ABV Chicago Monthly Sampler: February 2023
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 February 2023.
Ryan’s Mixed Six
Double Saaz | Italian-Style Pilsner | Hop Butcher for the World | Chicago, IL | 5% ABV – listen
Hop Butcher has undeniably earned the crown of Chicago’s Most Wanted Haze brewery, and now they’re coming for you, pilsner-makers! Well, they likely won’t be churning out 50 new SKUs of pilsner a year, nor do they need to if they just rebrew this and Supreme Being every chance they get. But this is about as good of a locally-made Italian-style Pilsner I’ve had thus far. This is not some over-hopped or amped up take on a pils; this is a crisp, somewhat earthy and grassy, lightly bitter crusher of a pilsner. It smells like a pale malt mash-in happening in the glass with some of the greener Saaz notes giving it aromas of lawnmower clippings and rolling countrysides. It dashes across the palate and ends with a snap. This could be a taproom staple that would please any beer drinker.
Driving Up The Coast | West Coast IPA | Mikerphone Brewing | Elk Grove Village, IL | 6.8% ABV
There are about four beers from Mikerphone that I had this month that could all take this spot. During a recent visit, I got to enjoy a peanut Dunkelweizen that was like a liquid Payday bar (but much less sweet); their absolutely note-perfect hazy flagship Mikerphone Check 1, 2; and a Zombie cocktail-inspired soft sour that may be one of my favorite smoothie beers I’ve had to date. But I’m giving the inches here to this exceptional Double Dry-Hopped West Coast IPA. It smells of pine, musty basement, melon, pungent citrus, and some pale cracked malt. On the taste, you immediately get a searing bite like pithy orange and sticky pine. There’s a lingering bitterness long past the sip, and it all finishes tasting something like a lemonade crammed with bitter herbs. A four pack of this is not enough.
Peace Treaty | Imperial Stout w/ cocoa nibs, vanilla beans, and peanut butter | Old Irving Brewing & Forbidden Root (Columbus) | Chicago IL/Columbus, OH | 10.7% ABV – listen (Patreon only)
This beer will not end the century-plus rivalry between the University of Michigan and Ohio State University, but at least we can all agree that pairing peanut butter with chocolate in a stout hardly ever goes wrong. (Well, okay, there was that one time.) Old Irving’s resident Wolverine Trevor Rose-Hamblin teamed up with the Columbus outpost of Forbidden Root to mimic the Buckeye sweet treat, and the resulting beer is as comforting as you’d hope. Aromatically, it recalls warm memories of my aunt’s peanut butter fudge bars or those peanut butter dough and Hershey’s Kiss cookies that I’d devour at holiday parties. The vanilla is a bit hidden until appearing near the end of the taste which is otherwise dominated by silky ribbons of fudge and creamy peanut butter. It’s an indulgent beer without the feeling of regret in the end, because the sweetness of the middle retreats to a more roasty stout-like finish. Now if only my beloved Hawkeyes could have such a fitting tribute beer.
The Usual | Barleywine w/ cherries, fresh orange peel, bitters and whiskey soaked American oak chips | Peticolas Brewing Company | Dallas, TX | 13% ABV – listen
Combining barleywine with a bourbon Old Fashioned is admittedly playing right into two of my favorite types of drink, but this real grower of a beer left me wishing I had access to more. We did find that taking smaller sips of this and prolonging your experience with it was a lot more rewarding, and it opened up some of the complex flavors that help make it taste so close to its cocktail inspiration. You do kind of completely forget it is a barleywine, as the cherry and orange peel keep it bright and fruity, while the bitters and oak chips add the heartier and harsher notes. It’s one of the best intentionally cocktail-inspired beers I’ve had in a long time.
Repo Man | Rye Stout | Revolution Brewing Company | Chicago, IL | 6.4% ABV
During the same month that we had the last five Deep Wood beers of the series – all just absolute showstoppers – I managed to find a Rev beer that I somehow like even better. The perfectly-timed return of this straightforward rye stout does signal the canning end of their Belgian Pale, A Little Crazy, but the move makes sense given the growing interest in the drinkable dark beer category. The aromas on this are bitter baker’s chocolate and coffee grounds with a tiny bit of anise spice that kicks up as it warms. The sip is fuller and creamier than you’d expect from a 6% stout, and the dark chocolate roast and bitter back half absolutely coat every inch of your mouth. The finish has a touch of that rye and even a little hop, giving it the perfect amount of bitter dryness that makes this whole beer such an easy one to fall in love with. Rev has topped my year-end list for the last three, and this could be the beer that gets them a fourth.
No Ice | Schwarzbier | Soundgrowler Brewing Co. | Tinley Park, IL | 5% ABV – listen
I’ve spent so much time thinking about the Vegetarian Burrito at Soundgrowler. I’ve probably eaten it close to 10 times at this point, and each time I’m mystified at what makes it something I actually have dreams about. Yeah, there are french fries in it which RULES – but it’s whatever spice and sauce combination they cook the diced potatoes, peppers, and onions in that is just to die for. It’s probably all the better because of the quality of beer you get to wash it down with, and this Schwarzbier is another example of Soundgrowler’s technical proficiency. This beer is easy-drinking enough to be a great food pairing, but I’ve now brought home 8 cans of this beer and can attest that it also has a roasty complexity that you might otherwise lose in the post-burrito ecstasy. It’s also got a fair amount of green hop character that enhances the bitter dark chocolate coming from the malt. (And hey, Soundgrowler, if you DM me burrito secrets, I promise I won’t share them with the rest of the world.)
Craig’s Mixed Six
Begyle Blonde | Blonde Ale | Begyle Brewing | Chicago, IL | 5.4% ABV
We talk all the time about the festival pour on the show, but what about the anti-festival pour? It’s my new name for the walking beer that’s got something nice about it. At the Begyle/Bottle and Cans 10th anniversary party, Begyle Blonde stood out and popped like no other. Between all the high gravity beers and flavor bombs being poured (many of which have been featured in this space), this blonde ale cut through it all, demanding extra pours all through the festival. Of course it was light and easily consumed. What really stood out was the amount of grassy bitterness and a certain banana-estery note that shined. Obviously this was only amplified by everything else at the festival (especially the bitterness), but it really has me wanting some Begyle Blonde again. Congrats to Begyle and Bottles and Cans on 10 years!
Hop Unity – Green Edition | Double IPA | Community Beer Company | Dallas, TX | 8.8% ABV – listen
Having been around beer as long as we have, our first question on the show was whether this would be hazy or not. Thankfully it wasn’t and it pulled off a West Coast IPA to perfection. Hop Unity – Green Edition features two experimental hops (YCH 603 Cryo and C09326), a lovely malt sweetness, and a bevy of fruit flavors. The star here is the “creeping bitterness” that we so rarely get to experience on the show nowadays. The front of the sip features honey sweetness and citrus fruit notes, the middle has some nice malt sweetness, and the finish features bitterness that just won’t quit. It’s everything I want in a West Coast IPA and makes me interested in two experimental hops that one day might become named hops. I’m on the lookout!
Supreme Being | German Pilsner | Hop Butcher for the World | Chicago, IL | 5% ABV – listen
We made it a point to (eventually) do a Hop Butcher show that featured no IPAs and we were finally able to accomplish that – with spectacular results. Supreme Being proves that Hop Butcher can do other styles exceedingly well. A full mouthfeel, a kiss of bready sweetness, some grassy hop bitterness and crisp but wet finish make this one a tankard beer of the highest order. The surprise here is the full mouthfeel that prevents this beer from being a flavorless ride through the mouth and encourages multiple sips, drinks, and can consumption. If Hop Butcher wants a non-IPA flagship, this is it. Do not skip over Hop Butcher’s non-IPA and stout beers; they might just be one of the best things you have that year.
Select Schwarzbier | Schwarzbier | Pipeworks Brewing Company | Chicago, IL | 6.1% ABV – listen
I do like schwarzbiers but never really considered what I was looking for in one optimally. Turns out it’s a big mouthfeel. Pipeworks take on the schwarzbier features all the things that I do love of the style – chocolate and roast notes, among other things – and doesn’t rush the flavors away. Things stay behind longer than most schwarzbiers and it just adds to its enjoyability. Yes the ABV is a bit high for the style, but it’s still much lower than its intended alternative of imperial stouts. Select Schwarzbier marries the two styles well; the mouthfeel and flavors of the imperial stout and the lower ABV of a lager-like beer. All the schwarzbiers we had on the show were excellent but I know which one I am recommending if pressed.
Double Barrel V.S.O.J. | Barrel-aged Barleywine | Revolution Brewing | Chicago, IL | 16.8% ABV – listen
Typically the hype doesn’t match the liquid for releases such as Double Barrel V.S.O.J., but in this case it did. Is it sweet? It’s a double barrel barleywine, so of course it will be. But you’re rewarded with such a complex and amazing beer that it’s worth it. Caramel, rye spices, butterscotch, dark chocolate, vanilla, toffee, raisins, figs, and cherries all contribute to the overall aromatic dance in your nose. The flavors then somehow match the aroma and maybe even then some, combining to form things like snickerdoodles, chocolate covered cherries or fig newtons. The added bonus comes in the post-sip, as all those flavors hang around and allow you to savor what you just had for minutes after the sip. Could I finish a 4-pack of this in a sitting? No way, and I wouldn’t want to. It’s better to have four separate experiences of this beer. Every time is memorable.
Splash of Red | Extra Special Bitter with cold brewed coffee and cherry puree | Temperance Beer Co. | Evanston, IL | 5.8% ABV – read
I rarely reach for an extra special bitter (ESB), especially when it’s in a can. Temperance sold me on theirs with the cherry and coffee additions. Knowing full well they have a quality ESB in Smittytown, I was pleasantly surprised at how deft they were in adding the coffee and cherry while still maintaining the overall ESB-style of the beer. Not a slushie or adjunct bomb, Splash of Red is just that – a splash. Both the coffee and cherry are there to support the base ESB and not overpower it. It still retains its bitterness and dryness while adding a lovely hint of roast and a kiss of tartness and sweetness from the cherries. I bought it for the adjuncts and I stayed (and finished it) for the ESB!