ABV Chicago Monthly Sampler: May 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 May 2023.
Ryan’s Mixed Six
Hop Grandslam | Double IPA w/ honey | Bell’s Brewery | Kalamazoo, MI | 10.5% ABV – listen (Patreon only)
It must’ve been 2011 when I bought my first six pack of Hopslam at $16 (which would be outrageous lest you remember those early Zombie Dust prices), and I would savor each bottle like it was a special occasion. Sometimes, I would hold onto bottles for way too long, because I didn’t really understand how hoppy beers worked back then. (Old Hopslam is essentially a flabby-feeling American barleywine, for the record.) Drinking this brought back some of the thrill of those early Hopslam experiences, even though it’s never really explained what makes this a “Grand” version. Either way, it’s all the big candy citrus hops and bitter pine finish that you know and expect, with the honey adding some heft to the mouthfeel. Tastes like nostalgia.
Catch Hell (2023) | Imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels w/ Madagascar vanilla and cinnamon | Half Acre Beer Company | Chicago, IL | 14% ABV – listen
Here’s to hoping this becomes a regular barrel-aged release from Half Acre, as we were lucky to try both the Double and Triple Barrel versions of this in the past. Truthfully, it’s clear now how valuable the excellent base beer and adjuncts are without all the extra barreling, because this beer hardly loses a step despite it’s pffffft paltry single barrel treatment. *Reaches for monocle, falls off into a bowl of CTC* But really, the cinnamon and the decadent base stout play the star, as it gives off aromas of Big Red gum but devilishly dances across the tongue like a *ahem* snickerdoodle cookie. The thick stout is teeming with dark chocolate and a bit of fruit and coffee roast, while the vanilla is content to just lighten things up a little bit. It’s more comforting warmth than burning hellfire, trust me.
Elijah Craig Barrel Aged Imperial Stout | Imperial Stout aged in Elijah Craih 19-year Bourbon Barrels | Hop Butcher for the World | Chicago, IL | 12.5% ABV
This year’s Beer Under Glass saw many examples of breweries not “phoning it in” for the festival with some exceptionally rare beers up for sampling: Phase Three, Brothership, More, and Mikerphone all brought notable and limited availability barrel-aged stouts. The one I didn’t have on my bingo card was Hop Butcher bringing this rich and decadent extended-aged stout. According to Jude, this stout is essentially the pre-peanut butter base stout for Fat Bear, and this particular batch was brewed back in the Miskatonic days where it slumbered in barrels up until recently. It’s very fudge-like in flavor and mouthfeel – you chew this beer more than sip on it. But that richness melds with the caramel and vanilla oak, achieving a balance that makes this a well-balanced stout in the end. It’s too bad this will never likely see any formal release, but if you see it promised at the taproom or on a festival floor, make it your mission to try it.
Unity | West Coast IPA | Hopfly Brewing Co. & Swells’a Brewing | Charlotte & Kill Devil Hills, NC | 7.2% ABV – listen
Taking the concept of West Coast IPA (bitter!) and melding it with some hops that lend some New England IPA flavors (juicy!) has become a very marketable hybrid in IPA, and this particular North Carolina collaboration pulls it off exceptionally well. Aromatically, it’s high-grade dispensary Sour Diesel cannabis with juicy citrus, grapefruit, and pomelo mixing with some spicy and dank herbs. In the flavor, the bitterness is moderate but immediately noticeable before subsiding to some more of those fruity and herbal flavors hinted at on the nose. The 7.2% hides in this otherwise sessionable IPA, and the lingering bitterness lasts just long enough to make you want to sip again and again.
Subnivean | White India Pale Ale | More Brewing Company | VIlla Park & Huntley, IL | 6.6% ABV
The name of this beer evokes layers of snow on the ground, beneath which fuzzy little mammals huddle for warmth and stored rations. But I drank this standing in a driveway when it was 75 degrees, and I have to ask why we don’t have more Belgian-influenced IPAs in the market for warmer months. This beer pours a soft golden with a huge white fluffy head. The aroma is citrus and pine mixed with bubblegum and banana-like esters, Dole whip, and the lightest note of a black peppercorn on the end. Your sip is met with a soft and full mouthfeel, a decent lingering bitterness, and a very dry finish. It tastes like orange pith and resinous pine, with a kiss of sweet pineapple candy. Some of those ester-y and phenolic characters reminiscent of Belgian yeast peek out from behind the IPA at times, which messes with your more haze-attuned sensibilities. This beer deserves its own season.
Goofy Boots | Hazy IPA | Penrose Brewing Company | Geneva, IL | 7% ABV – listen
As we’ve been working our way through about 25 “flagship” Hazy IPAs from local brewers, we’ve really come to understand what we look for in an exemplar of this style. Goofy Boots is a multiple GABF medal-winning beer, and that’s not all that surprising when you get a chance to taste it blind like we did. The aroma is big on citrus, tropical fruits, and grass. The flavor brings out the pithiness of the orange, and the tropical fruits give off something like passionfruit. It’s still a bit bitter and dry in the end, keeping this beer from ever getting sweet. It deserves to be on the Mount Rushmore of Chicagoland Hazy IPAs.
Craig’s Mixed Six
Rascal King | English Style Pub Ale | Flipside Brewing | Tinley Park, IL | 4.8% ABV
I had a pour of this English-style pub ale at Beer Under Glass (BUG) and it stood out among all the heavily-adjuncted barrel-aged things which says something about this beer. Yes, it has all the traditional pub ale things, like a bready note and some light hop bitterness on the finish. But something interesting happened between the caramel malt (I presume) and the sweetness from the rest of the malt bill. That interesting thing was peanut brittle. While definitely not as sweet as actual peanut brittle, some nuttiness came through and combined with that malt bill to form an unintended sessionable peanut brittle beer. Not only was it the only pub ale I had at BUG (and might have been the only one pouring period), but it was also damn good. I need to try more of these classic styles from Flipside.
Summer Symphony | Golden ale with watermelon, lemon and lime juices | Forbidden Root | Chicago, IL | 6.2% ABV
Read that description above. Aren’t you refreshed already? Summer Symphony is absolutely refreshing, with the golden ale not getting in the way of all the refreshing fruit in the mix. But it still has some beer qualities, with some tartness that supplements the fruit and keeps you coming back for more. The watermelon, lemon and lime show up but never to the point of dominating the beer and each provide a little bit of what they’re known for – lime tartness, lemon acidity and watermelon, um, refreshing? An ideal work from the bar beer as you can aimlessly sip on it while you do other things. Then you realize you just had 5 of them. A variant has already been but on tap (Crocodile Rock – blood orange, pomegranate, mango) that is just as good in different ways. I want cans of this for the summer months.
Barrel-aged Migration | Barrel-aged imperial stout with coconut, vanilla and cacao nibs | Old Irving Brewing/Phase Three Brewing | Chicago, IL/Lake Zurich, IL | 13% ABV – listen
A common complaint I have with some heavily adjunct barrel-aged beer is lack of barrel character; the adjuncts typically overtake it. BA Migration still manages to retain some barrel flavor and heat, all while adding a healthy dose of coconut and chocolate to the mix. While the vanilla was a bit subdued in the mix, it still showed up thanks to the barrel influence helping it out. The coconut and chocolate are very much present, giving off those 2013 Proprietor’s vibes. What really won out for me was an unexpected caramel note from the barrel which added a nice little bit of wow to the entire experience. That caramel note brought me back to the beer again and again until the can was done. It’s those unintended flavors that always really wow me!
Dean Street | Hazy IPA | Riverlands Brewing | St. Charles, IL | 6.8% ABV – listen
It finally happened. And of course it had Citra in it. But only Citra! Dean Street broke the hazy GABF medal winners curse on our blind battle royale shows. And with good reason. A solid, pillowy base feels soft going across the tongue. All that Citra brought along citrus fruits I’ve come to know and love in hazy beers over the years – papaya, mango, orange. The finish came with enough bitterness to warrant successive sips. Most importantly, though, it wasn’t sweet. It was doing everything I want out of a hazy IPA that few breweries seem to accomplish correctly. The only shocking thing was that it did beat a GABF medal winning hazy IPA and joined in the final, where it will be pitted against 3 other ones. Can’t wait to see how it holds up.
Pea Island Parks | Pilsner | Swells’a Brewing | Kill Devil Hills, NC | 5.7% ABV – listen
A pilsner that smells more like a saison is something I need more of in my life. Featuring floral and lemon aromas, Pea Island Parks pilsner does all the pilsner things right while adding a big body to the proceedings. While the finish features an earthy or grassy bitterness, the rest of the sip is all biscuit and sweet malt. That malt gives off honey notes, making the pilsner taste like a honey cracker (no graham). The big body (for a pilsner) just accents and enhances those flavors, giving Pea Island Parks pilsner a nice little flavor heft. Off the top of my head there’s not really a Chicago equivalent (need to do some research on that!) so that immediately moves it to the top of the list. As if I needed another reason to visit a brewery by an ocean.
The Saucefather | Barrel-aged Imperial stout with coffee, coconut and vanilla | Wax Wings Brewing Company | Kalamazoo, MI | 14% ABV – listen
Back when we started the podcast I’d freak out over a barrel-aged imperial stout with these adjuncts. Today I usually wonder how sweet or unbalanced the resulting beer will be. Then this Saucefather came along. Perfect amount of barrel character. All three adjuncts show up in equal amounts and actually form together to make the tiramisu they were going for. Sure, it’s a bit sweet, but not nearly as sweet as it could have been. I gladly finished my 500 mL bottle with ease (as well as my pour at the taproom when I went). I cannot overstate how perfectly balanced everything in this beer is – from the base, to the barrel, to the adjuncts. Wax Wings barrel program is one you should be familiar with if you’re not already. Even things in barrels that I don’t really like still manage to shine. Unreal.