GABF 2023: Illinois Pour List Preview
The Great American Beer Festival returns for its 41st year in 2023 and back in the main event area of the Colorado Convention Center. The event was scaled back a bit (in terms of breweries) last year due to construction in that main hall but it has rebounded a bit (500 breweries pouring on the floor, up from 381 last year but down from 800 in 2019). Organizers have also added multiple different areas to the event – now called taprooms – including the Non-Alcohol Oasis, Gluten Free Garden, and National Black Brewers Association. With so many breweries and taprooms about you’ll need some direction. Since we’re a Chicago-based craft beer podcast, where better to go!
Illinois breweries pouring at the fest have followed a similar trend. 30 Illinois breweries poured in 2019 while only 15 attended last year. This year dips even lower with only 11 pouring, but those are a mighty 11 with little to no filler. Skip over the Great Lakes section at your own peril. (I’ve omitted non-alcoholic breweries and beer from the list below; the Illinois list would jump to 13 pouring if included.)
For each brewery I will list what they’re pouring (according to GABF’s page) and what you should get if you only try one beer. I’ve also listed any beer pouring from that brewery in the Heavy Medal Taproom so those won’t be at the booth proper. For some breweries I’ll also list a “Treasure Trove” option because sometimes breweries bring things that aren’t listed. If they happen to be pouring that beer (or anything similar) that would also be something to get.
DESTIHL Brewing – Normal, IL
Deadhead IPA Series: Tourbus – Double Dry Hopped IPA; 7.4%
Deadhead IPA Series: The Haze Between – Hazy IPA; 7.7%
Deadhead IPA Series: Haze of the Dead – Hazy DIPA; 8.5% (Heavy Medal Taproom)
Dosvidanya – Barrel Aged British Imperial Stout; 14.6%
Wild Sour Series: Suckerpunch Dill Pickle Gose – Gose; 5.2%
Wild Sour Series: Dragonfruit Mango – Fruited Sour; 5.5%
ABV Recommends: Lots of options here. If you’re looking for the hardware, you’re going for either Tourbus (GABF Gold 2021) or Dosvidanya (multiple FoBAB medals, including Best in Show). If you’re looking for the one you’ll tell your friends about, that’d be the Suckerpunch Dill Pickle Gose. But only if you like pickles.
Treasure Trove: Any of their Saint Dekkera beers, their Flanders Oud Bruin series of beers. Award-winning and frequently fruited, they exist as a more complex and assertive version of their Wild Sour Series.
Flipside Brewing – Tinley Park, IL
Flipside Lager – American light lager with corn and rice; 4.2%
Rascal King – English-style pub ale; 4.8%
Monochrome Dream – Hazy IPA with Citra, Mosaic, Ekuanot; 6.5%
Grey Sky Surprise – Golden lager; 5.8%
ABV Recommends: Hazy IPAs are everywhere and lagers are coming back. How many places have a pub ale pouring? Rascal King provides all the flavor and mouthfeel of a pub ale and should easily be your pick here.
Hailstorm – Tinley Park, IL
BBW – Big Beautiful Wheat – Hefeweizen; 5.8%
Forklift Training: Key Lime Cheesecake – Pastry sour with key lime, graham cracker, vanilla and milk sugar; 6.8%
Chili Silver Lining – Hazy IPA with chili peppers; 6.3%
Southside Irish Red – 5.2%
ABV Recommends: I’m gonna stay away from the pastry sour and the chili pepper hazy IPA and go with the Southside Irish Red. Wil Turner’s brewing things here now and his Revolution Brewpub beers back in the day – typically of classic styles like the red ale – were amazing.
Treasure Trove: Vlad Russian Imperial Stout. Big stout that’s sometimes barrel-aged, sometimes adjuncted, but always interesting.
Maplewood Brewing Company – Chicago, IL
Barrel Aged Cuppa – Neat; 13%
Fat Pug – Oatmeal Milk Stout; 5.9% (Heavy Medal Taproom)
Festbier – Oktoberfest; 6%
Sidewalk Surfer – Double IPA; 8%
Softcore Mutation – Flanders Red; 6.6%
ABV Recommends: They’re finally bringing a barrel-aged Cuppa beer – and it’s a Neat (no adjuncts)! It’s on the shortlist for best Illinois beer pouring at the festival. There are currently 3 barrel treatments for the Cuppa Neat – Old Rip Van Winkle, Elijah Craig 18, and Blanton’s. All are excellent, but consider yourself lucky if the Old Rip one is pouring.
Treasure Trove: Small chance of this appearing, but if Cashmere Pulaski (their Pulaski Pils with Cashmere hops) is pouring, grab it. It adds a big dose of grass and bitterness on top of the regular Pulaski Pils.
MORE Brewing – Huntley, IL
Chula – Gose; 6.5%
Mehndi Special Reserve 2023 – Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout; 16%
Villa Pils – 4.8%
ABV Recommends: As much as I’d like to go with the Villa Pils there’s no way you should pass up on the Mehndi. Complex, chocolately, and sometimes fruity, Mehndi stands among the best BA stouts in Chicago.
Treasure Trove: Take One Down, their German Style Pilsner and Beer On the Wall collaboration. Light, crispy and refreshing while providing a nice amount of bitter bite to back things up. Oh, and anything else barrel-aged they might have.
Old Irving Brewing – Chicago, IL
Beezer – Hazy IPA with Citra and Mosaic; 6.9% (Also pouring in the Heavy Medal Taproom)
Della – Kolsch; 5.2% (Heavy Medal Taproom)
Doji – India Pale Lager; 5.9%
Oktoberfest – 5.5%
Scentinel – IPA with Citra, Mosaic, and Centennial; 7%
ABV Recommends: The IPAs all the way. For one of the best hazy IPAs in the country, go with Beezer. If you’re more into the West Coast/New England style mashup, Scentinel should grace your glass.
Treaure Trove: Last year they had cans of Summer Krampus on hand, so it could happen! Krampus, their barrel-aged imperial milk stout, recently won our blind barrel-aged Chicago base stout challenge. Also of note – they’ll be pouring Barrel-Aged Migration, a BA stout with coconut, vanilla and cocoa nibs and a collab with Phase Three – at the Denver Rare Beer Tasting. Possibly some leftovers?
Revolution – Chicago, IL
Cold Time – 4.9%
Deth’s Tar – Barrel-aged Imperial Oatmeal Stout; 14.8%
Infinity-Hero – IPA; 7%
Life Jacket – Barrel-aged barleywine with guava, mango, passion fruit, and coconut; 15%
ABV Recommends: Whoa. Stay and have all four? If I had to pick, go with the unique one that actually works in Life Jacket. You’ll be telling everyone that you had it – and that it works.
Treasure Trove: While I’d like to say DB VSOJ or Boss Ryeway or Freedom Lemonade, Dread & Breakfast is the most recent Deep Wood release and achieves an amazing maple syrup character due to its expert blending. Another one you’ll be telling everyone about.
Saluki Brew Works/Ravinia Brewing Co. – Carbondale, IL/Highland Park, IL
Baldwin – Porter; 6%
Diversey Station – Session IPA; 4.9%
King Ale – Cream Ale; 4%
Medusa’s Lagoon – Hazy IPA with Medusa; 7.2%
Octoberfest – 6%
ABV Recommends: Last year’s GABF Bronze in the Juicy Session Pale Ale category, Diversey Station is the way to go. Big on flavor for a sessionable beer with an adequate mouthfeel. (Note: Saluki Brew Works operates as a part of Southern Illinois University’s Fermentation Science Institute and collaborated with Ravinia on the King Ale.)
Scorched Earth – Algonquin, IL
Czech One, Two – Czech Style Pilsner – 5.8%
Gem of the Fox – Kolsch; 5.5%
Hey Chicago, Waddya Say?! – German Style Helles; 4.7%
Hickster – Cream Ale; 4.8%
The Afterburn – Dry Irish Stout; 5.5%
ABV Recommends: With one of only two Irish Dry Stouts pouring (see below for the other one), The Afterburn is my choice here. I know Scorched Earth as primarily and IPA brewery so it’s interesting to see all the classic styles on display here. Definitely a booth I’ll grab multiple pours from.
Short Fuse – Schiller Park, IL
Finley Dunne – Irish Dry Stout; 4.5%
Guava Gose; 5.5%
Last Stand – Roggenbier; 4.5%
Noka – Dry saison with rice, lemongrass, fresh ginger, and lemon zest; 4%
Thin Skinned – American Wild Ale; 6%
Tropical Hurt Locker – Sour with raspberries and passionfruit; 5.5% (Heavy Medal Taproom)
Vocal Jam – Sour with boysenberry, blueberry and coffee; 5.5% (Heavy Medal Taproom)
ABV Recommends: While I usually lean towards the medals (in the Heavy Medal Taproom in both instances), I’m anxious to try their Noka. I’ve had excellent lemongrass saisons before and those other additions look promising. Plus it’s the only saison pouring from an Illinois brewery!
Treasure Trove: Any barrel-aged stout. They’ve won two FoBAB medals in the last two years for two different ones (Bourbon Barrel Aged Precious Little Treats and WHAT THE NIGHT BRINGS) and are typically a step above what else is out there.
Tighthead – Mundelein, IL
Bear’s Choice – American IPA with Mosaic; 6.3%
Irie IPA – American IPA with Chinook, Centennial and Columbus; 7.8%
Scarlet > Fire – Irish Red Ale; 5.6%
Tres Izquierdas – American Light Lager; 5.1%
ABV Recommends: You make the call! If you’re looking for unique and medal-winning (2018 Gold), Scarlet > Fire should be your choice. If you’re jonesing for a West Coast-style IPA, that Irie IPA should scratch that itch with the 3 C hops.