The Chinese mythological figure Bixi often graces ancient funerary steles, sculpted as a dragon housed in a turtle's shell. So it's fitting that Logan Square newcomer Bixi Beer (2515 N. Milwaukee Ave.) is named for this creature, as the East Asian-inspired brewpub is a hybrid of its own kind — impossible to classify, and completely unique, at least in Chicago.
Owners Bo and Arden Fowler (Owen & Engine, Fat Willy's Rib Shack) finally opened their bar and restaurant last week, after three years of planning (and a few holdups). Occupying two floors to seat about 200, Bixi Beer serves up food with Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and other Southeast Asian flavors; the menu offers dishes like baos and noodles, but there's also an oyster bar on the second floor.
"I wasn’t too fussy about keeping it super authentic," says Bo Fowler. "I try to keep the techniques authentic, but we do what we think tastes good."
Fowler, who is South Korean but grew up in the Midwest, had originally wanted to open a small dumpling shop, but her partner envisioned opening a brewpub. So, as advised by Bixi's general manager, Elliott Beier, they combined the idea to launch a spot where beers are designed to pair with bites. Many include Asian ingredients, from Sichuan peppercorn to puffed jasmine rice.
"I've spent some time reading about the burgeoning craft brewing scene in East Asia," Beier says. "A lot of them either have Americans as their brewers, or nationals who have traveled to the US to get training and gone back. Some, like Young Master in Hong Kong and Great Leap in Beijing, are heavily incorporating local ingredients.
"Knowing that there really isn't anything like [an East Asian brewery] in the states so far, I pressed them to open just one concept, knowing that we’d have something truly unique."
In charge of the beer program is Eymard Freire, a native Brazilian and graduate of Chicago's Siebel Institute who's trained in practical microbiology. Freire has never visited East Asia, but he's been busy experimenting and taking risks with ingredients. "I did not have a preconception of what to do," Freire says. "It's just guessing on what would be popular."
Bixi Beer offers eight beers on tap, and growlers to go. Below, Freire describes three and shares his recommendations for what you should wolf down while sipping on each.
Dark ale brewed with roasted wheat and caramel and smoked malts, spiced with Sichuan peppercorns
"Sichuan peppercorn is a very tough ingredient to deal with, but the result was a big, pleasant surprise. The ale is a very dark brown and has a nice high head retention. Its fairly spicy. When you stick your nose in your glass and get whiff, you'll get a licorice-like, perfume-y character. There's a touch of smoke on the beer because it’s brewed with cherrywood smoked malt to balance it out."
Pair with: oysters
Golden ale that has been lagered, with spiced and pearled jasmine tea
"When you steep the pearl blossoms, they open up. When I thought about this beer, it was mainly to harmonize something with the tea. It tastes just how you’d think. It's floral, has a very forward jasmine nose, and is very drinkable. It's also crystal clear — brilliant, and appealing to the eye. I like to display the clarity of it."
Pair with: belt noodles with ya cai, cooked yibin style
Captain Haddock Wit
Witbier brewed with pilsner malt and unmalted wheat, flavored with mandarin oranges and spiced with coriander
"Witbiers tend to have a spicy character. I like to make use of freeze-dried fruits, which allow me to get more of that particular fruit per pound, as it's preserved at its peak. I use freeze-dried segments of mandarin orange, which give it a high-quality, citrus-y flavor."
Pair with: salmon crudo with white shoyu and seaweed