ABV Chicago Monthly Sampler: July 2023
At the end of 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 July 2023.
Ryan’s Mixed Six
Citrus Surfer | Citrus Wheat Ale | Big Grove Brewery | Iowa City, IA | 4.8% ABV – listen (Patreon only)
As a Hawkeye alum that graduated in 2005, the best beers available in town at that time were import bottles from Dirty John’s Grocery or a tall Boulevard Wheat with an orange slice to wash down a Quinton’s sandwich. Had the Big Grove location been around back then, I can hardly imagine wanting to drink elsewhere (other than the occasional shot-and-a-beer at the Deadwood or Dublin). This beer was made to crush on their football field-sized patio in the summer. Aromatically, it’s waxy orange peels, pink lemonade, and soft wheat bread. On the drink, the citrus remains present throughout the entirety of the sip, never fully taking over, just lending a kiss of zest to increase drinkability. There’s still a soft and easy wheat ale at the base, and the crisp finish really makes this a 12-pack beer to pair with outdoor sporting events or parking lot cornhole.
Celery Salt | American Pale Ale | Hop Butcher for the World | Chicago, IL | 6% ABV
I’ve owned two plastic shaker containers of celery salt in my entire life: one that I got in a metal spinning spice rack in college and the other that honestly may have been passed down to me from my parents, with a faded McCormick label that hasn’t been in use since the 80s. It’s a seasoning I exclusively use for homemade Chicago-style dogs, and that’s not a craving I have more than a few times a year to be honest. And you only need a few shakes with all the other stuff piled on top of your crowded dog, so it’s going to last. Hop Butcher isn’t going to put it in their beer (for shame), but I appreciate the tribute to this quintessential ingredient with the wonderful cycloptic @jetsah characters, the celery in mid-shot put stance. Of course this pale isn’t meant to mimic celery salt; it’s a zoomed-in feature on the brewer-favorite Nelson Sauvin hop. The aroma lunges out with cotton candy grapes and sweet tropical fruit punch. On the flavor, it starts a little spritzy and unassuming before notes of a citrus pithy bitterness rise in the middle and ride out to the finish. More grapefruit comes out to meld with the green grape skin and a lightly herbal note peaks out in the far ending. It’s something you can finish a few cans of in one sitting while you contemplate the extraneousness of those big dumb tomato slices on the Chicago dog.
Hello Pretty | Organic Blonde Ale w/ strawberries | Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing | Santa Cruz, CA | 5% ABV – listen
In my experience, strawberry beers have often come across tasting either syrupy sweet like milkshake additive or tinny and flat like freeze-dried strawberries. Outside of over-the-top smoothie beers where a half ton of actual strawberry puree has been shoveled into the can, it’s hard to find authentically fresh-tasting strawberry flavor in a beer. This beer from our Bay Area show stopped me in my tracks, delivering on some of the best strawberry aroma and flavor I’ve experienced laid bare in a light style like this blonde ale. It helps as well that it’s well-attenuated and lacking any excessive lingering sweetness. And to boot, it’s an all-organic made beer, a rare find on today’s shelves. This one will be kicking around in my head for a while.
Vanta | Schwarzbier-Style Lager | Seldom Beer Co. | Darien, IL | 4.8% ABV
We spend a lot of time at the Miskatonic taproom and patio in Darien because it’s a great space, the vibes are immaculate, and the beer is always impressive. I ordered a half liter of this Schwarzbier under the idea that it was a Miskatonic beer I’d had before, but when I brought the 4-pack home, I noticed the can said, “Seldom Beer Co.” As of a week ago, Craig and I had another beer that had the Seldom name on it but could find very little about it. Then just days after that, an Instagram account popped up, explaining the company as, “An in-house, not-so-secret side project of @miskatonicbrewing…Focusing on crispy lagers and barrel-aged brews.” Mystery (somewhat) solved. And though I was plenty happy with Miskatonic beers as it was, I’m psyched to see what options this’ll bring to one of our favorite stops. This Schwarzbier is impressive right from the first sniff with a tremendous amount of roast, coffee bean, and toasted nut character. In the sip, the big bitter roast is upfront, bigger than most Schwarzs, and it leaves notes of dark chocolate all the way through the finish. The body is lively and finishes easy like a lager, depending on your tolerance of the significant roast bitterness. It’s a bold yet exceptionally tasty take on the style, and I’m hoping to drink Seldom…with some more frequency.
Norm is a Son of a Bitch | Roggenbier | Spiteful Brewing | Chicago, IL | 6% ABV
Truthfully, we had this beer on the podcast in March of 2014 for Episode 7 – German-Style Chicago, and it placed dead last in both of our rankings. Sure, the competition was a bit stacked, but we also weren’t necessarily familiar with the flavor profile of this obscure style that essentially replaces the wheat in a dunkelweizen with rye. In 2014, I doubt we’d had more than a few dunkels or weizens or rye beers – so I’m glad I get to drink this again in 2023. The aroma is oatmeal cookie with dark brown sugar, banana bread, allspice, and pepper – it’s utterly lovely on its own. Poured cold, there’s light banana, clove, and honey wheat bread. As it warms, there’s a nuttiness like the toasted topping of a breakfast muffin, and the kiss of rye spice on the finish gives it a sharpness to facilitate more drinking. We were so, so wrong about this one. Bless you, Norm, you old S.O.B.
Indy Haná | Czech-Style Pale Lager | Triptych Brewing | Savoy, IL | 5% ABV
It’s not often I see Triptych beers in the western suburbs, so when I happened upon this $10 4-pack I couldn’t have snatched it up faster. Triptych may be known for their Dank Meme hazy to many, but they’ve been making a wide variety of lagers that pay homage to very classic styles in their Heirloom Lager series. This is very close to a traditional Czech-style pilsner, utilizing the Haná malt (grown in Indiana!) which produced some of the earliest versions of the style. From the nose, it’s all fresh-baked bread and a little lemongrass. If it were a scented candle, it would be the most comforting thing of all time. The taste accentuates that bread note with a more herbal Saaz touch that lends just the slightest bitterness. It’s on the level of beers we regularly praise from Art History, Goldfinger, or Dovetail – and I hope more Triptych lagers find their way up to the area. (Especially at that price point, hot damn!)
Craig’s Mixed Six
Gold Squadron Lager | Lager with lavender and plum flavors | Blue Point Brewing Company | Patchogue, NY | 5% ABV
When in Batuu, do as Batuuans do. So I had a Gold Squadron lager. Even among all the flavorful and creative cocktails in this land, the Gold Squadron lager holds its own and even exceeds it in some parts. While in the absolute heat and humidity of Orlando, FL, Gold Squadron provided a refreshing respite from the elements (that and air conditioning). The plum really pops and adds a little tartness to the lager while the lavender brings in some floral notes. All together it results in something similar to a tart Berliner Weisee with a little fruit in it. Or a Revolution session sour. Perfect for traversing the land of three suns.
No Mas | Gose with Persian lime, pink pepper leaf, and lacto-fermented honey | Fox Tale Fermentation Project | San Jose, CA | 4% ABV – listen
Leave it to the brewery where I had a black saison with oysters (that wasn’t nearly as bad as I though it was going to be) to knock a gose out of the park. While the first few sips for me were tinged with some lacto-ness, it all settles into a refreshing and uniquely crafted gose. Some salinity exists in the finish but the lime really stars and takes this gose to the next level. Combined with some of the pink pepper leaf, No Mas borders on refreshing tropical cocktail rather than low ABV gose. The honey really doesn’t add its usual sweetness, opting for adding some body and fullness to the final product. Gose is a style that, while still being made with some regularity, is nowhere near its peak from about 10 or so years ago, so it was nice to have a well-done and, more importantly, wholly unique take on the style.
Third Press | Stout and barleywine blend aged in oak barrels | Private Press Brewing | Santa Cruz, CA | 15% ABV – listen
You can tell Brad Clark’s been doing it for a while. Third Press features similar blending techniques as his other Private Press releases – different “threads”, or barrels, blended to achieve a goal. But Third Press elevates everything. First off, the blend starts with Second Press, the second anniversary beer. Then, both barleywine and stout are added to the blend. The result is a complex, layered and nuanced take on both barleywine and stout. The stout provides the chocolate and roast while the barleywine adds things on the darker side of the style – molasses, fig, raisin. Vanilla, oak and some cherries round things out on an impressive blend of beers. This is one of Private Press’ high points – which is saying something.
Freedom Tepache | Session sour with pineapple, cinnamon, and brown sugar | Revolution Brewing | Chicago, IL | 4.5% ABV – read
Yes, I tasted through all 18 sours at Revolution’s Freedom Fest, mainly to come away with some that I hoped would be made on a bigger scale. Of course I would pick a three-addition one that most likely makes no sense to produce on a larger scale. Freedom Tepache achieves what other Freedom beers weren’t able to – get those flavors in there without being absolutely overpowering. The pineapple stars but isn’t drowning out the rest. The cinnamon contributes its signature spice kick without making it spicy. The brown sugar, however, was the real star, cutting some of the pineapple in the finish and adding a bit more of rounded sweetness to the beer. Freedom Tepache feels like a bigger beer despite it being only 4.5% ABV. I’m hoping to see this (or Flower Bouquet) on tap at Revolution or a future Freedom Fest.
Westly | Barrel-aged saison with apricots | Sante Adairius Rustic Ales | Capitola, CA | 8.5% ABV – listen
We had Sante Adairius Rustic Ales’ West Ashley forever ago (2014, in the first year of the podcast). It was amazing. Little did we know that in that same year they would release Westly for the first time. The idea – double the barrel time and apricots found in West Ashley – is simple enough. But it’s all about the execution on something like this. This combination could lead to something too acidic or not barrel balanced. Not so. Doing exactly what I had hoped, Westly doubles up on the apricot presence, making it both smell and taste like biting into an apricot without any added acidity or tartness. While sufficiently tart, it never breaches into the sour realm and really keeps you coming back for more with its apricot flavor and tartness. Think of a more complex mimosa. The barrel complements the base saison and apricots perfectly allowing the apricots to really stand out and shine. An exceptional beer from an exceptional brewery.
Windy Bones | Czech Dark Lager | Wondrous Brewing Co. | Emeryville, CA | 5.5% ABV – listen (Patreon Exclusive)
It’s nice that so many breweries are making Czech dark lagers. And Wondrous’ version of it is up there. A nice coffee roast quality also contributes a slight bitterness at the end of the sip while the dark malts also impart a certain amount of chocolate character that supports those coffee notes. That whole flavor profile joins in with a well-crafted base lager to create an easy drinking beer with a fair amount of palate happiness. I even had a Mliko pour of it while at Wondrous that really upped the creaminess and sweetness of the beer. But this Czech dark lager manages to be one of the better ones out there and one you should try if you ever get the chance.