ABV Chicago Monthly Sampler: August 2020
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 beer reviews. Some of these beers were reviewed on the podcast, some were for Patreon-only Low ABVs, and some are just beers we bought because we love beer. Here are our highlights for the month of August.
Craig’s Mixed Six
Quetsche | Lambic-style with plums | Dovetail Brewing | Chicago, IL | 6.5% – listen
Plums are always interesting in beer. I’ve had them in a few beers and they typically do much better in lambic-style and wheat beers and not stouts. Dovetail proves this amazingly. Adding almost 500 lbs of plums to a beer that was fermented in oak for 2 years brings out the best in the plums while still maintaining a tartness usually found in the lambic-style. The fact that Dovetail was able to approach something brewed in the Pajottenland is an accomplishment in and of itself, but that they were able to make it a joy to drink while balancing the tartness and earthiness of the plums puts it on another level.
Aliena | Imperial Stout with vanilla | Foreign Exchange | Itasca, IL | 12% ABV – read
Too frequently today stouts with adjuncts get too sweet. There’s a time and place for one, but it seems like all of them shoot for that, especially with vanilla as one of the additions. Not Aliena. The vanilla is there to accentuate the chocolatey and roasty base stout impeccably, giving you hints of marshmallow and cream. While the carbonation is so low it kind of makes it like drinking pancake batter, I happily finished my 500 mL bottle without a problem. Hoping for a barrel-aged (and a little more carbonated) version in the near future.
Monster Cave | Hazy Triple IPA | Hop Butcher for the World | Darien, IL | 10.5% ABV – read
This one is dangerous. A 10.5% triple IPA that drinks like a double IPA with big notes of pineapple and mango? Sign me up. While there is some sweetness, there’s enough bitterness at the end to balance it out and make you go back for more. Those fruit notes that stay on the tongue don’t help quick consumption matters either, as it will be gone before you know it. Hop Butcher usually needs at least one attempt before they nail a triple IPA like this. Pray for everyone’s wallets if this keeps up.
Tropicamo | Hazy IPA | Maplewood Brewing | Chicago, IL | 7% ABV – listen
I love most of what Maplewood makes – pilsners, stouts, sours, milkshake IPAs, you name it. But I’ve never been too fond of their hazy hoppy offerings. To me they all tasted the same. Tropicamo isn’t the same. There’s a fair amount of bitterness and the sweetness is very low. There’s a pillowy soft mouthfeel that hides the alcohol well. And it’s bursting with pineapple, honeydew melon and grapes. Tropicamo pops compared to the rest of their hazy portfolio. So now I’ll be ordering Maplewood hazy beers whenever it’s OK to go back to The Lounge.
Cherry Balloon Head | Berliner Weisse with cherries | Metal Monkey | Romeoville, IL | 3.9% ABV – read
Yeah it’s a gimmick. Yeah I bought it because of that gimmick, but the beer itself wasn’t all that gimmicky. What could’ve been an overly sweet potentially over-fruited sour was just simply a tart Berliner Weisse with some cherry added. It was very similar to the days of yore when you could get some Woodruff syrup (or some fruit syrup) added to your Berliner at the bar/taproom. Definitely a crusher for the summer and one I would like to try the other flavors of.
WuShock Wheat | American Pale Wheat | Wichita Brewing Company | Wichita, KS | 4.5% ABV – listen
A wheat beer that is brewed for and presumably sold at a college sporting event sounds like a recipe for a thin, watery, adjunct lager-style of a beer that you’re meant to chug with little regard for taste, flavor, or sobriety. WuShock Wheat somehow is more than all that. Very flavorful with a fairly substantial body (for a wheat beer), it rewards not chugging the beer by having great notes of lemongrass, bread, and citrus with a hint of bitterness. I would have loved to be able to drink something like this at one of the very few college sporting events I attended. Heck, I’d love more right now!
Ryan’s Mixed Six
Kinetic Repulse | Hazy Double IPA | Around the Bend Beer Co. | Chicago, IL | 7.7% ABV
As another entry in their #Science series, this hazy double IPA features Galaxy, Bravo, and Citra hops – but for once, they weren’t just dumped in by the garbage can-full. This one pours a thick honey orange, and the aroma is a tropical fruit melange leading with passion fruit, and followed by sweet bouquets of flowers and a touch of pine resin. The flavors are robust and ever-evolving, going way beyond the sip to reveal even more. It’s largely citrus and lime-forward with a touch of that passion fruit and a sap-sticky bitterness. The mouthfeel is full but not heavy, and a prominent resinous bitterness clings to all parts of the palate as it washes down, even leaving with a lime zest and grassy finish that seems to linger forever. According to a press release for this beer, Dan Schedler and his crew used incredibly well-calculated and measured hop additions at different stages of the brew to create “biotransformation during fermentation,” bringing out even more pure hop flavors with none of the unpleasantness that sometimes permeates beers with a dumpster-load of hops. This series has been low-key one of the best things to happen to hazy IPAs in the city, bringing a scientific approach with a clear purpose to produce some of Chicago’s most thoughtful and delicious interpretations of the style.
Ping Pong Banana Yard Games | Fruited Gose w/ banana, passionfruit, and mango | Central Standard Brewing | Wichita, KS | 4.8% ABV – listen
I WASN’T PREPARED. Even though the description of this beer references a “smoothie experience,” it did not accurately say, “this is going to taste like every Jamba Juice order you had in 2005, Ryan.” It’s easy to decry overfruited smoothie beers because they are often not very beer-like. And sure, this one is barely a beer, if only because the finish drops off a little salty and dry, giving just the hint that there’s a gose beneath all the fruit. But the banana is the star here, and it is held up with an even blend of passion fruit and mango. Stop worrying about what is and what isn’t beer for a minute and just enjoy the smoothie experience.
Fest Bier | Festbier | Haymarket Pub & Brewery & Taproom | Chicago, IL/Bridgman, MI | 5.8% ABV
It’s Blue Can Season, and every year I’m astonished at the sheer number of breweries making an Oktoberfest beer – and I can’t think of another seasonal that comes even close. This style has some crossover appeal as they tend to be malty and flavorful without compromising drinkability, giving your usual Lite beer drinker the thrill of actual flavors with next-to-no harsh ending. This Fest Bier from Haymarket is a bit more caramel-forward and sweet, and it even has a touch of bitterness in the end to help invite the next sip. Slighter notes of wheat bread, toffee, and copper add dimension to the flavor of an otherwise easygoing beer.
Beer for Burgers | Helles Bock blended w/ bourbon barrel-aged lager | Off Color Brewing | Chicago, IL | 7% ABV – listen
To me, drinking a boilermaker always seemed like a stereotypical tough guy thing, initiated with the slamming down on the bar of a couple of bucks and a few coins after the long shift at the sweat and grime factory. Instead, Off Color’s puts an adorable sunglasses-clad mouse in a wood-paneled bar on the can and fill it with a beer that remarkably tastes like the exact moment you take a swig of a beer after a shot of bourbon. It’s another example of how their conceptual approach to recipe building is unmatched in this city – or beyond. And you don’t even need to be a little grizzled to enjoy it.
Pixel Density | IPA | Phase Three Brewing | Lake Zurich, IL | 6.5% ABV
Though Phase Three has come out during the new model of “every hazy is a new label,” they have smartly started nailing down a few rebrewed favorites and even – gasp – this year-round flagship hazy IPA. Built around the indomitable Citra hop, this beer holds its own with some of those medal-winning hazy IPAs that Chicago has become known for in the last few years. Juicy tropical fruits and citrus lurch across the palate at first before quickening towards a considerable dank and resinous bitter finish. It’s familiar in many ways, but all the elements – aroma, mouthfeel, flavor, drinkability – are individually good yet collectively outstanding.
Pliny For President | Double Dry-hopped Double IPA | Russian River Brewing Company | Windsor, CA | 8% ABV
If you’ve been drinking IPAs for ten years or longer like we have, you likely have had your stupid monocle fall out of your eye TWICE in under a year by Russian River breaking with tradition: bottling Pliny the Younger AND screwin’ with the Pliny the Elder recipe! *Knocks silver platter of champagne flutes to the floor* Let’s get this out of the way: this updated take on the best (and first) Double IPA in the world is not better than the original. It’s not as drinkable, the mouthfeel isn’t quite as wonderfully sharp, and it doesn’t have the benefit of being Pliny the Elder. What’s fantastic about Pliny For President, though, is that it is still undeniably in the Pliny family with the slightly sweet citrus and absolute assault of pine bitterness all over the flavor. And they could’ve easily dry-hopped this with some combination of trendy new hops, layering on unnecessary notes of coconut or blueberry or passion fruit. Instead, it is just attacked with more of the sharp and bitter Pliny hops but enriched with a fuller mouthfeel. They absolutely nailed this.