ABV Chicago Monthly Sampler: June 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 June.
Craig’s Mixed Six
Kielbasa King | New England-style DIPA | Hop Butcher for the World | Chicago, IL | 7.5% ABV – listen
Sometimes it’s nice not to try and pick out the individual flavors and aromas you taste and just enjoy the beer (thus defeating the purpose of our podcast, but I digress). Kielbasa King is one of those beers. Yeah, there’s some citrus flavors and some grape aromas, but this one’s about just enjoying the beer. It’s got some bitterness, some sweetness and the booze hides extremely well. Kielbasa King ranks right up there with other Hop Butcher stalwarts Alemerica and Tavern Cut as ones I hope get yearly or semi-yearly releases. Kneel before the King, baby!
Son of Shakey | Milkshake IPA | Maplewood Brewing and Distillery | Chicago, IL | 6.5% ABV – listen
Purchase Maplewood beer for no-contact pick-up here
Yes, I have both a favorite milkshake IPA and milkshake IPA series. Given what 2020 is, that’s not that weird, but it’s still jarring to me. The Shakey series from Maplewood is my favorite milkshake series and Son of Shakey – essentially the base for all their fruited variants – reaffirms this. A smooth and creamy mouthfeel leads to a fair amount of sweetness, but the small amount of bitterness reigns that sweetness in, keeping it from going too far and making a 16oz can something you will gladly finish.
Jet Stream | American Pale Wheat | Metropolitan Brewing | Chicago, IL | 5.8% ABV – listen
Purchase Metropolitan beer for pick-up here
Light, refreshing, flavorful, canned. Metropolitan is known for the first three while the last one is a very new and welcome addition. For being a 5.8% pale wheat, there’s a ton of nose flavors here, featuring flowers, fruit, grass, and, of course, wheat. Drinking it yields very similar results, until you realize that you’ve finished the can. Then you crack another one. Then you’re drunk on your Zoom meeting. Great. Metropolitan will be canning most or all of their beer soon, and that’s a win for the Chicago beer drinker. (Their Stromhaus Helles Radler falls into the same category, but it’s only available at their socially-distant, outdoor, pier-side beautiful taproom: a space, by the way, where I felt safe the whole time and will definitely be back.)
Pith | Kölsch-form with pomelo citrus | middle brow | Chicago, IL | 4% ABV – listen (Patreon exclusive)
Purchase Middle Brow beer (and other things) for delivery or pick-up here
I have no idea what a Kölsch-form beer is, but I’ll take it to mean whatever this beer is. The beer starts dry on the front with all the flavor arriving in the back. Grapefruit, some bitterness and a refreshing finish make this a perfect 4th of July/summer beer. The bitterness exists at the end and mainly to support multiple sips, cans, or 4-packs of consumption, but the pomelo citrus really adds an extra layer of complexity to an otherwise straightforward beer style – which is really what middle brow does with just about everything.
Constellate | Lager with Yuzu | Public Access Liquids | Boston, MA | 5% ABV – listen
I’m a fan of yuzu. Problem is that it’s both expensive and very easy to overdo, in part because a little goes a long way. But when done correctly, it adds a lovely amount of tart lemon to a beer. Public Access Liquids does it well with Constellate, being careful not to over-yuzu the lager. Yuzu comes in first, then regresses a bit and lets the base lager shine while still retaining some of that tart lemon flavor. It’s also extremely refreshing and very easy to drink – a summer beer if there ever was one. But, hey, you know, you could age it in gin barrels or something…
Supermassive Café Deth | Barrel-aged Imperial Oatmeal Stout with Dark Matter Coffee | Revolution Brewing | Chicago, IL | 14.8% ABV – Read
Purchase Revolution beer for curbside pick-up here
Coffee drinkers of any kind can stop reading right now. You want this beer. To everyone else – you want this beer. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of 2019 Cafe Deth – a height that few coffee beers have reached – it’s still a damn amazing beer. Tons of Dark Matter coffee (10 pounds per barrel) make this an extremely coffee-forward beer. The base Deth’s Tar adds notes of chocolate and the barrel adds some vanilla, oak, and heat. It never gets too boozy to limit your enjoyment of the beer. Putting away a 12oz can that has as much caffeine as an espresso and enough booze to knock you on your ass was never this easy.
Ryan’s Mixed Six
The Easygoing Drink | Grisette | Garden Path Fermentation | Burlington, WA | 4.4% ABV
Garden Path Fermentation is an almost 4 year-old project from Ron Extract and Amber Watts, and I admit I hadn’t heard of them until they showed up on Chicagoland shelves just two months back. And I am sure glad they’re here. Besides having one of the cooler beer-themed names in the industry (along with Levi Funk, Brett Porter, and Ken Stout, to name a few), Extract should sound familiar to those who love natural farmhouse ales, as he served as a co-owner and partner at Jester King, where Watts also managed the tasting room and front office. Their location just outside of Burlington, WA gives them access to ample resources from the Skagit Valley for brewing. But perhaps the most important ingredient in their beers is the native yeast and microbes that imbue this otherwise light grisette with more complex earthy and funky notes. Aromatically, this starts with honey, lemongrass and fresh cut dandelion. On the taste, it starts soft with honey wheat bread and lavender. It quickly shifts to an effervescent body with tart lemon peel and a more noticeable sweet clover honey before finishing with a delicate dryness.
Beer Hates Astronauts | IPA | Half Acre Beer Company | Chicago, IL | 7.7% ABV
Order Half Acre beer and dog frisbees here
So this is hazy now? When I heard Half Acre was slightly changing up my favorite yearly hoppy special release, a momentary cringe subsides when I remember the reassuring level of trust the brand has built with me over time. And sure enough, this SMaSH beer still smashes. (I’m so sorry.) Even with London III ale yeast laying down the hazy, it’s still the Vienna malt and Citra that make this one of the most drinkable IPAs around. Aromatically, it hits with grapefruit, citrus punch, ripe strawberries, and a kiss of mint and chive. It drinks like a Cactus Cooler cocktail splashed with a scoop of strawberry sorbet, but then the surprisingly resinous bitter finish sticks around long after the sip, erasing any threat of sweetness. Never doubt Half Acre.
Dese, Dem & Dose | Simcoe, Motueka & Belma-hopped India Pale Ale | Hop Butcher for the World | Chicago, IL | 6.75% ABV – listen
Not all Hop Butcher beers have to swing for the fences to be homeruns, as this somewhat straightforward IPA might’ve slipped by some (if it weren’t for the excellent name). It’s not hazy, but not perfectly transparent. The aroma gives an interesting sweet bubble gum note along with IPA fridge poetry: grapefruit skin, orange, lemon-lime, and fresh cut grass. The mouthfeel is a bit softer than expected, but it still has vibrant notes of overripe melon and pithy citrus. There’s a fairly significant pine bitterness in the finish that separates it from the styles they’ve so built their reputation on to harken back to something more West Coast.
Elevated Perspective: Samba, Nelson Sauvin, Mosaic Cryo, Strata | Imperial oat cream IPA | Humbler Forager Brewery | Waunakee, WI | 8% ABV
If you ever wanted to see Rochester, Minnesota’s Forager hit Chicago shelves (and you should), this is basically it. Working with Wisconsin’s contract-brewing hub Octopi, Austin Jevne needed a way to distribute beer more widely given Minnesota’s restrictive distribution laws. Humble Forager is that solution. This beer is explosively aromatic: first bringing out peaches and cream, then pineapple, mango, tropical drink, mixed berries, and rainbow sherbet. It’s an absolute gangbang of fruit, and one of the most pungent beers I’ve come across this year. The body is massive for an IPA – creamy but not sticky or sweet. In taste, it’s muddled overripe fruits, but in a good way. It’s a tropical punch with some noticeable peaches, mango, and pineapple, plus a little sweet cream. There is almost no bitterness, which is forgivable, because it drinks well under its ABV.
Beer for Golf | Wit-style ale w/ lemon and black tea | Off Color Brewing | Chicago, IL | 4.5% ABV
Order Off Color for pickup or delivery on their website
There are plenty of local breweries I’m grateful for, but their portfolios could reasonably be replaced by another brewery capable of making IPAs, stouts, and/or lagers. But there is no other brewery like Off Color, and that’s why they’re my favorite Chicago brewery. They do incredibly delicate barrel-treated wilds, long-forgotten styles, and esoteric experiments right along with well-crafted crowd-pleasers like this one. There’s very little to dissect in terms of aroma and flavor, because this does exactly what it sets out to do: it tastes and smells exactly like a lightly boozy Arnold Palmer. The flavor bursts forth at first, but the lightly tart lemon and black tea make this finish dry with the slightest kiss of pucker. With this, Beer for Tacos, and Beer for Brunch, they could reach the widest consumer base they ever have – but it doesn’t seem like they’re too concerned with that.
Shaky Shaky – Strawberry | Milkshake IPA w/ strawberry, lactose, Mosaic hops and vanilla | Riverlands Brewing Company | St. Charles, IL | 7.2% ABV – listen
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I’ve grown to appreciate milkshake IPAs, but maybe it’s because I only drink them periodically for the podcast. If I tried every one of them, I’d probably be more disappointed than impressed, because they can be exhausting. This one, however, is scarily drinkable. One finger of whipped cream head tops this burnt orange hazy beer, and the aroma bursts through like strawberry sugar wafers and vanilla ice cream. In the flavor, the strawberry is pronounced but not shouted – it finds a nice harmony with the added vanilla and the berry fruitiness from the Mosaic hops. So many milkshake IPAs become a chore to finish over time, but this one earns every pleasant sip and invites more.