ABV Chicago Monthly Sampler: June 2022
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 for the month of June 2022.
Ryan’s Mixed Six
Table | Table-style Saison w/ Cascade hops | Afterthought Brewing Company | Lombard, IL | 3.4% ABV
If you haven’t made your way to Mike Thorpe’s little slice of saison heaven out in Lombard, you’re long overdue for a visit. Not only is there an absurd amount of Mike’s own beers to drink on tap or from the extensive cellar list (and yes, they’re mostly saisons), he’s also one of the top sellers of Belgian beers in DuPage County. (No joke.) No staff there would be offended if you opted for a DeRanke or Blaugies or Fantôme or Orval or Cantillon or Taras Boulba – they have all that plus saisons from some of the best stateside and local producers like Jester King, Jolly Pumpkin, and Is/Was. Or you could also just drink a few thousand milliliters of this beer and be perfectly satisfied. Bright and snappy, crisp and a little bitter – this session saison hits the slightly tart and pepper character up front before a dry finish brings on the Cascade’s lingering fruity and floral bitterness. This is a perfect house beer.
Batisserie Chocolate Covered Bananas | Imperial pastry stout with chocolate and bananas | Energy City Brewing | Batavia, IL | 10% ABV – listen (Patreon only)
Lately I feel like I can handle about one of these types of beers a week before needing days to recover, but I was pleasantly surprised with this beer’s relative restraint. Now, it’s still a big-ass dessert beer that successfully blends the banana into the chocolate throughout the sip, but it doesn’t land on your tongue like a sticky sugary cordial at the end. It’s even got a touch of bitterness to suture up the finish. The banana is closer to the overripe ones you use for baking, and not the melted Laffy Taffy and paint thinner with which we’ve become well-acquainted. Maybe I shouldn’t write off these Energy City beers as ones to avoid because I don’t like overly-sweet beers. This one does sweet the right way.
Pale Weizenbock | Weizenbock | Giant Jones Brewing Company | Madison, WI | 7.3% ABV – listen
Of the breweries we’ve gotten to know this year, I think I’m most excited about Giant Jones. It’s not just that it’s run by truly great people, but it’s the kind of place where every beer is approached with such a deliberate purpose, you’re likely never to come across a bad or even subpar one. To be certified organic, there are going to be ingredient limitations – but the trick with Giant Jones is that you’d never think something is “missing” or being used as a substitute for a “normal” ingredient. This pale weizenbock can absolutely cut through a hot summer day but also hold its own on a chilly fall night. This beer is reminiscent of banana bread and baking spices, and the alcohol is well-hidden. It is full-flavored and soft, bready malts rise in the middle, and the finish is surprisingly dry.
Double Barrel Benthic (2022) | Imperial stout w/ coconut and cinnamon double barrel-aged in bourbon and apple brandy barrels | Half Acre Beer Company | Chicago, IL | 15.3% ABV – listen
It’s hard to ignore how well Half Acre’s barrel program has expanded and performed in the last few years, and I say this next part without trying to be some irritating contrarian: I do still feel like they’re a few years behind Revolution in terms of consistency in their releases. I have no doubts that’s only going to get better, as maybe one out of every five of their barrel-aged releases doesn’t live up to its promise, at worst. But when Half Acre nails a barrel-aged beer, it can be an absolute world-beater. Some “double barrel” beers don’t really taste it, but this one presents both bourbon and apple brandy as stacking power-ups for an already winning base beer. The individual coconut and cinnamon flavors are present but supporting – the barrels are the show you came for, and that’s what you get the most. But it wouldn’t work if it wasn’t for the thickness of the stout that rested in those barrels. This is one of the best things Half Acre has ever released.
Rag & Bone | British Golden Ale | Necromancer Brewing | Pittsburgh, PA | 4.5% ABV – listen
We’re a little obsessed with the Resurrection series of beers from Necromancer, because there’s really no one else making some of the styles that have been released in that series. This one doesn’t have a super fun name like Merseburger or Lichtenhainer (or Kuit beer!), and it actually seems like it’d fit in on most modern taplists with its combination of lively and bombastic hops like Amarillo, Citra, and Centennial. It drinks a bit like a pale ale but with a more significant biscuit and bread character in the middle. It dances off to a bitter finish that implores you to sip further.
22 Pils | German-style Pilsner | New Glarus Brewing Company | New Glarus, WI | 5.4% ABV – listen
We’re spoiled to have so many Illinois breweries making fantastic Pilsners, but when Dan and Deb Carey drop a beer with a blend of American, Czech, and German malts *record scratch* all put through a double decoction mash *record player flies out the window* brewed even more slowly to maximize the flavor off of a German hop I’ve never heard of?!? *breathes heavily into bag* *bag explodes, causing my cat to fly straight up in the air from a seated position* This beer has what a less-talented writer might describe as “German flavors” and not further explain it. (…) It’s both totally approachable but deep with flavor that is malty, earthy, and floral. It snaps in the finish and a little bitterness is left behind. It’s really one of the best pilsners I’ve had in ages.
Craig’s Mixed Six
Don (2018) | Double barleywine aged in port, madeira, calvados, rum, bourbon barrels | Hair of the Dog | Portland, OR | 15.2% ABV
I’ve had similar beers to this (thanks to Revolution) but this one still wowed me. Poured from a swing top growler while at Hair of the Dog, Don definitely suffered in the carbonation department. Everything else was amazing. While more on the molasses and dark fruit side of the barleywine spectrum, Don does what Hair of the Dog did best – integrating the barrel to the beer. I had to look up the ABV because this thing drank so much lower than it’s 15% ABV. All 4 barrels played nice with each other and the base beer, adding vanilla, floral, wood, oak, and spice to the base beer. It was so damn smooth and balanced that my wife – who hates sweet things – loved it. Amazing.
Bourbon Barrel Fourth Dementia | Barrel-aged Old Ale | Kuhnhenn Brewing | Warren, MI | 13.5% ABV – listen
When a beer has been brewed and released since 2006, you know you’re in for a throwback. Kuhnhenn does just that with BB4D, creating a smooth, balanced and expertly barrel-aged beer. Featuring some caramel, butterscotch, molasses, dark fruits, vanilla, and even some bitterness, BB4D hits everything. Although all the flavor stays at the front of the tongue and the back is barren, it helps with the sip-ability of the BB4D and allows you to keep drinking it longer than you should. The 4D and barrel weave together extremely well, creating a nice bourbon-like warming effect on the body. A definite throwback and one you should get your hands on.
Mehndi Special Reserve (batch 2) | Barrel-aged Imperial Stout | More Brewing | Huntley, IL | 14.3% ABV – listen
It still matters what you put in the barrel. While 10 year Old Rip Van Winkle barrels are hard to come by, what goes in needs to be of the highest quality and More’s Mehndi certainly meets that threshold. The Mehndi stout provides all the luxurious chocolate, while the barrel provides the standard oak, vanilla and possibly even some caramel. But, as with previous beers I’ve had aged in Winkle barrels, there’s more. A big fruit note came along for the flavor ride, giving off raspberries notes that made it taste like a raspberry variant Black Forest cake. Smooth with some well-hidden ABV makes this Mehndi one to try to get a taste of if you can.
Bitter As Death In The Gallows | Merseburger | Necromancer Brewing | Pittsburgh, PA | 7.2% ABV – listen
This beer scared me before we had it on the show. A really bitter historical beer? Uh oh. I could break down a lichtenheiner beer (smoke and sour? I understand that) but a really bitter beer? Trepidatious! While it was bitter, it did not come at the expense of the base beer. After having it, think of a merseburger as a more bitter black IPA, as notes of roast and chocolate kept peeking out from beyond the bitterness. It was not a one-note bitter bomb as I had feared. This is precisely why I love Necromancer’s Resurrection series – it brings beers that otherwise wouldn’t be made back into the spotlight. And hey, you might find you like that historical beer style!
Shark Pils | Czech Pilsner | Seedz Brewing | Union Pier, MI | 4.7% ABV – listen
Rarely on our pre-ranking re-drinking do I finish a beer. On this episode I had to, as Shark Pils and New Glarus’ offering, 22 Pils, were insanely close in everything. When you’re this close to New Glarus on a classic style, you know you’re doing it right. A full mouthfeel, some light biscuit and lemon notes, a nice little grassy bitterness on the finish and an easy drinker, Shark Pils checks all the boxes you want in a Czech Pilsner. Could I give this to someone who just drinks macros? Absolutely, and they would love it. It’s light enough to enjoy multiple and flavorful enough that you want to enjoy multiples of it. Perfect beer for a baseball game or outdoor grilling session.
Pied De Cuve | Wild ale with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes | Sundial Brewing and Blending | Barrington, IL | 7% ABV – read
For a new brewery to be able to accomplish what Sundial did with Pied De Cuve is something. Sweet grapes, a dry finish and a little funk meld together to form a beer that never hit any sour or tart extreme and was an absolute joy to drink the entire bottle of. Aging it in neutral oak helped add some body and depth to everything, while those sweet grapes reigned in any sourness or tartness that might’ve shown up. The addition of the subtle amount of funk is the real story here. Too much and it takes over and ruins the beer; not enough and you might as well be drinking a Berliner. Just enough to notice it but not overtake anything was perfect. Between the sweet grapes and dry finish, Pied De Cuve would also make an outstanding food pairing beer.