"Get me the coolest beers in the world."
This is the challenge Seth Sellers, general manager of Old Town Social, offered to local beer distributors.
After gathering 11 cases' worth of rarities, he's launched the restaurant's new Artisan Ales list, a selection of 10 or so unusual, exciting and limited-edition brews.
Sellers keeps six to 12 bottles of each in his cellar. When they're gone, his treasure hunt begins anew. Expect Norwegian strong ales made with sake yeast, Belgian stouts aged in Scotch barrels and more, from a rotating cast of international brewers.
The current list features Jolly Pumpkin (Ann Arbor, MI), Mikkeller (Denmark) and Stillwater (Baltimore). The latter two are gypsy brewers without permanent homes: Each borrows friends' facilities to produce their brews.
On a recent afternoon, we tasted Draft Bear ($44 for 750 ml), an Imperial Pilsner from Mikkeller. The creamy, hop-strong brew, with bitterness balanced by floral and caramel notes, is a shoo-in pairing for chef Jared Van Camp's house-made charcuterie.
We sipped Stillwater's Existent ($32 for 750 ml) and marveled at the black farmhouse ale's dual identity: a fruity, citrusy saison base enveloped in chocolate and coffee.
There's one beer that Sellers offers only to those he knows (or who know to ask): Dogfish Head's 120 Minute IPA, a high-ABV brew from Delaware that's rare in Chicago, but whose deep, heady flavor is worth the hunt.
Old Town Social, 455 West North Ave.; 312-266-2277 or oldtownsocial.com
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