Mikerphone Smells Like A Beer Fest 2021
Mike Pallen is hands-down one of the nicest people in beer, and his ever-expanding friends list is proof enough of that. Each year, Mikerphone’s Smells Like A Beer Fest is a showcase of the extremely talented friends and collaboration partners Mike and his crew have made along the way. With last year’s fest being cancelled after tickets had already been sold (and Mikerphone is still in the process of battling Brown Paper Tickets to ensure every ticket is properly refunded), there’s no question that Mike would be eager to see his fest return for 2021, even in an entirely new format.
This was our second beer fest since the pandemic began – the first being Goose Island’s StoutFest at the Clybourn location. The design of those two fests were almost identical – pre-poured samples of all the beers at the fest carefully organized onto labeled mats to help each attendee keep track of the (mostly identical-looking) beers. There were small snacks (courtesy of the Gamboard Company), brief speeches from a few attending brewers, and more than enough time to sip through and sample all the beers at one’s leisure.
There were four sessions over two days, and the price tag was no joke at $200 for a pair of seats. But the opportunity to try these beers from these breweries (and to get the first chance at buying Mikerphone’s three-pack Barrel-Aged Bean Spirit lineup for this year) would certainly be worth it for those that love hard-to-find bold and flavorful beers. We certainly enjoyed ourselves – and forgot to take more than a few pictures in the process. (Sorry, we’re rusty at this whole “going to events” thing.) We’ll see if it returns to an open floor jockey box fest next year, but I wouldn’t be sad at all to do it this way again.
Here are each of our top five highlights from our session:
Ryan’s Top Five
5. Dribbles | Barrel-aged Imperial Porter w/ toasted coconut, roasted cocoa nibs, maple syrup, vanilla beans, cinnamon, and coffee beans | Forager Brewery | Rochester, MN | 12.3% ABV
A beautiful mess, this beer slams together a half-dozen adjuncts and remarkably harmonizes into a cinnamon marshmallow breakfast pastry bar with a nib of whiskey and coffee. It got scarily drinkable as I made my way through all three ounces of it, if that’s even possible. The porter-ness of it hid the ABV a bit, but the shopping list of ingredients are really what made it stand out.
4. Beach To Myself | New England-Style Double IPA w/ Mosaic, Incognito, Mosaic T90, Mosaic Cryo, Nelson Sauvin, and Motueka hops | Civil Society Brewing (collaboration w/ Vitamin Sea Brewing) | Jupiter, FL (and East Weymouth, MA) | 8.4% ABV
Yacht full speed ahead with Christopher Cross’ “Ride Like the Wind” (featuring Michael McDonald) while my luscious hair, polyblend Tommy Bahama shirt, and flowing white linen pants flutter in the charging sea wind. One of the only three New England IPAs being poured (and one of the only five non-dark beers), this drank like an absolute tropical dream. Remember when you had your first hazy, and were taken aback about how well an IPA could mimic a juice drink? Drinking this sent me back to 2016 all over again, wondering how something could be both completely juice and an IPA while making me want a bottomless champagne flute full of it.
3. Smells Like Vibes | Russian Imperial Stout w/ Sump coffee, cocoa nibs, and cinnamon sticks | Shared Brewing (collaboration w/ Mikerphone Brewing) | St. Louis, MO (and Elk Grove Village, IL) | 13% ABV
Like the Forager beer on my list, this beer somehow achieves pure adjunct heaven. Remember how Cory King used to brew at Perennial, makers of the world-class stout Abraxas? Then Cory started another extremely-beloved brewery that also started another hype-driving brewery, and now we have this chocolate-dipped Snickerdoodle dunked into black coffee beer and we’re supposed to be surprised that it rules? Then bring Mike Pallen’s exquisite Bean Spirit recipe into the mix, and…honestly, I just need a minute. (Accordion-slams entire plastic water bottle into mouth in one second.) Weirdly, there’s a touch of syrup-soaked blueberry pancake in this beer. Either way, it’s as good as it sounds – or better. That’s really a subjective matter, TBH.
2. Apple Brandy Barrel Aged Dave’s w/ Vanilla | English-style Barleywine aged in apple brandy barrels, conditioned on vanilla beans | Angry Chair Brewing | Tampa, FL | 10.5% ABV
When you hear tales of secondary values of their bottled beer being the cost of a Nintendo Switch or a weekend at an indoor waterpark – on the low end – there’s a reflexive resistance to accepting that maybe Angry Chair is actually very good at brewing. This is an absolutely wonderful expansion of what an English-style barleywine can be, as it becomes a warming December boozy cider drink that might actually taste amazing when warmed over a flame. It’s more holiday punch than beer, and it is full-body comforting and smoother than you would expect.
1. Barrel-Aged Imperial Smells Like Birthday Suit Spirit | Imperial Stout aged 13 months in Heaven Hill barrels | Mikerphone Brewing | Elk Grove Village, IL | 14.81% ABV
Admittedly, I’ve had a much harder time with sweeter beers lately, which was certainly a challenge at this fest – and with the trends in craft beer in general. But Mikerphone is at the point in their evolution as a brewer of barrel-aged beers that they can start leaning on the pure quality of an excellent barrel with a good base stout (see also, Sir Blends-A-Lot and She Blends-A-Lot). This unassuming stout gives off some maillard molasses sweetness along with big roasty chocolate, oakey vanillins, and pipe tobacco. The flavor is semi-sweet chocolate cake, charred oak, vanilla, and bitter roast. It alternates between brusque and a bit sharp with the booze, to warming and smooth in the finish. I found myself savoring every sip in a way that you only do with a remarkable beer, and this one could hold its own with the best of the barrel-aged base stouts.
Special mention: On an entirely different level, Goldfinger’s Pilsner might be the actual best beer poured at the fest. A beer can both be incredible on its own and elevated by its context, but I left it off of my main list because of the latter. It tasted amazing, but I also waited to sip on it until after I sampled the other 16 adjunct and barrel bonanzas. So of course it was like tasting pure wind at that point, but I was gosh-darned grateful to have it again.
Craig’s Top Five
5. Rada | Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout | More Brewing/Voodoo Brewing | Huntley, IL/Meadville, PA | 15.6% ABV
Easily the most interesting drinking experience of the fest for me. I drank through the entire lineup once and Rada didn’t do anything special. Same thing the second time I sipped. Then, on my third sip, Rada revealed itself to me. Fudgey chocolate and brownie batter supported by a well-integrated barrel that provided some lovely vanilla and oak. Being that it was in Buffalo Trace barrels for two years helped with the integration and smoothness. I’m thinking it would rank even higher if I didn’t have this at a heavily-adjuncted-stout beer festival, as I would assuredly pick up even more nuance than I already did. That being said, it still made my top 5 even amongst those types of stouts, which is really saying something about this beer.
4. Barrel-Aged As Time Goes By | Barrel-aged Belgian Quad | Old Irving Brewing | Chicago, IL | 10% ABV
As one of the few non-stouts in the field (6 of the 17), Old Irving’s entry was going to stand out for better or worse. Of course it turned out better. As Trevor Rose-Hamblin mentioning while introducing this beer, this Belgian Quad was meant to evoke a cocktail of sorts, with cherry notes supporting the typical burnt sugar, molasses and raisin notes. Aged in J. Henry & Sons bourbon barrels (distillery north of Madison, WI), As Time Goes By doesn’t drink anywhere near the 10% ABV that it states. Figs, raisin, caramel and big fruit notes – specifically that cherry note – combine to elicit something closer to an Old Fashioned than a BA Quad. A release should be coming soon so keep your eyes on their socials. We definitely will be!
3. Smells Like Vibes | Russian Imperial Stout with Sump coffee, cacao nibs, and cinnamon sticks | Shared Brewing/Mikerphone | Maplewood, MO/Elk Grove Village, IL | 13% ABV
In a field of all these adjunct stouts, sometimes using an ingredient not used by many of the other entrants pulls you up. While the coffee and chocolate notes were there, the expert use of the cinnamon in Smells Like Vibes made it stand out. The cinnamon did an excellent job both supporting the chocolate and coffee and asserting itself. But never too much, as it perfectly complemented the base stout. I’m honestly surprised there’s not maple syrup in here (for the Smells Like portion) but it’s good that it’s not, as all three adjuncts are balanced and in harmony. But that cinnamon…
2. Double Barrel-Aged Super! Imperial Smells Like Bean Spirit | Barrel-aged Imperial Breakfast Stout with maple syrup and coffee | Mikerphone Brewing | Elk Grove Village, IL | 16.62% ABV – read
In a field of heavily adjuncted stouts at Smells Like a Beer Fest 2021, this double barrel-aged beer stood out. It’s sweet, but not overly so thanks to the Smoke Wagon Rye and Heaven Hill Rye Whiskey barrels it was aged in. Big notes of chocolate, a nice backbone of maple syrup, a little coffee roast and some rye spices make this beer aggressive in flavor but still thoroughly enjoyable. It was my favorite of the three, with the regular BA Imperial Bean Spirit being the sweetest. (I may already regret that decision due to an upcoming episode though…) The most important thing though? I still got some barrel on it, which was a complaint of some early Mikerphone BA stouts. Well worth the price and a good indication of where Mikerphone’s barrel-aged program is headed.
1. Severance Package | Imperial Stout with cacao nibs, vanilla beans, macadamia nuts and marshmallows | Corporate Ladder Brewing | Palmetto, FL | 10.2% ABV
This might be the poster stout for the festival pour. What I had here I thoroughly enjoyed but I have no idea if I could finish a can/bottle of this. As Ryan repeatedly said as I sipped, “It tastes like Lucky Charms.” I like Lucky Charms so I’m completely fine with this stout. Standing out as possibly the thickest mouthfeel in the fest, Severance Package hits the vanilla bean really hard making sure that marshmallow flavor really comes through. Chocolate ably supports the vanilla flavor, making it like a Lucky Charms with chocolate non-marshmallow bits. Any presence of nuts was vastly overshadowed by the vanilla, chocolate and other beers at the fest. This beer has put Corporate Ladder on my radar.
Full Mikerphone Smells Like A Beer Fest 2021 Taplist
(for the Thursday, May 27th, 7:00PM Session)
- Barrel-Aged Imperial Smells Like Birthday Suit Spirit | Imperial Stout aged 13 months in Heaven Hill barrels | Mikerphone Brewing | Elk Grove Village, IL | 14.81% ABV
- Barrel-Aged Imperial Smells Like Bean Spirit 2021 | Imperial Breakfast Stout with Tugboat Coffee & Mackinac Bluffs Maple Syrup, Aged in Heaven Hill Bourbon Barrels for 13 Months | Mikerphone Brewing | 14.12% ABV
- Double Barrel-Aged Super! Imperial Smells Like Bean Spirit | Imperial Breakfast Stout with double the Tugboat Coffee & double the maple syrup, aged 14 months in Heaven Hill Rye Whiskey Barrels & finished for 5 months in Smoke Wagon Rye Bourbon Barrels | Mikerphone Brewing | 16.62% ABV
- Adjunct Trail 2021 | Imperial Sweet Stout with Hazelnut Coffee & Toasted Coconut | Angry Chair Brewing (collaboration with Prairie Artisan Ales) | Tampa, FL | 10.5% ABV
- Apple Brandy Barrel Aged Dave’s w/ Vanilla | English-style Barleywine aged in apple brandy barrels, conditioned on vanilla beans | Angry Chair Brewing | Tampa, FL | 10.5% ABV
- Barrel-Aged Cicada Killer w/Coconut 2019 | Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout with Coffee Macadamia Nut, Chocolate, & Coconut | Barn Town Brewing | West Des Moines, IA | 12.8% ABV
- Concentrated Solution 2020 | Barrel-aged Imperial Stout aged in combination of ex-bourbon, ex-maple syrup, & ex-vanilla barrels, then finished through a bed of walnuts & maple syrup | Bottle Logic Brewing (collaboration w/ Mikerphone) | Anaheim, CA | 15% ABV
- All Black Everything | American Wild Ale w/ blackberries, black raspberries, black currants, & black cherries | Funk Factory Geuzeria | Madison, WI | 4.5% ABV
- Beach To Myself | New England-Style Double IPA w/ Mosaic, Incognito, Mosaic T90, Mosaic Cryo, Nelson Sauvin, and Motueka hops | Civil Society Brewing (collaboration w/ Vitamin Sea Brewing) | Jupiter, FL (and East Weymouth, MA) | 8.4% ABV
- Severance Package | Imperial Stout with Cacao Nibs, Vanilla Beans, Macadamia Nuts, & Marshmallows | Corporate Ladder Brewing | Palmetto, FL | 10.2% ABV
- Dribbles | Barrel-aged Imperial Porter w/ toasted coconut, roasted cocoa nibs, maple syrup, vanilla beans, cinnamon, and coffee beans | Forager Brewery | Rochester, MN | 12.3% ABV
- Rada | Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout aged in Buffalo Trace Bourbon Barrels for 2 years | More Brewing (collaboration w/ Voodoo Brewery) | Villa Park/Huntley, IL (and Meadville, PA) | 15.6% ABV
- Smells Like Vibes | Russian Imperial Stout w/ Sump coffee, cocoa nibs, and cinnamon sticks | Shared Brewing (collaboration w/ Mikerphone Brewing) | St. Louis, MO (and Elk Grove Village, IL) | 13% ABV
- Alone & Adrift | New England IPA with Citra & Nelson Hops | Vitamin Sea Brewing | East Weymouth, MA | 6.8% ABV
- Barrel-Aged As Time Goes By | J. Henry & Sons Bourbon Barrel-Aged Belgian Quad | Old Irving Brewing | Chicago, IL | 10% ABV
- Pilsner | Pilsner | Goldfinger Brewing | Downers Grove, IL | 4.8% ABV
- HYFR | New England Style Double IPA w/Citra, Citra Cryo, & Motueka Hops | Xül Beer Co. | Knoxville, TN | 8.4% ABV