ABV Chicago Monthly Sampler: November 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 November 2021.
Ryan’s Mixed Six
Speakeasy Red Sangria | Red wine barrel-aged gose w/ Concord grape, cranberry, orange, currant, & lemon | Barreled Souls Brewing Company | Saco, ME | 8.5% ABV – listen
Day drinking has never really agreed with me, as it usually ends with me covered in pizza grease and asleep in a reclining chair at 7:45PM. But hand this to me with a brunch plate of fresh ingredients and I’ll need to just hog the whole 4-pack and brace for an early night. This one is right on the line of fruit puree in a glass, as it pours a thick bloody purple with a bright pink head. The aroma immediately meets the expectation set by the name, as it’s a totally enveloping red wine citrus punch. The gose at the center of this is just a conduit for sangria flavor, as it’s barely perceptible but not missed much at all. There’s sweet grape jam that gets pulled back gently due to the tartness from the cranberry, orange, and lemon. The tannic red wine barrel helps add complexity and dryness. The could be canned and sold as an actual sangria, and no one would question it.
Rey Cuvée | 2018 + 2019 + 2020 Rey Gordo stout blended and double barrel-aged in Woodford Reserve barrels | Cruz Blanca Brewery | Chicago, IL | 13% ABV – listen
This space could’ve also gone to Cruz’s Das Bueno, one of the better Doppelbocks I’ve had in a while. But this beer goes on for Cruz because it’s easily a top ten of the year – just like last year’s version. Basically a Stout Gueuze, this blend actually consists of four elements: the three BA Gordos, and some non-barreled Gordo. It’s a genius move, because adding the “fresh” Gordo doesn’t sacrifice the complexity offered by the barrel and extended aging, but instead adds this ribbon of bitter chocolate that effectively balances the sweeter tendencies of the rest of the blend. Layers and layers of oak, tobacco, caramel, cacao, marshmallow, and fruity currant make appearances in this long ride of a beer. The mouthfeel is soft and decadent rather than syrupy and indulgent. This Rey could take any other brewery’s “Reserve” blend to the mat.
La Røuge Rosé | Sour Hybrid w/ Pinot Noir grape must, wild rose petals, and Barbe Rouge hops | Duneyrr Artisan Fermenta Project | Chicago, IL | 5.5% ABV – listen (Patreon only)
There are a surprising number of Rosé beers out there, and we’ve sampled half a dozen or more as a show. But none that we’ve had were made by a brewery so obsessed with actual wine that they’re already working on a companion winery. Aromatically, it’s floral sweetness accented with grape and a splash of citrus. It has a surprising amount of flavor for a 5.5% beer, and the wine influence almost tricks you into thinking it’s boozier. The grapes are both juicy and tart in the sip, but the sweetness belongs more to the flower petals. The hops are harder to perceive, but the hints of citrus and even raspberry could be their doing. This is yet another excellent reason why you should visit their newly-opened taproom.
Infinite Dawn | Sour blonde ale aged in an oak foeder | Rhinegeist Brewery | Cincinnati, OH | 5.65% ABV – listen
At times, I miss the “old days” of craft beer (which for me is like 14 years ago, so stop laughing if you’re older than me, please!) But when I think about how well American sour beers have progressed in the last decade, we are in a serious feast period. This Foeder sour presents as really straightforward, but that’d be ignoring the tremendous craft that went into ensuring the perfect levels of acidity and funk that do just enough to challenge you while being welcoming the whole time. It has wonderfully bright flavors of lemon, peach, and green apple; then the funk from the lacto and brett adds some vanilla yogurt and fruity esters to the mix. Beers this adeptly mastered are no longer limited to the beer imports section, and that’s fine by me.
Tranquil | Barrel-aged Imperial Stout | Riverlands Brewing Company | St. Charles, IL | 14.5% ABV
It seems like I only had about six beers at FoBAB this year, though that certainly wasn’t the case. When we reviewed the pour list, I had only a few memorable standouts – and a lot more “damnit how’d I forget to try that??” in my reflection. This beer was an absolute standout – one that required two pours, by my memory. Incredibly rich and chewy without the assistance of adjuncts, this one moves like it had a two-week boil. The barrel heat is undeniable but reigned in, and after the second sip you’ve just kind of forgotten about it and zeroed in on the perfection of that chocolate and roasty base stout. Hot diggity damn, put this on my Christmas list.
Neckbeard Life (2021) | Maple Bourbon Barrel-aged Imperial Stout blended with Rye Whiskey Barrel-aged Rye Barleywine | Transient Artisan Ales & The Beer Cellar | Bridgman, MI & Glen Ellyn, IL | 13.5% ABV
My personal favorite Black Friday tradition is this release at The Beer Cellar in Glen Ellyn, as I always make a point to stop in and sample at least one of these variants. I was only able to try one this year, but I made it count. My previous experience with Neckbeard Life was that it was way too sweet – and I don’t always love the use of maple-treated barrels as they’re the cause of that. But this version is absolutely perfect: a bold and slightly brash blend that first attacks the palate with malt, maple, spice, and barrel. But after a few sips, it subsides into this lovely blend where the maple and stout aspects are just their best features in outline, while the slightly spicy rye and malty barleywine notes step out from behind the curtain. Need your cockles warmed? This’ll warm them cockles.
Craig’s Mixed Six
Jaago | Chicory amber ale | Azadi Brewing | Chicago, IL | 6% ABV – read
I really like when a brewery takes a style and adds something unique and different to it (see Volume below as well). Azadi, makers of the absolutely delicious Kadak chai stout, do it again with Jaago by adding chicory to an amber ale. This is done with restraint, allowing the amber ale to shine while imparting interesting chicory flavors and aromas. Caramel, toffee and some sweetness combine with some cola, cherries, raisins, and other earthy delights to form a beer that you won’t soon forget. Unique and delicious!
Stay Puft | Barrel-aged stout with roasted marshmallow and graham crackers | Barreled Souls Brewing Company | Saco, ME | 11.5% ABV – listen
Once a rarity along with the Sasquatch, barrel-aged vanilla beers come out on the reg now. Some are well-executed and balanced while others are a complete mess, either being vanilla bombs or too sweet. Barreled Souls Stay Puft falls in the former. The marshmallow shows up in the beginning, providing a nice vanilla note to start things off. Then it’s all roasty and bitter stout carrying you out and tamping down any sweetness that might occur. That really ups the drinkability of it, making a 500 mL bottle much less of a challenge to finish off. And one you’d be delighted to do.
Maravilla | Imperial blonde ale aged in rum and rye whiskey barrels with vanilla | Cruz Blanca Brewery | Chicago, IL | 12.5% ABV – listen
Historically, the blonde ale Luchadors are too sweet. Maravilla, while still a bit sweet, reigns it in a bit and absolutely knocks it out of the park. Both the aroma and taste remind me heavily of horchata, with waves and waves of vanilla combined with a lovely spice note (I kept getting cinnamon). I would guess the barrels used in the aging contributed both to that spice note and kept it from being too sweet. I ranked this year’s Luchadors solely based on description and put Maravilla 7th (out of 8) fearing sweetness. So yeah, Cruz knocked it out of the park with this one. Definitely one to bring to the family around the holidays to show them what this beer thing you’re into is all about.
Bourbon County Double Barrel Brand Toasted Barrel Stout | Double barrel-aged stout | Goose Island Beer Co. | Chicago, IL | 16% ABV – listen
Of course it would be the most expensive Bourbon County this year. Double Barrel Toasted Barrel (BCDBTBS) improves upon the first Double Barrel BCBS from 2019 – which was delicious in its own right – by lowering the amount of oak and wood present in the flavor. DBTB still has some there, but it’s more in the background with chocolate, marshmallow and vanilla taking a more prominent role. Stupidly smooth at 16%, it’s one of the few Bourbon County beers this year that I’m actively looking to get a hold of. While the overall lineup didn’t wow me as much in some past years, DBTB stands out as a gem and one that’s worth the hassle to get. Keep doing the non-adjunct barrel treatments Goose Island!
Volume | Schwarzbier with juniper | Rebel Mettle Brewery | Cincinnati, OH | 8.5% ABV – listen
8.5% Schwarzbier? Sounds a bit high in ABV. With juniper? Why? Well this whole thing fucking works. Big chocolate and roasty notes combined with the earthiness and a bit of interior dryness from the juniper makes Volume both a tasty and unique treat. Volume still drinks like a schwarzbier despite the high ABV and is just a joy to drink. If this can be done with a schwarzbier, I wonder what other trees could be added.
Launchdown | Farmhouse with raspberry | Supermoon Brewing Co. | Milwaukee, WI | 6.2% ABV – read
As a part-time saison appreciation podcast, it’s nice to see another saison-focused brewery open up so close to Chicago. Supermoon’s Launchdown is a good introduction into what Rob Brennan can create with some time. The base saison sparkles with some lemon (and maybe even vanilla) notes while the red and black raspberries add a hint of sweetness and jamminess to everything. The Pinot Noir puncheon dries this beer out, but those raspberries cut that dryness just enough. Beer and wine drinkers will both appreciate what’s being done here. Launchdown’s also an absurdly versatile food-pairing beer and one that works well with Thanksgiving dinner and leftovers. Get to Milwaukee to try Supermoon.