ABV Chicago Monthly Sampler: December 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 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. This month was a bit different. In the great tradition of Toyotathon and Happy Honda Days, we throw our own little celebration we call Barrel-Aged December. This month was stacked – and we repeat more breweries than we usually like to. But the beers were undeniable. (Keep an eye out for our best-of lists – and we’ll be back next year with many more beer reviews.)
Craig’s Mixed Six
Dosvidanya Mexican Chocolate | Barrel-aged Imperial Stout with cacao nibs, cinnamon and chiles | DESTIHL Brewery | Normal, IL | 15% ABV
Throughout the ABV content spectrum – podcast, Patreon exclusive Low ABVs, written reviews – DESTIHL’s Dosvidanya variants landed on all three. It would of course be the one variant that didn’t that I enjoyed the most. While not featuring a big chocolate note like the Krampus, the chiles, cinnamon and barrel took on a bigger role and still kept the beer firmly in the Mexican chocolate pocket. The ABV hides extremely well, as before you know it you’ll be done and wanting another. Good thing it hit distro in the Chicagoland area!
Physis Nomos | Brett IPA | Odious Cellars | Chicago, IL | 5.5% ABV
Psyche! This one’s not barrel aged! While that definitely helped it, Physis Nomos stands out on its own merits. Big aromas and flavors of pineapple, pine, and citrus give way to a beer that veers closer to a pale ale with flavors of an IPA or DIPA. A complex hop bill of 5 different hops and a light mouthfeel cause me to hope this beer is either year-round or, at the very least, a summer seasonal. While it’s delicious to drink now, during the summer Physis Nomos should be in everyone’s cooler whether you’re social distancing or not.
Champurrado Krampus | Barrel-aged Imperial Milk Stout with cacao nibs, vanilla, chiles, and cinnamon | Old Irving Brewing | Chicago, IL | 13% ABV – listen
There are many Meixcan Chocolate beers available in the market these days. Invariably they get barrel-aged. The trick is to maintain the balance of all the additions in the beer while keeping a chocolate current going throughout the beer. Superb examples include BA Abraxas, Mexican Medianoche, and this beer. While the beer isn’t as viscous or chocolate-forward as the former two mentioned, the balance of vanilla, chiles and cinnamon make this beer shine.
Deth By Cherries | Barrel-aged Imperial Oatmeal Stout with cherries | Revolution Brewing | Chicago, IL | 12.5% ABV – listen/read
Wow. In terms of expectations versus reality, this one probably would hit number one. Typically the fruited Deth variants are good to OK, usually camping out near the bottom of any yearly Deep Wood rankings. Not this one. Big tart and sweet cherries shine at the front, while the chocolate from the base Deth’s Tar comes in to finish it off. It never gets too sweet, the mouthfeel is spot on, and the booze hides itself so well that you’ll finish the can in no time. It’s like Revolution took some New Glarus Beglian Red and put it in Deth’s Tar. A complete and utter surprise and a delicious beer. I crave this beer.
Neckbeard Nectar (Blanton’s) | Barrel-aged Imperial Stout with coffee | Transient Artisan Ales | Bridgman, MI | 14% ABV – listen
There’s still something to be said about a barrel-aged stout with just coffee being added. Too often today breweries will add other things to the coffee and not just let it stand on its own. Transient decided to let the Tugboat coffee used in Neckbeard Nectar stand. While not as coffee forward as some other barrel-aged coffee beers, the coffee still added a lovely roasty quality to the otherwise chocolatey and vanilla proceedings. It helped that the beer and the barrel joined in harmony to create a thick and slick barrel-aged coffee stout that I will not soon forget.
ABBA G.O.A.T. | Apple Brandy barrel-aged Doppelbock | Urban Brew Labs | 9% ABV – listen
Hello brandy barrels! What Urban Brew Labs was able to accomplish with ABBA G.O.A.T. was remarkable. The base doppelbock provided some light roast and dark fruits while the barrel provided some body and sweetness. Somewhere in there baking spices made an appearance, making this the ideal holiday beer. But the barrel integration stands out. The doppelbock and apple brandy barrel play together in harmony, with neither overtaking the other to dominate. It unfortunately barely missed out on my 30 Most Memorable Beer of 2020, but it was close (it would’ve made 40). Still, get yourself a can of it while you still can.
Ryan’s Mixed Six
Dosvidanya Brewer’s Blend | Blended Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout | DESTIHL Brewery | Normal IL | 14% ABV – listen (Patreon exclusive)
Though most larger barrel-aged beer releases are the product of immaculate blending, there were some notable ones this year that highlighted the variety of bases being brought together – like Revolutions’ Cuvée De Grâce and Cruz Blanca’s Rey Cuvée, to name two of the best. This one combines the following: Bourbon Barrel Dosvidanya (2020), Rye Barrel Dosvidanya (2020), Rye Barrel Belgian Imperial Stout (2018), and Rye Barrel Barleywine (2018). The amazing thing is how this beer, like the others previously mentioned, achieves complexity without sacrificing drinkability. There’s a bourbon burn that lightly coats this whole affair without ever becoming too abrasive. It tastes like a chocolate caramel cookie dream bar but without any cloying or lingering sweetness; the finish is a touch of rye spice and roasty bitterness before drying out completely. A little grape or currant peeks out in subsequent sips. It’s not heavy or syrupy – just at the perfect medium mouthfeel that lets the flavor shine without overstaying its welcome
Savage Oak – Gold | Belgian-style Sour Golden Ale | Imperial Oak Brewing | Willow Springs, IL | 6.5% ABV – listen
Winning a silver medal in the Wild Beer Sours (Acidic) category at this year’s FoBAB, this beer deserves all the accolades for a brewery that was long overdue for some hardware. The folx at this Willow Springs (and soon, Brookfield) brewery have been making remarkable barrel-aged sours for years now, and this beer could almost be mistaken for a true Belgian sour. Aromatically, there’s overripe pineapple, rain-soaked hay, funky cheese rind, and a little apple solvent – but not in a bad way. There’s a tart acidity at the beginning that may turn some away at first, but it cleans itself up with a few more sips and never lingers in the esophagus. The flavor is apricots and lemons with a side of aged sharp cheddar.
Perkolator – Madeira Barrel Aged | Madeira Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout w/ Sumatra Coffee | Lake Effect Brewing | Chicago, IL | 13% ABV – listen
Continuing their stellar track record of barrel-aged beers, Lake Effect worked with Perkolator Coffee just up the road from them to use some of their Sumatra coffee beans in a stout that was aged in two different barrels and released separately. And though this was the year of the blend, I’m grateful we got a bourbon barrel and a madeira barrel version of this beer separately. This one throws massive sweet grape and blackberry juice onto a lighter chocolate stout. The coffee blends in nicely, lending a sharper edge to its own fruity character, and the roast is a bit more present in the finish. It’s deceptively thick and wine-like in the mouthfeel, and some of the tannic wine character keeps it on the dry side in the end.
Mehndi (2020) | Imperial Stout Aged in Bourbon Barrels | More Brewing | Villa Park, IL | 14% ABV – listen
This isn’t the first win for More Brewing at FoBAB, as this one medaled with a silver in the Strong Porter/Stout category. But it might be the most significant one for their future, as the brewery has undergone some pretty massive changes in the last year or so, and seem poised to be able to keep delivering the barrel-aged goods that built much of their initial fanbase. A blend of the three previous years of Mehndi, the impressive mix of barrels going into this beer are responsible for a completely unique complexity and mouthfeel. Both the aroma and flavor absolutely explode up front with huge dark chocolate fudge brownie, walnuts, vanilla, and tamari. It also pulls all that off without feeling too boozy or getting sweet or challenging at any point. It’s a remarkable sipper that rides out easy, smooth, and dry. It’s easily one of my top three beers of the entire year.
Cinnamon Prost | White Stout w/ Saison Cinnamon, Tahitian Vanilla Bean, and Milk Sugar | Old Irving Brewing | Chicago, IL | 7% ABV – listen
You know how you see a band live and they play some non-album track that doesn’t seem to be recorded anywhere, but it’s your favorite song? And you search for it, wait for it, and try to relive it through bootlegs. But then a few years later, it comes out on an album, and it’s not as good as the raw immediacy from the live performance you remember? Well, this is like that, but if the album track was polished up and made better. We absolutely loved this in 2018 at the Oak Park Microbrew Review, so I was of course ready to be disappointed in the canned version. Nope. It’s the perfect next step of what that beer was and what it should become. Sure, it still tastes like the milk in the bottom of a Cinnamon Toast Crunch bowl, but they’ve managed to up the drinkability without sacrificing any of its sweet appeal. Rarely am I tempted to reach for two cans of the same stout in one sitting, but this one does it for me.
Double Barrel V.S.O.D. | Barrel-Aged Imperial Oatmeal Stout | Revolution Brewing | Chicago, IL | 17% ABV – listen
With the wraparound nature of their Deep Wood series, Revolution started this year with a bang (Ten Year Beer and Cuvée De Grâce were both released in January) and ended with maybe the best stout they’ve ever made. This is a testament to the patience, science, and artistry that composes every Deep Wood beer in its extremes: two years of aging in two different stellar Weller barrels, blended to perfection. (You can hear Marty Scott talk all about it on our Deth Wish episode.) The result is coconut shavings on chocolate mousse, smooth oaky bourbon with hints of pipe tobacco, and just about the smoothest finish on a 17% beer you’ll ever have. And as someone who never trades beers, I am compelled to tell everyone to trade for this beer if you missed out on it. This is my favorite beer of the whole year.