ABV Chicago Monthly Sampler: March 2022
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 2022.
Craig’s Mixed Six
Chonk Spumoni | Smoothie sour with cherries, pistachios and chocolate ice cream | Drekker Brewing Company | Fargo, ND | 7.2% ABV – listen
I am a Chonky boy I guess. I did not think anything from this show would make this list, but here we are. To enjoy these smoothie beers, you kind of have to be in the right frame of mind. Much like a special effects-laden summer blockbuster, you need to turn your brain off and enjoy the ride. Drekker’s Chonk Spumoni is a ride I’d get on again and again. The most insane thing comes from the chocolate ice cream they added. It tastes exactly like chocolate ice cream while drinking it. The cherries meet that chocolate with equal ferocity forming some kind of alcoholic Tootsie Pop. Those two flavors are so big and bold that any pistachio in there gets lost. The smoothie definitely pours chunky, but all of them do. Sit back and enjoy the ride.
Candy Bar Baba Yaga | Barrel-aged imperial stout with roasted peanuts, cocoa nibs, and caramel | Ethereal Brewing | Lexington, KY | 14% ABV – read
Much like Bananas Foster Baba Yaga, Ethereal has taken a very difficult-to-taste-and-smell-correctly adjunct and made it work. In this case, it’s roasted peanuts. Beers with peanut butter are fairly common and have been pulled off numerous times. But roasted peanuts? On Candy Bar Baba, you smell the salt and the nuttiness of freshly roasted peanuts. There’s no creaminess or smoothness there. The fact that it smells like roasted peanuts and then somehow has the taste of roasted peanuts is insane. But they also pulled off getting a nice chocolate and caramel hit, transforming their Baba Yaga into a Snickers bar. None of the adjuncts take over and make it out of whack and those freshie fresh Four Roses bourbon barrels from down the road add all the bourbon barrel goodness (more chocolate, vanilla, oak) without any of the heat. An excellent, excellent beer.
Triple Barrel Catch Hell | Barrel-aged imperial doom stout with vanilla and cinnamon | Half Acre Beer Company | Chicago, IL | 16.9% ABV – listen
You know you’re in for a treat the minute you start pouring. Few beers pour any thicker. As you take sip after sip, your glass becomes a different color. After making Catch Hell and then Double Barrel Catch Hell, Half Acre upped the ante yet again with the Triple Barrel. Waves of chocolate, vanilla and cinnamon greet you at every sip, while the barrel plays nice with the base beer. The use of rye barrels – the third of the triple barrel – cut the sweetness just enough to keep it from going overboard. (I had a pour of triple barrel next to double barrel, so it might not be noticeable otherwise.) No doubt about it, this beer is thick but somehow doesn’t drink near the 16.9% on the can. Half Acre chose correctly on canning it in 12 ounces. One of the few beers out there that you don’t pair with dessert because it is the dessert.
Ruled By Reason | Barrel-aged brown ale | Scout & Scholar Brewing Co. | Bardstown, KY | 11%
I had heard some things – good things – about Scout & Scholar, mainly from the Tailspin event held in Louisville. So when I saw Ruled By Reason on tap at Sergio’s World of Beer, I had to try it. And wow, did it deliver. Barrel-aging a brown ale usually leads to some dicey outcomes – too boozy, not enough of the base shining through, thin. Ruled By Reason had none of that. Some nuttiness and bread notes from the brown ale mixed perfectly with the bourbon barrel. The barrel brought big notes of vanilla, oak, and caramel and never really overtook the base. And it never tasted like you were drinking straight bourbon either. I would’ve happily drank it all night if the tap list at Sergio’s wasn’t so varied and interesting. Needless to say, any Scout & Scholar beers I saw on my trip (they collaborate A LOT) I had to get. I even snagged some cans that should be appearing on the show in some form soon. But yeah, I want more of this BA brown ale.
Gloe | Mixed Fermentation Saison in Oak Barrels with La Crescent grapes | Supermoon Beer Co. | Milwaukee, WI | 6.5% ABV – listen
Supermoon’s been killing it in my eyes and it doesn’t stop with Gloe. While the grapes are not prominent or over-the-top, they do blend well with the base saison. That base saison does a lot of the work, bringing lovely lemon and spice notes along with just the right amount of funk. And that’s really what made this beer stand out. Hints of cheese, locker room, and barn hit you on the aroma. When drinking it, however, they stay restrained, giving you just a little bit of it. The grapes bring in some light tannins and dryness to everything and the beer works as a whole exceedingly well. If only one aspect was out of whack, Gloe probably would’ve ranked lower on the show for me. You get a range of flavors that never veers too far to one side. Gloe is something you can easily drink again and again and find new things about it.
When Someone Asks If You’re A God | Barrel-aged imperial stout with cocoa nibs, marshmallow, vanilla beans and natural flavors | Triptych Brewing | Savoy, IL | 16.2% ABV – listen
You say yes! To both that question and this beer! One of the best barrel-aged imperial s’mores stouts that I’ve had, When Someone Asks… leans towards vanilla flavors but never gets too cloying with them. Chocolate and, miraculously for this style, graham crackers show up big enough to get noticed. Somehow, while remaining vanilla forward, you get all the s’mores flavors without going way overboard with them. The bourbon helps cut that sweetness a bit by adding some vanilla of its own and oak. It stays smooth, never feels too boozy (even at 16.2%) and finishes with some nice bourbon notes. It stains the glass and it shows enough legs to be a spider. In case I haven’t said this enough already, Triptych’s barrel program has grown greatly over the years. All their barrel-aged offerings are must purchases.
Ryan’s Mixed Six
Are You There God? It’s Me, Guava | Triple Guava Smoothie Sour w/ vanilla and lactose | BlackStack Brewing | St. Paul, MN | 6.4% ABV – listen
Haze’s supreme reign over the high-priced colorful can wars is being overtaken by overfruited smoothie beers. When 450 North hit the shelves this past month, folks had no problem paying close to $10 a can for thick fruit slush – selling out from most places in a few days. Far be it from us to say that’s a bad thing for beer – the more it brings people into breweries and bottle shops and away from sitting home sippin’ on that Smooj – well that’s some sort of win for beer. For us it helps step off of the high horse every now and then and just purely enjoy a few of these fundamentally delicious pints of fruit puree. Not concerned with being a beer, this guava smoothie is tart on the edges with a creamy body. Drinking this gave me a tan, and beneath my feet sprouted flip flops.
Taxon Cycle | Wild Ale w/ Traminette Grapes | Hopewell Brewing Co./Speciation Artisan Ales | Chicago, IL/Grand Rapids, MI | 8.3% ABV – listen
Hopewell has been excelling in wilds for quite some time now, hauling in four FoBAB medals (and a Best in Show Runner-Up) in six years in a variety of Wild Beer categories. Speciation has gone so far as to open a winery called Native Species, so their access to high quality grape varietals is better than the average brewery. This collaboration brings those two areas of expertise to a harmonious effect. Aromatically, it’s cotton candy grapes, summer bouquet, and a bit of shower curtain funk. On the sip, there’s a big sour pucker up front that gets easier with each sip with no acidic burn on the end. Lemon and citrus notes leave a little bitterness with the dry finish. Even in the aftertaste, there’s grape jam lingering on the tongue.
Away From The Norm | American Amber Ale | More Brewing | Villa Park & Huntley, IL | 6% ABV
Ok, More was obviously baiting us with this one, but who am I to resist? I mean, 311 is a band we reference constantly on the podcast because our appreciation of them in a nostalgic sense has gone from half-ironic to fully-sincere. And who the hell is making Amber Ales these days anyways? It’s as easy going as the song it references. There’s a subtle caramel malt sweetness and a touch of spicy hop that make a perfect balance – like the dueling vocals of Nick Hexum and S.A. Martinez, naturally. I’m not really sure how to bring in similes for Pnut and the rest of the band, but that’s probably for the best. Drink this beer and get those irie vibes goin’.
Kilo Beer | Grisette | Off Color Brewing | Chicago, IL | 6% ABV – listen (Patreon only)
Welcome to the Off Color Corner section of the Monthly Sampler. Yes, it’s the part of my six beers where you’ve come to expect whatever new Off Color beer I’ve had this month. Have a seat. There’s plenty of room – if you don’t mind pillows covered in cat hair. *shrugs and smiles* This month, we’re featuring a…Ah…grisette? Am I reading that right? After the great sadness that was the passing of Twenty Grisseventeen, Off Color has now joined the cause by celebrating their 1,000th batch with the greatest little farmhouse style on earth?!? It’s news as fantastic as this beer, which has a sparkling effervescent mouthfeel with hints of citrus and light wheat crackers. The finish lasts a bit longer with some of the 6-percent showing itself and a subtle yet complex layering of fruit and spice flavors from the yeast strains.
Cosmic Echoes [Batch 1] | Blend of Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout and Barleywine Ale | Private Press Brewing | Santa Cruz, CA | 11.5% ABV – listen
We’ve been very lucky to try some of Brad Clark’s “Members Only” barrel-aged beers, as each of the three we’ve opened have been legitimate “Beer of the Year” candidates. It’s hard to pick a comparable barrel-aged brewer right now, as these beers are about as complex and nuanced as they come with high-end bourbon barrels adding more layers of flavor. This first batch of Cosmic Echoes smells like fudge brownies with toasted coconut and pecans with a bit of charred wood deeper in the mix. There’s an umptuous nutty character to the mouthfeel, but it handles the carb so well you barely notice it’s still holding everything in place. Both the caramel and nutty elements of the barleywine and the chocolate and coconut notes from the stout come together and never clash, keeping this thing deeply complex while still completely sippable. Who needs actual adjuncts?
Westmalle Trappist Dubbel | Dubbel | Brouwerij der Trappisten van Westmalle | Westmalle, Belgium | 7% ABV – listen
In attempting to complete our Belgian Cycle (c’mon, singles!), we’ve always had to drink the table-setter – the originator of the style. And for both our Dubbel and Tripel shows, we can thank Westmalle for setting a bar so high that few American breweries can ever reach it. This beer announces itself with a towering head that seems impossible to avoid. Sweet plums and brown sugar bread are the foremost aromas, with some earthiness and Belgian esters coming out a bit more over time. Flavorwise, it’s dark fruits and sweet malts with an almost nutty dryness in the end. I always tend to forget how drinkable these Trappist beers are, despite what the ABV tells you.