ABV Chicago Monthly Sampler: March 2021
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 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 March 2021.
Craig’s Mixed Six
Eleusis | Barrel-aged Imperial Stout with vanilla, chocolate, habanero and cinnamon | Around the Bend Beer Co. | Chicago, IL | 9% ABV – listen
Seven years ago a beer like this would be in high demand and fly off the shelves. Now, it’s available at the brewery and has been for a minute. (You should buy some.) Eleusis does everything you want and nothing you don’t. The chocolate and vanilla lead the way, with cinnamon right up there with them. The habaneros provide a hint of heat while the barrel adds some body, vanilla and some bourbon notes. But the balance is the real star here. The three main adjuncts never fight with each other for dominance and all show up equally (and equally well). As I said one the show, this is Barrel-Aged Abraxas with less chocolate notes. Get yourself over to District Brew Yards, try it on tap, and take some home with you. You will not be disappointed.
Cordial Terms | Imperial Stout with chocolate, cherries, rose hips, and vanilla | Forbidden Root Brewing Co. | Chicago, IL | 11% ABV – read
Those label scaries. Cordial Terms has seven listed on the can (I condensed it for purposes of brevity above), including three that can have big, sweet flavor written all over then (chocolate, cherries, vanilla, FYI). I’m glad I was wrong. The chocolate used from Vosges has a high percentage of cocoa resulting in a bitter rather than sweet chocolate taste. The cherries provide that sweetness and balances things out, while the vanilla just hang out in the background. Rose hips give the beer a potpourri aroma and the 11% ABV hides itself extremely well. Hoping it comes back next Valentine’s Day!
Obsidian Throne | Barrel-aged Imperial Stout | Half Acre Beer Co. | Chicago, IL | 13.7% ABV – listen
What began as some nice-but-not-quite-great barrel-aged beers (Baume and Big Hugs) glowed up. Hot on the heels of the adjunct-heavy Benthic, Half Acre released Obsidian Throne, a simple barrel-aged stout. Bitter chocolate, vanilla and bourbon on the nose lead to a smooth, well-integrated ride across the tongue. That ride ends on the bitter chocolate with a ton of Weller bourbon barrel present. The real star here is the integration of the base beer and the barrel, seamlessly blended together to make each sip smooth and satisfying
Intinction – Sauvignon Blanc | American Wild Ale | Russian River Brewing | Santa Rosa, CA | 8.25% ABV – listen
We both had this one at the last Great American Beer Fest in 2019 (sad face) and fell in love with it, so we kind of knew what we were drinking beforehand. It still impressed, possibly even moreso. A pilsner aged in sauvignon blanc barrels with sauvignon blanc juice, Intinction exists as both something very simple and very complex. The clean base pilsener accentuates the sauvignon blanc characteristics perfectly. The sauvignon blanc never gets too sour, dry, or overbearing. In addition to all the sauv, there are some lemon notes and a wonderful tartness that just tickles the right parts of the tongue. I’ll take an IV of this please.
Church For Brewers | Double IPA | Triptych Brewing | Savoy, IL | 9.2% ABV – read
It’s a rare find nowadays to find a West Coast IPA on the shelf. When I heard Triptych was doing one, I was hoping it would get to Chicago somehow. It did, and I’m glad I scooped it up. Not an IBU bomb by any stretch, Church For Brewers provides you with a rolling bitterness throughout the sip. Any sweetness comes from the malt bill, that provides both a sweet Hawai’ian bread aroma and a contrast to the bitterness. That bitterness consists of big notes of grass and pine along with fruit notes of mango and peach. There’s a constant undercurrent of tropical and citrus notes to match the bitterness throughout. It’s not heavy, sweet, or too bitter – it’s just right. And you can easily drink a 4-pack in one night.
Bourbon Barrel-Aged Mint Chocolate Chip Sleepy Bear | Barrel-aged Imperial Stout with cacao nibs, vanilla and mint | Werk Force Brewing Co. | Plainfield, IL | 11.5% ABV – read
Having had (and loved) Temperance’s Peppermint Hot Cocoa Might Meets Right, I was very excited to hear this beer was at Goose Island’s StoutFest (right before I drank it, no less). It exceeded my expectations. It’s everything the Temperance beer was and much, much more. Bigger chocolate and mint notes. Bigger barrel character. Smells (and tastes) like they liquefied a Thin Mint or Andes mint. Sweet, but not too sweet. Just a flat out excellent beer. The barrel plays nice with the Sleepy Bear base beer, while the mint and chocolate chip exist in harmony with each other. There’s a hint of bourbon burn, but I just drank a Thin Mint so I don’t care. Cans just got released this month. Get yourself some as I will be doing. Totally worth it.
Ryan’s Mixed Six
Black Hearted Ale | Black IPA | Bell’s Brewery | Comstock, MI | 7% ABV – listen
We’re not sure exactly what led to the (hopefully not brief) resurgence of the Black IPA – but we fully credit Doug Veliky of Revolution with sparking the flame locally via his Twitter account. Whether or not that has anything to do with a bigger craft brewery like Bell’s releasing this dark malt version of their signature IPA is yet to be determined. This beer is an exact demonstration of why this style “should’ve never been a fad” – instead, we hope this style pivots to a seasonal treat. It’s equal parts roasty and hoppy, with the bitterness taking the overall lead while the beer remains dangerously drinkable.
Baltic Porter | Baltic Porter | Haymarket Brewery & Taproom | Bridgman, MI | 8.4% ABV – listen
We’ve found that “Baltic Porter” done by American breweries can mean a lot of different things – though most of them good. This one, for me at least, was as “down the middle” as you can get with the style while not being named Kinslahger. There are significant notes of toasted nuts and roasted malts, warming you from sniff to sip. The body is feathery, and the beer finishes just short of boozy. There’s a noticeable hop bitterness that helps dry this up even more, making continuous sipping necessary.
Mehndi Special Reserve 2021 (Batch One) | Imperial Stout Aged in Bourbon Barrels | More Brewing | Villa Park, IL | 12% ABV – listen
From my StoutFest 2021 write-up:
I gave my Stoutly Cup vote to More because this is one of those beers that sets a high bar and then clears it. Barrel-aged More beers are already pretty “special,” and this one outdoes Goose Island at their own game. Though the special barrel-focused Bourbon Counties have been highlights every year since 2017, More is here saying, “check this shit out” and doing something that can stand with – or above – many of those BCBS variants with far fewer resources. This beer imparts a lot of fruit along with its rich chocolate body, but it’s smooth from beginning to end. There are no empty spaces in the flavor – it’s delectably full and complex through and through. I’ve never had a bad Mehndi, and all recent evidence points to them getting even better.
Lost In The Moment | American IPA | Phase Three Brewing | Lake Zurich, IL | 6.6% ABV
Part of the reason I’ve had an easy transition moving away from buying a regular hazy 4-pack or two is the price point. When you start rationalizing $16 for a 4-pack as cheap, you know you’re in too deep. The two main reasons I bought a 4-pack of this beer was that it was $11, and I trusted Phase Three would scratch my West Coast IPA itch. Billed as a “classic IPA with Citra, Mosaic, and Amarillo,” this pours pale golden and clear, with two fingers of quickly-dissolving head. Aromatically, it bursts forth with a tropical wave, with some notes of lemongrass and sweet berry that make it stand out. The bitterness rockets onto the palate but stays a steady course, not peaking to some abrasive height. There are some “juicy” tropical flavors upfront before the herbal bitterness kicks in, making this closer to something like Bodem than Anti-Hero. I’m adding this to my WFMP list: when fresh, must purchase.
Dry Flanuary | Imperial Milk Stout w/ vanilla, caramel, and lactose | Riverlands Brewing Company | St. Charles, IL | 13.5% ABV – listen (Patreon only)
This pastry stout was created as a collaboration brew with several suburban bottle shops, Beer on the Wall (Park Ridge/Arlington Heights), The Beer Cellar (Glen Ellyn/Geneva)., Crafted 1979 (Mokena), Orange & Brew (Downers Grove), and Iron & Glass (Romeoville), to challenge sagging beer sales in the new year winter months. It’s one of those rare pastries that achieves its flavor inspiration while avoiding the cloying. It hits the flan notes extremely well while also being dangerously drinkable at its ABV. It’s a beer that’s satisfying to drink on its own by yourself and also a worthy pour for a bottle share with friends.
Pliny the Younger | Triple IPA | Russian River Brewing Company | Windsor, CA | 10.25% ABV – listen
For about a decade, I knew I wanted Pliny the Younger because it was just that beer you have to want. It was one of the first beers I’d heard of that was also a destination. You didn’t just drink it; – you went to it. When I had my first sip of Pliny the Elder in 2012, it only solidified my singular beer want in Pliny the Younger. As someone who finds seeing movies in the theater “a whole thing,” it’s not surprising that my first experience with this beer was actually in a bottle in my basement. We were incredibly lucky to score this beer and have a proxy to send it to us (Thanks Mike!), and I’m happy to report that it did not disappoint at all. Rather than spend a lot of characters here explaining what it was like, I highly recommend you listen to my first experience with the beer on the episode shared in the link above. Or just know that it was a very good beer.