ABV Chicago Monthly Sampler: January 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 January 2023.
Craig’s Mixed Six
Breakfast Crew | Brown Ale with maple syrup and coffee | Central Waters Brewing Co. (collab w/Lion’s Tail) | Amherst, WI | 6.5% ABV
While visiting Central Waters for their 25th anniversary (whoa), it’s hard to believe that a brown ale would stand out among all the barrel-aged offerings, but it did. The brown ale itself features some nutty characteristics, but Breakfast Crew is all about the coffee. A medium roast that provides some bitterness, it became an easy drinker due to the intense amount of coffee present. Even the maple syrup – which if used incorrectly could make things catastrophically sweet – was reigned in and only supplied a hint of sweetness. Don’t think of this beer as breakfast in a glass; think of it more as a coffee complement to a breakfast buffet. You’ll have absolutely no problem downing multiples of these.
Dill Pickle Sour Beer | Gose | DESTIHL Brewery | Normal, IL | 5.2% ABV – listen
My first experience with this beer at Beer Under Glass (BUG) 2022 was memorable. It of course stood out due to a heavy pickle presence. (It also launched our pickle episode but that’s another thing.) At the fest, it was all pickle juice. On our pickle show, the base gose came through enough to make this closer to a beer that had some pickle juice in it, rather than the other way around. The gose brought some lemon, salinity, and a dry finish, while the Suckerpunch pickle brine featured all the dilliness and onion notes you could ask for. The (relative) balance and drinkability really shined when put up against other pickle beers. 100% recommended for pickle brine lovers, but still recommended for those that are only passingly interested in pickles or want something unique.
Rauchbier Helles Lager | Rauchbier | Double Clutch Brewing Company | Evanston, IL | 4.7% ABV – listen
I don’t know if you can buy – or if they even make – smoked meat extract, but if they did, Double Clutch’s Rauchbier would be the template. The smoke smells exactly like a smoked polish sausage and never veers into any unfortunate smoky smells like campfire or cigarettes. Drinking it provides a bit of that smokey character but keeps things at a minimum and lets the lager shine, remaining 100% drinkable. The smoke makes you want to go back for more and, in my case, craving it long after the show was done. Usually when I have award winning beers on the show, my most common reaction is, “I can see how this won something.” For this, I immediately wanted to taste the 2022 GABF Gold medal winner in this category as I still can’t fathom how any smoked beer could be better than it. (It won a silver.) My wife even suggested cooking with it and I wholeheartedly agree. I hope this gets distributed, otherwise I’ll be visiting the taproom to buy a case of it.
Black Currant | Fruit Beer | New Glarus Brewing Company | New Glarus, WI | 4% ABV – listen
To this day, if I travel somewhere and do a trade, I always get asked to bring some New Glarus fruit beers. While not the most complex beers, they get the main focal point of the beer across – the fruit. I wondered aloud if this Black Currant existed in the same universe as the other fruit beers and it most certainly does. An oud bruin/brown ale style base dosed with black currants, it brings about all the good things about black currants – the tartness and sweetness – without going overboard. It gets to the ledge of being jammy but then pulls back at just the right time. That’s very important for a low ABV fruit beer, as it could easily overwhelm everything and make things undrinkable. If you ever have a chance to have a New Glarus fruit beer, drink it. It’s not the most intricate beer out there, but it gets the job done deliciously.
Rioter’s Reserve 2022 – Single Barrel | Triple barrel-aged barleywine | Revolution Brewing | Chicago, IL | 17.6% ABV
So how do you make the hype for the release party of one of the most hyped – if not most hyped – beers Revolution has ever released actually increase? Easy. Release two triple barrel versions of the beer. Rioter’s Reserve is essentially a triple barrel-aged version of V.S.O.J. featuring aging in Eagle Rare Bourbon and WhistlePig The Boss Hog VIII Lapulapu’s Pacific Rye barrels. The final and finishing barrel just so happened to be Pappy Van Winkle bourbon barrels. (The other Rioter’s Reserve finished in Laird’s Apple Brandy barrels.) While both were extremely complex and sweet, the Pappy finished version added even more complexity but not much more perceived sweetness. Notes of caramel, butterscotch, baking spices, raisins, fig, and vanilla weave a tapestry on your tongue while some additional dark fruits like cherries show up thanks to the finishing barrel. Definitely a “drop-everything-and-get-there” tapping if it ever shows its face again.
Saison Bay View | Saison | Supermoon Beer Co. | Milwaukee, WI | 5.6% ABV – listen
Saisons are meant to be approachable while being interesting. Saison Bay View does that. A pillowy mouthfeel gives way to a slight lemon tartness and a hint of funk that keeps things moving and interesting. Oh, and you keep tilting your elbow back as well. The definition of a crusher, Supermoon’s flagship (presciently packaged as a 4-pack) works well as both a taproom beer and a food pairing beer. I tested it out at Christmas dinner and it passed with flying colors, mostly staying out of the way until the funky ending. While not as complex or age-intensive as some of their other offerings, Saison Bay View will definitely have you going back for more. Don’t forget to stop at Supermoon if you’re ever in Milwaukee; you won’t regret it.
Ryan’s Mixed Six
Space | American IPA | Half Acre Beer Co. | Chicago, IL | 6.6% ABV
There are a lot of great reasons to visit Half Acre on Balmoral, and this beer might be near the top of the list. Though store shelves will see the Deep Space Double IPA version of this beer, you’ve got to get to Half Acre’s taproom to get a draft pour or four-pack of this absolute masterclass on IPA that’s been their house beer for ages. It pours completely clear, burnt orange and almost garnet, with a soapy and tall head. The aroma is resinous pine, sweet citrus, lemon lime, and lavender flowers. In the flavor, sweet malts are overtaken by a quick orange and lemon burst before the rest of the hops hit. In the end, there’s a punchy and persistent herbal bitterness that stays with you a while. If you love hops and are experiencing haze fatigue, this beer will immediately remind you why IPAs became your go-to style.
Viaduct | Mosaic, Simcoe, and Peacharine-hopped DIPA | Hop Butcher for the World | Chicago, IL | 8.25% ABV
When I finally made it to the Hop Butcher taproom this month, I defaulted to my usual preferences and ordered two non-hazy IPAs for my first pours. (Destination Moon and Zuzu’s Winter Garden – both outstanding, I have to add.) But then I figured, if you’re in the house of haze, you should drink that turbid juice in its purest state. Since I’d never heard of Peacharine before, I took a chance on this VIaduct. The beer is everything you know and love about the Hop Butcher haze playbook – the creamy body with a slightly sweet midsection that ends with a wisp of bitterness. But I don’t think it was just taproom vibes that made this one stand out to me. The aroma and flavor are both dripping in overripe melons, citrus, berries, and sweet stone fruit with some notes of herbaceous dank. It’s impossible to tell that it’s above 8%, and it gives me hope that I can still love a perfectly-made hazy as much as any other IPA.
Cold Blooded Cryo Blood of the Unicorn | Cryo-Hopped Red Ale | Pipeworks Brewing Co. | Chicago, IL | 6.4% ABV
For starters, I’m not really sure what the whole “cryo” aspect of this beer is doing – the whole beer feels like a throwback to the early days of Pipeworks. It pours a deep reddish brown with a creamy two fingers of head. Aromas of caramel, cedar, pine, and sticky orange marmalade make the beer reminiscent of some West Coast IPAs from 15 years ago. On the taste, there’s sweetness from toasted malts, wheat bread crusts, and waxy citrus zest. The hops flash with a quick yet significant bitterness that doesn’t stick too long on the finish. It’s a fine example of why hoppy red ales are deserving of more SKUs as an alternative take on IPA.
What the Night Brings | Imperial Stout aged in cognac and bourbon barrels for 2 years, recirculated on figs and dates | Short Fuse Brewing Company | Schiller Park, IL | 12% ABV
The last few years of Short Fuse have been a real reclamation story dotted with significant awards, like a small brewery honor at GABF in 2021 (along with two silver medals that year) and back-to-back FoBAB medals in 2021 and 2022. This beer took the most recent Bronze in the Specialty Strong Porter/Stout category at FoBAB and deservedly so. If you’re looking for a big barrel presence, this beer does not disappoint. Both the bourbon and cognac are present throughout the sip, and they leave a bit of heat on the finish that is challenging yet rewarding. The stout itself is just chocolate and fruit-forward enough to peek out from behind the barrels at times, holding the whole thing together. The figs and dates aren’t immediately prominent, but as the beer warms their sweetness makes itself known. This is the perfect stout for a miserably cold night.
Marbelle | A blend of mixed culture saisons fermented in French Oak aged 12 months, refermented on Petite Pearl wine grapes & Tart Montmorency cherries | Supermoon Beer Company | Milwaukee, WI | 7.2% ABV – listen
Craig’s already gotten me on the bandwagon of Supermoon Superfans™ as we’ve been lucky to try a variety of Rob Brennan’s saisons with a 100% success rate. This Marbelle is a fascinating (and sexy) beer, as it drives the saison as close to wine as it can get while trying to remain a saison. The blood-red beer comes in a clear 750mL bottle with striking label art, and I was content just staring at the unopened thing for a few weeks. It pours like a sparkling wine with a purple-ish head that disappears in seconds. The aroma is musty and oak-forward, with a jammy cherry and black grape character coming in as it warms a bit. It tastes like a funky and not-sweet sangria, but with a more tannic finish. It’s jammy and fruit-forward, but it’s impressively dry with some of that musty funk and saison phenol hanging around in the end. Impress your friends and pop this at your next swanky gathering, because people have those still, right?
Genuine Authentic | Black Pilsner | Werk Force Brewing Company | Plainfield, IL | 5.25% ABV – listen
Since Dark Lagers are having their moment (one that we hope has staying power beyond “a moment”), we’ve seen a bevy of Czech Dark Lagers and Schwarzbiers.But this might be the first “Black Pilsner” we’ve come across. It pours a deep blackish-brown with a creamy khaki head that stays around a bit. On the nose it’s roasted dark malt, light coffee, and just a wisp of smoke. In the taste, there’s a little chocolate malt with more of that roast coffee bitterness, but it’s ultimately a crisp and clean easy-drinker. Werk Force excels at just about everything, so we’re 100% on board if they want to dabble in other dark lager styles.