ABV Chicago Monthly Sampler: May 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 May 2021.
Ryan’s Mixed Six
Le Beez | New England-Style IPA | Alarmist Brewing & Old Irving Brewing | Chicago, IL | 6.9% ABV – listen
The folks from Alarmist and Old Irving have been known to share a beer or two together, what with their proximity, friendship, and general affinity for brewing a wide range of styles. So when bringing together their GABF gold-winning hazy IPAs (Alarmist won in 2018, and Old Irving won in 2019), it was certain to be a prestige affair. And once you see that label, you know you’re in for a glass of pure class. (I mean, you see that burger, right??) This beer hits all the right notes when it comes to what I like out of a hazy – juicy tropical fruit notes, a feathery-soft but not heavy body, and an upfront, pleasant bitterness that lingers in a way many hazies shy away from. I could pretend that I taste the best elements of each base recipe, but in the end, it doesn’t even matter. It’s just so damn good.
Bière de Garde Ambrée | Bière de Garde | Giant Jones Brewing Company/The Lone Girl Brewing Company | Madison & Waunakee, WI | 7.4% ABV – listen
In my opinion, there are very few beer styles that can outshine a perfect Bière de Garde: a loving combination of caramel and bready malts with some slight fruity yeast esters on top of a serenely drinkable base. This one takes that winning formula and adds some floral and earthy hops along with a bit of prune juice in the aroma. The little kick of sweet malt rides a wave of effervescence and a light body upfront that gets heftier in the end to justify the ABV. There are not enough Bière de Gardes in the world, and there’s not enough of this particular beer in my fridge. This is about as superb of an example of the style I’ve had in ages.
Suffolk County Stout | Barrel-aged Imperial Stout | Goose Island Beer Co. | Chicago, IL | 14.3% ABV – listen
It was always curious to me why Goose Island with their seemingly bottomless well of resources didn’t expand on their most successful and lauded label beyond Black Friday. Maybe sagging sales of their regulars has led to a focus on selling shandies and barrel-aged seltzers – but the most interesting possibility is occasional, surprise releases of variations on Bourbon County that only Goose and their mile-long barrel warehouse could execute. I don’t know if this is a special exception or the promise of a new norm. And frankly, this beer doesn’t entirely reinvent what you’ll taste off of a particularly excellent variant of their original BCBS – but not much in the beer world can hold a candle to how good that can be. With this beer, you’ll get all of the big roasted chocolate and maillard bitterness, charred oak, and hints of vanillins from the barrel. It’s slightly more smooth than a fresh bottle of regular BCBS, and the mouthfeel is as luscious as ever. If you get up early on Black Friday for Bourbon County, there’s no reason you shouldn’t have already sought out the springtime reward that is this beer.
Tolvanera | Hazy IPA w/ pineapple | Histrionic Brewlab | Chicago, IL | 6.5% ABV – listen
Jumping into canned hazy and hoppy beers as your opening offerings as a brewery starting up in Chicago in 2020 is definitely bold, and maybe downright stupid. But the proof is in the liquid with Histrionic, who also have the advantage of brewing out of Pilot Project before investing in their own brick-and-mortar. I’ve had an American pale ale and this beer from them so far, and each has proven to be worth purchasing over some of my go-tos. This beer is like a tropical cocktail on the aroma, with a big hit of pineapple and a touch of coconut with a little kiss of grassy hop. The flavor follows suit, with a touch more bitterness than you might expect from a fruited hazy. It’s even a bit zesty, with a kiss of citrus to brighten the pineapple, all sitting on a shandy-like body. Histrionic is one to watch.
Beer For Derbies | Bourbon Barrel-aged Lager w/ mint | Off Color Brewing | Chicago, IL | 7% ABV – listen (Patreon only)
This monthly sampler seemingly has a permanent seat for Off Color, but the way they have been able to market this series while completely following through on the recipe every single time is truly a remarkable run. So many of these in the Beer For series have been brilliant and inspired, despite sounding a bit loony at first. Add this one to the list. What really surprises is how much of this is still a damn good lager beneath the odd combination of bourbon barrel and mint. Those additions are ghosts in the best way possible – the helles is still the star, but there’s this oakey barrel and soothing mint glowing around the edges. The incredibly steady hand of Off Color does it again.
Brett & Barrel Saison | Barrel-fermented brett saison | Une Année Brewery | Niles, IL | 5.5% ABV – listen (Patreon only)
Though it seems like Hubbard’s Cave still gets a lot of the shine from this Niles spot, Une Année was one of the original breweries that inspired us to start the podcast – and at the time, they thrilled us with their focus on Belgian styles. But guess what? They can still absolutely nail it, like this no-fanfare barrel-fermented saison. Though this beer flirts with tartness and even some tannic notes, it’s not a sour beer by any means. Instead, it’s a light-drinking funky beer that gives me big Allagash vibes. Light barnyard and bandaid notes from the brett play right into the more wine-like wood from the barrel, but the real star is the effervescent and zesty light saison. This would taste great on their patio.
Craig’s Mixed Six
Soak in Shadow | Apple Brandy BA Milk Stout | Half Acre Brewing/The Veil Brewing | Chicago, IL/Richmond, VA | 13.1% ABV – listen
It’s almost like Half Acre was listening to me a year or so before I said it. Getting some Inception vibes over here. After having the absolutely amazing Cherry Brandy Benthic, all I asked for was something in apple brandy barrels. Both Revolution with their Apple Brandy Ryeway and Half Acre with Soak in the Shadow deliver. Going with a milk stout added some mouthfeel heft without adding any sweet. The apple brandy adds a lovely green apple note and a bit of sweetness. The result is another outstanding entry into Half Acre’s barrel-aged program.
Double Barrel-Aged Super! Imperial Smells Like Bean Spirit | Barrel-aged Imperial Breakfast Stout with maple syrup and coffee | Mikerphone Brewing | Elk Grove Village, IL | 16.62% ABV – read
It’s been a while, but it’s the return of the festival pour! In a field of heavily adjuncted stouts at Smells Like a Beer Fest 2021, this double barrel-aged beer stood out. It’s sweet, but not overly so thanks to the Smoke Wagon Rye and Heaven Hill Rye Whiskey barrels it was aged in. Big notes of chocolate, a nice backbone of maple syrup, a little coffee roast and some rye spices make this beer aggressive in flavor but still thoroughly enjoyable. It was my favorite of the three, with the regular BA Imperial Bean Spirit being the sweetest. (I may already regret that decision due to an upcoming episode though…) The most important thing though? I still got some barrel on it, which was a complaint of some early Mikerphone BA stouts. Well worth the price and a good indication of where Mikerphone’s barrel-aged program is headed.
Consolation | American IPA | More Brewing Co. | Huntley, IL | 6.7% ABV – listen (Patreon exclusive)
Seems like I’m on a West Coast IPA and bock kick (come on bock for the bocks down below). Not a consolation prize by any stretch, More’s take on an American IPA does everything it should. Starting with Cascade, Chinook and Centennial hops, More creates a “classic” IPA with piney and resinous notes complemented by an aggressive bitterness that scratches that itch you never knew you had. While not as assertive as, say, a Three Floyds beer, Consolation does the job and manages to keep a little malt sweetness in the mix. One of their better hoppy offerings and one I’ll be on the lookout for.
If You’re a Bird… | Imperial Stout with panela, coconut, and cacao nibs | Phase Three Brewing | Lake Zurich, IL | 12.5% ABV – listen
Holy samoa cookie, beer drinker! Phase Three knows their way around both a thick stout and chocolate, so naturally they decided to throw in some coconut for good measure. The result reminds me of a samoa cookie with big chocolate and coconut notes supported by a nice undercurrent of cinnamon. If You’re a Bird… never becomes cloying sweet either, meaning a 16 ounce can is something you can finish by yourself if necessary. But it’s that absolutely perfect mouthfeel for a stout like this that really drives it home. Unfortunately this one was difficult to come by (as are most Phase Three beers) but it’s definitely worth trading for.
Seipp’s Columbia | Bock | The Conrad Seipp Brewing Co. | Chicago, IL | 6% ABV – listen
If this is an example of what people were able to drink in 1893, sign me up for some time travel. Wow. This bock was originally brewed for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and was rebrewed by Metropolitan Brewing. A full mouthfeel but drinks lighter than its 6% ABV. Big bready notes with some chocolate and licorice supporting and a hint of bitterness at the end. Assertive flavor but eminently drinkable. We did a bock show and there were so many variations on the style – some drank bigger and weighed you down while others were aggressively hoppy. Seipp’s Columbia was neither and it stood out for it. A classic take on the bock style and one that I hope gets released again this (or next) year. Grab it if you see it.
Bock’s O-Chocolates | Chocolate Dopplebock | Vintage Brewing Company | Madison, WI | 7.2% ABV – listen
A May comebock? Bock support? Whatever you want to call it, it’s a run on bocks, and Vintage Brewing attacks it with a twist. Yeah, there’s a traditional bock in there, but they went ahead and added cocoa powder and aged it on cacao nibs and vanilla beans. While still exhibiting the bready bock flavor it’s supposed to, Vintage expertly integrated the chocolate so as not to overtake the base beer in any way, and then added a hint of vanilla to give it some flavor and round it out. While nice to pair with food, Bocks O-Chocolate excels as a dessert pairing beer, as it has just enough of the chocolate and vanilla to complement while not dominating. Despite being 7.2% ABV it drinks easy and doesn’t weigh you down (I sense a theme here…). You’ll hit the new and hype-y breweries when you go to Madison (Funk Factory, Working Draft, Young Blood) but make time for Vintage. You will not regret it. And get the spicy chicken sandwich while you’re there.