ABV Chicago Monthly Sampler: June 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 June 2023.
Craig’s Mixed Six
Bella Strada | Italian Pilsner | Art History Brewing (collab w/Binny’s) | Geneva, IL | 5.2% ABV – listen
On a show of Italian Pilsners, Bella Strada clearly stood out for its fruitness. While still maintaining its pilsner and bitter qualities, it adds some sweet fruit notes on the tongue that vastly differentiated it from the rest of the show. It had a fuller mouthfeel than a few of them, sufficient but not overpowering bitterness and a crisp, clean finish kept it in line with other Italian Pilsners but the fruit character was integrated so well and didn’t detract from the overall beer. While probably not the most “traditional” of the Italian Pilsners on the show, it definitely stood out and was fun to drink.
Baby Blammo! | American Stout with coconut | Cellarmaker Brewing Company | San Francisco, CA | 8% ABV
Goose Island’s Proprietor’s 2013 has become the reference point for a barrel-aged imperial stout with coconut. If I bust that comp out, you know you’ve done something right. Never before have I used it on anything but a BA Imperial Stout – until now. Baby Blammo! has all the chocolate and coconut of that Goose Island gem, but without any of the booze! Sitting at only 8% I was able to order two of them in one sitting and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. It’s all chocolate and coconut, making you think you’ve just eaten a Mounds bar. Mouthfeel isn’t an issue as it’s more than enough for an 8% stout. Biggest drawback? It doesn’t pair all that well with their exceptional Detroit-style pizza that they serve (I got one of their pilsners for that). A truly delicious beer that I would like to try barrel-aged (hint: we will at some point!)
Compensation | Dark Mild | Lion Bridge Brewing Company | Cedar Rapids, IA | 4.5% ABV – listen
Putting on a multiple gold GABF-winning beer has its perks as it usually makes our jobs easier. Compensation was no exception. Featuring a big roasty character on the nose that followed when drunk, Compensation also had a bitter finish. But that was simply coming from the roasty malt as opposed to any hops. The flavor across the tongue felt big while the beer moved fast, only leaving behind the roasty bitterness. Some chocolate and bready notes joined the mild fun as well, but this one’s all about the roast. It’s one of those “insane I’m getting this much flavor off a 4.5% beer” and very worthy of its dual golds. I wonder what it tastes like on cask…
Take One Down | German Pilsner | More Brewing (collab w/Beer on the Wall) | Huntley, IL | 5.1% ABV – listen
I was on the IPL train when it started. The crispness of a lager/pilsner with some bitterness? All aboard. Then they changed the train name and I didn’t know it. Now I’m on the hoppy lager train! Take One Down veers more towards fresh grain as opposed to creamed corn (which I love) and the pilsner remains crisp and clean throughout. Bitterness stars here as even after many sips the blast of bitterness still happens, making it a similar drink throughout. The German noble hops provide that grassy bitterness near the end while it finishes nice and crisp, almost begging for another pour. It’ll be canned more than once so you’ll have more chances to get a fresh one!
Electric Roads (Batch 2) | Double Barrel Blend of Barleywines | Private Press Brewing | Santa Cruz, CA | 15.6% ABV
When sharing high gravity beers such as this at bottle shares (or on the podcast), there’s usually no time to decant them. I might have to change that after having Electric Roads decanted for 4 hours before I had it. Still exhibiting the same molasses and brown sugar notes I had on Batch 1, this Electric Roads drank much smoother on the tongue, with less alcohol burn than I was expecting. While the vanilla, oak, and dark fruits like cherries, raisins and figs do show up, the decanting added some more sherry-like characteristics not present in a freshly open bottle. And that’s nothing against Batch 1 (my number 3 beer of 2021) but the decanting leads to a unique and interesting expression of the beer that I never would’ve thought of. I will be decanting more barleywines in the future (if I can remember to!)
A Voice To Say | Double Barrel-Aged Farmhouse Ale with Peaches and Nectarines | Sante Adairius Rustic Ales | Capitola, CA | 7.4% ABV
On-premise bottles of vintage beers at a brewery make no sense to me – but only if you’re local to the brewery. In Sante Adairius’ case, I’m not, so their on premise bottle list was a cornucopia of things I’d only heard about and really wanted to try. Tops on that list for me was A Voice To Say and boy did it deliver. The peaches and nectarines complemented the saison perfectly with the exact right amount of both showing up throughout the sip. It never gets too tart or acidic and stays balanced throughout. The saison base provides a little lemon and a pillowy mouthfeel while the foeder adds a little funk and the wine barrel adds some tannins and grape character. With all this going on it never became too much to drink; my wife took one sip, said it was good, and let me finish the 750 mL, which I gladly did. The balance of A Voice To Say makes it shine and remains an everlasting encapsulation of my visit to the Capitola brewery.
Ryan’s Mixed Six
Ambigram | Hazy IPA | Alter Brewing Company | Downers Grove/St. Charles/Oak Brook, IL | 6.5% ABV – listen
This ended up being our 25th out of 25 flagship hazy IPAs from local breweries that we’ve blind-tasted, so for this thing to surprise us and win our fifth round is really quite a feat when you consider the context and rapid onset of haze fatigue. The aroma is dank kush, papaya, mango, drippy citrus, and neon orange pocket candies. The bitter finish cuts through the layers of orange, lemon-lime, peach, mango, and tropical slurry, leaving the experience refreshingly dry for a hazy. We’ll see where this one ends up after our championship round in the coming weeks, but I’d say it’s got a good chance to surprise us all over again.
Slingshot | Dunkel | Backpocket Brewing | Coralville, IA | 5.3% ABV – listen
The history of Backpocket goes back to 2008 and an initial recipe: a dunkel-style lager. After some pretty significant location and name changes, the brewery still knows it has a perfect dunkel recipe on its hands, making this beer the core of their year-round lineup. It pours a copper-like brown with a light layer of khaki head. It smells of roasted nuts, brown sugar, fresh-popped kernels, and even a slight touch of chocolate. In the sip, it maintains its lager mouthfeel and drinkability but layers in a handful of mixed roasted nuts, chocolate wafer cookie, and a touch of earthy bitterness in the end. It’s both easy-drinking enough for low-key Iowa patio summers and flavorful enough to hold up against an Iowa winter.
River Birch | Dry-hopped Foeder-fermented Pilsner | The Drowned Lands Brewery | Warwick, NY | 5.1% ABV – listen (Patreon only)
This was a random Beer on the Wall pickup, because I was thinking of another East Coast brewery, OEC, and their impressive coolship lagers and hoping this would be in a similar vein. It’s uniquely its own thing, taking elements from a hoppy lager and adding on a foeder-inspired tannic tartness that takes it to the finish. It pours with about three fingers of head at first, vibrant yellow and clear. Aromatically, there’s some cotton candy, citrus, soup crackers, dry oak, and white grapes. Those notes mostly show up in the flavor as well, but the progression of this beer is totally unexpected. It starts like a dry-hopped lager with some citrus fruit and bitter herbs with light effervescence. Then as it finishes, it becomes this lightly-tart beer with wine-like tannins, feeling fuller in the end. It’s a real neat trick you pulled here, Drowned Lands, but it don’t exactly prove nothin’! (Actually it proves I need to try more Drowned Lands.)
Italian Pilsner | Italian Pilsner | Half Acre Beer Co. | Chicago, IL | 5.2% ABV – listen
We dedicated a whole episode to a slew of recently-released local Italian Pilsners for two main reasons: to learn more about the style and to have an excuse to drink five Italian Pilsners in one sitting. The style itself is brewed similarly to a Czech-style Pilsner, but there’s usually an extra dry-hopping with noble hops (like Saaz and Liberty, on this one). From my experience, this particular beer is just about the perfect encapsulation of what this style is meant to be. It pours golden and clear with a finger of thick soapy bubbles. The aroma is bold with lightly sweet floral notes, a touch of wet grass, honeydew melon, and rosemary. The mouthfeel envelopes with flavor and effervescent bubbles and dances to a crisp and herbal hop bitterness on the end. Some light honey cracker sweetness peeks out with repeated sips. Go hang a salami! I’m a lasagna hog!
Decabeer | Mixed Fermented Farmhouse Ale | Off Color Brewing | Chicago, IL | 6% ABV – listen (Patreon only)
It’s perfectly fitting that Off Color’s official Ten Year Anniversary beer is a farmhouse ale with classic Belgian yeasts because saison, farmhouse, and Belgian styles wouldn’t have flourished in Chicago (and beyond) the way they have in the last decade without the dedication of the little mouse brewery. This is an absolute masterpiece of a beer. It pours a glowing clear golden orange with a big fluffy head. On the nose, it’s all soft Belgian yeast notes of bubblegum, Spring flowers, and waxy citrus with a touch of funky wet hay. The Sorachi Ace comes through in the flavor with herbal lemongrass notes and is ballasted by notes of black peppercorn, sweet berries, and funky cheese rind. It’s soft and absolutely fills the mouth, finishing with citrus and lemon zest, peppery spice, and a kiss of grassy bitterness. I hope this isn’t a one-time thing, because it’s one of the best farmhouses they’ve ever produced.
Doji | Hoppy Lager | Old Irving Brewing Co. | Chicago, IL | 5.9% ABV – listen
Formerly known as Oni, this year-round hoppy lager from Old Irving is both modern and approachable. It utilizes hops associated with IPAs to give an otherwise immaculate lager a punchy and flavorful twist. It pours clear and golden with a perfect finger height of head. Aromatically, it’s tangerine, orange, tropical fruits, sweet berries, passionfruit, and grass. It’s remarkably drinkable but the fruitiness of the hops come through loud and clear. The bitterness in the finishes balances out the sweet fruit characters and helps it finish like a dry-ish lager. It’s sure to be a go-to 4-pack for me whenever fresh.