ABV Chicago Monthly Sampler: July 2020
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 beer reviews. Some of these beers were reviewed on the podcast, some were for Patreon-only Low ABVs, and some are just beers we bought because we love beer. Here are our highlights for the month of July.
Craig’s Mixed Six
Tradition: Double Gin Barrel Aged | Barrel-Aged Saison | Afterthought Brewing | Lombard, IL – read
Sometimes we make mistakes. While Afterthought’s Key Lime Gin Barrel Aged saison was delicious on the Saisonathon at Home show, this Double Gin Barrel Aged saison was something else. The gin, lemon, lime, funk, and oak on the nose and the beautiful color and nucleation on the beer give way to a tart, slightly funky and ultimately enjoyable saison. Balanced and nuanced, essential for a saison lover.
I Am Because We Are | Mixed-culture Saison w/ lavender-smoked barley | Keeping Together | Chicago, IL | 5.7% ABV – read
Averie Swanson’s fourth beer under Keeping Together will most likely challenge most drinkers. A standard saison with honey that uses lavender-smoked barley, I Am Because We Are teaches restraint and balance. Smoky to start and sweet to finish with a tartness streak throughout, everything works in perfect harmony to create an enjoyable and unique experience. Get used to seeing Keeping Together on these lists.
Beer for Brunch | Berliner Weisse w/ orange and chardonnay grape juice | Off Color Brewing | Chicago, IL | 6.5% ABV – listen
Off Color, can you sponsor us? You can pay us in your easy drinking and sessionable Beer for beers. The heaviest of this core lineup mimics a mimosa and does so convincingly. Tons of orange and a lovely champagne-like effervescence makes me want some blintzes. There’s even some lovely wine notes on the beer itself as well. The Berliner tartness exists on the end and those flavors linger just long enough for you to want to go in again. Masterful, just like all of the Beer for series.
Woo Boost | Berliner Weisse w/ strawberry and banana | Mikerphone Brewing | Elk Grove Village, IL | 5.25% ABV
I ventured out to the Mikerphone patio, ostensibly to get a taste of barrel-aged Smells Like Bean Spirit. It was 95 degrees Fahrenheit (or more) and I understandably needed something light and refreshing to balance out that beer. Woo Boost met that challenge. The fruit complements the base Berliner nicely, allowing that tartness to shine through. Big strawberry notes on the nose led to a tart banana Laffy Taffy-like flavor and an all around refreshing experience.
Shadowstepper | Milk Stout w/ cacao nibs & lactose sugar| Rabid Brewing | Homewood, IL | 7% ABV – listen
There aren’t too many milk stouts on the market. Usually a brewery just decides to brew a stout or, in a rare occasion, a porter. So when one comes through I get excited to try it but usually end up disappointed. Not so with Shadowstepper. Thick mouthfeel (for a milk stout), chocolate balanced by a roasty note, and some lactose to smooth everything out. It’s my new favorite Chicago milk stout. I’ll be buying a four pack whenever I see it.
Nordic Sunrise | Kviek IPA | Third Space Brewing | Milwaukee, WI | 7.5% ABV – listen (Patreon exclusive)
There’s something to be said for giving a beer some time. Opening my first can after purchase I wasn’t the biggest fan; maybe I didn’t like kveik IPAs. The beer seemed dull and came with too many earthy notes. But after a few weeks (or months, on the Low ABV) it started to pop and shine. Tons of orange and citrus notes came out to play. Everything worked well together, from the slightly dry finish to the bitterness to the sweetness. The booze is there and present, but it works well with everything else going on in the beer, making it more of a West Coast-style IPA. Just give it some time.
Ryan’s Mixed Six
Summer Kings | Double Gose w/ fresh strawberry juice, gray sea salt, coriander, and hibiscus | Dutchbag Brew Co. | Chicago, IL | 6.4% ABV – listen
I still know very little about Dutchbag Brew Co. other than that they have been “staying loose” since 2015 as a homebrew operation and are now producing beer in the Pilot Project space. But after this beer, I need to know so much more. Though this doesn’t clear the bar for those wanting over-fruited sours, this one is full of strawberry and gives big daiquiri or margarita vibes. It pours with a full four fingers of head, then gives off aromas of Strawberry Fanta, salty seawater, tin can, and flowers. It drinks fairly light and refreshing, punctuated by an extremely dry finish thanks to the salt and hibiscus. But there are waves of strawberry juice that ebb and flow through each sip, and even flecks of coriander sneak in from time to time. This could absolutely be enjoyed over ice. Seek this out, at all costs.
Gose Ale Aged In Port Barrels | Gose Ale aged in California Port barrels | Lake Effect Brewing | Chicago, IL | 4.8% ABV – listen
I’ve shouted from the mountaintops about Lake Effect’s barrel-aged beers, but what might be most impressive for a brewery of their size is how purposeful the application of barrels has become. Clint and his crew are using a wide variety of barrels to really go for inspired flavor combinations rather than just making bourbon barrel-aged adjunct stout number 523. Somewhat like the excellent School of Brett series, their barrel-aged gose series also seeks to identify those subtle flavor differences when a variable is changed. (This series also includes a Malort barrel-aged gose, and Ryan is ISO, btw.) The California Port barrels used to age the gose add a lot: a crimson color with bubbles hanging in suspension; light earthy aromas of musty grape and currant. In the flavor, it’s still a tart wheat gose that is slightly accentuated by sweet red grapes and a touch of wine barrel tannin. Rarely do you find a barrel-aged beer that you want to drink an entire 4-pack of, but this delicately barrel-treated gose from Lake Effect is better than any champagne cooler you can throw together for your lonely inflatable poolside hangs in your backyard.
Fuzzy Smack | Berliner Weisse w/ peaches | Noon Whistle Brewing | Lombard, IL | 4.6% ABV – listen
There weren’t a lot of breweries locally making Berliner Weisse beers when Noon Whistle debuted their “Smack” series, and years since that time, the style has become synonymous with ridiculous fruit puree additions. This is not that. But you should absolutely buy a six-pack of it because you want a disarmingly refreshing Peach Bellini beer. Aromatically, it’s floral peach perfume and a Solo cup of prosecco. A steady bassline of peach juice moves the beer along while a kiss of citric acidity adds a tart dryness to the finish. This is a beer to get a sunburn to.
Black is Beautiful | Imperial Stout | Revolution Brewing Company | Chicago, IL | 10% ABV
Black Is Beautiful has become a worldwide initiative for fundraising and education (find out more here) through the use of beer as a medium for social change, started by Houston’s Weathered Souls Brewing Company. It’s the most important beer of the year – even though that beer is being made differently by over a thousand different breweries. According to their website, Revolution’s take on the beer is a thick stout (something like Alderaan, the base for the Deth’s Tar lineup) mixed with a bit of Eugene porter, and I can’t actually tell if it’s just their tasting description or an actual component of the finished product. Either way, it’s a stunner of a “throwback” stout in the sense that it doesn’t rely on adjuncts to deliver robust and deep flavor. Aromatically, it is burnt caramel, carob, licorice, and coffee roast. Those aromas come through in the flavor, but a bit more sweetness elevates the beer further, and the notes of bitter dark chocolate and coffee make this one surprisingly dry on the finish. It’s complex and weighty, but not heavy. All proceeds for this beer will go to My Block, My Hood, My City – and though we are confident that Revolution will follow-through on their donations, it is important for all beer drinkers, writers, and brewers to hold breweries accountable for using this beer label as a meaningful agent for change or education and disclose that their donations have been made – and not simply to profit off of this important movement during this essential moment in history.
Struts & Frets | Hazy IPA | Roaring Table Brewing | Lake Zurich, IL | 7.3% ABV – listen
It’s been a pretty good year (which we know is relative) for Roaring Table, as they were named the best new brewery in the U.S. in a poll on USAToday, and they’ve started canning beers for distribution. Though hazy IPAs are a dime-a-dozen these days, when one finds a harmony of flavors like this one, it stands out. The aroma hits with coconut, peach ring candies, mango, and mixed berries. The flavor mostly follows suit, with the peach, mango, and coconut combining for the essence of some creamy tropical cocktail with a slight bitter finish. It’s also deceptively drinkable for its ABV, so watch yourself with the 4-pack on this one.
Pan’s Bread | Bock-style Lager | Soundgrowler Brewing Co. | Tinley Park, IL | 7.8% ABV – listen
Just to get it out of the way in this review: when you can, you should go to Soundgrowler and eat their tacos and listen to doom metal and drink their beers. (Bonus points if you are a little stoned.) It’s one of the first things I’ll do again when it makes sense to do so. This bock is one of the few beers they’ve begun canning and sending to a few local shops, and it almost makes me forget about the tacos. (ALMOST.) Right away, the caramel color and slight ring of head embrace you like an Autumn sweater. It smells of sourdough bread, plum juice, and wet cedar. The strength of the ABV isn’t really hidden but it’s couched in a perfectly balanced malt sweetness reminiscent of a honey and rosemary focaccia loaf. It would go oh so well with tacos. I really like tacos.