ABV Chicago Monthly Sampler: February 2022
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 February 2022.
Craig’s Mixed Six
Metaluna | India Black Lager | Cellar West Artisan Ales | Lafayette, CO | 6.5% ABV – listen
We’ve had Black IPAs and Cold IPAs (or India Pale Lagers) already, but an India Black Lager? This was new to me and definitely took the best aspects of the Black IPA, a West Coast IPA and a lager. Tons of citrus and fruit start the sip off but just when you think you know what’s up, the finish shows up with its chocolate and roast characters. It ends crisp with a fair amount of bitterness staying behind. An insane mash-up of styles that works, is very interesting, and really leaves me wanting to try other takes on this style (ahem, Alarmist). This is a ride that I’d like to get on again, so more IBLs please!
Little Wing | Pilsner | Horse Thief Hollow Brewing Co. | Chicago, IL | 5.2% ABV – listen
I guess the both of us were raging against big beers on this episode, as everything was under 6% ABV and Little Wing brought the most flavor to me by far. Even though it was only 5.2%, it drank bigger than that in terms of mouthfeel. Cracker, lemon and some slight grassy hops support that mouthfeel and give it some flavor to fall back on. You can throw this back if you’d like, but you’d be missing out on all the nuances that make this beer great. The slight bitterness at the end provides a nice balance to all the lemony biscuit notes and keeps you going back in for more. Get some “so delicious I’m still talking about it eight years later” queso dip to pair with it at Horse Thief’s brewpub and you’ll be set for the day.
Plum | Mead with plums | Pips Meadery | Beach Park, IL | 12% ABV – read
I was fortunate to be given a Pips mead recently, so I know I just had to drink and review it. And wow, did it live up to the hype. Plum was sweet but never too sweet, thanks to the tartness from the plum addition cutting it just enough to make it enjoyable. Although it smells like communion wine, it never gets that way when drinking it. Dare I say this is a sessionable mead, since most meads I’ve had clock in at 14-15% ABV. But man did I want to finish the bottle in one sitting. It reminded me of purple nerds, which is something I didn’t think could ever happen. My experience with Blue Suede Shews many years ago confirms – Pips is making some of the best mead in the country, right up there with Schramm’s. Near impossible to get, but definitely worth it.
V.S.O.R. | Barrel-aged Ryewine | Revolution Brewing | Chicago, IL | 15.4% ABV – listen
Usually when it’s the beer from the lineup everyone’s been waiting for, it disappoints. V.S.O.R. actually surpassed my expectation (if that’s possible). Boozy on the nose but none on the sip, V.S.O.R. comes at you thick but doesn’t make it feel like you’re drinking at 15%+ ABV beer (until you finish the can, that is). The bready notes were welcome and combined with the rye spices to make a delicious liquid rye bread. Some caramel and toffee peek out as well, adding a bit of flavor variation to drinking it. Seriously, it tastes like a rum and coke. And that’s nuts. I felt batch1 was a little bit harsh on the alcohol, but batch 2 nails it. As the only Deep Wood beer to sell out, you’ll have to trade to try this one. It’s so worth it though. Do it.
Cellargeist | Gin barrel-aged saison | Supermoon Beer Co. | Milwaukee, WI | 6.9% – read
Supermoon’s doing great things in Milwaukee and Cellargeist is no exception. A perfect saison for winter with a bigger, more robust mouthfeel, Cellargeist also really hits you with all the gin botanicals you can handle. Some melon notes support all that juniper and the barrels assist in that fuller mouthfeel and add some nice oaky qualities. Add some light bitterness to the lingering gin notes on the finish and you’ve got a beer that keeps you coming back for more. The intense gin notes might put off non-gin drinkers, but it’s integrated well enough that even those that don’t partake in it can still enjoy it. Supermoon warrants a stop if you’re in Milwaukee and they’re open (and get their ridiculous Belgian tripel if it’s on tap; you won’t regret it.)
One of the Classic Blunders | Imperial Black IPA | Triptych Brewing | Savoy, IL | 8.8% ABV – listen (Patreon Exclusive)
Triptych has long been at the top of the hazy IPA game, and they’re really starting to make some noise with their barrel-aging program. So I naturally wanted to try their take on a Black IPA. And what a worthy take it is. A bit heftier given that it’s an Imperial version, Triptych somehow manages to add a silky, creamy mouthfeel to the proceedings. With a nice amount of bitterness and a chocolate and roast combo, Triptych really makes their take on the Black IPA its own. While not as bitter or as malty as other Black IPAs I’ve had, the creaminess really adds a lot to this underrepresented style and kind of makes me want a mash up between this and Au Jus, Alarmist’s ridiculously excellent Black IPA. This isn’t a one-off creamy Black IPA though, as Triptych also made O Christmas Meme for an advent calendar box in southern Illinois. If you like Black IPAs, grab a Triptych one if it’s available.
Ryan’s Mixed Six
Schwarzen Katze | Schwarzbier | 1840 Brewing Company | Milwaukee, WI | 5.3% ABV – listen
This winter brought out a lot of different dark lagers, as breweries are leaning into more seasonal releases and the dependable movement of easy drinking styles. This is a fantastic development. 1840 excels with bold flavors, but this is them succeeding with a lighter touch. On the nose, it’s an even amount of chocolate malt and grassy noble hop – nothing too impressive. But immediately after the first sip, it becomes irresistible. The soft effervescent body moves into something close to nitro-level creaminess, providing a fullness with none of the lingering heft. There’s a bit of roasted malt, dark chocolate, and herbal bitterness, which are all nice but really just supporting this excellent mouthfeel. You will need more than one fat bottle of this.
B.S.B. | Belgian-style Bitter Ale | Afterthought Brewing Company | Lombard, IL | 5% ABV
If you knew nothing of this brewery and grabbed this minimalist bottle off the shelf, you might be confused with the liquid contents. Where’s the big hoppy bitterness or fruit-forward Belgian yeast character?? Knowing Mike Thorpe a little bit, we’re guessing his inspiration for this is something like a De Ranke XX-Bitter, much like we opened together in his initial brewspace back in 2018. This has all the elements of a classic Belgian saison – lightly fruity esters and lemon zest with an effervescence that dances across the palate until stopping on a dry cracker-like finish. The only bitter characters are from some grassiness and cracked black pepper notes. Once again, it’s a masterstroke of where simplicity meets complexity – flavor that’s not flashy but never boring. I’ve literally never been disappointed by an Afterthought saison, and I promise you won’t be.
Buzzard | Hoppy Small Beer | Half Acre Beer Company | Chicago, IL | 3% ABV – listen (Patreon only)
Whatever Half Acre is doing making this a taproom-exclusive is damn-near criminal, as the greater public deserves – nay, needs – this hoppy small beer in their lives. Everything about this beer is delightful, even if it is named after a vicious murder bird. (Which are honestly pretty delightful too, you have to admit.) It’s so much bigger aromatically than it has any business being, but I have to say it might be my favorite hop-forward aroma I’ve gotten off of anything this year. It explodes with tropical aromatics, heavy with pineapple and mango. Then the sip reminds you it’s going to be a very easy ride, as it’s wispy, light, and true to its ABV. In the flavor, there are some lingering tropical fruit notes and slight bitterness almost akin to citrus pith. As long as I can dream, this is a beer destined for 12 packs. Do what’s right, Half Acre.
In Dark Trees | Dark Czech-Style Lager | Maplewood Brewing Company | Chicago, IL | 5% ABV
It’s pretty common for us to gather doubles of each beer for the podcast (we still record remotely) to fit a concept, record it, then immediately after come across three more beers that would’ve also been a perfect fit for the show. This would’ve been a standout on our Dark Lagers 2 show, and that one was full of winners. (See 1840 and Cellar West, above.) This beer pours with a finger of whipped khaki head on a pitch black base. The aroma is deeply roasty, with notes of toasted walnut and pine. In the sip, small bubbles move from the front to back, creating a softness that is almost chewy in the middle. The roasted malt is upfront, somewhere between coffee and chocolate without embracing either. But the finish leans into its pine and grassy hop notes, providing just a nudge of bitterness. This is a four season drinker – there’s no wrong time to enjoy it.
Ryeway to Heaven | Bourbon Barrel-aged Rye Ale | Revolution Brewing Company | Chicago, IL | 15.8% ABV – listen
Of the three yearly releases in the Revolution Deep Wood series, Ryeway doesn’t seem to get the same amount of love as Straight Jacket and Deth’s Tar. It could be due to the fact that no one really knows what a Ryewine/Rye Ale is, but let me propose this: it doesn’t matter. This is a deep brownish barrel-aged liquid from Revolution, so it’s already better than most consumables. Aromatically, it’s a rack of cooling fresh-baked goods: biscotti, rye bread, baking spices, and vanilla. In the flavor, there’s a remarkable note of sugar cookie dough with hints of nutmeg and clove. As it warms, the barrels give off charred wood and rye spice. It’s a not-sweet dessert of a beer with a smooth body and a spicy tail. Even though V.S.O.R. may be the star of this year’s lineup, do not pass on this much-more available base.
Smittytown | Extra Special Bitter | Temperance Beer Co. | Evanston, IL | 5.5% ABV – listen
When we had this for our 8th Anniversary nostalgia-fest episode, it wasn’t the first or second time we’d had it on the show. And though I’d enjoyed it before, in the seven years since, my preferences have really shifted in its direction. This beer delivers on two important fronts – approachability and surprising complexity. Early sips won’t deliver all this beer has to offer, but when you keep with it, you’ll find that it deepens across the middle. Aromatically, it’s a sweet almost candy-like malt with a floral finish. The flavors give off some nuttiness and a very light roast character. There’s a flash of bitterness across the middle, but it doesn’t hold back some of those sweet caramelized malts. Even with all of that, it finishes relatively dry. Now if only the E.S.B. would become trendy, Temperance would lead the way locally with this excellent take on the English style.