ABV Chicago Monthly Sampler: November 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 November 2023.
Craig’s Mixed Six
Noir Et Bleu | Belgian Tripel with blueberries and black tea | Big Oyster Brewery | Lewes, DE | 9% ABV – listen
A year round tripel? Ok, I can get behind that. A year round tripel with tea as a flagship? A little weird, but fine. A year round tripel with tea and blueberries? It shouldn’t exist. But it does and it’s delicious. It still retains the Belgian tripel qualities of brown sugar and dark fruit notes. A lovely shot of blueberries runs throughout the tripel while not overpowering it. And the tea, of course, dry the beer out a little and kind of stops the finish in its tracks. It wasn’t doing anything too big or crazy and everything stayed in its lane and the result was a lovely harmony of a well-made classic beer style with some new-fangled additions. If more breweries made beers like this year-round flagship offering, it would definitely make things more interesting.
Bourbon County Brand Eagle Rare 2-Year Reserve Stout | Barrel-aged Imperial Stout | Goose Island Beer Co. | Chicago, IL | 14.5% ABV – listen (Patreon Exclusive)
Goose Island leans into what it does the best – barrel treatments (and re-hashes of successful past variants). Typically the straight barrel treatments stand out among the yearly releases and 2023 is no exception. The Eagle Rare barrels add a fair amount of dark chocolate and dark fruits to the base Bourbon County while the 2-year aging adds a bigger body and mouthfeel to the proceedings. The base Bourbon County flavors of chocolate, vanilla, and bourbon show up as well but the dark chocolate really steals the show here. While not as thick and chewy as some of the bigger BA stouts out there (Eunoia, Medianoche), it provides similar non-added flavors to the base beer without tiring you out. If Goose Island decides to focus on their barrel-only Bourbon Counties, look out. It’s typically more of a hit than miss.
Slappa Da Base | Barrel-aged Imperial Stout | Mikerphone Brewing | Elk Grove Village, IL | 13.83% ABV – listen
At one point in their timeline, I wrote off Mikerphone barrel-aged beers. Not enough barrel presence, too many additions, and too sweet. Then they started releasing straight barrel-aged stouts, whether it be in their Pick of Destiny line or in their regular lineup. Slappa Da Base continues the absolute tear Mikerphone’s been on with straight barrel-aged stouts. A blend of 3 different barrels with aging times akin to WeldWerks’ Medianoche, Slappa Da Base keeps the alcohol in check and pushes the flavor to 11. With no additions, aromas of chocolate, vanilla, bourbon, coconut and a host of other things. Upon sipping it, a distinct and big nutty flavor somehow finishes things off. The chocolate remains throughout, vanilla supports, and the bourbon barrels round things off while not making it prohibitive to drink. The blend does the heavy lifting on the flavors and shows what Mikerphone is capable of in this realm. Any no addition barrel-aged stout is now a must-grab from Mikerphone, no questions asked.
Super Zero | Hop water with Sabro and Nectaron | Revolution Brewing | Chicago, IL | 0% ABV – listen
Hop waters are having a moment and with good reason. With a fair segment of the population not wanting to drink – and not to mention Dry January coming up – hop water fills a need that is sorely lacking. Revolution has spent a long time working out the kinks of its first hop water and the time and refinement shines in the finished product. Hoppy enough for you to get the flavors that the Sabro and Nectaron impart but never veers toward the too-earthy or grassy side. Refreshing without going towards tonic or seltzer water. It pushes the hops to their flavorful limit without going over. What you get is definitely the best hop water in Chicago and a contender for best in the country. It hits everything that I want in a hop water – hop flavors, effervescence, and nothing offensive in the taste. Just clean, crisp, bubbly water with some nice coconut and citrus notes. More will be purchased in quantity when I get beerded out!
Fuzzy Nitez | Saison with peaches | Seedz Brewery | Union Pier, MI | 4.7% ABV
Apparently Fuzzy Nitez was supposed to be more acidic than Seedz other FoBAB entry Wind and Sky. I got the reverse and absolutely enjoyed every pour of Fuzzy Nitez that I got. The saison base kept a bunch of the potential acidity and tartness wholly in check while the peaches ran amok on the palate, giving the sensation of actually biting into a peach. While the lager lounge and the hop water lounge supplied the necessary breaks from all the barrel-aged things, Fuzzy Nitez provided a similar break from the heaving stouts and barleywines surrounding it. Not only did you get the banging peach notes but it had an effervescence and lightness that served as barrel-aged counter programming for a majority of offerings. I stopped by so much that a volunteer spilled a bottle on me! Not a bad way to smell walking around FoBAB.
Axis: As Bold As Beer | American Brown Ale | Werk Force Brewing | Plainfield, IL | 6.3% ABV – listen
Brown ales are an afterthought in the beer world. They might be a seasonal beer, but sometimes they’re year round. You can barrel age them, but not many places do it. Typically they’re used as the base beer in a lower alcohol and lower-in-sweetness versions of pastry stouts. So when a brewery releases a brown ale that can stand up on its own with no additions, you take notice. Werk Force does just that with Axis. Axis features some nuttiness, chocolate, roast, and a big mouthfeel that combines together to form something tasty and delicious. No Voltron-style-tastes-like-a-cookie type things here. Everything works well as separate flavors but combine to make something wholly enjoyable. When I order a brown ale at a brewery/bar I usually leave disappointed. With Axis I’d most likely order another one.
Ryan’s Mixed Six
The Malt Slayer | Russian Imperial Stout | Hailstorm Brewing Co. | Tinley Park, IL | 10.2% ABV
We here at ABV Chicago are all for the return to big, unforgiving, adjunct-free stouts. The Malt Slayer is here to not only eradicate bitter dark malts, but it’s coming next for the beloved pastry stout. Ok, I’m being dramatic because the demonic character on the can has gotten in my head a bit, but this beer is a satisfying throwback to the malt monsters of old. It’s thick and chewy, bitter and anise-forward, full of dark chocolate with almost no hint of sweetness. The finish is never-ending – challenging and rewarding at the same time while keeping the ABV relatively hidden. Fans of dark roast black coffee or ashy bitter dark chocolate will love this beer.
Oaked Val D’Or | Oak Fermented Belgian-Style Pale Ale | Hidden Hand/Solemn Oath Brewery | Naperville, IL | 6.9 % ABV – listen
There will always be a contingent of FoBAB attendees that will scoff at anything other than a stout or barleywine winning Best of Show. And in no way is this a pretentious indictment of “the state of craft beer” – I think it’s simply a lot harder to adjust your palate from chocolate and peanut butter stout to appreciating a more nuanced and funky wild when you’re bouncing from table to table, three-ounce glass to three-ounce glass. Removing this beer from the context of FoBAB (which is still an absolutely wonderful event, in our opinion) brought tremendous clarity to the reasons for its big win. There have been many Orval tribute beers, but this one nails the fruity esters, peppery phenols, aged hops, and funky wet hay while layering on some tannic barrel oak resulting in notes of gooseberry before a perfectly dry finish. It’s a stunning accomplishment of a beer and one that deserves its place in FoBAB lore.
Poppy Seed Bun | Riwaka-hopped American Pale Ale | Hop Butcher for the World | Chicago, IL | 6% ABV – listen (Patreon Exclusive)
Hop Butcher loves the Riwaka hop, and in fact, they may have been the first brewery that I saw locally to use it. One whiff of this clear pale ale will clue you into why. On the nose, there’s some passionfruit, sweet citrus, and something slightly dank and herbal. The flavor mostly follows suit but adds in a touch of grapefruit before ending with a pretty persistent bitterness. My only dream for this beer is that it eventually gets added to a mixed six pack of Chicago Dog beers like their Neon Green Relish, Sport Pep, Celery Salt, and so on. Just waiting on that mustard beer.
Magnetron | Schwarzbier | Metropolitan Brewing | Chicago, IL | 5.2% ABV
We can’t possibly overstate Metropolitan’s influence on Chicago beer. 15 years ago, you could ostensibly sample a beer from each Chicago craft brewery in one sitting and still be sober enough to play a full seven innings of 16-inch softball. Thanks to the fearless folks at Metropolitan, who have stubbornly championed lagers and traditional German styles since their inception, a whole generation of homebrewers took their inspiration to the professional level, leading to the founding of hundreds of Chicagoland breweries. The sad reality is that number is now shrinking due to a whole mess of unforeseen (and some foreseen) circumstances, and Metropolitan’s closing announcement devastated every experienced Chicago craft enthusiast. The best taproom in the city is closing on December 17th, and you owe it to yourself (and the wonderful folks at Metro) to visit before it’s too late. This Schwarzbier is one of the best around, simply put, as is just about anything else brewed by Metropolitan. Go there and express your thanks while you can.
Midst | Northeastern English Brown Ale | Phase Three Brewing | Lake Zurich, IL | 4.8% ABV – listen
The brown ale is kind of caught in between any sort of trend: it’s not hoppy enough for IPA fans, it’s not malty enough for porter and stout lovers, and it’s highly drinkable but doesn’t attract lager fans because it’s not a lager. But it’s a marvelous food pairing beer that’s versatile enough to work with main meals or a dessert. And if you come across one on cask, you’re in for a real treat. This Phase Three example has a fuller and creamier mouthfeel than some other brown ales, but it also absolutely nails the light toasted nut and subtle hop character of some of the more traditional styles. It’s the closest can pour of a cask English brown that I’ve come across.
Pragueress | Czech Dark Lager | Revolution Brewing | Chicago, IL | 5.8% ABV – listen (Patreon Exclusive)
For a beer that has a name like an eye roll-inducing dad joke, I’d like to see the label art of this turned into a stained glass piece to hang in the windows of basement home bars all over Chicago (or Prague, for that matter). There certainly has been a minor trend of local brewers making Czech Dark Lagers, especially during the colder months. This beer has all the deep roast and dusty dark chocolate you want on the aroma, and those notes come through prominently in the beginning of the sip. The first half plays like a Baltic Porter in its body before hitting a bitter middle section and ending easy and dry like a lager. The way it brings together those transforming flavor experiences makes this one of the more impressive examples we’ve tried so far.