ABV Chicago Monthly Sampler: September 2022
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 for the month of September 2022.
Craig’s Mixed Six
3.7% table beers usually are not flavorful. Sometimes they go too watery or sometimes there’s just not enough oomph there to give off anything. Away Days and nebuleus somehow got their Table Beer giving off hefeweizen notes. A big banana bread note with some lemon and lime notes make you think you’re drinking a hefeweizen, but the light and crisp sips you take tell you you’re not. Some bitterness even creeps in on the finish! Somehow Table Beer also coats the tongue enough not to feel thin. This is an insane combination for a 3.7% table beer and one I would definitely drink again.
Very Old Painless | Barrel-aged Barleywine | Falling Knife Brewing Company | Minneapolis, MN | 13% ABV – listen
As barrel-aging has evolved and become more specialized, barrel heat has decreased. Most of the time this is welcome, but when the barrel heat complements a big beer well, it enhances everything. Very Old Painless accentuates the dark side of the barleywine spectrum – molasses, dark fruits, and brown sugar. The barrel brings some sweetness and bourbon notes to those delicious base beer flavors while the entire production becomes a smooth sipper to enjoy over a long period of time. My only complaint – the 750 mL format (would have preferred a 16oz can). A treat for those that are able to have it nonetheless.
Micro Volt | Pale Lager | Metropolitan Brewing | Chicago, IL | 3.8% ABV – listen
Two things I look for in a table beer are mouthfeel and flavor. If neither are there, it feels like you’re drinking water. Micro Volt features a malt presence usually not found in this style along with a hint of grassy bitterness on the finish. It coats the tongue enough for a table beer and has big grain notes, like they freshly plowed the fields and put it in the beer. It finishes dry and combined with everything else makes you drink this more and more and more. As I said on the show, this is something I’d like at a baseball game, as it’s light and flavorful enough to enjoy multiples of (and the stadium would like that as well, given their markup). Yes, more table lagers please.
CaramelCrisp | Caramel Popcorn Ale | Revolution Brewing/Garrett’s Popcorn | Chicago, IL | 7% ABV – read
There’s no way this should work as well as it did. Throwing caramel popcorn and brown sugar in a beer definitely leads to Insta likes but rarely something balanced and drinkable. CaramelCrisp does just that. A brown ale base, that caramel/brown sugar sweetness hits but then vanishes, thanks to the addition of kosher salt. The salt brings about a dry finish that, combined with the sweetness earlier, leaves you wanting more. The brown ale base is no slouch either, providing some nuttiness and a coating mouthfeel that just adds to the whole experience. The biggest takeaway of all, however, is that it does not taste like popcorn at all. It does pair exceedingly well with both of Garrett’s offerings – CaramelCrisp and CheddarCorn – so buy both and make it a movie night!
A Lovely Place to Be | Saison | Sway Brewing and Blending | Bailey’s Harbor, WI | 5.1% ABV – listen
There aren’t too many saison exclusive breweries around. Chicago was lucky enough to have 3 (now 2) but usually those breweries don’t show up at a big festival. So when I saw Sway in the program for the Great Taste of the Midwest, they were my number 1 place to hit. Glad I did. A Lovely Place to Be has that lemon character I typically get in a saison but changes it up a bit with some custard character. Some wood and oak show up as well thanks to the foeder and the whole sip gels together with some pillowy mouthfeel. Some slight bitterness even shows up near the finish. It’s amazing what a side project of a side project can do these days!
Foothills | Barrel-aged saison with pineapple sage, szechuan peppercorns, and lemongrass | Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery | Newberg, OR | 7.7% ABV – listen
Farm breweries stand an excellent chance of making an exemplary farmhouse beer. Wolves & People attack this style with a beer that has the perfect level of tartness, an expertly integrated barrel, and a little must and funk. Lemon tartness hits the front of the tongue and never leaves, remaining well after you’re finished with the sip. The tartness never gets to be too much and the wine notes perfectly supplement the base beer, making it finish dry with some nice grape notes. I have no idea what the pineapple sage and peppercorns were doing in this beer but whatever it was please keep doing it, Wolves & People. Another excellent saison from the state of Oregon.
Ryan’s Mixed Six
Table: Contessa | Table saison-style ale w/ Contessa hops | Afterthought Brewing Company | Lombard, IL | 3.2% ABV – listen
My initial reaction to this beer was that it’s “Boulba-esque”. Mike Thorpe does an incredible job of convincing you that Lombard is Brussels, because even his lighter beers shine with the terroir of Belgian countrysides. This beer raises the hop profile to something floral and citrusy, but it also gives off complex aromas of oak and pale malts. It mixes the tartness of the base saison with the bitterness of the hops, and it also tricks you that it drinks bigger than it actually is. What can we say about Afterthought that we haven’t said before? Consider them a top 5 brewery in the state.
Dopplesticke Altbier | Altbier | Giant Jones Brewing Company | Madison, WI | 9.3% ABV – listen (Patreon only)
We regularly sing the praises of Erica and Jessica Jones’ big beer brewery out in Madison because they have a perfect batting average with us at this point – they have yet to make a beer we haven’t completely enjoyed. Furthermore, they specialize in forgotten or long-lost styles, so you get that magical threeway of good taste, high alcohol, and learning. This German-style beer uses an ale yeast but is cold-conditioned to give it a lager-like drinkability despite the imposing 9.3% ABV. It’s reddish-caramel in color and gives off brown sugar bready malts in the aroma. There’s a balanced molasses-like sweetness across the taste with a slight hint of roast, and the mouthfeel starts chewy before finishing surprisingly dry. Count on Giant Jones to nail every style you’ve never heard of.
Small Hang Glide | Wheat Pale Ale | Modist Brewing Co. | Minneapolis, MN | 6% ABV – listen
Although the perfect season for this type of beer may have passed, I would personally love for a resurgence in hoppy wheat ales for Summer 2023. Remember when you’d pay a marked-up price from a shady liquor store just to snag one fresh six-pack of Gumballhead back in 2012? (Or was that just me?) This beer brought back that decade-ago “wow” reaction from the fruit-forward hop aroma, highlighting juicy orange, tangerine, and red berry notes. Because it’s a wheat ale, it carries some of the heft in the mouthfeel that a hazy beer would, but it avoids any sweetness that comes with that style. The citrus fruits are still present in the flavor, and there’s a moderate bitterness that lingers a bit past the sip. This is a daytime summer drinker for the future.
Beer For Lightweights | Table beer | Off Color Brewing | Chicago, IL | 2.5% ABV – listen
We had a lot of table beers in the last few months (humble brag), and this beer in particular had the largest discrepancy in flavor-to-ABV. In other words, the aroma and taste of this thing will trick you into thinking it’s bigger than it is, but the mouthfeel reminds you that it is only slightly higher in alcohol than a bottle of Gatorade. Aromatically, it’s a juicy pomelo with a touch of grass. The flavor follows suit, remaining big enough to crash on the palate before it practically evaporates into something dry and pleasant. I’m not advising you to drink two of these for breakfast, but you could, and you’d still be ready to operate heavy machinery. Plus it tastes good.
Green Bottle Saison | Whole leaf hoppy saison | Seedz Brewery | Union Pier, MI | 4.5% ABV – listen
If you want to hear one of the most ridiculous experiences I’ve had with a great beer, click that “listen” link above and skip ahead to the 1 hour and 30-second mark for the moment when I decided that I would try to stop this rapidly gushing beer with my mouth, causing it to erupt to the point that it shot out of my nose. To Ryan Ziarko from Seedz’ credit, once he heard the episode, he reached out to us in genuine concern to ask more about what happened (and to ensure that I was ok, I assume), and I’ve concluded it was somewhat my fault for keeping it on a shelf for many months and only chilling it for 24 hours before the show – and for not having a gush bucket handy. Despite all that, this beer does Saison Dupont clone with a fresher hoppy kick – making a beer that is convincingly Belgian while also turning up the grassy hop character. A welcome skunkiness comes through as well, and the carbonation level is just below champagne-like effervescence (even after an extremely memorable gush). Do what you can to try this – just grab yourself a bucket and enjoy the show.
Volatile Substance | Northwest IPA | Von Ebert Brewing | Portland, OR | 6.9% ABV – listen
Feeling jaded about IPAs? Then get yourself to the Pacific Northwest and try some fresh IPAs, because this absolute banger Craig brought back from Portland made me believe in the power of hops once again. Okay – I know that’s not that easy to do, but if you ever have the chance to taste something made practically down the road from some of the best hop farms in the world, it’ll reignite something that made you fall in love with hops in the first place. This beer is deep golden and clear, and the aroma is absolutely slammed with tropical fruits, grapefruit, coconut, and dank herb. It’s a bit lighter with the malt than a typical West Coast IPA, but the bitterness is significant at first and lessens with each sip to just add a snap to the finish. This beer has won a ridiculous amount of medals for a reason.