Vixen | Around the Bend
Around the Bend has had a few bumps on their way to stability. They opened in 2014, brewing out of Ale Syndicate’s space before they closed (RIP Arcade as well). They subsequently contract brewed until 2019, when they became one of the three breweries involved in the District Brew Yards space (along with Burnt City and Bold Dog). Now, Around the Bend is thriving, pouring at both the Chicago and Wheeling District Brew Yards spaces and winning some FoBAB hardware. While their beer doesn’t get too much hype or feature, one constant, year-round offering you can’t go wrong with is Vera. Naturally, Around the Bend tweaked Vera a bit by adding some cinnamon and calling it Vixen.
If Around the Bend had a flagship, I’d argue it’s Vera. This delicious pistachio cream ale remains a staple at the “pour your own” District Brew Yards. As far as I know, Around the Bend has only done two variations of Vera. Vivian features peaches added to things and knocks it out of the park, tasting like peaches and cream or a peach dreamsicle bar (is this a thing?). That comes out in the summer, so the winterized Vera becomes Vixen and simply has cinnamon added. This is at least the second year Vixen has been released (I know because I bought a can last year and never drank it. Stupid fridge.)
Vixen pours a burnt orange color with a hint of gold. Holding it up to direct light reminds me of a sunset. A finger of white, puffy head forms that eventually settles to a thin layer on the beer. Swirling it around generates some really nice lacing on the sides of the glass. A nice looking beer.
Thankfully, Vixen doesn’t go the cinnamon bomb route. Cinnamon shows up on the nose prominently, but not as the sole aromatic thing. It acts as a nice, festive spice, complementing the cranberry sauce I kept smelling. The Vera base comes through with some nice vanilla notes, but the big star of this aromatic show rests in all the fruits. Despite not having any, cherries, raspberries and other juicy fruits kept invading my nose – a pleasant and interesting aroma I did not expect at all. A good start.
Vixen kind of pulls off the cinnamon addition. It somehow exists (or you perceive it exists) on the top of the beer rather than within the beer. (I write new things everyday!) The beer drinks very much like Vera with a fainting wisp of cinnamon throughout. If you decide to run your tongue against the roof of your mouth with the beer in it, the cinnamon really shows up. Do I do this with every beer I drink? No, but I might start doing it now. (Only reason I did it was because I tasted it on my lips.) Even when doing that, don’t expect a cinnamon bomb; it comes off like a lesser Big Red flavor. The cinnamon stacks a bit after repeated sips so some heat does show up eventually.
Vixen does what a cream ale should in the mouthfeel department, keeping things right in the middle, coating the tongue, and then mostly disappearing. Some of the Vera base and a little cinnamon spice remain behind after the sip. Again, very similar to Vera.
So how does this rank among Veras? While Vixen has a very distinct nose, the cinnamon on the beer itself doesn’t provide enough flavor to drastically alter a typical Vera drinking experience. Around the Bend has a Catch-22 here, as if they add more cinnamon to achieve more on the palate, it probably will throw the whole beer out of whack. Vivian still reigns supreme, with Vera probably slightly edging out Vixen.
Seeing as how they’re the same price, you can’t go wrong with Vixen. Don’t go in expecting a ton of cinnamon and you’ll be fine. The base beer is strong enough that I would purchase a 4-pack for enjoyment without question and definitely for a holiday gathering. But I ask a question I rarely ever ask – can we get more Vera variants? Cherries? Raspberries? Chocolate? Pumpkin? (Sorry.) Whatever Around the Bend does with Vera, I’ll definitely be trying it by either buying at least one can or having it on tap at the District Brew Yards.
You can try Around the Bend‘s beers at the District Brew Yards in either Chicago (West Loop) or Wheeling. As of this writing Vixen is not available to go from the Brew Yards, but almost all beer shops across Chicago have it in stock, including our sponsor Beer on the Wall.