Brewer’s Choice: Burnt City’s Ben Saller on being impressed by Phase Three and Roaring Table, constantly tweaking recipes, and tapping his own traditional Oktoberfest
Burnt City Brewing
Located at District Brew Yards in Chicago at 417 N. Ashland and in north suburban Wheeling at 700 N. Milwaukee Ave.
The last really good beer you drank was…
Geo, the Phase Three West Coast pilsner. I picked it up at my local store, and it’s a style I’ve been intrigued by. I love hazy IPAs but have been drinking fewer of them and gravitating toward cleaner, crisper beers like West Coast pilsners, West Coast IPAs and cold IPAs. I go through phases and like to change it up.
Seasonality is an exaggerated concept in Chicago because most of the time we’re drinking it’s indoors in 70-degree rooms, but West Coast pilsners are a refreshing style in the summer for sure.
What fellow Illinois breweries and specific beers have impressed you lately?
Roaring Table is a brewery that I’ve been struck by how good they’ve been across diverse styles for a while now. Old Irving Brewing Co. I always enjoy too. I had a Maibock there that stood out. I had faith that it would be a good one, and it was.
Our approach to brewing is we constantly work on tweaking recipes and learning more about processes. … We don’t want to sit back on autopilot. We try to engage with everything we make.
What are you most proud of at your brewery?
Our approach to brewing, where we constantly work on tweaking recipes and learning more about processes, even if it’s something we’re not always comfortable with at first. We don’t want to sit back and go on autopilot. We try to engage with everything we make. Like our Patio Crush summer wheat beer — this was our fourth different version of it. The previous three sold fine, but I knew I could get it to a better place.
Our staff is very accommodating to us changing things up, and everyone is interested in the process. Nobody with Burnt City wants to be complacent, and we get excited when we try out some new stuff. Something everyone is on board with, in this day and age of craft beer, is true experimentation, and that doesn’t just mean putting weird shit into beer just to do it. It’s all about trial and error and careful adjustments, focusing on the process and really caring about it.
What do you have coming up that people should know about?
Our Oktoberfest beer came out in August. Over the last 11 yeas, we’ve made tweaks to our recipe, but it’s kind of a hybrid of a Marzen and Festbier, which is paler and lighter. We wanted it to be malt forward with traditional German malts, but we also wanted it to be very much unlike the typical American version that tends to be more caramel and sweet. We brew it to be more drinkable than some of the other versions out there.
We wanted our Oktoberfest to be malt forward with traditional German malts, but we also wanted it to be very much unlike the typical American version that tends to be more caramel and sweet.
Our Summer Patio Crush is a wheat ale that is slightly fruity and hoppy but low key and pleasant. The Gemini Rising is our cherry Berliner that we recently added to our year-round distribution lineup. It’s a relatively low alcohol fruit sour that we’ll be selling year round, but is very appropriate for the summer.