Stout Fest 2015 – The Crotchee Awards Recap
Ryan recaps Goose Island Clybourn’s annual Stout Fest by doling out the ABV Chicago Crotchee awards.
by Ryan Ingwersen
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A lot has changed for Goose Island (the company) and Goose Island Clybourn (the brewpub) since last year’s Stout Fest: the Wrigleyville location closed down; the Fulton brewery is set to open a taproom; Clybourn promoted Jacob Sembrano to brewmaster after Nick Barron left; an expansive barrel warehouse was added to accommodate growing demands; and Anheuser-Busch took very public shots at craft beer while helping usher the Goose Island brand into its next phase of tap handle and cooler domination.
Say what you will about the big, bad Goose Island: their Clybourn brewpub has remained a bastion of innovative brewing and creativity, currently led by the aforementioned Sembrano and pub brewer Jon Naghski. Fortunately, this party didn’t have the feeling of a big, corporate brewery throwing a cordial gathering for smaller breweries before reaching out to crush them in the marketplace. (*ahem* Beer Camp *ahem*) This was a cool-ass party amongst friends that spent most of their time praising the work of their colleagues above trying to convert you to their brand.
But industry commentary is not really our thing. We do crappy reviews, so that’s what you’ll get.
First, here’s a little background on our awards system. At last year’s Stout Fest, this reviewer was enjoying a second glass of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Coffee Stout when he accidentally – and very publicly – gave his pants a rare beer bath. So, to commemorate that notable crotch-soaking, this reviewer’s creative partner Craig decided to blow up the infamous photo, put some Han-Solo carbonite photo filter on it, print out multiple copies, and hand them out as awards to brewers. This reviewer was not excited about the idea, but once Craig got the brewers into it, The Crotchee was born. Hooray.
Golden Crotchee: Temperance Beer Co.
Temperance Beer Co. has been taking home a lot of hardware lately, with wins in 2014 at the Festival of Barrel-Aged Beers and the Great American Beer Festival for two very different beers. It was surprising that neither of the two versions of their Might Meets Right stout cracked the top three for Stout Fest. The coffee and vanilla blended version had a skillful balance of both additions, with the roast in the coffee keeping the sweetness of the vanilla in check. The Manhattan barrel-aged version gave a sweet and slightly bitter bourbon flavor to the smooth bodied stout.
Silver Crotchee: Goose Island Clybourn
If there was any disappointment about not seeing Nutulhu on tap, it should’ve been immediately forgotten upon tasting what the Goose Island Clybourn crew was pouring. The FoBAB medal-winner Vainglorious was an easy standout, showing off every trick in the book: a mix of bourbon and wine barrels, dark and sweet raspberries, and Intelligentsia coffee making it one of the boldest and most complex offerings. The Sesame Joe was a roasty and coffee-forward porter that mixed in a savory backend of toasted sesame seeds in a surprisingly successful way. But the clear winner of the bunch was the London Fog, which featured the Cthulhu base oatmeal stout with some added cocoa nibs and a citrusy floral finish courtesy of an inclusion of Earl Grey tea.
Bronze Crotchee: Transient Artisan Ales
Look – we have nothing invested in Chris Betts’ brewing other than our hopes and dreams and a ride on his coattails into the annals of brewing history. Okay, I’m kidding, but if you’ve followed ABV Chicago for the last year, you’d think we were puffing up an investing partner or heaping unnecessary praise on a friend. No, this guy just keeps pumping out quality beers while being one of the gosh-darned friendliest people around. The Henry porter was roastier and thicker in body than most of the stouts consumed all day. The All of Which Are was a session-friendly (by comparison) stout that wasn’t bogged down by adjuncts, barrel-treatments, or unnecessary frills. But speaking of that, the star was Buckley, an imperial breakfast stout with maple syrup, vanilla, and coffee. The coffee was upfront, but the sweetness from the syrup and vanilla peeked through to end like crème brûlée. With four bourbon barrels already filled with the stuff, Joe Microbrew can expect to fight off the trading vultures and haul enthusiasts if it ends up in bottles.
Individual Beer Highlights
Gary’s 18th Street Brewery lead the hype train this year, partially due to their crowd-pleasing, adjunct-heavy stouts and their lack of distribution across Illinois lines. The Barrel-Aged Black Exodus was an absolute standout, although it received the least attention of what they tapped. Heavy on roasted malt, the addition of dates brought a honey-like sweetness to meld with a toasty coconut finish. Right next to them was the criminally-overlooked Greenstar Brewing and their Moonless Midnight stout that was chewy with chocolate and dark cherry.
Middle Brow Beer Co.’s imperial milk stout Milk-Eyed Mender may not have been accompanied by a harp-playing Pete or Bryan, but the orange peel and pepper hit on the front of the palate was followed by chocolate and vanilla, which was well-complemented by the finishing cinnamon. It was complex and high in ABV, and it only got better as it warmed. The always-stellar Clare’s Thirsty Ale from Haymarket Pub and Brewery is almost worth the price of admission alone, with huge raspberry jam notes, dark chocolate, and warming oaky bourbon on the finish.
Not to neglect the winning beers, but enough has been said about Goose Island’s Bourbon County Proprieter’s 2014 (1st place) and Bourbon County Vanilla Rye (2nd place), that I’d simply be retreading well-worn reviewer territory. I must say, though, that both have held up fabulously. 4 Hands Brewery’s vanilla-infused milk stout Madagascar (3rd place) had a pure vanilla bean flavor that rivaled the second-place beer but was a touch thin on body and barrel character.
Ryan’s Crotchee Winners
Coffee and Vanilla Might Meets Right – Temperance Beer Co. | 9%
Imperial Stout with Passion House Roasters coffee and Vanilla
Although the barrel-aged, bottled variants of this stout have gotten most of the attention, visitors to the tap room or finer watering holes have seen vanilla or coffee versions being tapped, and it’d be a mistake to miss either. Blend those two beers together and you have something special. Equal attention is given to each addition evenly across the palate. This is an adjunct stout done with finesse, and the medium bodied base is the perfect vessel for many future iterations.
Dark Secret – Brickstone Brewery | 11%
Russian Imperial Stout aged with Dark Matter coffee
You know how you can overlook a brewery’s offerings on the already-crowded shelves simply because a logo and a label don’t reach out and grab you? Well, this is a beer I’m now on high alert for, because the body was ultra heavy and the coffee was bracingly bitter in the best way. This one revived my fading palate near the end of the fest.
London Fog – Goose Island Clybourn | 12%
Barrel-aged oatmeal stout with Earl Grey and cocoa nibs
For an oatmeal stout, that Cthulhu base is rich and full-bodied. Here it is with some additional creamy chocolate and the perfume and orange zest bite of the Earl Grey, with sweet oak barrel on the finish. With no alcohol burn, its drinkability was hard to match.
Craig’s Crotchee Winners
Barrel-Aged Malevolence Chocolate Caliente – Spiteful Brewing | 10.5%
Imperial Stout brewed with Vanilla, Cinnamon, Peppers, and Cocoa Nibs aged in a Whiskey Barrel
This “Abraxas killer” was big on the chocolate and cinnamon nose, but the barrel provided a nice complement to the heat from the peppers. Full-bodied with every adjunct singing together, this one ended up in many conversations of best beer at the fest.
Buckley – Transient Artisan Ales | 12.7%
Imperial Breakfast Stout with Maple Syrup, Vanilla, and Coffee
This coffee-forward stout would certainly be a breakfast staple in a perfect world. The potentially sweet syrup and vanilla were well-balanced, and the prospect of a bourbon barrel version should have adjunct stout lovers buzzing.
Vainglorious – Goose Island Clybourn | 10.0%
Belgian Stout aged in Red Wine and Bourbon Barrels with Black Raspberries and Intelligentsia Coffee
A variety of huge adjuncts and treatments make this one hugely complex and flavor-forward stout. It took a few sips to taste that red wine barrel in the mix, but it’s there – a dry, tannic finish to a hugely raspberry-steeped coffee bonanza. There’s much more to experience in the palate, and this is one we’re hoping will be brewed again.