ABV Chicago Monthly Sampler: October 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 October 2020.
Craig’s Mixed Six
Oktoberfest | Marzen | Goldfinger Brewing Co. | Downers Grove, IL | 6.1% ABV
Every brewery seems to release an Oktoberfest of some sorts, so it’s really hard to stand out. With just one sip Goldfinger’s Oktoberfest stands out. A big malty body gives it a robust mouthfeel and keeps you warm during a chilly night. There’s even a sort of rye spice in there that supports the lovely caramel and bread notes of Goldfinger’s version. Only downside is that you’ll have to wait until next year to have it again, but hopefully it will be under much better circumstances.
Biere de Meil | Saison with honey | Jester King | Austin, TX | 5.8% ABV – listen
Sometimes it’s the simple things that you enjoy the most. Jester King does saisons well enough, so just adding some honey sweetness to an already great base beer makes that beer even better. A nice dry finish, that lemon bread taste, and a small bit of funk make this a welcome diversion and easy sipper compared to some beers that are heavy in both flavor and mouthfeel. Jester King beers are a rarity in Chicago nowadays, so anytime you see them you should scoop some up. Or you could try similar things made by Keeping Together (from their former head brewer Averie Swanson).
Morbidly Obese Pug: Banana Split | Imperial stout with peanuts, banana, vanilla, and chocolate | Maplewood Brewing & Distillery | Chicago, IL | 10% ABV – read
Balance. I’m hoping that after years of just throwing things into the mash with no regard that balance is returning to the beer. (But the mash thing – it still happens). While the aroma on Banana Split here is decidedly unbalanced (heavy on the peanuts), the beer itself is a balanced melange of banana, chocolate, nuts all with a smooth, alcohol-hiding mouthfeel. It doesn’t wow you with big notes of banana or an overly sweet chocolate character, but strives to have all the flavors show up at different times throughout the sip, making for an enjoyable – and hopefully industry-foreshadowing – experience.
Unified Field Theory | West Coast Double IPA | Miskatonic and Foreign Exchange | Darien, IL | 8% ABV – listen
This list is starting to read like Old Man’s Beer List here, but whatever. I’ve been jonesin’ for some West Coast IPA love for the last year or so, so when a local one comes out I’m all ears. Unified Field Theory scratches that itch and then some. It actually tastes like it’s close to the 8% ABV, has a nice, big malty sweet body and a nice chunk of bitterness. Plus those pine and grassy notes are a welcome difference from the juicy and tropical notes from standard hazy IPAs. But the big takeaway here is that everything is balanced. The malt doesn’t make it too sweet or too heavy in the tummy and the bitterness lingers long enough for you to want more. Sure, I’ll have another.
Beer For Pizza | Malt Beverage with a ton of ingredients| Off Color Brewing | Chicago, IL | 4.5% ABV – listen (Patreon Exclusive)
Off Color will soon become the Beer For brewery. (Hey! Beer For Brewers or Beer For Breweries!) While not their best Beer For beer on its own, Beer For Pizza really shines when paired with, you guessed it, pizza. Beer For Pizza mimics soda as best it can, having a cola-like mouthfeel, appearance, and drinkability. It’s thin for a beer (but it’s mimicking a cola, so) but the amount of ingredients used to get the necessary flavor profile shows the dedication of Off Color to getting it exactly right. You can go through a 4-pack very easily, but get yourself some deep dish, thin crust or tavern style (whatever your preference), sit back and enjoy one of the most unique beers to come out of Chicago since, well, the last Off Color beer!
Maple Deth | Barrel-aged imperial oatmeal stout with maple syrup | Revolution Brewing | Chicago, IL | 12.8% ABV – read
Here’s that word again – balance. Maple syrup has been Exhibit A in the desecration of balance in beer, as most times it shows up in one it dominates everything and ultimately makes the beer way too sweet. Every so often, a brewery gets it right. The maple syrup on Maple Deth supplies a nice backbone to the base Deth’s Tar beer. By not overshadowing the base, it compliments it all while imparting a hint of maple sweetness and adding a some heft to the otherwise cola-like mouthfeel of the Deth’s. That sweet kiss is what I look for in maple syrup beers and hope this is a trend that continues.
Ryan’s Mixed Six
Seipp’s Extra Pale Pilsner | Pre-Prohibition Pilsner | The Conrad Seipp Brewing Co. | Chicago, IL | 4.5% ABV – listen
Resurrecting a pre-Prohibition pilsner in the time of haze and pastry is awfully gutsy, but it all becomes clear when you pop the cap on a Seipp’s. Though maybe a bit niche these days, the flavors in this beer maximize semi-sweet malts and noble hops that exert earthiness, rust, honey sweetness, wheat bread crust, and floral notes. It fills the mouth at first but absolutely cleans out by the end, with a slight lingering bitterness to remind you that you need another sip – and soon you’ll need another Seipp’s.
Lagunitas Sucks | Double IPA | Lagunitas Brewing Company | Petaluma, CA/Chicago, IL | 8% ABV
The marketing for this seems to indicate that this “limited release” beer hasn’t been around for a while, and then I realized that maybe I haven’t actually bought this for a few years. Once a fridge staple when available, this beer was always a paragon of the clean yet strongly hopped West Coast double IPA. Tropical citrus, passion fruit, sweet grapefruit, and expensive marijuana emanate from the glass. The sip hints at this bubblegum sweetness with candied grapefruit before a wave of resinous bitter pine washes down the palate and hangs on for the long haul. The reward for each sip is washing away that lingering bitterness, but the bitterness is the whole thing. This beer is as good – if not better – than I remember it. And along with their Born Yesterday, it’s my bridge to get to Celebration Town©. (Celebration Town© is a town wherein all the residents only drink Sierra Nevada’s Celebration for two months of the year, and I am its only inhabitant, though all are welcome.)
Ghosts in the Forest (Guava) | Oak-aged Wild Ale w/ Guava | The Lost Abbey | San Marcos, CA | 6% ABV – listen
We’ve taken The Lost Abbey for granted. Where there once were many options available from the legacy brewery in Chicagoland, the shelves are thinning – and we better not lose local access to one of our (and famously, Doug Veliky’s) favorite breweries in the world. This beer is yet another example as to why every dollar spent on their beers is pushed beyond its value, as there are few breweries as good with oak and barrels as this one. Gargantuan guava aromatics surge forward from the lightly-burnt golden ale, with toasty notes of oak and tart curdled yogurt add sour complexity to the whole affair. All of that tartness exhausts itself upfront in the flavor, but full flavors of sour guava and tannic grapes keep this one moving towards a dry finish. All hail Tomme.
Wet Hop Pale Ale | Pale Ale | Noon Whistle Brewing | Lombard, IL | 5.6% ABV
As the first brewery I’ve visited since the start of the pandemic, Noon Whistle eased any hesitance I had from the absolute start. The tables in the open-air tent were spaced beyond 6-feet, and every staff member was actively following and enforcing safety protocols. Beyond the normalcy of drinking at a brewery, this beer stood out for its grassy and tropical wet Citra giving this a real 2015 feel, with even notes of fruit and bitterness on a relatively light body. It is also just above sessionable, meaning you’ll want to drink five, when you should probably just drink two.
Resolved Enigma | West Coast-style IPA | Ology Brewing Co. | Tallahassee, FL | 7% ABV – listen
I’m all for a resurgence of West Coast IPAs, and I don’t really care where they come from. About as far from the West Coast as you can get, Tallahassee, Florida’s Ology is a brewery on the verge of building its national profile, even if it doesn’t quite yet have the capacity to be in more than just a few states. This IPA is light on malt but heavy on hop, finding the balance between a “juicy” IPA through some tropical-forward hops while sneaking in a substantial pine and herbal bitterness near the end that really brings it back to the old school. It’s pale and clear, and it’s exactly the kind of beer that would get you in trouble because it’s just so easy to guzzle.
Black is Beautiful | German dark lager | One Lake Brewing | Oak Park, IL | 5.7% ABV
Oak Park’s One Lake is a great spot for many reasons – the food is outstanding, the rooftop patio is perfectly socially-distanced, and the beer is focused on more approachable traditional styles than the over-flavored crowd-pleasers. Their take on the charity and awareness-focused Black is Beautiful beer initiative is a German dark lager – moderately boozy and endlessly drinkable. There’s a light roasty bitterness like dark chocolate or black coffee, but it evaporates into this crisp and dry finish that lets any hint of its ABV just evaporate and force you to redrink. I’ve had a lot of good beers from this newer brewery, but this one has easily been my favorite. (Proceeds for sales of this beer go to benefit My Block, My Hood, My City.)