ABV Chicago Monthly Sampler: November 2020
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 November 2020.
Craig’s Mixed Six
Mocha & Cigarettes | Smoked Coffee Porter w/ vanilla & cacao nibs | Cellarmaker Brewing Company | San Francisco, CA | 8.9% ABV – listen (Patreon exclusive)
Porters are always in a tough position. Too light and thin they risk being schwarzbiers; too thick and heavy stouts. So when a porter comes along with a thick mouthfeel while maintaining that delicate porter body, you take notice. Mocha and Cigarettes does this all while properly integrating the vanilla and cacao nibs so as not to be overdone or cloying. While there’s little to no smokiness, everything else going more than makes up for that omission. You’ll finish the can before you know it.
Rey Cuvée | Imperial stout blend ft. 2017, 2018, & 2019 Rey Gordo aged in American Whiskey-finished Spanish sherry barrels | Cruz Blanca Brewery | Chicago, IL | 12% ABV – listen
Barrels and barrels and barrels! Take the last three years of Cruz Blanca’s barrel-aged stout Rey Gordo, blend them together, and then throw that into barrels. Holy heck. A smooth, layered, nuanced, and thick stout resulted from this insane blend and barrel-aging process, one that picks up a little bit of each part of the Rey Gordo blends while still distinguishing itself as its own beer. I hope this is a yearly occurrence from Cruz Blanca, both with this and possibly other former Luchador beers. Cruz Blanca isn’t flying under the radar anymore (had to work that in…)
Anniversary Bourbon County Brand Stout | Imperial stout aged in Weller 12 Year bourbon barrels | Goose Island Beer Co. | Chicago, IL | 15.2% ABV – listen
I’ll say it every year – Goose Island’s Bourbon County stout is best when less adjuncts are involved and more of the barrel takes center stage. The Reserve the last three years has been a highlight every year, and the Rare beers are all timers. So when Goose got some Weller 12-year barrels and put some Bourbon County to rest in them for an extended time (2 years), the results were typically amazing. It fills the nose with chocolate and cocoa powder (with a hint of sherry) while a hint of wine and fruit are added to the base Bourbon County on the taste. Above all else it’s completely smooth. I love it when Goose Island does these 2-year aged versions of their beers as you know it’s going to be one you want to get, and Anniversary is no exception.
Brainforest | Triple IPA | Hop Butcher for the World | Darien, IL | 10.5% ABV – listen
Triple IPAs are one of two things usually – over-malted messes or very sweet hazies. Brain Forest does neither. Full of bitterness, a modest malt kick and very little sweetness, Hop Butcher shows everyone that they can make a clean triple IPA with the best of them. The ABV hides itself well enough, the malt provides a hint of sweetness, and the bitterness is bold and in charge. While I usually prefer a single or double IPA to a triple, if more breweries do triples like this, I’d change my thinking on it.
Beyond Forever | Barrel-aged imperial stout with Ugandan vanilla | Private Press Brewing | Santa Cruz, CA | 12.4% ABV – read
If this was anything short of amazing, people would almost assuredly be disappointed. Brad Clark – formerly of Jackie O’s – started Private Press in California to specifically focus on barrel-aged stouts and barleywines. All releases are only for Private Press members. Get on the hype train. Beyond Forever, their first BA stout, delivers on everything, featuring a blend of four different BA stouts and Ugandan vanilla beans. Smooth and full of chocolate and vanilla and some surprise cherries, drinking Beyond Forever was one of those beers that you forget you’re drinking and just sit back and enjoy the ride. The vanilla never gets too sweet and comes off closer to a marshmallow and the chocolate is brownie-like. Unfortunately this one’s very difficult to get, but it’s more than worth the effort.
Form of the Destructor | Double Barrel Imperial Oatmeal Stout aged for 30 months | Revolution Brewing Company | Chicago, IL | 16.66% ABV
Revolution decided to pivot on their Sanctuary Beers, typically on-tap only at Deep Wood release parties, and put them into 32 oz crowlers and put them up for sale because, well, no Deep Wood release parties. Extremely limited (like sold out to VIPs in like an hour) and $50 a pop, Form of the Destructor has some daunting prices of admission going on here. The result is worth it. A single barrel of Revolution’s Double Barrel V.S.O.D, Form of the Destructor features all the things you like in a barrel-aged stout. Big chocolate and vanilla notes, some dark cherries and currants, tons of oak, leather, and tobacco, and a smooth ride on the palate train. Even at 16.66%, I polished off that crowler on my own in one night (I paid for it the next day). But just the fact I was able to says something about how smooth and well-hidden the alcohol was. If something similar comes up at the next release – even at $50 – I will definitely be considering it.
Ryan’s Mixed Six
Tarzan Boy | Imperial stout aged in South American rum barrels with banana, Oaxacan coffee, piloncillo and vanilla | Cruz Blanca Brewery | Chicago, IL | 12.5% ABV – listen
I should be using this space to talk about some of the exciting new beers Cruz put out in their Luchador series this year, like the Tigre Blanco, which I definitely underrated on the show as I can’t stop thinking about it now. But I have to give this space to this year’s Tarzan Boy, an all-around improvement on a beer I already loved from last year. Somehow, the chocolate-dipped banana and smooth vanilla are just as up in the front as the spicy rum barrel and hit of coffee bitterness. In a lineup of showstoppers, this one is about as good as it gets.
Family Style | Triple IPA | Double Nickel Brewing Company | Pennsauken, NJ | 9.8% ABV – listen
As Craig mentioned, the Triple IPA is a style I also approach with hesitance, as I prefer my IPAs to be bitter yet not heavy, and generally lower than 7% in alcohol. But this one tricks you into thinking it’s lighter than it is, and for that, I will hold out hope that Triple IPAs can be better than “hoppier barleywines” in the future. This one pours straw yellow with light haze and a half-finger of snowy head. The fruit-forward aroma is peaches and cream, with a bit of watermelon and orange citrus. It doesn’t drink heavy at all – it moves quickly across the palate making it easy to mistake for an IPA. It’s lightly bitter and dry in the finish, ultimately tasting like a juicier West Coast IPA.
Birthday Bourbon County Brand Stout | Imperial stout aged in Old Forester’s Birthday Bourbon barrels | Goose Island Beer Co. | Chicago, IL | 14.6% ABV – listen
Though we threw a lot of love and attention (and opinions!) at BCBS variants the last few weeks, the thing that always excites me the most is when Goose Island taps their wealth of resources in the bourbon industry and sources unique and rare barrels that no other brewery could. Any one with a barrel can dump a bunch of chocolate or orange zest or whatever the hell into it, but getting barrels that produce absolute liquid gold on their own is something Goose can always flex with if they choose. This is the most delicious fruited variant in a decade that also contains no fruit – it’s all wonderful barrel. At times reminiscent of a bourbon Old Fashioned, this is a touch sweeter and brawnier than the base, sticky with cherry cordial and dark chocolate, but it finishes dry and smooth. It’s worth seeking out – but don’t overpay for it.
The Sound | West Coast-style IPA | Maplewood Brewing Company | Chicago, IL | 6.5% ABV – listen (Patreon exclusive)
I feel like we’ve fallen through some sort of time portal that has made West Coast IPA a “trend” again rather than…just something everyone makes. And to think of the recently converted craft beer drinkers who were weened on hazy and juicy “IPA” having a malty bitter bruiser like one of these makes me nostalgic for the days when I first opened a Torpedo or an Artic Panzer Wolf and had my mind blown. Out of the gates, the aroma here combines wet grass, pine, cat pee, citrus, and ripe berries in a wonderfully familiar way. It does pull back on the malt sweetness a bit to let the hop flavor shine, like an IPA version of their own Crushinator pale ale or a lighter Lagunitas Sucks. The bitterness is present and lingers a bit, but it still feels clean all the way through, and urges you to keep drinking.
Autumn Fields | Cream ale w/ cranberry and orange | More Brewing Company | Huntley, IL | 4.5% ABV
For years, my go-to along with Thanksgiving dinner has been a saison. I even had a Logsdon Seizoen Bretta from 2018 all lined up and ready to open when this autumnal cream ale arrived on my doorstep. (Thanks Aaron!) Coincidentally, my wife had asked me to make from-scratch cranberry sauce with orange juice and zest for our little pod-safe small Thanksgiving, so I chose this to go with the hefty meal and complement that side. It was glorious. Despite the slight tartness from the cranberry and citrus, the cream ale at the base remains soft and easy, lightly sweet with a feathery finish. Here’s to hoping there’s More at the table next year. (See what I did?!?)
Celebration | Fresh Hop IPA | Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. | Chico, CA | 6.8% ABV
This is absolutely no surprise to listeners of the show – and certainly not an unpopular opinion – but this is one of my absolute favorite beers in the world and my definite favorite seasonal release. I stalked stores for the later weeks of October once I had heard it was getting sent to distributors, which is the closest I’ll come to beer chasing these days. My heart always flutters a bit at the Costco with the hope that I’ll one day see a shining stack of 24 packs of Celebration again, like in the year of 2017. It has never once suffered from “it was better last year” syndrome – every fresh bottle you open is the best one you’ve ever had. I might retire from beer podcasting if Sierra Nevada simply sent me a Celebration shirt (or hell, one of those 3 liter bottles). This beer starts sweet on the lips then tingles with lemon zest and orange pith before a walloping wave of piney hop bitterness takes over the center of your tongue and stays there. Further sips bring out a bit more of that sticky caramel malt sweetness, but it’s a slight companion to the power of the fresh hops that burst forward with every sensory interaction with this beer. And it’ll still taste good in two months, at least, so I will begin building an ultimate cat fort from empty 12-pack boxes. (Also, I’ll say it right now: if any local brewery makes a beer with Cascade, Centennial, and Chinook hops, I’m buying a case.)