ABV Chicago Monthly Sampler: August 2023
At the end of 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 from the month of August 2023.
Craig’s Mixed Six
BA Coconut Rules Everything Around Me | Barrel-aged stout with coconut and vanilla | 608 Brewing | La Crosse, WI | 14.1% ABV
Between the silky smooth stout mouthfeel, the barrel character and the perfect amount of coconut, you can’t help but be impressed. It’s a bit on the sweet side but thankfully the barrel cuts that a bit and doesn’t enhance it. The coconut excels, never becoming suntan lotion-y and overbearing. The base stout keeps its chocolate notes throughout the sip. The ABV is well hidden so the only way you know you’re drinking a barrel-aged beer is the small amount of booze that shows up on the finish. The vanilla adds some nice marshmallow notes to things and kind of makes it like a hot chocolate with coconut. I would have to have it in a more controlled setting to say it’s up there with the Proprietor’s 2013 and the Butchertown Arises of the world, but I can see it being in the conversation.
Anonymous Caller | Double IPA | G5 Brewing Company | Beloit, WI | 8.4% ABV
You know what never really stands out at a festival anymore unless it’s really, really good? IPAs. Stouts have the crazy flavors and lagers have their crispness but IPAs need to nail a few things in order to rise to the top. Anonymous Caller does that. Full of pine, grass, and some light citrus notes, what makes it excel is the malt bill. It provides a full body and grants it a touch of sweetness to complement all the bitterness. But it doesn’t overpower it and keeps any harsh malt heft at bay. If you’re driving up to Madison from Chicago, G5 should definitely be a stop on the way up (or the way back) just to get this beer.
Green Torch | Lime Lager | Half Acre Beer Co. | Chicago, IL | 4.5% ABV – listen
Green Torch is billed as a lime lager. I was hesitant about that after having Tostitos that were billed as having a “touch of lime” and wound up being overpowering. They should switch taglines. Green Torch is more of a “touch of lime lager”, with a crisp, refreshing lager having a nice little lime citrus kick to things. It never overpowers the lager and provides just enough flavor to keep you coming back for more. A flavorful, refreshing lager is a dime a dozen and Half Acre pulls it off so deftly. They knew what they had when they started selling these in 12-packs to go. But seriously, do not pair it with those touch of lime Tostitos. Unless you really like lime! [Editor’s Note: Those Tostitos actually slap and Craig is wrong.]
Silver Sun | Hoppy wheat lager | Miskatonic Brewing/Seldom Beer Co. | Darien, IL | 6% ABV – listen
We’ve been jonesing for some hoppy wheats on the show for a while now and this Silver Sun sure delivered. Biscuit and cracker notes emanate from the lager portion of the beer. It’s sufficiently hoppy for this style and the wheat adds a softer and fuller mouthfeel to everything. Somehow a sweet malt presence joins in everything as well which I did not expect. So the best things about a West Coast IPA, a lager and a wheat beer all in one? Yeah I can boogie with that. I have no idea how Miskatonic pulled it off but it works on so many levels and would interest a drinker of any one of the above styles. I guess I’m looking for more Seldom Beer Company beers then?
Call of the Herd | Sour wheat ale with wild Thai banana and Tahitian vanilla | Odious Cellars | Chicago, IL | 5.5% ABV – listen (Patreon exclusive)
Nothing about this beer makes sense except for the way it goes down. A sour hefeweizen (essentially) with banana and vanilla? Don’t be afraid of it. Banana starts things off nicely, with some subtle vanilla notes following that up. It all ends with a tart finish that would be completely unexpected if it wasn’t in the beer style on the label. It’s a wacky combination that somehow works and kind of tastes like banana pie. In a lesser sour brewery this would get out of hand but Odious Cellars has been working in this arena its entire existence so don’t be afraid to take the plunge and grab this unique and interesting beer if you see it.
Dread & Breakfast | Barrel-aged blend of stouts and barleywines with coffee | Revolution Brewing | Chicago, IL | 15.8% ABV – read/listen
Maple syrup notes without any added maple syrup? This is the future of beer. Dread & Breakfast of course reeks of roasty, fruity coffee but the amount of perceived maple syrup in the beer boggles the mind. Since it’s not actually been added, no sweetness harmed this beer in any way. Dread definitely leans more toward the stout end of the spectrum, excelling with chocolate and vanilla while notes of caramel, butterscotch, fig, and raisins supporting. But yeah, it’s all about that maple syrup note and the masterful blending to achieve that sensation. A stunner through and through.
Ryan’s Mixed Six
Bodem | IPA | Half Acre Beer Company | Chicago, IL | 6.7% ABV – listen
Ok ok ok, I know it isn’t news that Bodem is an outstanding beer. So we were surprised we’d never had it for the podcast, and drinking it “critically” like we do made me appreciate it all over again. It pours golden yellow with a slight haze and a substantial head. The aromatics are big creamy cantaloupe, stone fruit, sweet citrus, and dank cannabis. It’s soft and full up front in the mouth, but then becomes a little bitter and effervescent by the end. The notes of melon are low but throughout as the herbaceous and dank character is more persistent. There’s a good bitterness that hangs around on the tongue, and it does this great trick of being fruity without ever really feeling sweet. Sometimes you just need a refresher on the great beers of Chicago, and this is one of them, absolute magic when fresh.
Double Barrel-Aged Imperial Smells Like Bean Spirit 2023 | Imperial Breakfast Stout aged in bourbon and rum barrels with coffee and maple syrup | Mikerphone Brewing | Elk Grove Village, IL | 18.88% ABV
Full disclosure: I had only a four-ounce pour of this beer at the taproom, so when I praise its decadence it’s based on a smaller sampling than opening and working through a whole bottle solo. But even based on that, I suspect this almost 19% double barrel stout wouldn’t be a chore to finish as much as it is an affront to sobriety. Just lifting the glass to your nose it screams at you with coffee, chocolate, syrup, and bourbon. The big surprise is the smoothness and the careful balance of ingredients that can often go too far. Here, the coffee and chocolate are bigger than the maple, and there’s no sick stickiness in the end. The 18.88% is ludicrously not obvious, but the empty taster glass looked like it was pulled from the tar pits. When a beer like this with a paragraph-long description comes out as balanced, then it was all worth it in the end, despite it probably costing them a fortune to produce. Mikerphone is still doing remarkable work with barrels – no surprises there.
Sī Fáng | Pale Lager w/ Osmanthus flowers and black tea | Off Color Brewing | Chicago, IL | 4.5% ABV – listen (Patreon only)
Made in collaboration with the QXY dumpling shop, I haven’t yet been lucky enough to give this beer its proper pairing. And apparently when they hold joint events at Off Color, getting those dumplings is fleeting and liable to sell out. But even with no dumplings, this beer absolutely shines and impresses in the way that only Off Color can – by using ingredients you’ve likely never had in a beer. Aromatically, it’s got an aggressively fragrant lemon and apricot note with some Earthier elements like sea salt and a big old pile of dried leaves. Much of the flavor on this is upfront with the citrus and stone fruits giving off a juicy start, but then the flowers and tea leaves take this beer to an extremely dry finish. It’s ultimately a light and drinkable beer, but it’s doing a lot more than that simple descriptor. You’ve got to try this one, and hopefully you get your hands on some dumplings for the pairing.
Echoes & Locations | Thiolized Cream Ale | Pipeworks Brewing Co. | Chicago, IL | 4.7% ABV
Thanks to some grade-A brewer nerds like Dan from Around the Bend, I had heard of biotransformation and the release of thiols in hazy hoppy beers before. So when I saw this on the shelf at my local Trader Joe’s, I admittedly had no idea what to expect. This one pours like a classic cream ale: light golden, steady finger of head, and slight amount of haze. Poured into a glass, it has big notes of passion fruit, creamy tangerine, and an almost cracked wheat-like grist aroma. Passion fruit is upfront on the flavor but with none of the tartness you’d associate with actual juice. Some zesty citrus kicks up in the middle before a very light pale malt finish. There’s even a bit of that soft mouthfeel characteristic of a cream ale, reminiscent of Spotted Cow. This beer achieves so much fruit flavor with minimal hopping – just the magic of yeast and biotransformation of the malt which Omega Yeast explains in detail here. It’s absolutely nerd shit, but it’s actually a refreshingly unique take on a cream ale. If I were a brewer, this would get me very excited about working it into similar light styles.
Copperhead Trail | Helles Bock | Sew Hop’d Brewery | Huntley, IL | 7.1% ABV
It’s quite a drive out to Huntley, and many people go out that way for the excellent 2nd More location, but you’d be making a mistake if you skipped Sew Hop’d. First of all, despite having seen their logo before, I didn’t expect their brewery to look like that. But also, the place was brimming with good vibes on a Saturday afternoon when I visited. This Helles Bock pours, ahem, copper and clear with a perfect two fingers of head. There are aromatics of honey wheat bread, toasted grains, and a bit of grassy hops. The flavor follows suit and gives off flavors somewhat similar to a Bière de Garde – a little bit of caramel mixed with those toasted malt characters and a noble hop-like grassy bitter finish. I had completely forgotten it was 7.1% by the time my glass was done, but I was seriously considering ordering another if it wasn’t for my hour drive home. But you should make the trip – it’s all worth it.
Trees and Seas | IPA | Three Blondes Brewing | South Haven, MI | 6.7% ABV
Vacation beers often don’t hold up to scrutiny once vacation is over, but because of this beer’s similarities to Two Hearted, I had to do a side-by-side tasting upon returning home. What this beer shares with that quintessential Michigan IPA is the sole focus on Centennial hops and a very similar appearance. Otherwise, it doesn’t quite hit the mouthfeel of that be-fished beer, but it certainly does make for a surprisingly great IPA of its own. It pours a burnt golden, almost copper but entirely clear with a big head. On the aroma, it’s equal parts orange peel and sticky pine with a little doughy malt character. Tasting the beer, it starts with soft citrus on the tongue that leads to a bitter pine that is boldly unforgiving (for a vacation town beer). It finishes on the drier side of an IPA and the bitterness is present well beyond the sip. It’s also relatively light on the body, and any malt sweetness is very low. This is a solid and straightforward IPA that any brewery would be proud to showcase as one of its flagships.