA in every sense of the word. The nose had a huge tropical fruit hop character that played well with a mild roast characteristic and very light coffee note. However, the coffee flavor seemed to get lost against the massively hopped body. Nonetheless, an extremely enjoyable, well-brewed Black IPA.
The next step is recipe translation and contracting.
"In the near future, we plan to work with our contract brewer to brew some of our own beers, and to open our own brewery, where we'll continue to prioritize homebrewers and the greater Chicago community. We're excited to build a brewery that never stops commercially brewing the beers of Chicago's best homebrewers."