ABV Chicago Monthly Sampler: January 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 January 2021.
Craig’s Mixed Six
Best Brown | American Brown Ale | Bell’s Brewery | Kalamazoo, MI | 5.8% ABV – listen
Ryan and I rarely disagree this much on a beer. He got faded hops, but those faded hops didn’t really detract from the beer that much for me. Bell’s Best Brown wasn’t watery like some other brown ales we had one the show and it had (to me) the most nut flavor of the bunch. Some roast and a hint of chocolate even came through. Best Brown coated the tongue just enough, leaving behind some roast and nut. I easily finished the bottle. Brown ales typically don’t rate high for me, but I would definitely buy this one again.
Black Pit of Hatred | Barrel-aged imperial stout with coconut | Burnt City Brewing | Chicago, IL | 12% ABV – read
Sometimes you need to sit back and appreciate the beer itself and not focus what the label says is in it. That’s our #tablethelabel movement. Black Pit of Hatred embodies this movement. Label says coconut, yet coconut scarcely shows up. The barrel-aged stout itself supplies a nice bit of not-too-sweet chocolate, some fruits, and some spice, while the barrel comes in with some vanilla, caramel, and oak. You won’t even know the barrel’s there as it’s integrated with the base beer exceedingly well, making Black Pit of Hatred easy to drink even at 12%. Comparing it to the base and the other variants (vanilla, coffee) becomes easy due to the ability to get a mixed four pack of them and all 4 variants are priced the same ($9.99). Easily one of the best beers I’ve had from Burnt City.
Westfield | barrel-aged saison | Cellar West Artisan Ales | Lafayette, CO | 6.7% ABV – listen
Hoo boy. Nice to get back to something lighter after barrel-aged December. And what a way to do it – with a GABF silver medal winner from Cellar West. Lemon, bread, light funk, and full of flavor, Westfield excels at being simple yet complex. Whereas the higher in alcohol Make Hay was just as good, Westfield drinks a bit lighter in mouthfeel and a bit drier in the finish. But all that flavor remains. Refreshing and flavorful with a hint of oak perfectly integrated with the beer. That’s how you win medals and get a place on our monthly sampler list.
Praamzius, Ruler of Time | Baltic Porter | Elder Pine Brewing & Blending | Gaithersburg, MD | 8.5% ABV – read
A dark beer that wasn’t barrel-aged? Huh? Elder Pine’s Praamzius may be a Baltic Porter, but it has the qualities of both a stout and a schwarzbier. Big roasty notes complement a thicker than you think chewy mouthfeel and supplemented by raisin bread goodness. Even some rum-like spices show up. Praamzius has everything you want without the huge alcohol burden. Perfect for drinking on a winter’s night and not being hungover. More baltic porters!
Cryptomnesia | Violet sour aged with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, orange peels, cinnamon, and mulling spices | Odious Cellars | Chicago, IL | 6.1% ABV – listen
Typically, sours perform best when adding a fruit or two, usually of the stone variety. One with grapes, orange peel, and cinnamon sounds ambitious, but a lot could go wrong. Except when it goes beautifully, beautifully right. Cryptomnesia balances everything perfectly. All the adjuncts stay in the pocket, you pick a little of each of them up, and the violet sour remains tart but wholly drinkable. As evidenced by this beer and Fact of Fiction, Odious Cellars knows how to use adjuncts wisely, expressing exactly what they intended while still remaining a sour. Cryptomnesia also excels as a food-pairing beer (I would know, I’ve had 3 bottles of it paired with various dishes). While the price point might turn some off, it’s definitely worth the $18 to $20 per bottle to try this. There’s nothing else like it in Chicago.
Whirlycaster | Sour IPA with raspberry, blackberry, meyer lemon, milk sugar, vanilla, and rose hips | Roaring Table | Lake Zurich, IL | 7% ABV – listen
While the main reason Roaring Table was on our 7th anniversary show was due to it opening in 2017 (about halfway through our existence as a podcast), Whirlycaster now ranks as one of the better sour IPAs I’ve had. No bitterness, but everything else was there, reminiscent of a Berliner Weisse with raspberry dominating the fruit haul. The milk sugar and vanilla never asserted itself so much so that it made it sweet, and the lemon gave it sort of a fruited lemonade vibe. So many adjuncts, but they all worked well together. Refreshing and definitely welcome for the warmer months.
Ryan’s Mixed Six
Double Pantsless | Double Pale Ale | Alarmist Brewing | Chicago, IL | 9% ABV – listen (Patreon only)
Alarmist added another lovely medal to their collection in 2020 with a Bronze from GABF for their flagship pale ale Pantsless. So how do they celebrate? By dropping twice as much trou. This beer is aggressive like some 3 Floyds bomber from a decade ago. The aroma rides West Coast vibes from tropical and stone fruits into some dank grass. The flavor surprises with sweet peach and raspberry sorbet up front before being dominated by a crushing piney bitterness. There’s some caramel malt in the middle, and a finish that lingers with both hop bite and booze. This beer is challenging in all the right ways.
Hopslam Ale | Double IPA w/ honey | Bell’s Brewery | Comstock, MI | 10% ABV
Admittedly, it’s been a few years since I’ve revisited this old favorite, and I just happened to be in the headspace (hopspace?) to spend time with this long lost friend. (Actually, having the Emerald Grouper, which is also on this list, inspired me to seek this out.) Aromatically, it’s cotton candy, honey sweetness, candied orange, strawberry syrup, and wet grass. It has a remarkably full mouthfeel but a disappearing effervescent finish for something at the 10% mark. Flavorwise, it’s citrus, gooseberry, lemon, grapefruit, rock candy, and a sweeping resinous sappy bitterness. I am grateful they’ve kept this as a seasonal special release, as I’m already considering another 6-pack before it’s gone until next year.
West Town Brown | American-style Brown Ale | Midwest Coast Brewing | Chicago, IL | 5.3% ABV – listen
Why not brown ales? Though most brewers have their take on the style, the fact that it’s not a fridge staple is kind of criminal. And this Midwest Coast version is perfectly suited for fridgestocking, as you’ll never want to stop at just one. It pours a full three fingers of swishy head like the pale mane of a beautiful chocolate show horse. The aroma is caramel malt, roasted nuts, earthiness and pine, with some slight bitter cacao. In the mouth, there’s a prominent bitterness with a resinous piney finish, mixing with fire-toasted chestnuts, chocolate and coffee bean roast. This beer finds the perfect harmony of aggressively flavorful and infinitely drinkable; the individual elements lightly intersect but mostly remain in balance.
Fact or Fiction | Golden sour aged on whole Ethopian coffee beans, toasted cacao nibs, and vanilla | Odious Cellars | Chicago, IL | 5% ABV – listen
Truthfully, when Craig and I make our monthly lists, we have to sort of “claim” certain beers that we both loved from a particular brewery, as we want our selections to be different. Cryptomnesia is the best beer I’ve had from this brewery so far, but this strange yet endearing s’more sour is more than just unique – it’s well-executed. Right from the aroma, you’re immediately hit with notes you’d more likely associate with a stout: milk chocolate, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and roasty coffee. The flavor mostly follows suit but takes a turn towards an almost plum-like dark sour in the finish. There are plenty of beers you could bring to a bottle share that are “conversation pieces,” but rarely are they done this well. It’s not just weird for the sake of weird – they’ve found a strange harmony amongst the decadent sweet and prickly sour for this.
Chicxulub | Imperial stout w/ Ecuadorian cacao, ancho, and guajillo chiles and cayenne pepper | Off Color Brewing | Chicago, IL | 10.5% ABV – listen (Patreon only)
As a small batch version of Dino S’mores, this one improves on the base by elevating the richness of the chocolate and adding a moderate pepper heat. At first, there’s big molasses, roasty dark chocolate, and the taste of chewing on a wood matchstick. The peppers steadily increase their impact but never reach the level of “challenge” heat. I’d be tempted to pick this over the original more often than not.
Emerald Grouper | Double IPA w/ honey | Pipeworks Brewing | Chicago, IL | 9.5% ABV – listen
This was once Square Grouper, a bomber of Double IPA that used to inspire a decent amount of van-chasing in its time. The thing is that this beer has not declined in quality in any way – it’s as fantastic as it ever was. It pours golden and crystal clear with two fingers of frappe-like head, about as attractive as a beer can get. The aroma is musty dank hops, grapefruit kush, locker room, funky melon rind, and mango. On the sip, it’s bitter and crisp, though the honey sweetness adds to the body in the middle. The tropical fruits are up front, the malt and honey are in the middle, and the bitter and piney hang around in the end. Revisit this new classic and be thoroughly pleased.