ABV Chicago Monthly Sampler: December 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 December 2021.
Craig’s Mixed Six
Further Afield | Saison with marjoram, lemon thyme, and meyer lemon | Forbidden Root | Chicago, IL | 6.5% – listen (Patreon exclusive)
In celebration of their new space Cultivate, Forbidden Root brewed a fair amount of new, lighter beers. A table beer, a couple saisons, and a hazy pale ale were all among those on tap. While the table beer was nice, Further Afield really kicked it up a notch. A collab with Bitter Pops (for their advent calendar presumably), Further Afield features lovely lemon notes and a touch of honey malt sweetness. But the big star here is the mouthfeel. It somehow coats the tongue while somehow finishing light. So you get a big feeling beer that doesn’t weigh you down too much. Sign me up. The Kveik yeast used doesn’t give me any of those odd esters coming off it I remember from previous Kveik beers either. This is easily my favorite Kveik beer and one all saison fans should try.
XtraDubl Benthic | Barrel-aged imperial stout with coconut and coffee | Half Acre Beer Company | Chicago, IL | 13.5% – listen
Samoa cookie. I should end the review right there! While any barrel character doesn’t present itself too much in terms of flavor profile, XtraDubl really drives home that coconut note. The base and barrel provide an extremely chocolatey foundation to work with while the coconut swoops in and dominates at the right time and never veers towards the dreaded sun tan lotion zone. The coffee really exists in the shadow as there might be a hint of roast throughout but the chocolate and coconut dominate. The sweetness hits the edge of being too saccharine but never goes over that cliff, making the beer very enjoyable. Not on the level of Cherry Brandy Benthic from last year, but still really damn good.
Electric Roads | Double barrel-aged barleywine | Private Press Brewing | Santa Cruz, CA | 13.8% – listen
We here in Chicago (and other places where its distributed) are spoiled by Revolution’s Straight Jacket. Any barrel-aged barleywine we try will invariably be compared to it. Most fall short; Electric Roads at worst compares well, at best exceeds it. Extremely complex barrel character gives off varying notes of vanilla, molasses, oak, and dark fruits from the double barrel and barrel-aged blends are something you won’t find in too many other barleywines out there. Electric Roads focuses on the darker side of the barleywine, forgoing the usual caramel, toffee and butterscotch to focus more on the molasses and brown sugar notes. It’s like an expertly blended version of Straight Jacket and Ryeway to Heaven – there are even some faint caramel notes. It’s a wonderful and complex barleywine that foregrounds the alcohol burn and makes it something that can be sipped on during your daily chores. Get some if you can.
Vanilla Deth | Barrel-aged oatmeal stout with vanilla | Revolution Brewing | Chicago, IL | 13.6% – listen
Revolution’s Deep Wood series highlights barrel-aging almost exclusively. There are a few adjuncted variants sprinkled throughout and even when that does happen it’s only one (coffee, maple, maybe a fruit). Therefore nothing gets too adjunct-heavy and complex where and you lose sight of the barrel. Vanilla Deth is one such beer. All the things I love about Deth’s Tar – oak, chocolate, a little roast, some dark fruit – show up here. But then there’s a nice little layer of vanilla that joins the fun. It never gets too sweet, and it expertly complements the base Deth’s Tar. Unlike the first release of this beer, the vanilla is definitely more present and identifiable. As if Revolution needed another Deep Wood banger.
There Is A Plot | Gin barrel-aged saison | Supermoon Beer Co. | Milwaukee, WI | 5.9% – listen
The saison movement has made its way to Milwaukee. While being a very small brewery that makes very small batches, Supermoon is doing the saison right and There Is A Plot is a great indication of that. A nice saison base featuring very light funk and must, it is surprisingly big on lemon. The gin barrel is definitely there, but it never dominates the base saison and really rounds it off, adding some oaky depth to it. As with all the Supermoon beers I’ve had, There Is A Plot is very dry, but that gin barrel keeps things from going into bone-dry territory. Above all else, it’s light and fluffy across the mouth that, along with those gin botanicals, keeps you going back for more. It’s right up there with some of Afterthought’s and Keeping Together’s best. Just another must stop when you’re in Milwaukee.
Double Barrel Sleepy Bear | Double barrel-aged imperial stout | Werk Force Brewing Co. | Plainfield, IL | 15.75% – listen
A new Werk Force barrel-aged Sleepy Bear seems to show up every month or two with different adjuncts every time. This one just rested in two different bourbon barrels. Simple, right? The chocolate and vanilla shine, both being adjuncts and flavors coming off of the barrel. There’s some oak and depth added with the barrels that round things out and, of course, add some ABV. But seriously this doesn’t drink 15% at all. You start feeling it about halfway through the can but it’s so easy and drinkable you’ll finish it with few problems. This is a delicious and approachable (double) barrel-aged stout and one that should be sought out with urgency.
Ryan’s Mixed Six
Wenceslas | Dark Czech Lager | Art History Brewing | Geneva, IL | 6.4% ABV
Art History could be my brewery of 2021. Having never had their beers prior to February, things quickly escalated to two taproom visits (which is a lot for me) and a permanent spot on the Trustworthy Four Pack All-Star Team. (Hell, they’ve been on these samplers for one quarter of the year already.) What makes them unique for me above other newer breweries is their Master Brewer Greg Browne, who has been excelling at brewing classic international styles and lagers for over two decades. Every lager I’ve had from Art History has been extremely enjoyable, and this seasonal might be my new favorite. This was supposed to be one of my Christmas beers, but I drank it all ahead of time. There’s a sweet bready malt upfront that turns slightly toasted in the sip before the floral and spicy Saaz comes in and gives it a little punch. A light lingering roast and a touch more ABV than your average lager do give this an excellent winter warming lager feel, and I already fear I missed out on snatching up a lot more of this for the coming cold months.
Vanilla Benthic | Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout w/ coconut and vanilla | Half Acre Beer Company | 13.5% ABV – listen
This is a beer for people who want to drink a barrel-aged stout that tastes like a dessert but it’s in a can with some sort of weird-ass deep sea fish on it. I gotta say I love a beer that classes up the act of me slurping down 500 calories of rich and sticky stout, rather than painting the can with some cartoonish kid shit. Like, this fish is not fucking around – what is that, a three-eyed spider skull with wings glued to a clear shark?!? Half Acre’s Instagram post on this particular creature is all about My Bloody Valentine and Bongripper, so no help there. But yes, this beer smells and tastes like a chocolate cupcake with vanilla icing and toasted coconut flakes. Add a little bourbon chaser to warm up the finish, but otherwise, this is a totally wholesome experience that’ll end with your interlocked fingers over your full and satisfied belly.
Arrow of Time [Blend 002] | Oak-aged Wild Ale | The Hopewell Brewing Co. | 6.3% ABV – listen
Hopewell really is a brewery that can do just about anything, but their Wild beer trophy case added another piece of hardware this year: a Silver medal for this beer in the Wild Mixed Culture Beer (Acidic) Sours category at FoBAB. It is one of those time-traveler beers, where if you went back in time and handed this to me ten years ago, I would’ve been astonished that a Chicago brewery made it (and also confused why you were wearing a face mask.) Aromatically, it’s lemon curd, juicy citrus, yuzu, and a touch of cheesy funk. A sip brings waves of tartness; it hits the lips and back of the cheeks immediately, which then leads to a fruit rush in the middle before ending with the tartness returning up until the bone-dry finish. Repeated sips bring out more deep funk in the background, but it’s mostly a bright and zippy affair that is astonishingly easy to finish.
Session Baltic Porter | Baltic Porter | Kinslahger Brewing Company | Oak Park, IL | 8% ABV
Give Kinslahger five comedy points for this one, as they shaved a percent and a half off of their standard Baltic Porter and called this 8% beast of a beer a “session” version. They’re not wrong in the sense that one serving will not be enough once you taste this beer, but they are wrong in assuming one could remain upright in a session with three or more of these 16 ounce cans. It has just about all of the incredible parts of its bigger counterpart: unsweetened chocolate bits, medium roast coffee, molasses on bread, and a kiss of licorice. It largely avoids much bitterness in the finish, and a little dark fruit note lends to its increased drinkability. I’m not sure if it’s better than the original – one of my absolute favorite beers – but I hope this counterpart is a regular in the taproom.
Avec Le Guillotine | Blend of doppelbock, calvados foedre-aged Flemish-style ale with pressed apples, and American Wild Ale aged in wine barrels with Cabernet Franc grape must; all refermented with Balaton cherries and aged in bourbon barrels and Pomegranate Fox Wild Ale barrels | Off Color Brewing/Metropolitan Brewing | Chicago, IL | 7.8% ABV – listen
So that beer descriptor above is my attempt at paraphrasing what’s actually on the bottle, and it’s still some of the wildest shit I’ve seen in print about any beer I’ve ever had. This beer is a Lynchian ride wherein you think you understand what’s going on but then other times you just nod and enjoy the absurdity. Primarily a dry, tannic, and slightly sour affair, repeated sips offer an absolute word salad of flavor descriptors: cranberry fruit leather, sour cherries, tart pomegranate, slight caramel malts mingling with baked apples and mulling spices. It’s propulsively effervescent in the mouth at first, then leans a touch more sour than tart. It’s just a joy to drink and when you hit that dry finish of the previous sip with another splash of the tart fruits at the start of a new sip, it’s a cycle that’s so easy to repeat until the bottle is all gone. It’s one of the most unique drinking experiences I’ve had this entire year.
Dark Mode | Imperial Milk Stout aged in bourbon barrels | Revolution Brewing | Chicago, IL | 13.8% ABV – listen
The absolute standout of this season’s Deep Wood lineup (so far), Dark Mode is deceptively simple on paper. Read the fine print on this milk stout, and you get a better idea about what makes this so special. The primary malt bill is chosen to add rich and roasty chocolate notes without bitterness, and golden oats are in here to give it a smooth and creamy body. The small but mighty addition of applewood smoked malts add another layer that hits just as the bourbon is finishing on your palate, and it’s like a barely-browned and fire-licked marshmallow chaser. It’s a beer you could sip for an hour or finish in ten minutes; it’s complex if you want it to be, but it’s also so smooth going down that you’ll be actively sad as your glass empties.