ABV Chicago Monthly Sampler: July 2021
Each month, we like to highlight twelve beers (or meads) 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 July 2021.
Craig’s Mixed Six
The Grace of Maybe | Saison with lemongrass, peaches, and vanilla beans | Keeping Together | Chicago, IL | 6% ABV – listen
Keeping Together doesn’t need to do much to get me interested in one of their saisons, but putting peaches and vanilla in one really piqued my interest. And no surprise – it’s done with a deft hand. The base saison full of bits of funk and lemon remains the main focus, while the peach and vanilla combined together to form an almost peach cobbler on the finish. The amount of balance between all the additions is astounding and the subtlety of the vanilla and the peach on the end is perfectly done. A unique saison and something we’ve come to expect from Keeping Together.
La Trappe Quadrupel | Belgian Quadrupel | Bierbrouwerij De Koningshoeven | Netherlands | 10% ABV – listen
Another creation of the 1990s, La Trappe is the first bottled Beligan quadrupel and still the best. It doesn’t taste 10%, but it has a full mouthfeel and big bready notes. A ton of other flavors also come through, most notably raisins, figs, baking spices, and banana. It’s basically a choose-your-own-flavor-adventure type of beer and one that I could keep sipping on again and again and never get tired of it. Much like some of the other Trappist beers, it’s a meal in a glass. Don’t pass it up on the shelf because it’s in the import aisle!
Wildwood | Grisette | Necromancer Brewing Co. | Pittsburgh, PA | 4.5% ABV – listen
A brewery bringing back old styles and giving them a wide release? Hell yeah. Only problem is it isn’t in Chicago. While other such styles on the show like the black IPA and Kentucky Common were also of note, the Wildwood grisette stood out due to its mouthfeel and drinkability. Even while having a hefty, full bodied mouthfeel, the very lemony grisette never drank heavy and was gone before I knew it. And that lemon really starred, giving the beer a Girl Scout lemon cookie note when combined with the biscuity grisette. An outstanding beer and one I’m on the lookout for again.
Ordinary Stillage | English Session Ale | Old Thunder Brewing Company | Pittsburgh, PA | 3.8% ABV – listen
Apparently July was a very bready month in beer for me. Starting off with a lager-like profile and finishing with big bread and grassy notes, Ordinary Stillage definitely fits the profile of an English session ale. You get a ton of flavor while the beer remains extremely drinkable and before you know it a full 4-pack of this will be gone. Hopefully Old Thunder follows through and puts this beer on cask at some point because then it would somehow reach a whole new level of awesomeness. Another beer style that I’d love to see brewed more often in Chicago.
Unmitigated Audacity | Barrel-aged imperial oatmeal stout with coffee | Revolution Brewing | Chicago, IL | 17.2% ABV
You know you’re in the zone when not only do you even think of this but you manage to completely and utterly pull this off. Revolution is back to having Deep Wood release parties at their taproom, which means all manner of insane tap-only beers to be had. Like Unmitigated Audacity, better known as Supermassive Cafe Double Barrel V.S.O.D.. Seriously what the hell? DB VSOD was one of the most delicious things I had last year, so Revolution not only put coffee in it, but the supermassive dose of it. Yes, it was sweet. Yes it was boozy. But my god did the interplay between the vanillins of the barrel, the chocolate of the oatmeal stout and the huge amount of coffee lead to something special. Unfortunately there’s zero chance this ever gets a wide release, but if it does – or you see it on tap somewhere – get it.
Red Currant | Red Currant mead | Tree Hive | Rantoul, IL | 12.5% ABV – read
Now we can’t call it our top beers of the month! Mead takes some time to get through a whole bottle, so I’m loath to open one by myself. But this one from Tree Hive is different. Not as sweet and heavy as something from Schramm’s or Pips, the red currants in the mead provide a nice amount of tartness, cutting the sweetness and making it sessionable (however sessionable a mead can get). I kept going in for another sip repeatedly, having to stop myself because I did not want to finish an entire 375 mL of mead in one sitting. If thick and sweet meads aren’t your thing, look to the Red Currant from Tree Hive.
Ryan’s Mixed Six
Garden Bitter | English-style Bitter | Half Acre Beer Co. | Chicago, IL | 4.2% ABV – listen (Patreon only)
I’ve come to accept that I’m at a stage in my life where I chat with a friendly beer store employee until the conversation reaches the conclusion that there are simply not enough ESBs being made locally. (I get invited to ALL of the parties.) Half Acre made a beer that’s a tribute to sitting in their gorgeous Balmoral beer garden, and it is as pleasant to drink as you could imagine. Aromatically, earthy and floral hops lead the way, with a toasted barley note that lends a stone ground tortilla chip note. Flavorwise, there’s much more wheat bread up front with that earthy and grassy hop just barely licking the end to give a slight bite to the finish. I warn you that if you order a pint of this, you might not want to order a different beer for your entire visit to the garden.
From the Outer Edge of Inner Space | Bitter saison with Galaxy hops and wildflower honey | Keeping Together | Chicago, IL | 6.7% ABV – listen
A remarkable thing about Keeping Together beers is if you’ve tried a decent amount of the beers, you will likely find one that you’re convinced was made specifically for your tastes – even though Averie Swanson is really just making beers that she thinks will taste good. This tribute to a West Coast IPA in saison form is a drinking experience I had been seeking out for a while. Though there are some stellar dry-hopped saisons out there (ahem, see below), this one hits you with big tropical hops, some sneaky notes of green grape, and then honey adds just a touch of sweetness that is cleared out by the bitter finish. As with all KT beers, the mouthfeel is its own unique work of art – a bit heftier than some of the other saisons but crackling with effervescence before that dry and bitter end. This might be the best saison AND the best West Coast IPA I’ve had this year.
Lucia | Dry-hopped spelt saison | Revolution Brewing | Chicago, IL | 5.5% ABV – listen (Patreon only)
This beer was named in honor of a true revolutionary, Lucy Gonzalez Parsons, who fought against oppressive labor conditions brought about by the unceasing grind of capitalist institutions, among many other things. Truthfully, I wasn’t familiar with her story until this beer came along, and finding out she is buried in the same town that I live – Forest Park, IL – made me seek out more literature on her life and her incredible will to fight for what is right. Plus, proceeds for this beer go to support Connections for Abused Women and Their Children. So whether or not this beer is even good, it is already successful in my book. But it IS good. Great, in fact. Aromatically, the dry hop brings out a burst of tropical fruit along with a slight spice and bubblegum note. A bit more citrus fruit than a standard saison brings some interesting peaks to an otherwise note-perfect spelt saison with some banana esters, peppercorn, and cotton candy – with a crisp and dry finish.
Monks’ Reserve Ale | Belgian Quadrupel | Spencer Brewery | Spencer, MA | 10.2% ABV – listen
Exposing our Belgian ignorance, we had gone into our Quad show assuming that the style was based on centuries of tradition, and not born of a Netherlands-based Monastery in 1991. Legendary Belgian Trappist beers like Westvleteren XII and Chimay Blue, once referred to simply as Belgian Strong Dark Ales, have since unofficially received the Quad designation, and they are pretty seriously different than La Trappe’s take. (See Craig’s Mixed Six for more on that beer.) This beer from America’s first Trappist brewery leans more into those Belgian Strong Dark Ales, though it owes some of its fruitiness and drinkability to what La Trappe first coined as Quadrupel. It’s a complex sniff with notes of cranberry, a Maillard-like toasted caramel malt, and a touch of potting soil. An anise-like spiciness surprises at points in the flavor, but it’s a delectable mix of pumpernickel bread with molasses, a bit of dark berries, and Belgian esters. It’s a sipper in theory but it’ll disappear from your glass before you know it.
Mortal Eidolon | Barrel-aged sour ale aged on grape must | Strange Roots Experimental Ales | Gibsonia, PA | 5.3% ABV – listen
My baby brain is so mesmerized by any beer that comes in an unusual packaging format, so to see a barrel-aged sour in a seltzer-sized 12 ounce can made me slap my palms together and squeal with childlike joy. (Don’t judge me!) From the brewery once known as Draai Laag (loved that consonant to vowel ratio), this is like a wine cooler but beer, or like a cheap sparkling Lambrusco. That makes this sound bad, but let me assure you that it is actually a wonderful thing. Though it evokes those flavor comparisons, it’s done with such style and grace in that it retains its identity as a barrel-aged sour beer – slight puckering tartness, dancing effervescence, and a dry finish that fights against the sticky grape juice. It’s not something you’d drink to replace any cheaply-made fermented grape beverage, it’s several levels above that. It could be a gateway into barrel-aged sours for the wine and seltzer drinkers, but it doesn’t pull any flavor punches for those that are already a fan.
Red Petals | Hibiscus Saison | Trace Brewing | Pittsburgh, PA | 5.2% ABV – listen (Patreon only)
I can’t seem to get away from hibiscus beers these days, and honestly reader, I’m okay with that. My previous concerns about the sometimes metallic notes that the flower can leave in the flavor have been washed away when a brewery uses complementary ingredients that elevate only the best elements – much like this beer. The saison can be a natural partner, as some of the characteristic fruity esters and pepper notes work so well with the berry-like sweetness the flower sometimes provides. This one is gentle in touch, with a softer mouthfeel and a lot of big rosé-like flavors. Small hits of cherry and currant play with the floral sweetness, while the saison gives this a pleasant grain character without ever giving it unnecessary weight. It’s basically perfect for any day that the temperature is above 65 degrees, and you can sit amongst nature.