ABV Chicago Monthly Sampler: April 2022
Each month, we like to highlight twelve drinks 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 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 2022.
Ryan’s Mixed Six
Barrel-Aged Hegemon | Bourbon barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout | Atrium Brewing | Louisville, KY | 14.2% ABV – listen
For their first barrel-aged release, Louisville’s Atrium went with a beer that was almost vetoed by head brewer Spencer Guy. A stupidly big malty and bitter throwback Russian Imperial Stout like people were drinking during Obama’s first term? Hardly a hot commodity among the current craft beer consumer. But the taste wins out, as the sheer heft of the roast and malt in this are only matched by its unblinking bitterness. The barrel is also just as important, adding enough light sweetness and booze heat to distract from the weight of the base for just a moment. Atrium will certainly make a ton more barrel-aged beers, but here’s to hoping this becomes a staple of their yearly lineup to appease the anti-pastry crowd, no matter how small they may be.
Mamouche | Lambic with elderflowers | Brasserie Cantillon | Brussels, Belgium | 5% ABV
After about a decade and a half of craft beer appreciation, I can still have a brand new experience – like buying my first bottle of Cantillon. Now, I’ve been fortunate to drink some of the finest lambics in the world thanks to Craig, listeners, and friends, so Cantillon wasn’t a totally new experience. But being able to buy a bottle – with my own money – and then drink it within a week of purchase? That was new, and wholly satisfying. (Thanks to Ryan Tracy of Beer on the Wall for giving me the chance to purchase this.) We opened this for my wife’s (milestone redacted) birthday, and it’s a beer that you sip because it’s special, but you are so drawn into it you have to stop yourself from throwing it back. The floral character adds a bit more sweetness and dryness to the beautiful lambic at the base. The mouthfeel is unmatched: full and effervescent in the middle, dry and crisp in the end. Even if it’s like the 47th best Cantillon beer (I have no idea if it is), it’s still impressive enough to be one of the best things I’ll drink all year.
Blue Suede Brews | Old Ale w/ peanut butter and banana | Gallant Fox Brewing Co. | Louisville, KY | 7.1% ABV – listen
File this under “shouldn’t work/does work” because I had major trepidation before the first blast of aroma hit me from this beer. Both peanuts and bananas jockey for lead position, and there’s never a clear winner. The way the banana is expressed is impressive, leaning more into Hefeweizen-like notes over artificial candy sweetness. But the peanut butter provides plenty of sweet, and it doesn’t linger past the finish of the malty base. It’s still weird, but dammit if it doesn’t totally work.
Ccccclear IPA | IPA | Hop Butcher for the World | Chicago, IL | 7.25% ABV
Full confession time: I bought this four-pack to share with Craig and our Patreon subscribers through a Low ABV, but I opened one can and didn’t want to stop drinking it. Now, I didn’t take down all four in a night, but it’s dangerously easy with this throwback IPA that actually tastes like a throwback. This is like fresh Pizza Port in 2014. Or maybe this is what Sculpin used to taste like? Either way, they manage to nail the big resinous bitter notes, hits of citrus marmalade, and bready malt that used to characterize the best American IPAs. Here’s to hoping this is a taproom staple once the doors are open on Lincoln.
Dapple | Dark Mild | Ordinem Ecentrici Coctores | Oxford, CT | 4.2% ABV – listen (Patreon only)
We love OEC because nothing is ever done quite normally. It’s like taking your tastebuds to the city MoMA; sometimes you nod and pretend like you know what’s going on, but always something will connect with you in a totally unexpected way. This take on a British dark mild is a Maris Otter fan’s dream, enhanced further by a little time in open fermentation. It pours a deep dark brown with a coating of khaki-white head. Aromatically, it’s earthy coffee grounds and toasted dark bread with molasses, anise, and chocolate. Some of the EKG hops peak through at the end of the sip, lending a slight bitterness that increases the re-drinkability.
Tiny Vin Diesel | Tropical Sour w/ plum, pineapple, and black currant | Young Blood Beer Co. | Madison, WI | 7% ABV – listen (Patreon only)
Rarely has a beer name elicited an instant purchase like this one, as Craig knew this one was bait for me to spend 25 minutes talking about our sweet, bald 54-year old prince. Did you know Vin is a twin, or that he’s totally scared of rollercoasters?? (There’s about 30 more facts like that on our Low ABV for Patreon subscribers, if that’s your thing.) This beer reminds me of some sort of breakfast cocktail. It’s not an overfruited chunky mess – this one pours vibrant reddish-purple without any sediment, retaining enough pinkish white head to just coat the top. It smells and tastes like some sort of breakfast cocktail. The tartness from the sour mixed with the pineapple almost gives off a lemonade and orange juice character without even being the most prominent flavors. The plum and currant instead get more of the highlight, and the whole thing just becomes something you could gulp between mouthfuls of Belgian waffles.
Craig’s Mixed Six
Chocolate Covered Cherry Boy | Sour with cherries, cacao nibs and vanilla | Atrium Brewing | Louisville, KY | 7% ABV – listen
When a brewery is mainly known for their pastry sours, I think it’s OK to be cynical about it. But you still need to try those pastry sours, which is how I’m here writing about Chocolate Covered Cherry Boy (CCCB). Released for Valentine’s Day, CCCB keeps the sweetness in check while doing things in a sour I didn’t think could be done. Cherries add a little sweetness and tartness while an overriding chocolate note comes off as both interesting and intriguing. When put together, it tastes like a Tootsie Pop. Never gets too sweet, never gets too sour. The chocolate – and to a lesser extent, cherries – hangs around just enough after the sip to get you to say, “I want more of that please.” Wish I had more!
Arise Coconut | Barrel-aged imperial stout with coconut | Butchertown Brewing | Louisville, KY | 12% ABV – listen
Every so often a beer comes along that makes you remember how good beer can be. Using a lot of toasted coconut, Butchertown has succeeded in making a beer as close as I’ve had to Goose Island’s Proprietor’s Bourbon County 2013. A lovely chocolate base gets a ton of support from the coconut. The coconut doesn’t come off as sun tan lotion but rather a nice complement to the base beer. There’s even a surprise bonus of some caramel notes. The mouthfeel is big and thick, keeping those coconut and chocolate notes on the tongue for a while. Sure, it’s sweet, but I’ve had much, much sweeter and it never ventures into saccharine for me. One of those beers that you don’t pair with a dessert because it is the dessert. If you’re going to Louisville put Butchertown at the top of your list to visit. Totally, totally worth it.
K.R.E.A.M. | Berliner Weisse with lactose, strawberry, and vanilla | J. Wakefield Brewing | Miami, FL | 6% ABV – listen
Wakefield’s at it again. I was highly skeptical of a Berliner with all these things in it but it marvelously works, mainly due to it still being a beer. Even with all the strawberry and vanilla flavors K.R.E.A.M. still finishes tart – but not tart from any addition. It’s Wakefield’s Stush Berliner-base (which I assume is used here) that does all the work. The ability to get things to taste like a Cream Saver while not going overboard on the vanilla is a feat unto itself. Keeping its beer-like qualities while doing that just adds to the drinkability and approachableness. It’s to the point now where if it’s a Berliner Weisse from J. Wakefield, it’s safe to say you’ll be impressed.
RIPA | Rice IPA | Kuhnhenn Brewing Company | Warren, MI | 7%
I’ve only had Kuhnhenn at festivals – specifically the Great Taste of the Midwest. Even with a crowded field of breweries at the fest, they still manage to stand out, usually with their DRIPA (Double Rice IPA). When I finally made it to Kuhnhenn, I naturally went to order DRIPA – until I saw RIPA. RIPA has all the citrus, pine, grass and dankness of DRIPA but in a slightly lighter package. The crisper-than-usual-for-an-IPA finish (thanks rice!) makes RIPA an absolute chugger if you’re so inclined. A full body and light mouthfeel contribute to its drinkability. This was so delicious and what I was looking for that I grabbed a 12 ounce can to go and finished it later that night. It’s a perfect pairing for any food (or Del Taco if you’re me). The biggest disappointment? It’s not available outside of the brewery in cans (you can get 12 ounce cans filled there to go). Would’ve been one of my easiest 4-pack purchasing decisions in a while. Look for more Kuhnhenn from us soon!
Whole Lotta Wonderful | Imperial Milk Stout with chocolate and coconut | Lil’ Beaver Brewery | Bloomington, IL | 13% ABV – read
I usually only have this beer at festivals, so I was trepidatious about trying it away from that setting. But it delivered. While not killing it with coconut on the nose or palate, Lil’ Beaver has made a beer that is more than the sum of its parts. Lactose gives a smooth, silky mouthfeel and the bitter chocolate keeps any sweetness in check. A hint of coconut shows up when you’re done with the sip, thus creating the Mounds candy bar you were looking for when purchasing this beer. Everything about Wonderful keeps you coming back for more, which can get dangerous after you finish your 16 ounces of 13% ABV beer and are still craving more. Now I hope the barrel-aged version hits distro!
DDH M-43 | Double Dry-Hopped New England IPA | Old Nation Brewery | Williamston, MI | 6.8% ABV – listen
Sometimes it just takes a well-made IPA to cure you of hop anger. DDH M-43 did that and more. It’s juicy with an orange lemonade but not overly so. It never gets anywhere near too sweet while there’s a substantial bitterness on the finish. Usually New England IPAs are near the lower end of the carbonation spectrum, but DDH M-43 isn’t and things move. That combined with the bitterness and relatively low ABV lead to the can being gone extremely quickly. This one ranks right up there with the GABF gold medal winners from Alarmist and Old Irving with the balance Old Nation achieves between juicy hazy and traditional IPA. It cured me of my hop anger!