ABV Chicago Monthly Sampler: April 2021
Each month, we like to highlight twelve beers we found personally interesting, delicious, or exciting from (mostly) local sources with the hopes of passing on our recommendations to those that are interested in reading arbitrary reviews. Some of these drinks were reviewed on the podcast, some were for Patreon-only Low ABVs, and some are just things we bought because we love beer. Here are our highlights for the month of April 2021.
Craig’s Mixed Six
Fastenbier | Franconian Style Dark Lenten Lager | Art History Brewing | Geneva, IL | 4.8% ABV – listen
I did not think I’d ever have a smoked beer on this list, but here we are. Art History’s Fastenbier, much like Dovetail’s Rauchbier, nails the smoke. While the smokiness on the aroma might scare some drinkers away, the smoke flavor on the beer is subtle and enough to warrant drinking more. The lagered nature of the beer makes sure it goes down easy, while that smokiness also adds a nice wrinkle to a standard lager. The Fastenbier is also a little more hefty and bready than a typical lager, giving you a bigger mouthfeel overall. Along with Dovetail and Goldfinger, don’t sleep on the traditional styles coming out of the Northern Illinois region.
African Drinking Chocolate | Imperial Stout with brown sugar, honey, milk sugar, cacao, vanilla and cinnamon | 1840 Brewing | Milwaukee, WI | 13% ABV – read
1840 Brewing in my opinion really nails their saisons and sours, followed by their hoppy offerings. Last on that list would be stouts. It’s not that their stouts are bad, it’s just that everything else is so good. African Drinking Chocolate is a step in the “so good” direction. Cinnamon and chocolate dominate the nose, while a bitter baker’s chocolate takes over when drinking. All the other additions (with the exception of the vanilla) serve the mouthfeel, as ADC is as smooth as they come. All this plus a little cinnamon and vanilla on the palate make this 13% ABV beer a quick and easy drinking experience. Don’t sleep on 1840 Brewing’s stouts.
White Sox Golden Ale | Um, golden ale | Goose Island | Chicago, IL | 5% ABV – listen
Beer designed for a ballgame in mind needs to strike a balance for me – light enough to be able to finish it and flavorful enough to remember and enjoy it. Sox Golden Ale hits it out of the park (baseball pun one). It’s crisp and enjoyable, but the all-star here (baseball pun two) is the small amount of grassy bitterness that shows up at the end. The slight biscuit and lemon notes are there throughout, but it’s that grassy bitterness that makes you go back for more. It also pairs amazing well with food. I had a Philly Cheese Steak sandwich with the Sox Golden Ale and it went together extremely well. So yes, you can say that the White Sox Golden Ale covers all the bases (baseball pun three – I’m out).
Deconstructed Dessert Mocha Pie: The Mocha Pie | Barrel-aged imperial stout with cacao nibs, vanilla bean, coffee, graham crackers and cinnamon | Third Space Brewing | Milwaukee, WI | 13.5% ABV – read
On one hand, there’s a lot of additions in this beer. On the other, this is Third Space and the idea behind this is awesome. So they broke down the beer into five component parts of a Mocha Pie (base BA stout, and then one version of that base BA stout with graham crackers, chocolate, vanilla, and coffee) and then released the final combined version. And it’s damn tasty. The bitter coffee and chocolate are the stars here, but the vanilla does show up a bit. The fact that they managed to somehow get a buttery crust taste in this is the real reason it’s here (along with it not being too sweet). Another great beer from Third Space; I just wished this series came in mixed 6-packs!
7 Layers of Sin | Imperial Milk Stout with Dutch cocoa, graham crackers, peanuts, coconut, marshmallow, vanilla and butterscotch | Transcend Beer Crafters | Southington, CT | 8.8% ABV – listen
See that title? Look how long it is. That scared the hell out of me. With all those things in it, there was little chance that 7 Layers of Sin wouldn’t be a completely sweet mess with no redeeming qualities. Except that it wasn’t. It was sweet, but not sweet for sweetness’ sake. Something – maybe the fact that it was a milk stout and not a stout or the roasted peanuts – kept this beer from going off that sweet end. What remained was basically a liquified triple chocolate chip cookie with marshmallow and peanuts. Yes, some of the additions didn’t show up in the flavor, but what did make this one special. It’s definitely a polarizing beer, but if this is your thing, you’ll both love it and remember it.
Boone’s Farm Related Scar | Cherry Limeade sour with sweet cherry, key lime and vanilla | Young Blood Beer Company | Madison, WI | 5% ABV – listen
April’s list is a tale of two types for me – either easy drinking, no frills beers or heavy adjuncted monsters. Fitting that an easy drinking beer with some adjuncts would end it. So this Boone’s Farm Related Scar (didn’t think I’d ever type that) seems to be in on a recent cherry/lime beer trend I’ve noticed (I know Revolution just released one and I’ve seen others). The vanilla had me worried, but it’s there in moderation. That vanilla also keeps the tartness/sourness of the beer in check, never going beyond a slight pucker and keeping this one very drinkable. The color is also worth a mention, as it really brings that Boone’s Farm vibe home. As with the other beers we had on the show, everything maintained some flavor balance, but the Boone’s Farm Related Scar was just too drinkable and fruity to ignore. Plus, that name! We’ve all been there?
Ryan’s Mixed Six
Avalonia: Blueberry | American Wild Ale w/ blueberries | Fox Farm Brewery | Salem, CT | 5.6% ABV – listen
A deeply complex blend of wilds aged on blueberries grown on their own farm, this beer pours almost purple with a champagne-like head. It starts with big funky aromatics, like armpit and cheese rind, wild blueberry, and sweet red wine, which almost causes hesitation before the first sip. Those worries are eased immediately. On the further edge of tart without falling into puckeringly sour, there’s a complexity of berry and funk before it finishes bone dry. It’s another remarkable example of just how far we’ve come with American Wild Ales.
Zlotonator | Doppelbock | Goldfinger Brewing Company | Downers Grove, IL | 7.2% ABV – listen (Patreon only)
If you don’t know Goldfinger by now, it’s about time you get acquainted. The Chicagoland area has become a haven for breweries that primarily focus on classic styles and lagers – a list that includes Metropolitan, Dovetail, Kinslahger, and newcomers Art History. Goldfinger positions themselves firmly in the list of “must-experience” breweries for their side pulls of slow-poured pilsner alone. But truthfully, everything they’ve done (that I’ve had) has been an exceptional expression of a classic style. I’ve already praised the Vienna Lager up and down, and I took home a crowler from my recent visit to their taproom – because they wouldn’t sell me a keg. Though it seems the time for this doppelbock has come and gone (it’s maibock season, baby), this take on the style features a lot of the toasty bread and prune notes of a classic doppelbock, but there’s a hint of chocolate that is surprising and almost takes this to Baltic Porter town. Either way, it’s another stellar offering from this young brewery that has quickly become one of my favorites.
Greener Times | IPA | Hop Butcher for the World | Chicago, IL | 6.5% ABV
It’s due time that I got over this haze fatigue I’ve been feeling, so I turned to Hop Butcher for a remedy. The combination of New Zealand hops in this beer got my interest, and the promise of “green” was enough to convince me this might have the measured bitterness that I prefer in a hazy. (Although, by that logic, I should be disappointed that Kielbasa King doesn’t taste like a sassidge.) This pale and modestly cloudy IPA pushes out some very green aromatics of eucalyptus, green grape, lime zest, honeydew melon rind, and waxy basil. In the sip, it enters soft with some orange pith mixed into the waves of lime and gooseberry, and it finishes with a decent herbal bitterness. Leave it to Hop Butcher to teach me how to love (haze) again.
Beer for Ball Games | Cream Ale | Off Color Brewing | Chicago, IL | 4.2% ABV – listen
With the brilliant “Beer For” series, Off Color has found a way to continue funding their more esoteric or eccentric releases – without having to make a single IPA. Though the series itself has gotten quite experimental with ingredients or technique (see Pizza, Derbies, Burgers, Cafes, etc.), this one is much more straight-down-the-middle. That being said, making a perfect cream ale is no trot around the bases – they can either disappear into “generic and lager-like” or be slammed full of cake batter-y vanilla notes. This is the perfect amount of light ‘Nilla wafer and corn chips over a clean and gently-hopped ale that finishes like a 1-2-3 ninth inning from your team’s closer. It may have just passed Beer For Tacos as my absolute favorite in this series, but I’ll need approximately 14 more 4-packs to make up my mind. This is Off Color’s bat toss. #TeamCream
Spring Rejuvenation | Maibock | Riverlands Brewing Company | St. Charles, IL | 6.8% ABV – listen
Thanks to the miracle of vaccines I was finally able to make my way to Riverlands’ taproom, and my takeaway is that they are wonderfully good at playing to both big flavors and the more traditional (though one obviously occupies more tap space than the other.) Their banana stout and blueberry crumble sour were as enjoyable as their hefeweizen and kolsch/IPA hybrid. This maibock is a bigger take on the traditional maibock, but it disappears from your glass all the same. It’s aromatically toasted biscuit, wet grass trimmings, and light caramel sweetness. Though this maibock goes a bit hoppier than most, they used more traditional floral and earthy hops rather than jamming it with the new school juicy ones. It’s a fully-flavored and strong take on the maibock that also leaves your palate feeling…rejuvenated. *sunglasses* *guitar*
Coffee Regular Silkshake | Silkshake (Cream ale) w/ coffee, milk sugar, and vanilla| Young Blood Beer Co. | Madison, WI | 5.5% ABV – listen
I’m all in on #TeamCream – we need more adjuncted cream ales than milkshake IPAs. Carton out of New Jersey really got me excited about this concept years ago, but Young Blood’s “Silkshake” (which, according to co-owner Tom Dufek, is a type of cream ale) is an excellent indication of how the lightly sweet base and the adjuncts can meld perfectly. Aromatically, it pulls the trick of smelling exactly like its inspiration – a Dunkin Donuts coffee with three creams and three sugars. It also comes remarkably close in the flavor, but it reigns in its sweetness and drinks entirely too easy. Every brewery should be doing something like this.