ABV Chicago Monthly Sampler: May 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 May 2022.
Craig’s Mixed Six
Cochin | Saison with lemongrass tea | Azadi Brewing | Chicago, IL | 5.2% ABV – listen
Azadi excels when they make beers using Indian ingredients and Cochin definitely is no exception. Using lemongrass tea from Southern Indian states, Cochin amazingly and deftly balances the lemony and grass characteristics and melds it exceedingly well with the base saison. The saison does shine through a bit, but you’re going to want more of that lemongrass. It somehow manages to taste like summer – refreshing lemon with some freshly mowed grass. I have no idea how they managed it, but it works so well. Hopefully this is a summer seasonal beer as I would like more of this for those upcoming hot Chicago summer days. Summer in a can.
Dill Pickle Sour Beer | Gose with Suckerpunch dill pickle brine | DESTIHL Brewery | Normal, IL | 5.2% ABV
I can remember the last time I went to a beer fest and everybody was raving – both really good and really bad – about a beer that you absolutely had to try. That dichotomy naturally made me want to try it. I honestly didn’t know it was a gose until I looked it up to write this. That’s how much the pickle brine takes over. I’ve tried pickle juice before – it’s aggressive and overpowering. DESTIHL combined it with that gose to add some salinity and cut some of the overly aggressive characteristics of pickle brine, resulting in something that I can at least drink a can of. Was it the best beer of the Beer Under Glass festival? Nope. Was it the one I will never forget and tell people to try? Yup, and that’s why it’s on this list. It’s the Malort of beer.
C.R.E.A.M. | Cream ale | Mikerphone Brewing | Elk Grove Village, IL | 5% ABV – listen
We always worry style show beers to all be the same, yet are pleasantly surprised when they aren’t. Mikerphone stood above the field on our cream ale show with their C.R.E.A.M. Subtle vanilla and fruit notes together elevated the flavor of C.R.E.A.M. to something balanced and nuanced while the mouthfeel stays light and soft keeping it drinkable. A slight kiss of bitterness even revealed itself after multiple sips adding even more depth to this cream ale. It basically took all the things we liked about the other cream ales and put them together in a soft, pillowy package. You’re not going to Mikerphone to get a flight of cream ales, but while you’re drinking hazy IPAs and big ‘ol stouts, throw this cream ale on to the flight. Your palate will thank you.
M-43 Tart Strawberry | Hazy IPA with tart strawberry | Old Nation Brewing Co. | Williamston, MI | 6.8% ABV – read
It’s amazing when restraint and balance are used in making a beer. Old Nation could’ve thrown pounds and pounds and pounds of strawberry in their hugely successful M-43, making it a smoothie IPA if you will. Instead, they carefully added just the right amount to give off a nice strawberry tartness while still retaining all the juiciness and bitterness of the base beer. That combination somehow resulted in aromas and tastes reminiscent of Fruity Pebbles. Some bitterness even stays around for the finish keeping you drinking and cutting any sweetness down to nothing. While I prefer the DDH version we had a month ago, M-43 Tart Strawberry definitely keeps the quality of the original while adding a nice wrinkle. A nice little yearly 420 treat.
Cara Cara Cran | Hard Seltzer with cara cara oranges, cherry, coconut, cinnamon, and cranberry | Smooj | Ann Arbor, MI | 5% ABV – listen
Yes, we subjected ourselves to 5 hard seltzer smoothies and made it out alive (our glasses weren’t so lucky). While 4 of them were as expected – sweet, bright, over the top flavors, summery – the Cara Cara Cran Smooj stood out. Still exhibiting some sweetness from the cranberry, everything else in the seltzer felt different. Instead of the beach during summer, it evoked Thanksgiving dinner with the family. Adding some cherries and more importantly cinnamon really kicked those holiday season vibes into overdrive. But it remained drinkable and tasty throughout. It’s only a lab seltzer right now (and available only at HOMES Brewing as far as I know), but if Smooj decides to make this a wide release, look out. I can see a Christmas cookie or egg nog Smooj coming in the near future as well.
Sorry for the Racket | Imperial milk stout with cherries, almonds and chocolate | Young Blood Beer Company | Madison, WI | 10.1% ABV – read
We always talk about drinkability on the show (and reviews). If a beer is too sweet, too sour, too boozy – too much of any one thing – it loses some drinkability. Sorry for the Racket – 10.1% ABV (boozy) and cherries (sweet) – stays drinkable. I didn’t even know it was 10%+ until I finished the can and stood up. The cherries never get too sweet, the almond provides some unexpected nuttiness, while the chocolate – which really doesn’t show up as you think chocolate would – provides much needed bitterness to the finish. It drinks like an Amaretto and cherry cocktail, both in flavor and the fact that it hides the booze real well. Being a milk stout just adds a smooth and creamy body to everything. While they are mostly know for their “dank and drippy” IPAs (and to a lesser extent sours) I was pleasantly surprised with my first Young Blood stout.
Ryan’s Mixed Six
Devon | Gose w/ Telicherry black pepper, Himalayan pink salt, and Indian coriander | Azadi Brewing | Chicago, IL | 5.2% ABV – listen
As a tribute to the Chicago Indian community and the prominence of Indian culture represented along stretches of Devon Ave., Azadi’s somewhat straightforward gose takes a new angle with the addition of salt and pepper. Tasting the base of this tart wheat beer was reminiscent of a Leipziger or Ritterguts bottle you’d dust off from the International Beer section at the big liquor store back in 2014. The pepper adds a little sharpness to the finish, while the salt keeps things dry and eminently drinkable. It’s nice to have a gose without fruit for once, and Azadi took it one further with some inspired additions, much like everything they do.
A Mutual Surrender | Saison Rosé w/ spent wine grapes, rested in oak, and conditioned with honey | Keeping Together | Chicago, IL | 7.3% ABV – listen (Patreon only)
One of the final beers released by Averie Swanson in Chicago before she heads to New Mexico to start up her next project, this saison is atypically tart for a Keeping Together beer. The first few sips are a spike of tartness up front that lingers a bit before a devastatingly dry finish. Fortunately, this deep orange and pink-hued beer develops more nuances after about the fourth sip, wherein sweet grapes, honey, and berries peek through. There’s some oak tannins and a hibiscus-like floral note that just precedes the still prominent dryness.
Crème Brûlée | Imperial Crème Brûlée Java Stout | Kuhnhenn Brewing Company | Warren, MI | 8.5% ABV
It’s hard to talk about Kuhnhenn without throwing shade en masse at newer breweries, because we were really taken by how much they knew when not to be unnecessary. (The kids call it “being extra.”) Even though Kuhnhenn certainly has many beers that deal in big flavors, they still remember that being a beer is more important in a beer than being a dessert-in-a-can. This beer is a prime example, as it had all the makings of a sticky sweet dessert stout that would take a Herculean effort for a guy like me to finish. But no, this beer is a roasty coffee stout first with just a light dash of crème brûlée flavor. It finishes with a little coffee and roasted malt bitterness, so it doesn’t have any sweetness leftover in the end. Kuhnhenn remembers.
Bartlett Maibock | Maibock | More Brewing Company | Villa Park/Huntley, IL | 6.2% ABV – listen
I waited with bated breath through March and April to see when the first beers would arrive that would signal the start of a Maibock deluge – but it turned out to be more of a slight soaking. My thought was that since everyone – like, everyone – made an Oktoberfest last Fall, then they’d be champing at the bit to run with a Maibock in the Spring. And it ended up being around a dozen local examples, by my (very imprecise) count. Ah well – maybe next year. This style is the perfect bridge between the cold and warm months, and More’s is just a stellar example of what this beer should be. It pours orange-golden and crystal clear with half-finger of head that remains on top throughout. Aromatically, it’s a touch of malt sweetness, fresh flowers, and bread. On the sip, the malty and bready sweetness is up front, but the earthy and floral notes take over the back half, leaving a crisp and somewhat dry finish.
Kamoho | Imperial stout w/ toasted coconut, cocoa nibs, cinnamon, and vanilla | Riverlands Brewing Company | St. Charles, IL | 12% ABV
This one was the standout of this year’s messy Beer Under Glass. I got my pour, sniffed the glass, started a heel turn as I sipped it, and came right back to the booth to ask, “what the hell is in this??” The coconut and chocolate are upfront, followed by a gentle nudge from vanilla. The cinnamon wasn’t apparent at first, but it’s left there in the aftertaste. Continuous sips as the beer warms brings the cinnamon more to the front, and the whole thing just settles into an indulgent yet not-too-sweet dessert stout.
Sunny Little Thing | Citrus Wheat Ale | Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. | Chico, CA | 5% ABV
It’s been a while since I grabbed a mixed 24 case of Sierra cans from the ol’ Costco, but this time it was an easy decision with this new beer and the return of Summer Fest. Back on our Cold IPA show, Doug Veliky posited that we could see a wave of “Summer IPAs” which would essentially be hoppy wheat beers. If they market this beer the right way, we could actually see this come to fruition – even without the snappy new “IPA” subtitle. This beer smells just a touch shy of that orange spray you used to keep in your car to cover up weed smoke, but there’s a surprising brightness that’s like sniffing a sparkling lemonade. Immediately in the sip it’s citrus all over, but it also has a spritzy effervescence to go with a softer wheat body. On the end, there’s some noticeable bitterness that mixes grassy hops and orange pith. It could lean a little harder on the hops, but it takes a more approachable route. Overall it works incredibly well, and I hope this leads other breweries to explore hoppy summer wheat beers.