The Fourth Annual Jim Plachy Beer Awards

Here we are the fourth annual Jim Plachy Beer Awards. I did a small amount of traveling this year to try some beers and even started doing some beer trading for West Coast beers. In the past the beers leaned heavily towards what I can get in Chicago. So it’s nice to see some winners from across the country. This year I drank an endless parade of world class beers. I can’t believe some of the beers I had this year that didn’t win an award. I think I said “this is the best beer I’ve had this year” numerous times.

As in previous years a beer can only win one award. This keeps the beer of the year winners a secret until the end of the list. I don’t get to drink every single thing that comes out so consider “best” to mean my favorites. And I’ve once again tweaked the categories. I got rid of Best Spring Beer because that was always a meaningless award anyway. There’s not many Spring beers. I added a best Pale Ale award which I feel was long overdue. I had enough Barleywines this year to give an award to one. There’s a bunch of other new awards in there. I can’t wait for you to see them. Enough with this intro lets get to the awards!

Best Beer Thing That Isn’t A Beer: Untappd

untappd

Once again my favorite beer thing that isn’t beer is Untappd. This website and app lets you check in to the beers you are drinking. The data you can mine from this is invaluable to me. The JPBAs exist only because I can go back and relive the beers I’ve drank on Untappd. The service took a beating this year as more and more people decided it wasn’t cool to check in to beers but fuck that I love it. The ratings may be meaningless and inaccurate but I love having a beer diary I can scroll through.

Best Place To Drink Beer: Links Taproom

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For the second year in a row my favorite place to have a beer is Links Taproom in Chicago. The decor is fantastic, food is great, and of course the beer lineup is super strong. Even if you just stop in on a Tuesday night there are at least 2 or 3 beers you’re going to want to drink. On the weekend or during special events forget it. The first day of Chicago Craft Beer week this year I could have chosen any of the beers on tap and been satisfied. Links definitely has some competition as of late but in 2015 they were still the best.

Best Summer Beer: 21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Ale

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After years of waiting 21st Amendment finally started distributing to Chicago and they brought with them one of my most wanted beers Hell or High Watermelon. This beer lived up to the hype for me. A tasty wheat beer mixed with natural watermelon flavor. It’s everything I wanted it to be. I think most people expected this to be sticky sweet and taste like a jolly rancher but instead its a lightly flavored beer meant to be drank outside from the can. I couldn’t get enough of it.

Best Fall/Harvest/Wet Hop/Fresh Hop Beer: Lagunitas Born Yesterday Pale Ale

Lagunitas-born-yesterday

For the second year in a row Lagunitas takes this category with Born Yesterday. This beer is a punch in the face of juicy hops. Many harvest ales use fresh hops but let the malts take the lead on flavor. This beer just makes sense to me. If you’re going to use the freshest hops the beer should taste like them.

Best Winter/Holiday Beer: Prairie Artisan Ales Christmas Bomb Stout 

christmasbomb

Prairie’s Bomb stout is an incredible imperial stout flavored with just about every adjunct you can think of. Somehow it comes out perfectly balanced. You can taste every flavor with nothing overpowering anything else. Even the peppers are subdued. Christmas Bomb adds a touch of mint and it really ties everything together. I like it better than regular Bomb. Easily the best holiday beer I had this year.

Best Double/Imperial IPA: 5 Rabbit Lulo Galactico Telefantastico 

lulogalactico

5 Rabbit really stepped up their game in 2015 and this beer is a shining example. It tastes like 8% ABV orange juice which I’m very ok with. There are a lot of beers coming out lately that have a juicy quality that we can’t get here in Chicago. 5 Rabbit managed to make a beer in that style with their own unique spin.

Best IPA: Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin

GrapefruitSculpin - SellSheet

Grapefruit Sculpin is a world class IPA. Not only that but thanks to Ballast Point’s aggressive expansion I can buy it anytime I want. From malt to grapefruit every component of this beer is spectacular. A lot of IPAs have a grapefruit quality but this beer ups that to a whole other level. Just a solid beer through and through.

Best Stout (non-barrel aged): Alesmith Speedway Stout Vietnamese Coffee

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We now go from a beer that you can get anywhere to a beer that’s very hard to get your hands on. I was fortunate enough to have it twice this year, once at Dark Lord Day and once out in the wild. I’m not sure how the Vietnamese coffee does its job but this beer is like drinking a chocolate covered marshmallow. I had a lot of stouts this year but not many came close to how incredible this beer tasted.

Best Barleywine: Pipeworks Cherry Murderous: The Lookout

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What we have here is a very traditional tasting barleywine. I got lots of caramel and dark fruits. It was a beast to drink at 9.5% ABV and thick with chewy malts. But what kept me taking sips over the course of an hour and a half was the hit of cherry. The cherries calmed things down just enough to make it almost refreshing. A barleywine has to do a lot to impress me and this was hands down the best in 2015.

Best Brown Ale: Prairie Artisan Ales Okie

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This is a fantastic beer but it is aged in oak whiskey barrels which gives it an unfair advantage. Okie is an imperial brown ale which does not reveal its 12% ABV at all. You get slight oaky characteristics from the barrel but it’s mostly just a great brown ale.

Best Pilsner: Goose Island Blue Line

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I’m not a huge fan of Pilsners but I can appreciate the style. I had this beer on a hot Summer day while eating my weight in sausages. Blue Line Pilsner was the perfect compliment. It was only available in Chicago over the Summer but it is apparently being resurrected as the nationally available Four Star Pils. I recommend you check it out when it pops up.

Best Red Ale: 21st Amendment Toaster Pastry

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This beer was meant to taste like a pop-tart. It does not. However it is a fantastic India style red ale. I popped this open at a Labor Day weekend gathering and it was the perfect beer for a last day of Summer party. The red ale backbone and high ABV was a precursor to the impending cooler days while the fruity hop flavors reminded me of the Summer that was about to pass.

Best Wit: Greenbush Looner Eclipse

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Lets be honest most Wits taste the same. I drank this at the end of a beer trip around Michigan and not only was it one of the more memorable beers it was an above average Wit. The addition of cumin is inspired. I kept going back for that hint of smokiness. I’m not sure if they’ll ever get around to bottling this but if they do I would definitely bring it to my next barbecue.

Best Porter: Moody Tongue Caramelized Chocolate Churro

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Words cannot do this beer justice. The first time I had it was at a “dark beer tap takeover”. We were waiting for them to tap an older variant of Bourbon County Stout and I ordered this to start with. It was so incredibly good I went back the next day because this was still on. So was the regular Bourbon County and I went back for this. It tastes like the most chocolatey porter you’ve ever had with a subtle hint of cinnamon. Incredible.

Best Saison/Farmhouse Ale: Goose Island Sophia Tequila Saison

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There is no image for this one off brew from Goose Island. Poured at this year’s Goose Island Sunday Funday event Sophia is Sofie aged in tequila barrels with brett brux added. It was the last thing they poured and it was insanely refreshing. The fact that it never made it outside of this event is one of the biggest disappointments of 2015. This would have been a great compliment to Blue Line Pilsner.

Best Sour: Almanac Farmer’s Reserve Blueberry

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Over the Summer I hosted a barbecue that became a giant bottle share. Someone brought a couple of these Farmer’s Reserve sours and I was blown away. The fruit flavor shines brightly through the fantastically sour base beer. Less than two months later Almanac showed up on shelves here in Chicago. I bought a few and enjoyed every one. I had the blueberry variety at FoBAB and it was head and shoulders above all the other sours I had that night. And in the end it was my favorite sour of the year.

Best Wild Ale: New Glarus R&D Wild Bitter Double IPA 

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When this beer was announced a lot of people turned up their noses at the idea. New Glarus was going to make a wild double IPA? People were so skeptical that when I went to New Glarus almost a month after the release they still had bottles. I picked up my limit of 2 and went home wondering when I was going to pop one of these open. The answer came on a late night when I had some friends come over unplanned and wanted to open something special. Needless to say I wish I had bought more than 2 bottles. Its like a funky version of New Glarus’ Scream. Which honestly is probably exactly what it is. Funky IPAs are sort of becoming a thing and I bet we see more next year.

Best Session Ale: Ballast Point Even Keel

evenkell

At the previously mentioned barbecue I drank a lot of world class beers. But one of the biggest surprises of the day was Even Keel. I had become pretty bored with session ales in 2015 but decided we needed something we could drink in the morning. So at under 4% ABV Even Keel seemed like a good choice. Was I ever right. This beer bursts with tropical fruit aromas and goes down as easy as you would ever want a session ale to go down. Even the malts are interesting giving some lightly toasted notes to the beer. There simply is not a better session ale around.

Best Belgian Style Beer: Ale Asylum Bedlam! Belgian IPA

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Once again Bedlam crushes the Belgian IPA game and quite frankly all other Belgian style beers I had in 2015. Huge citra hop aromas on the nose and that deliciously funky Belgian yeast on the finish. Just an incredibly well made beer through and through. If there is one caveat to this beer it is that it must be drank fresh. Look for a best buy date AT LEAST 2 months out.

Best Barrel Aged Beer: Goose Island Bourbon County Vanilla Rye

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Yeah I know. I’m sorry but I had this beer a few times this year and it was incredible. It tasted like barrel aged pancake batter. I don’t know what happened in these bottles in the last six months but it was nothing short of magic. Those of us who had this fresh couldn’t believe what this beer had become. Fresh it was all vanilla up in your palate. With some age it became a marshmallowy, chocolate syrup bomb but in the best way imaginable. If you see this drink it!

Best Fruit Beer: New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Red

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Will New Glarus ever not win this award? Not until someone makes something better than this. Fruit beers are typically a base beer with some fruit added. New Glarus knows how to make the fruit be the star of the beer. Belgian Red is semi-sweet with an oaky finish that gives it a slight wine like quality. Nothing else even comes close.

Best Pale Ale: Hill Farmstead Citra

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This was the first beer that was handed to me after I walked through the gates of this year’s Dark Lord Day. I had been wanting to try any Hill Farmstead beer but mostly Citra. And here I was holding a cup of it. The first thing I noticed was just how cloudy it was. Then the smell, like a double Zombie Dust. I couldn’t believe that there was still some tricks for the old dog that is the Citra hop. I drank some fantastic Pale Ales this year and it was a close fight but this is the one I wish I had a constant supply of.

Best Gose: Modern Times Fruitlands

fruitlands

Modern Times’ Fruitlands sour cherry Gose is the Gose I’ve been waiting for. The additional tartness from the cherries cut a bit from the saltiness. Definitely the most refreshing Gose I had this year.

Best Cider: Angry Orchard The Muse

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Angry Orchard is set to debut a line of ciders made from actual cider apples next year but in the meantime they sell these 750ml bottles of cider made from bittersweet apples. This one is aged briefly on French Oak and did a great job to further dry out the finished product. This would be a great cider to pour during dessert as it would pair well with sweet things. Hopefully this is just a harbinger for more great cider from Angry Orchard in 2016.

Best New Cider: Woodchuck Gumption

gumption

Woodchuck decided that it was time to start stepping up their game a bit so this year they introduced Gumption. A cider that’s made with half American eating apples and half bittersweet cider apples. It makes for a great semi-sweet easy to drink cider and probably the best thing they are making right now. Their line extensions have been full of artificial tasting flavors. This is just a great new core cider in their lineup. I recommend it over Amber.

Best New Beer: Pipeworks The Lizard King Pale Ale

lizardking

The first time I had this beer was in its beta form last year. I thought it was a great pale ale and couldn’t wait for it to hit cans. All year I heard rumblings that the subsequent batches were getting better and better. Then I was told it was basically Mosaic hopped Zombie Dust. I ordered it at a bar shortly after its general release and as the waitress walked towards me with it I could already smell it. Sure enough the malt body and drinkability are comparable to Zombie Dust but with that great tropical fruit salad Mosaic hop flavor. I go through 4 packs of this beer like crazy. As a bonus my daughter loves the artwork.

Best New Brewery: Marz Community Brewing

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Ok, so I had to fudge this one a little bit because they technically opened in the middle of 2014. Marz Community Brewing allows people to bring recipes into the brewery and the best ones get produced and released. There really hasn’t been a dud in the bunch that I’ve had. They release wacky things like Nasal Cavity a stout brewed with vanilla and wasabi but also more traditional beers like Citra Citra Citra a double IPA brewed with you guessed it, Citra hops. The artwork for each beer is unique but with an aesthetic that reminds you this is a Marz beer. I think this brewery is doing some very forward thinking things and I can’t wait to see what they have up their sleeves for next year.

Best Brewery: Ballast Point

ballastpoint

Ballast Point really upped their game this year. A couple of years ago when they entered the Chicago market it was hard to find their beers. But after a production increase in 2015 their beer was everywhere. I saw it in more places more frequently all year long. The fact that I could walk into a store and buy Grapefruit Sculpin whenever I wanted felt like a magic trick to me. And to end the year Ballast Point sold to Constellation for ONE BILLION DOLLARS. Hopefully this pushes the brewery into new heights and they can continue to make some of the best beers in the world.

Best Beer of the Year (2nd Runner-Up): Marz Community Brewing Jungle Boogie/Double Jungle Boogie Pale Wheat Ale

doublejungleboogie

I’m not sure what is going on with this beer. It has rooibos tea in it but can that really be what gives this beer its juicy taste and aroma? It tastes like a mango iced tea which when I was younger I used to drink like crazy. It has a dry tea like aftertaste but seriously tastes like a sweetened mango iced tea. The double version is just a good with a bit more punch from the additional ingredients. I’ll take either one as they are tied in my mind. I wouldn’t mind if this came in cans and I could have an endless supply in my fridge when the weather gets warmer.

Best Beer of the Year (1st Runner-Up): Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout

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This is a beer that people told me for years I would never get to drink. It was made once and then supposedly it was never going to be made again. This time last year the rumors started. There were whispers that a new batch had been made and was being bottled. That ended up being true but the bottles were given to employees as a holiday gift. All seemed lost again until people in Michigan started reporting that it was on tap in certain places. There was once again hope. Would it make it to Chicago? Sure enough it did. At one of the most hectic beer releases I ever went to I got to enjoy CBS. This beer lived up to years of hype. The taste is that of a malted milk ball. I was expecting straight up maple syrup overload and I got something very well balanced. A delicious beer that I hope we don’t have to wait years for to try again.

Best Beer of the Year: Goose Island Rare Bourbon County Stout/Goose Island Bourbon County Stout/Goose Island Bourbon County Coffee Stout

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Yes. Its a 3-way tie for best beer of the year in 2015. Lets start with the whale. Bourbon County Rare is back after a five year hiatus. While Bourbon County regular is about the interplay between the base stout and the bourbon flavors Rare is all about the barrel. Huge oaky flavors combine with the bourbon that was left deep in the wood to create flavors of chocolate and butterscotch. Every time I’ve had this beer it has been an event and no one ever wants to take that last sip. Bourbon County Rare is the double IPA of bourbon barrel aged stouts. Incredible.

Bourbon County Coffee hasn’t been this good in forever. After spending a few years playing with brighter fruitier coffees Goose Island has gone back to roastier flavors that work better with the roasted malts in the beer. I definitely would not sit on this beer because the aromas are worth the price of admission. There is no better coffee stout this year. Its like a barrel aged iced coffee. Incredible.

Finally there is this year’s regular Bourbon County Stout. It is the Return of the King of this trilogy. This year’s release takes me back to everything that made me fall in love with Bourbon County in the first place. Its a swirling cacophony of flavors that makes each sip taste different. One sip has a cinnamon taste, then chocolate, then coffee, then back to chocolate. This beer is an adventure that was worth waiting in line for, trading for, or however else you had to acquire it. You can try and be cynical and say there are better beers or that it isn’t as good as it used to be but you would be wrong, very wrong.

Top 10 Albums of 2015

This year seventeen albums fought to make my top 10. I think that’s the most I’ve ever considered. Between all the great albums that came out and all the concerts I went to go see music was a central focus of my life in 2015. The fight for slots ten and nine in my list was brutal with me making a last second change just before I sat down to write this. I probably could have held off until New Year’s Eve and still had trouble getting this list exactly right. However, I’ve been confident in the top 8 for weeks now so its time to call it. This list feels good.

Don’t forget there are Spotify links to each album after each entry and at the end of the whole thing a playlist I made of 10 songs from this year’s list. And of course I would love to know what your favorite albums were from this year.

10. Citizen – Everybody is Going to Heaven (Run for Cover Records)

citizen

I didn’t know anything about Citizen until the hype train for this album started to leave the station. I was under the impression they were either a pop-punk band or a hardcore band. It turns out they are fans of both genres trying their best to not sound like either of those genres. Their influences bleed in from time to time but honestly there weren’t too many records like this one in 2015. The album is downright jarring. There are tracks that build and build into a catchy heavy ending just for the next song to start abruptly and its a straight up ballad. Everybody is Going to Heaven is uniquely Citizen.

Spotify Link: Everybody is Going to Heaven

9. Title Fight – Hyperview (Anti-)

titlefight

Last year Epitaph released the fantastic album Keep You by Pianos Become the Teeth. The band changed almost their entire sound for that album. This year Epitaph does it again through subsidiary Anti-. Title Fight’s last album Floral Green had the band doing more of what they were good at, playing fast throaty punk rock. Except for a couple of curveball songs that found the band playing with atmospherics and actual singing. Little did we know that those songs were the precursor to Hyperview. This album is a brisk walk through an alternate universe version of Title Fight where someone played Floral Green 100x’s slower than recorded. Regardless of whatever baggage you attach to this band Hyperview is still a fantastic album. Separate it from what came before and you’re still left with one of the best indie rock records of 2015.

Spotify Link: Hyperview

8. Annabel – Having it All (Tiny Engines)

annabel

Having it All sounds like it came out of an early 2000’s time capsule. Like the last band to make a true Emo record before Emo got associated with bands like My Chemical Romance. And it had to be protected until people could appreciate music like this. If you ever drove with the windows down while blasting Nothing Feels Good this album is for you.

Spotify Link: Having it All

7. Wilco – Star Wars (dBpm/Anti-) 

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No one was expecting Wilco to release one of their best albums this year. Mostly because no one even knew Wilco was making a new album. Star Wars was released the day of their headlining Pitchfork Festival set with no warning. This record finds the band wonderfully constrained. The band uses every trick in their bag on every song but they never waver or sound messy. All the songs are brisk and stay on track. By the time its over you want more and songs are stuck in your head. Wilco hasn’t been this fun in a long time.

Spotify Link: Star Wars

6. Defeater – Abandoned (Epitaph)

defeater

At this point I’m not sure Defeater will ever make another album as wildly ambitious as Endless Days, Sleepless Nights but on their latest album you get the impression that they are building towards something. Anyone who follows the band already knows their music is conceptual. Telling the same story over and over again from the perspective of different characters. But this time they throw back to lyrics and audio cues from past albums in a really obvious way. It makes being a long time listener exciting. On top of that this is definitely a big improvement on 2013’s Letters Home. Easily the best straight up hardcore record of the year.

Spotify Link: Abandoned

5. Self Defense Family – Heaven is Earth (Deathwish)

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Self Defense Family is one of the best indie-rock bands in the world. Why they don’t get the respect they deserve I have no idea. Everyone should be raving about Heaven is Earth. In eight songs Self Defense Family accomplishes something that most bands spend eight albums trying to perfect. The band puts out nearly a half dozen releases every year but they really brought their A-game to their second album. If you’re a fan of slightly left of center indie-rock this deserves at least one listen.

Spotify Link: Heaven is Earth

4. Take One Car- Everyone You Know is Here Right Now (Broken World Media)

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Take One Car make long songs. Almost all the songs on this album are over five minutes. But I can tell you from repeated listens that they never get boring. Take One Car are masters of tension. Every time the music gets softer its because you needed a break from the intensity. When it gets loud again its because the lyrics and vocals demand extra noise. The ebbs and flows are placed perfectly through each song. Like a roller coaster you’ll listen to this album again just for the thrills.

Spotify Link: Everyone You Know is Here Right Now

3. Drug Church – Hit Your Head (No Sleep Records)

drugchruch

Drug Church sounds like a band at odds with its singer. The band sounds like a throwback to great heavy 90’s alternative rock. Their singer is singing the most ironic sarcastic lyrics I’ve ever heard. There’s something about listening to a band play honest music while their singer rolls his eyes that just works with these guys. This album will make you feel better about yourself as you listen to depiction after depiction of some of society’s worst people. The album ends with one last breathtaking curveball that I won’t spoil here.

Spotify Link: Hit Your Head

2. Deafheaven – New Bermuda (Anti-)

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We waited two years to find out what Deafheaven would do after their crossover success with Sunbather. New Bermuda strips away much of what made them likable to non-metal fans leaving just tiny breaks in their relentless assault. New Bermuda is heavier, scarier, and much less accessible than their previous album. Yet its also more focused and the songs feel more like songs and not pieces stitched together. The slower moments are more epic and create an atmosphere that makes me feel uneasy. By the end you’re left wondering what isn’t Deafheaven capable of.

Spotify Link: New Bermuda

1. The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die – Harmlessness (Epitaph)

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In 2013 The World is a Beautiful Place were the poster children for the Emo Revival. Their debut album Whenever, if Ever is a landmark for bands trying to recapture the emotional indie-rock sound that marked third wave Emo. Instead of building on that Harmlessness completely rewrites the book not just for what Emo can be but what indie-rock is. The World is a Beautiful Place should be a much bigger band talked about in the same conversations as Arcade Fire, Ra Ra Riot, and Wavves. Instead they are stuck with their Emo tag playing to kids in tiny rooms. But maybe that’s the kind of band TWIABP needs to be.

Harmlessness takes us on a journey to teach us that not everything is going to be ok but there’s nothing worse than wallowing in it. While the music is busy changing genres the lyrics are on a whole different level. Harmlessness sounds like an audio guidebook on how to deal with your mental health. This album is downright inspiring and I could see it being a direct link to people getting help for their depression or anxiety. For me there really isn’t a better album this year. Musically this record is ambitious and more spontaneous than the meticulously planned Whenever, if Ever. The lyrics here are some of my favorite ever written. Every time I listen to it I can hardly believe over fifty minutes have passed. It never feels like a moment is wasted or any song is skippable. Harmlessness is an album not a collection of songs. Give it a listen and see if it does as much for you as it has for me.

Spotify Link: Harmlessness

Honorable Mentions, EPs, 7″s, etc.

MewithoutYou – Pale Horses
Refused – Freedom
Desaparecidos – Payola
Run Forever – Run Forever
Death Cab for Cutie – Kintsugi
Tyler, the Creator – Cherry Bomb
Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside
A$AP Rocky – At.Long.Last.A$AP
The World is a Beautiful Place…. – Death to New Years
Drug Church – Swell
Touche Amore/Self Defense Family – Self Love
Birds in Row – Personal War
Loss Leader – Flex Your Hair
Warm Thoughts – Intangible
Adventures – Supersonic Home

Finally here is the Top 10 of 2015 playlist. Enjoy!

The 5 Bands You Must See At Riot Fest Chicago 2015 – Sunday

Riot Fest is a go! After a weekend filled with drama Riot Fest 2015 will proceed as planned. Here’s the last batch of bands I think you need to watch.

Doomtree – 1:30pm Rock Stage
doomtreeDoomtree the eclectic Minneapolis hip-hop crew plays a far too early set for the kind of raucous energy they are sure to bring to the Riot Fest stage. I can’t imagine a better early (for the last day of Riot Fest) in the day pick me up than Doomtree.

Hum – 2:15pm Riot Stage

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Did you not get your full of emo-rock reunions on Saturday? Well Hum has you covered. Whether you only know “Stars” or you celebrate their entire catalog Hum doesn’t play very often so here’s your chance to see a band that should have been bigger than a one hit wonder.

Kevin Devine – 12:50pm Riot Stage

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There are many different incarnations of Kevin Devine. There’s the quiet acoustic-tinged Kevin and the full on rock band version. I’m pretty sure we’re getting full band version but either way Kevin has been doing this for quite a while and has been a commanding presence at festivals for years now. I’ve seen Kevin Devine play a few times and it is always mesmerizing. Devine’s band is always full of super-talented musicians bringing new life to all the recorded material. Even if you know a lot of his songs you may not recognize them live and that is a treat to watch.

Manchester Orchestra – 5:15pm Riot Stage

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Oddly enough Manchester Orchestra plays on the same stage a few hours after their best friend Kevin Devine. When Manchester and Kevin Devine combine they become Bad Books who played Riot Fest in 2013. Will we get a repeat performance? I doubt it but don’t be surprised if Kevin shows up to play in the Orchestra. Don’t know anything about Manchester Orchestra? They are one of the most powerful live bands I’ve ever seen. They put everything they have into their live show. Riot Fest starts with Into It Over It and the emotional onslaught ends with Manchester Orchestra.

Modest Mouse – 8:45pm Riot Stage

modestmouseSunday is a good day for the Main (Riot) Stage. And everything wraps up with Modest Mouse. It has been 15 years since I’ve seen them live but I remember how great it was all these years later. 15 years ago I never thought they would be a popular band let alone headlining festivals so it will interesting to see how they perform for very large crowds but if the last decade and a half are to be believed they’ll be just fine. Modest Mouse doesn’t technically have more than 3 “hit” songs so I’m excited to see a band that doesn’t really have any radio airplay navigates a festival. I guess I don’t need to convince you to see Modest Mouse they’re closing out the whole damn thing so lets just be excited that Riot Fest is wrapping up with such a great band.

 

 

 

The 5 Bands You Must See At Riot Fest Chicago 2015 – Saturday

Saturday is jam packed with reunions, nostalgia, and some of the biggest bands in the world. These are the five I think you need to check out.

American Nightmare – 3:30pm Roots Stage

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Ask the current wave of melodic hardcore bands who their biggest influences are and American Nightmare (who for a short time were called Give Up the Ghost) will come up every time. We caught them a couple of years ago at Metro and it was easily the most chaotic show I’ve ever witnessed at a venue I’ve been seeing shows at for going on twenty years. How will that translate to a festival setting? I’m honestly very curious but they’ve been doing the festival thing for a while and I haven’t heard any complaints yet. In a day that’s honestly full of melodic hardcore bands I would guess this will be the stand out set.

Desaparecidos – 4:30pm Rock Stage

desaparecidos

You guys know that of all of Conor Oberst’s projects this is the best one, right? You know it took them 13 years to release their second album, right? How are you going to miss this? Of all the bands that could actually start a riot at Riot Fest Desaparecidos seems like the most capable.

Drive Like Jehu – 6:40pm Rebel Stage

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Drive Like Jehu are one of the links that connect hardcore to emo. They released their second album via Interscope records and then evaporated. That was 1995 and they played one show in 2014. That inspired some scattered appearances earlier this year and now Riot Fest in Chicago. Basically…..you’ll never get to see Drive Like Jehu again. So if you missed them in the early 90’s here is your only chance.

Lifetime – 1:10pm Rebel Stage

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Let’s be honest the Saturday lineup for Riot Fest is so good its almost embarrassing to other festivals. Here’s another band that I never thought we’d see at Riot Fest let alone….anywhere. Lifetime was another influential emo-hardcore band from the early 90’s who just stopped playing and that was that. Out of nowhere they reunited in 2007 with big time plans. They signed with Fueled By Ramen/Decaydance and put out a fantastic self-titled album. Then….they played a few shows and that was that again. They pop up here and there on larger East coast shows and punk festivals but this will be their first Midwest date in a long long time. Could it be there last? I wouldn’t miss it.

The Movielife – 2:15pm Roots Stage

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I could say the same thing about this band that I said about the previous four. The Movielife was big once, then they broke up, now they’re playing festivals. The Movielife is one of the most well respected bands from the 2000’s Emo movement and we get to watch them play Chicago for the first time in like a decade. See these five bands in a row, which you could do and get schooled on emotional hardcore’s history.

The 5 Bands You Must See At Riot Fest Chicago 2015 – Friday

It is once again time for Riot Fest in Chicago. Well, if it even happens at all. But if it does here are the 5 bands you need to check out on Day 1.

Alkaline Trio – 8:00pm Rise Stage

Alkaline Trio

Alkaline Trio owns Chicago pure and simple. The energy between the band and their fans in their hometown for over a decade has always been a very special thing to watch. Odds are you were already going to see them but I just have to be sure. On a personal note Riot Fest started for me at their Empty Bottle show in 2012. This could very well be the last Riot Fest I attend so it would be nice to bring things back to where it started.

Coheed and Cambria – 5:45pm Rock Stage

coheed

Speaking of Riot Fest 2012 Coheed and Cambria put on one of the most memorable performances of that years festival. It really felt like the first set that weekend where everything clicked. We were watching a band at the top of their game play on a stage and the end of the street in Humboldt Park. Definitely a top 5 Riot Fest moment for me. With a new album coming out October 16th hopefully we’ll get to hear some new jams mixed in with the crowd favorites.

Ice Cube – 9:00pm Roots Stage

icecube

Ice Cube is playing Riot Fest. Oh, that sounds like a fun set to watch. Oh, he’s doing “Straight Outta Compton”? Hmm…that’s even more interesting. Well, also he’s billed as “with special guests” which at Riot Fest Denver included MC Ren and DJ Yella. That’s 3/4 of the surviving members of NWA for those not keeping track at home. On top of that the NWA movie is still raking in millions of dollars. What you have here is one of the most anticipated sets of the whole weekend. Oh, and will Dre show up? No, but….I mean…you’re gonna make sure he doesn’t right? We all are, we all are.

Into It. Over It. – 1:15pm Rise Stage

intoitoverit

Into It. Over It. are the so called kings of the “emo-revival”. I tend to agree. Over the course of 2 albums and more singles and compilations than you can count Evan Weiss has gone from lone acoustic gunman to the leader of a great emotional rock band. I saw them last year open for Mineral and they were fantastic. I just wish they were playing more than just a brisk 30 minute set.

Thrice – 6:15pm Rise Stage

thrice

In 2012 Thrice called it quits or they called it a hiatus or something. They claimed their hearts weren’t fully in it anymore. I don’t know if they were talking about being a band or the hiatus because three short years later they are back at it. Playing mostly festivals but well…this is a festival and here we are so lets just go watch one of the best alternative rock bands ever play some music.

 

 

 

I Drank 8 Marzens and You Wont Belive What Happens Next!

EDIT: 9/5/9:51 PM There were pictures of each beer but on some devices they displayed sideway so I took them down for now. 

It’s almost time to set aside the session IPAs, the Pilsners, and the fruity over hopped ales and start thinking about warmer maltier beers. Yes, Fall is here and that means only one thing. Your beer store is full of 4 month old pumpkin beers already. Blech….its time to start drinking Marzens better known as Oktoberfest beers. But which ones are worth your time? Well, that’s almost impossible to answer. Untappd shows over 300 different beers identifying as Okotberfest/Marzen. So I grabbed 8 locally and nationally available ones and decided to give them a taste test. There’s another big caveat to this list and that is it’s missing Leinenkugel and Samuel Adams. I’ve had both before and Leinenkugel wasn’t very good but the Sam Adams Oktoberfest is outstanding. I would place it in the top 3 of this list but since I didn’t drink it yet this year I can’t say for sure if it holds up.

So here are 8 Marzens ranked from worst to best. Feel free to let me know what else I should try. I’m definitely a bit of a Marzen novice. Prost!

8. Ballast Point Dead Ringer

 

I’m just as surprised as you are. Ballast Point has been knocking it out of the park all year. Unfortunately their Oktoberfest has no aroma, a lackluster appearance, and a bland taste. At best I could drink one of these and where’s the Oktoberfest spirit in that?

 

7. Excel Brewing Company Oktoberfest

 

Excel is a brewery I’ve never heard of from a town in Illinois I’ve never heard of. So I thought I’d give this new to me brewery a shot. Unfortunately they did not deliver. The taste of a traditional Marzen was there but they stumbled on the aroma and mouthfeel. Again, I would probably only drink one of these.

 

6. Spoetzl Brewery Shiner Oktoberfest

 

The taste is there on Shiner Oktoberfest but it seemed more watered down than the other beers we drank. Nothing really wrong with it I just wanted more….flavor? It reminded me of Leinenkugel’s Oktoberfest something you could drink a bunch of because it didn’t overwhelm your palate.

 

5. Metropolitan Afterburner 

 

I was expecting big things from the Kings and Queens of Chicago Lagers but what I got was a more flavorful version of the Shiner offering. They were tied in my mind. It was really the mouthfeel that pushed it over the edge. Afterburner had a weight to it that I liked. I could have a couple of these on a Fall night and be satisfied.

 

4. Baderbraü Oktoberfest

 

Baderbraü’s offering lands right in the middle. Nice toasty grains which I love but then the flavor just evaporated. It felt like I was chasing the ghost of an Oktoberfest beer. The flavor that I did taste was 100% what I want from a Marzen it’s too bad it couldn’t stick around.

 

3. Great Lakes Oktoberfest

 

Most people consider this the quintessential Oktoberfest beer and I could totally see that. I dinged it points on the aroma and the appearance but everything else was there. An absolutely solid beer there is no reason you shouldn’t pick this up if you’re interested in the style.

 

2. Revolution Brewing Oktoberfest

 

I’ve had Rev’s Oktoberfest before and thought it was a great example of the style. They said they had tweaked the recipe a bit and boy did they. There’s a nice hit of spice mixed in with the malty sweetness that is just what I wanted. If you live in an area where you can get this beer you absolutely should pick some up immediately. As soon as we get a nice crisp night in Chicago I can’t wait to throw a hoodie on and enjoy one of these.

 

1. Goose Island Oktoberfest

 

I really didn’t expect Goose Island to take number one. Figured this would be a decent attempt at the style brewed by Anheuser-Busch but I was wrong. It’s as good as Revolution’s but where it shines is a bit of toastyness and a mild fruitiness. This is a Marzen I could drink all night.

If I’m being completely honest all of these beers were solid except the Ballast Point I would never drink that again. They all had a great base flavor but since I scored them using the Beer Advocate scale some got dinged for their appearance or they were too carbonated. Goose Island and Revolution definitely are the best of the eight but the other ones aren’t going to kill you.

 

 

 

The Not Your Father’s Root Beer Drinking Game!

Don’t be fooled ladies and gentleman this is not a drinking game FOR Not Your Father’s Root Beer it is a drinking game ABOUT Not Your Father’s Root Beer. People’s reactions to this malternative beverage is hilarious. And the best place to check it out is Untappd. Here’s how you play the game. Go on Untappd. Type in Not Your Father’s Root Beer and search for the 5.9% version. Click on it and read people’s comments about it. Then follow along with this guide but be warned you are going to get very drunk very fast. This game IS DANGEROUS!!!

Start here: https://untappd.com/b/small-town-brewery-not-your-father-s-root-beer-5-9/867402

Take 1 drink when….
You see the word Dangerous
You see the word Delicious
Someone made a root beer float
Someone uses more than 3 exclamation points
Someone says it’s too sweet
Someone says you can only have one
Someone compares it to regular root beer(IBC, Barqs, Dad’s, etc)

Take 2 drinks when….
Someone is surprised it tastes like root beer
Someone complains about the aftertaste
Someone can’t believe there is alcohol in it
Someone likes this but not root beer

Take 3 drinks when….
Someone can’t believe it’s beer(its not!)
Someone earns the Newbie badge on check in
Someone says how bad they need the 10% or 19.5% version
Someone says they can taste the beer

And when someone says its their favorite beer…..
CHUG!

The Third Annual Jim Plachy Beer Awards!

It’s time for me to reflect on my favorite hobby and name my favorite beers of 2014. I can’t believe this is the third time I’m doing this. There are more awards to give out than in the previous two years as I continue to expand my beer drinking horizons.

As a reminder these awards are based on beers I drank in 2014. They may be a day old they may be five year old vintages as long as I drank them this year they were up for contention. Also, I don’t get outside of Chicago much so these awards are mostly based on beers I was able to obtain in this area.

Another quick programming note no beer can win 2 awards. So while I might call a beer “Best Porter” then name a Porter my Beer of the Year obviously I liked the BOTY better. I’m still trying to decide if I’m going to keep that tradition going next year as it doesn’t make sense on paper, but I guess I like keeping things a surprise and not making the other awards BOTY nominees. Make sense?

And, just to make things perfectly clear “best” really means favorite. These are my favorites of 2014. As always feel free to comment with your favorite beers or hit me up on Twitter or however else you want to get a hold of me. Ready? Here we go!

Best Beer Thing That isn’t a Beer: Good Beer Hunting 

gbh

For those unaware Good Beer Hunting isn’t just one thing…it’s many things. A blog, a podcast, a digital storefront, and quite honestly the best voice in craft beer. That voice belongs to Michael Kiser who time and time again has recommended beers I’ve fallen in love with, championed worthwhile causes in the community, and above all is a voice of reason inside of craft beer.

When Beer Advocates rail against a brewery for “selling out” Kiser proves to them just how wrong they are. When a brewery or beer shop is being dishonest he calls them out on it. And his podcast is a treasure trove of amazing interviews with everyone from Goose Island’s head brewmaster Brett Porter to Matt Heff  who throws regional craft beer festivals in Tennessee.  But no matter who he’s talking to or what he’s photographing Kiser’s work is absolutely essential.

Best Place to Drink Beer: Links Taproom 

links

Links Taproom is the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory of craft beer bars. Big screen TVs are plastered all over the bar but only a couple show sports or sometimes live concerts. Displayed on the other televisions are the tap list. 36 beers to be exact and not only the names of the beers and breweries but how much of the beer is left before the keg kicks. Having trouble deciding between Zombie Dust and that rare keg of barrel aged beer? Well how much is left? That’s the one you should order first. Most of the beers are also available as 9oz pours should you want to try a variety through the night without needing to sleep it off in the street .

On top of that is some damn good sausage and hand cut fries. The place gets pretty packed on weekend nights but I find the place to be breezy, open, and comfortable on a Sunday morning or weeknight. Definitely my favorite new bar in Chicago. Links Taproom is at 1559 N. Milwaukee ave.

Best Spring Beer: Firestone Walker Opal Saison 

fswopal

Opal was a great beer to drink as the weather finally warmed up in Chicago. Great funky Saison yeast, slightly spicy, with just enough citrus from the hops to make you think of the warmer days ahead. Firestone Walker makes consistently amazing beers and in 2014 Opal was one of their best.

Best Summer Beer: Revolution Brewing Rosa Hibiscus Ale 

revrosa

For the second year in a row this award goes to the absolutely delicious Rosa. Mouthwatering tartness followed by a great malt backbone and eye catching pink color makes this Chicago’s go to Summer beer and it totally deserves all the taps its taken over across the city and suburbs.

Best Fall Beer(includes Harvest/Wet Hop/Fresh Hop ales): Lagunitas Born Yesterday Pale Ale

Lagunitas-born-yesterday

I never in a million years thought this award would go to any beer other than Founders Harvest Ale which drank better than ever this year but Lagunitas knocked this one out of the park. It’s too bad this one was so hard to come by because everyone I shared this with jaw dropped so hard I thought they were going to need surgery. Intense citrus aromas gave away to intense citrus flavor with just enough bitterness to keep you drinking until unfortunately it was all gone. Hats off to Lagunitas for proving even after their explosive growth they still know their way around hops.

Best Winter/Holiday Beer: Revolution Brewing Fistmas Holiday Ale

revfistmas

Revolution scores the hat trick with Fistmas. For the third year in a row no other beer screams CHRISTMAS! like this one. 2014’s batch was even heavier on the ginger, my favorite part, and even brought back some of that great citrus rind flavor that I thought was lacking in last year’s batch. I miss it already.

Best Double/Imperial IPA: The Alchemist Heady Topper

headytop

BELIEVE THE HYPE Heady Topper is the best double IPA in the world. I was lucky enough to get a can from a co-worker who’s family lives in Vermont and as soon as I took my first sip I ran across the office, up a flight of stairs to another good friend who respects beer like I do and FORCED THEM TO DRINK IT. The balance is so perfect I can’t even accurately describe it. The beer just…..drinks well. You could drink this all day. I’m convinced wizards make this beer.

Best IPA: Founders Harvest Ale

Founders-Harvest-Ale-label

I couldn’t not give props to one of my favorite beers of all time Founders Harvest Ale. The aromas of tropical fruit salad give way to a taste that follows suit. All hiding the over 8% ABV. Quite simply one of the world’s most perfect IPAs.

Best Stout (Non-Barrel Aged): Off Color Brewing: Dino S’mores

offcolordino

Its a stout that tastes like a smores. What else could you possibly need to know about this silky, chocolatey, incredibly delicious 10% ABV stout?

Best Porter (Non-Barrel Aged): Revolution Brewing Coffee Eugene 

Coffee Eugene

Last year’s 2nd place beer wins another award in 2014. Coffee Eugene actually made it out to distro this year so I got to have it in more places more often. Each time it never failed to disappoint. Intense iced coffee flavor with just a hint of the roast you expect from a porter. Once again a flawless beer from Revolution.

Best Saison: Off Color Brewing Apex Predator

offcolorapex

I didn’t really start enjoying Saisons until this year but I have this beer to thank for kickstarting that enjoyment. Off Color has brewed up an accessible and true to style farmhouse ale that is welcoming to new drinkers but complex enough for fans of the style to stand up and take notice. Another fantastic beer from last year’s winner of best new brewery.

Best Sour Beer: Goose Island Madame Rose 

GIMrose

Goose Island killed the sour game this year with their “sisters” line of beers and Madame Rose shone brightest. Madame Rose features a great soured brown backbone highlighted by pounds and pounds of Michigan cherries. Each sip was mouth puckeringly delicious and I always cried a few tears when it was all gone.

Best Session Ale: Lakefront Brewery Extended Play India Session Ale

lakefrontep

2014 was the year that every brewery tried to do a session ale. Some were pretty good, a lot were downright miserable but over Memorial Day weekend I decided to try as many as I could and Extended Play by Lakefront was the clear winner. The beer is nice and sweet with a light but fruity hopping. This is definitely the beer you want to have a few of during your next cookout.

Best Belgian Beer (across all styles): Ale Asylum Bedlam Belgian IPA

aleasylumbed

Madison, Wisconsin’s Ale Asylum is quickly becoming one of the most respected breweries in the Midwest and Bedlam is by far one of their finest brews. Bedlam takes the Citra hop and gives it a Belgian backbone. Its somewhere between a Zombie Dust and a Gumballhead with the clove like aromas of a Belgian beer. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Best Barrel Aged Beer (across all styles): Saugatuck Neapolitan Milk Stout 

Saugmilkstout

I was fortunate enough to attend this year’s Festival of Barrel Aged Beers where I was lucky enough to sample THIRTY TWO different barrel aged beers. By the end of the night my taste buds were SHOT. But then we drank this and it was incredible. Like barrel aged ice cream. I’m not even joking this was the highlight of THIRTY TWO beers had over the course of four hours. Unfortunately the BA version is only available at the brewery but I’ve been tempted to pick up the non-BA version.

Best Fruit Beer: New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Red Ale 

newglarusred

For the third year in a row New Glarus takes the award for best fruit beer because honestly I’m pretty sure it’s what they do best. Of all the awards I’ve given to New Glarus for fruit beers this is the one they most deserve. A belgian ale, meets a white wine, meets delicious cherry juice Belgian Red is the ultimate fruit beer.

Best Cider: Virtue Cider The Ledbury 

virtueledbury

 

Oh, you think hard ciders need to be high fructose corn syrup laded sweetness bombs? Meet The Ledbury he’s dry, rough, but still fantastically delicious. Pour this in a wine glass and serve it to one of your wine snob friends I’d be surprised if they could figure out it was a cider.

Best New Cider: Sietsema Orchards Bourbon Barrel Aged

sietsmabarrelaged

Sietsema Orchards is….I think new to the Chicago area. I can only find their cider at one store in downtown Chicago so while they’ve “been around” for a couple of years I’m declaring this cider new. Barrel Aged ciders are becoming increasingly popular but I’ve never had one as delicious as this. A very dry cider goes into bourbon barrels and comes out just slightly sweeter thanks to the aging processes. It’s a wonderfully complex cider that you should savor but I guarantee you’ll want to slam it down.

Best New Beer: Revolution Brewing Jukebox Hero Black IPA

revjukebox

I am not a very big fan of black IPAs but I totally should have seen Jukebox Hero coming. With Anti-Hero as its base and roasty malt elements mixed in it should have been no big surprise that this beer was going to be good. The citrus is on point the malts are forward but not dominate Revolution continues to prove they are the masters of balance. Easily the best black IPA i’ve ever had and the best new beer of 2014.

Best New Brewery: Penrose Brewing Company

penrose

Penrose opened this year in Geneva, IL and started making impressive Belgian style beers immediately. Then as if that wasn’t enough they opened a beautiful tap room, made a bunch of fantastic sour beers, started bottling and selling beer in stores, and had an incredible turnout for their first sour bottle release. This was just the FIRST YEAR. An absolutely stunning showing from Penrose. I don’t know how they’ll be able to top 2014, but I know they’re going to make sure 2015 is also something special.

Best Brewery: Revolution Brewing 

revbrew

Consistency, consistency, consistency that is what makes Revolution the best brewery twice now. Every time I have a Revolution beer it is exactly as delicious and tasty as the last time I had it. As the first time I had it, as the 20th time I had it, and on and on. On top of that their lineup is second to none. The Hero series, the Gene series, the Deep Woods series, the taproom exclusives, etc, etc, etc. Everything is fantastic and incredibly thoughtful. They give back to the community as often as possible, and are a lot of people’s gateway into the world of craft beer. Revolution Brewing is doing incredible things and I don’t see them slowing down any time soon.

Best Beer of the Year (2nd Runner Up): Goose Island Bourbon County Stout Proprietor’s 2014

gooseprop14

The Goose Island Bourbon County Stout line up is strong this year. We have a less complex and more drinkable regular, an intensely coffee forward coffee variant, a tasty barleywine, and of course Vanilla Rye. But this year’s Proprietor’s variant is head and shoulder’s above the rest. It tastes like a barrel aged mounds bar sprinkled with the best cinnamon money can buy. Bourbon County has always been complex but this is sensory overload. Goose has outdone themselves this year and I’m really not sure how they’re going to top this next year.

Best Beer of the Year (1st Runner Up): Revolution Brewing Citra Hero IPA 

revcitra

I can barely find the words to talk about this one. Ever since Zombie Dust burst onto the scene as America’s premiere Citra hopped Pale Ale everyone has been scrambling to create something that tastes just like it. Revolution did one better…they created an IPA that tastes better than Zombie Dust. This thing is absolutely bursting with tropical fruit juice flavors. Every sip is better than the last with its higher than average 7.5% ABV carrying you into a fruity IPA promised land. Dozens of breweries have tried to tame the Citra hop and in my opinion only Revolution has succeeded.

Beer of the Year: Revolution Brewing Uncalled Four Barrel Aged Belgian Quad 

IMG_1037On a whim one night a friend and I walked to the Revolution Brewing taproom and found this beer on the tap list. It is a barrel aged version of Four Year Beer Revolution’s Belgian Quad they brewed up for their four year anniversary. We weren’t expecting much but we do enjoy a good barrel aged beer. This beer was so incredible I had to sit down and collect my thoughts. Nothing I drank in 2014 was nearly as complex as Uncalled Four. Cinnamon, chocolate, butterscotch, raisins, stone fruits, cloves, bourbon the flavors just kept coming. I wonder if Revolution even realized what they had on their hands as they put this in the barrels or if they were just crossing their fingers. Something tells me they knew, oh I think they knew.

 

Top 10 Albums of 2014

Another year, another ten fantastic albums. My top 5 I was pretty confident on but the back 5 shuffled to and fro for a good couple of weeks. But after much internal deliberation I have arrived at my 10 favorite albums of 2014. This year started with some strong releases in January and never really let up. Much of my list this year is made up of releases from the first half of the year.

I bought a ton of music this year making this one of the hardest lists to whittle down in a long time. After each album I’ll include a link so you can listen to it on Spotify and at the very end I’ll include my top 10 of 2014 mixtape link. I’d love to hear what you think and what albums you loved. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

10. Code Orange – I Am King (Deathwish)

Code Orange

2 years ago Code Orange Kids, now just Code Orange released their debut album Love is Love//Return to Dust and broke new ground in hardcore. I had said that I thought they were trying to blaze their own trail in the genre and would become torch bearers for a new generation but instead on their second album I Am King they decide to break new ground in a different genre. This album is metal and as heavy as it gets. I don’t enjoy it nearly as much as the previous album but you can’t deny they have once again marked their territory and taken over another music scene. This album is worth listening to at least once just to hear a band at the top of their game.

Spotify Link: Code Orange – I Am King

9. Modern Baseball – You’re Gonna Miss It All (Run For Cover)

modernbaseball

Every year one pop-punk album burrows its way into my head and since Mixtapes didn’t release an album this year Modern Baseball takes their place. Equal parts Blink-182 and Brand New this band takes the catchyness of Pop-Punk and fuses it together with the heart on your sleeve angst of Emo. So basically The Get Up Kids circa 2014. If all of that sounds good to you this albums deserves your attention.

Spotify Link: Modern Baseball – You’re Gonna Miss It All

8. Self Defense Family – Try Me (Deathwish) 

SDF

You either love or hate Self Defense Family. Well, or you don’t know anything about them. In which case its time to get caught up. Self Defense Family or just Self Defense or End of a Year(yeah….its a long story)are a collective of musicians who when they get asked if they’d like to release something for a record label will almost always say yes. When it comes time to record whoever is around is who creates the music.

Try Me, their latest full length album is their most uncohesive yet. But don’t take that as a slam because its what makes the band so great. Think of this as less of an album and more of a….greatest hits of songs that were never released. Songs jump genres frequently one minute you’re listening to what could be a Jesus Lizard b-side and then all of a sudden they’re going female fronted alt-country on you. And on the digital versions the music is interrupted by two 20 minute interviews with 80’s porn star Jenna Fine(on vinyl its a second LP). These interviews helped inform the lyrics of the album.

By now you’ve probably made your decision you’re either going to give it a listen or stay far far away. Like I said….love or hate there’s not much in between with this band.

Spotify Link: Self Defense Family – Try Me

7. Perfect Pussy – Say Yes to Love (Captured Tracks)

perfect

This album features a lot of feedback and when I finally saw the band live over the Summer they actually had a guy in the band who’s function was to create all that noise. And that’s the best way I can sum up this album. They need a guy to create the noise. Yet, underneath that are incredible lyrics, catchy hooks, I mean almost straight up pop songs in places. There’s hasn’t been a pop album this damaged since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and that’s the highest compliment I can think of.

Spotify Link: Perfect Pussy – Say Yes to Love

6. Dads – I’ll Be The Tornado (6131 Records)  

dads

Dads should be all over the radio right now. Their second album I’ll be the Tornado is full of crushing catchy radio ready alternative rock. In the early 2000’s some bands that were on the radio were called “Emo” but by then the term had morphed to mean the way you dress or the way you do your hair. Dads is an Emo band but they bring with them an album’s worth of songs you’ll want to listen to in your car….loudly. After just a couple of plays you’ll wonder why everyone isn’t listening to this album. Here’s to hoping 2015 continues to elevate this band to the stages they belong on.

Spotify Link: Dads – I’ll be the Tornado 

5. Pianos Become The Teeth – Keep You (Epitaph) 

pianos

Its one thing to try new things in a couple of songs on an album or 7″ but it’s another thing entirely to change your sound completely between albums. In 2011 Pianos Become the Teeth released the screamo masterpiece The Lack Long After. Three years later they’ve returned with a subdued yet still intense new album. There’s no screaming to be heard anywhere just singer Kyle Durfey’s incredible singing voice. Did he always knew he had this in him? And the band? On point almost the entire time. I don’t love every moment on Keep You but I was consistently blown away by the craftsmanship on display and the band’s willingness to completely alienate their fanbase. Maybe that’s why this album is so high on my list because I know what came before and I can’t believe what I’m hearing now.

Spotify Link: Pianos Become the Teeth – Keep You

4. The Hotelier – Home, Like Noplace Is There (Tiny Engines) 

hotelier

I’m a sucker for a well crafted album. Something that feels like every second was planned out in advance. The Hotelier(formerly and still pronounced The Hotel Year)waste no time opening this album with one of the most spine-tingling, explosive songs released this year. If this song doesn’t put its hooks into you on first listen and drag your through the rest of the album I’m not sure what’s wrong with you.

The most impressive thing is the way the songs eat their own tail. The album opens and closes in a very similar way and the middle tracks mirror each other. Its a touch that elevates this from merely a collection of songs to one of the best albums of 2014.

Spotify Link: The Hotelier – Home, Like Noplace is There

3. Tigers Jaw – Charmer (Run For Cover)  

Tigersjaw

Tigers Jaw broke up. I mean….well they did. Kind of. Maybe? Well, not really. This album is born of some strange occurrences. Before even stepping into the recording studio 3/5 of the band quit. Then as not to be dicks they decided to record the album with the other 2 members. They should have phoned it in. They should have sabotaged it. But like I guess they really aren’t dicks because Charmer is one of the strongest collections of indie-pop to be released this year.

If you’re looking for nothing but great catchy synth tinged pop songs you have found the right album. It only takes one listen for you to get addicted to these songs. The pacing is excellent moving effortlessly between ballads and faster paced songs and back again. Charmer definitely took me by surprise as….I along with a lot of people thought the band was done for but instead they resurrected themselves better than ever.

Spotify Link: Tigers Jaw – Charmer 

2. United Nations – The Next Four Years (Temporary Residence) 

Unitednations

After a six year hiatus Geoff Rickly’s satirical hardcore band has returned. Now featuring a fully fleshed out lineup including 2 members of the as seen earlier on this list Pianos Become the Teeth the band spent a year building up a new mythos for themselves. Saying they had been releasing music in other countries since they were banned from doing so in the United States. The album was originally released as a box set full of these fake releases and artifacts from the intervening six years.

While that may sound interesting and all…how’s the music? Absolutely incredible. United Nations takes aim at everything from politics to their own existence and mocks it at a million miles per hour. The most amazing part is that even as they make fun of their peers and themselves they left every other hardcore band in their dust. Heavy music just didn’t get better than this in 2014. Here’s to the next four years.

Spotify Link: United Nations – The Next Four Years

1. La Dispute – Rooms Of The House (Better Living/Workhorse Music Group)

LaDispute

2014 is the year I fell super hard for La Dispute and it is most definitely because of this album. Sure, I liked them before but now I’m infatuated. La Dispute released one of the best debut albums in the history of punk/hardcore and then followed that up with the sometimes hard to sit through Wildlife. It was obvious that the band needed to take their grandiose ideas and reign them in a bit.

Rooms of the House accomplishes that goal expertly. It was as if they threw their first albums in a simmering pot of water and what emerged was La Dispute stock. It is their vision perfectly executed with never a wasted moment. Every musical twist and turn the album takes feels epic, feels necessary, but never overstays its welcome or fades too soon from your ears.

La Dispute has crafted nothing short of a touchstone album for this generation of hardcore kids. Bands will be formed because a group of kids listened to La Dispute. Rooms of the House is the shape of punk to come.

Spotify Link: La Dispute – Rooms of the House

Honorable Mentions and EPs/7″ etc

Self Defense Family Duets EP
The Felix Culpa/Foreign Tongues split
Moose Blood I’ll Keep You In Mind, From Time To Time
Rescuer Anxiety Answering
’68 In Humor And Sadness
Adventures/Pity Sex split
Adventures/Run Forever split
Newmoon Invitation To Hold
The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die Audiotree Live

Well, that’s it. For those of you who want to hear a taste of each album this is my Spotify playlist featuring a track from each. I hope you enjoy.
Top 10 of 2014 Playlist

The 5 Bands You Must See At Riot Fest Chicago 2014 – Sunday

2 down 1 to go. Here are the four bands I think you need to see and the one band you absolutely must see.

1. Blue Meanies – 6:00pm Rock Stage

blue meanies

I remember a time in Chicago when Blue Meanies would headline over Alkaline Trio. Yes, that’s how old I am. Its been nearly 10 years since Blue Meanies has played a show. And looking over the rest of the lineup I’m not sure you’ll see another ska-punk-hardcore mashup this weekend. And even if there was they aren’t going to be as good as these guys.

2. Dads – 5:00pm Rock Stage

Photo by Andy Johnson
Photo by Andy Johnson

I’m going to be honest with you guys I’m not even a huge fan of these guys. But a couple of months ago I saw them open for Touche Amore and Tigers Jaw and these dudes can command a stage. They seem primed for a festival audience and could easily walk away being one of the most talked about performances of Riot Fest 2014.

3. The Front Bottoms – 1:10pm Rebel Stage

Photo by Maclyn Bean
Photo by Maclyn Bean

I’ve never seen The Front Bottoms live but I’ve heard its nothing short of a gigantic party. A shame that they play first on one of the side stages I would love to see them whip a main stage crowd into a frenzy. Regardless, if the weekend hasn’t ground you down by Sunday morning you should do everything in your power to get through the gates in time to see these guys perform their party-folk-punk.

4. La Dispute – 3:30pm Rock Stage

Photo by Dave Summers
Photo by Dave Summers

La Dispute is THE BAND YOU NEED TO SEE AT RIOT FEST. These guys have been playing festivals all Summer and knocking crowds on their asses. This is the one band I am most anticipating seeing this year. La Dispute is making genuine important rock music and you all need to bear witness.

5. Mineral – 4:45pm Rock Stage

Photo by Bryan Parker
Photo by Bryan Parker

I probably won’t be catching Mineral at Riot Fest as I’ll have seen them the night before at Double Door but if you aren’t catching their after show you better be there to see them at Riot Fest. Mineral helped define a genre of music and by all accounts their reunion shows have been just as incredible if not more so then when they were around the first time. If you want a history lesson in what Emo music is or…was catch Mineral.