ABV Chicago Monthly Sampler: September 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 September 2023.
Ryan’s Mixed Six
Vesper | Pistachio cream ale w/ pumpkin spices | Around the Bend Beer Co. | Chicago, IL | 5% ABV – listen (Patreon only)
The base of this beer, Vera, is – in our humble opinion – one of the best original Chicago craft beers of the last decade. It has a unique and addictive flavor profile that no other beer locally approaches, and its overall lightness makes it an excellent base for experimentation. We’ve had versions of Vera with lemons, peaches, and cinnamon that have all exceeded expectations. Even with that, we were skeptical this one could work. Well grab your corded sweaters, oversized scarves, and knee-high boots because this thing absolutely nails pumpkin spice without the heavy-handed Yankee Candle notes of some pumpkin beers. It ultimately retains what makes Vera work so well on its own, and the subtle addition of clove, allspice, and cinnamon enhance the beer instead of dominating it. It’s my new favorite pumpkin-ish beer of the season.
Tmavé 14º | Dark lager | Cohesion Brewing Co. | Denver, CO | 5.1% ABV
From my Top 40 beers of GABF 2023 list…
Good Lord. Seeing as I hadn’t been in Denver since 2019, this brewery was completely new to me since they only opened in 2021. I’ve never been to a brewery dedicated to traditional Czech-style beers, and now I want to know why there isn’t one within driving distance from my house. This place was an absolute revelation – I could’ve stayed to drink the entire taplist. But this dark lager does everything perfectly, balancing some dark chocolate notes with a little sweet kiss of toffee and a good creamy body before an easy-drinking finish. Taste the decoction!
Eunoia – Batch 1 | Barrel-aged imperial stout w/ peanut butter, chocolate, and marshmallow | Phase Three Brewing | Lake Zurich & Elmhurst, IL | 13.5% ABV – listen
For as versed in local beers as we are, truthfully these coveted Phase Three beers have been out of our reach (and out of our price range on the secondary) outside of the occasional festival pour. We’ve been holding onto this single bottle for years now, and finally had an occasion to open it when we hit 500 episodes. Despite the age, this is the rare pastry stout that pushes everything to its decadent limit – sweetness, presence of adjuncts, syrupy viscosity – but the flavor is so familiarly addicting that you’ll toss out your calorie count for the day and attempt to finish the whole thing off yourself. It’s like a slice of peanut butter cup pie with chocolate cookie crust, bourbon caramel drizzle, and sweet whipped cream. It’s like those amazing peanut butter fudge bars my aunt would make for the holidays, chased with a shot of Irish creme. It’s not worth a down payment, but beers like this from P3 must be tried if you get the opportunity.
Small Batch: Intinction – Sauvignon Blanc | Wild pilsner w/ sauvignon grape juice, hopped w/ Nelson Sauvin | Russian River Brewing Company | Windsor, CA | 8.55% ABV – listen
One of my favorite things about GABF is Russian River. It’s not just waiting in the fast-moving festival line to try a pour from one of their two booths, but it’s the fact that bars all over Denver are pouring their beer. At Hops and Pie this year, there were no less than a dozen Russian River beers on tap, and I ordered a Blind Pig and an STS Pils to go with my pizza. Finishing up my pour as the place began to get crowded, we noticed a group walk in, looking for a table. Included in that group were Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo, owners of Russian River and living legends of craft beer, so we were more than happy to step aside and let them have ours. Then just a few hours later, they were back on the festival floor, enthusiastically greeting fans and pouring beers as if they haven’t been doing it for close to 30 years. This beer is art in a glass, just wonderful white wine and gooseberry on a tart and dry finish. It took home a bronze this year in Experimental Beer, but I have a feeling it’ll be very high on my year-end list because it’s a masterpiece.
Alt 140 | Altbier | Sew Hop’d Brewery | Huntley, IL | 4.8% ABV – listen
Two months in a row I’ve featured Sew Hop’d beers on this list, and I’d imagine that’s almost as big of an honor as this beer winning its second GABF medal and first gold. (Kidding, of course.) The Altbier is one of those German styles that hasn’t caught a ride on the traditional beer wave that has begun to gather momentum, but I guarantee if more brewers tried this beer, they’d want to make one of their own. Aromatically, it’s roasted walnuts and fresh baked wheat bread. On the sip, the nuttiness is up front and the flavor hangs around but it still finishes easy. Grab cans of this from Huntley before they have to slap another medal on the next label run.
Mango Foggy Rhetoric | Hazy IPA w/ mango puree | Werk Force Brewing Co. | Plainfield, IL | 6.7% ABV
I feel like we made a mistake by not including Werk Force’s regular Foggy Rhetoric on our Hazy Blind Battle Royale series, because even with the mango added to this one, I could tell it hits a lot of the notes we tend to prefer: full and slightly creamy mouthfeel, juicy fruit flavor, and moderate lingering bitterness on the end. I ordered this on tap during my family’s annual trip to Oswego for apple picking (which is really just an expensive excuse for us to visit the Werk Force taproom), and my wife had one sip and immediately wanted her own. Fruited hazy IPAs may have been a bigger thing four years ago, but this one is just about as perfect as it gets.
Craig’s Mixed Six
Gallivant | Gin barrel-aged barleywine | Burns Family Artisan Ales | Denver, CO | 13% ABV – listen
After 3 days of drinking, of course a 13% BA barleywine is going to not pop as much as it should on our show. Having it with an unfatigued palate on Wednesday, though, made this a revelation. Wayne Burns knows his way around old ales and barleywines (brewed at Kuhnhenn) and their “summer barleywine” Gallivant shows it. All the flavors of a more classic barleywine are there – molasses, brown sugar, dark fruits. Using a gin barrel could be dangerous, but in Burns’ hands it only imparts a low amount of botanicals on the beer. The gin really shines by drying the finish out reasonably well and adding a bit of alcohol bite to everything. Due to that drier finish it drank less than its ABV would suggest but still packed a punch. I can see why they call it their summer barleywine. Maybe we could get a Revolution/Off Color gin BA barleywine collab?
Calling Out to Psychic Death | Dry-hopped barrel-aged saison | Floodland Brewing | Seattle, WA | 5.5% ABV – listen
I’d been hearing of Floodland for a bit now so when I went to Portland last year I made it a point to get some. Calling Out to Psychic Death is what I acquired and what a beer it was. White wine tannins, pear, and a high effervescence make it drink like a fruitier champagne. The wild bugs do produce some funky characteristics – like cheese – but in the best possible way. It even hits the tart/sour line but pulls back, mainly due to the carbonation. Be careful as the 750 mL will be gone before you know it. We waited a little bit to have this dry-hopped BA saison on the show but thankfully little-to-none of its character was lost to time.
Quadraphonic Euphoria | Barrel-aged Belgian Quad | Heavy Riff Brewing Company | St. Louis, MO | 13.2% ABV – listen (interview)
Belgian Quads aren’t in fashion right now. GABF didn’t have a ton of them and the beers are rarely produced let alone barrel-aged. That’s what made Quadraphonic Euphoria stand out. Not only did Heavy Riff nail the Belgian Quad aspect of the beer – dark fruits, a bit of candy sweetness, big mouthfeel – but the port barrel it was aged in really brought the whole experience together. It added some mouthfeel, cut any potential sweetness, and amplified the dark fruit notes present in the base beer. It also dried things out a bit causing me to get multiple one ounce pours throughout the festival. Needless to say I’m aiming to visit the wife’s family down in St. Louis sooner rather than later.
Dark and Down | Schwarzbier | Mickey Finn’s Brewery and Pub | Libertyville, IL | 6% ABV – listen
I always love a good schwarzbier but an award-winning schwarzbier – hell yeah! Mickey Finn’s really knocked it out of the park with theirs. Chocolate and coffee notes play well together and never overpower the beer. The big start here is the creamy mouthfeel that makes you think you’re drinking a milk stout or a beer bigger in ABV. It even adds a bit of a vanilla flavor to everything adding a nice bit of depth to a beer style that sometimes doesn’t offer too much of it. That 6% ABV makes it one that you can drink a crowler of with ease and without feeling a ton of fatigue – palate or otherwise. It’s one of the top schwarzbiers I’ve had and one that I’d happily make the trip out to Libertyville to try again.
Second Amendment | Brown ale with orange peel and coconut | Montclair Brewery | Montclair, NJ | 4.5% ABV – listen (interview)
One of my “Wow” beers from the GABF floor. I grabbed a pour as we went over to interview Leo Sawadogo and stopped in my tracks with that reaction. Second Amendment (Note: They also had a First Amendment beer pouring and plan on doing more, so it’s not just that one) absolutely stood out to me. The nuttiness of the brown ale gets a huge boost from the added coconut. While the orange peel really didn’t show itself for obvious reasons, the beer itself had so much coconut and nuttiness that it didn’t matter. And it was the good coconut, not a sun tan lotion coconut. While very coconut forward, it still finished like a brown ale with some bready and sweet malt notes driving it. Absolutely outstanding. More expertly adjuncted brown ales please!
West Ashley Cuvée | Blend of barrel-aged saisons | Sante Adairius Rustic Ales | Capitola, CA | 7.3% ABV – listen
Having had West Ashley and Westly previously, the sky was the limit on our expectations of West Ashley Cuvée. It met and exceeded them. Whereas Westly featured a bigger apricot presence and possibly a little boozier kick, Cuvée attacks you with waves and waves of apricots that never let up, giving the sensation of biting into a juicy apricot over and over. The barrel plays well with the base beers as always, providing some heft and dryness to finish things off. The balance here astounds. This beer took at minimum 4 years to make and it shows. Soft and delicate yet assertive and fruity without being too acidic or tart. An unbelievable beer.