Ryan and Craig recap their StoutFest 2016 experience by handing out the coveted Crotchees.
On a miserable rainy Sunday in March of 2016, a bunch of nice people came to Goose Island Clybourn to drink stouts as if they didn’t have jobs to be at in less than 20 hours. Any gripes about scheduling this on a Sunday after “312 Day” and the St. Patrick’s Day parade were quickly forgotten once you had a chance to flip through the program. The full space at Clybourn was used perfectly, and it never felt very crowded (unless you were waiting in line for the one bathroom – the only flaw of the location). In contrast to last year, the water was plentiful – big orange water coolers were stationed strategically around the location and were never left empty. The kitchen was still pumping out food, but finding a table wasn’t exactly easy. Craig snuck in his own sandwich, because he’s a sensible rebel. He was so pleased with himself:
The 2016 Crotchees
For the second year in a row, Craig insisted on handing out awards to the standout brewers of the fest: the coveted “Crotchee.” And for the second year in a row, Ryan protested the Crotchee because he felt weird about pictures of his crotch soaked in BCBCS ‘13 being used as an “award.” Craig prevailed again.
Honorable Mentions (Ryan)
All of these breweries deserve a Crotchee – or even an award that has actual merit! But Craig only has so many pieces of cardstock to print on, so the following brewers went home Crotchee-less, despite their awesome beer:
DESTIHL Brewery – Dosvidanya | Bourbon Barrel-Aged Russian Imperial Stout | 12.5%
In the last year, this beer has won a bronze at GABF and a gold at FOBAB – a well-deserved coup for the downstate brewery previously best-known for their canned sours. And this beer is deliciously chewy – dark chocolate and cherry are followed by this thick apple-cinnamon oatmeal flavor. There’s a light roasty bitterness across the middle that satisfyingly loses its edge when covered in a coating of bourbon caramel and chocolate syrup, while never going too sweet.
South Loop Brewing – Milkstachio | Pistachio Milk Stout | 6%
This collaboration with DryHop has become a canned offering from South Loop, and it’s an ideal beer for both milk stout lovers and the “stout reluctant”. It has some significant bitter chocolate notes that are perfectly complimented by the rich buttery nuttiness of the pistachio. But it’s a true milk stout in its medium-light body and dangerous drinkability.
Temperance Beer Co. – Coffee and Vanilla Might Meets Right | Imperial Stout | 9%
This beer was part of the reason Temperance won a Crotchee last year, and it only missed out this year because I think we forgot to go back to them at the end. We were drunk. But the beer still sings with the perfect balance of coffee and vanilla, while the base stout is uncomplicated and smooth. (On March 26th, Temperance will be selling bottles of Double-Rye Barrel-Aged MMR and some 2014 Manhattan BA MMR. Go update your calendar.)
Sketchbook Brewing – Turbulence | Russian Imperial Stout | 9.7%
Having met Cesar Marron a few times, we can’t help root for this brewery to succeed – and with beer like this, it shouldn’t be a problem. But at a fest where it’s all Barrel-Aged This and Adjunct That, a perfectly-nailed and straightforward RIS might get lost in the shuffle. I’m glad I stopped to try this one, as it’s got everything I love about a full-bodied stout: dark chocolate, cherries, currants, roasted earthy malts, and a very light licorice note. Every sip warms you a little more, and it’s a perfect stout to drink at near room temperature.
BuckleDown Brewing – Citra Clencher | Double IPA | 8.1%
**Record scratch** What?? A double IPA at a Stout Fest?? Yeah, whoever from BuckleDown had the idea to bring their recently-canned DIPA might have been playing loose with the rules, but hot-diggity-dog was it a treat after two hours of roasted coffee malt chocolate exhaustion. This beer is like ruby red grapefruit juice…on weed. The dank and piney grassiness coats the tongue after a huge wave of beautiful bittersweet grapefruit. I now love this beer, and kudos to BuckleDown for the smart move.
Cruz Blanca – Baltic Porter with Coffee and Coconut | 6.6% (Ryan)
It would be a bit of a crime if the beer gets lost in the story of Rick Bayless’ new Cruz Blanca tasting-room and taqueria set to open in the next few months. Jacob Sembrano has proven himself as a masterful brewer with his past work at Goose Island Clybourn – Cthulhu and Brettanomite are just two of the many highlights from his resume. So expect these Mexico-meets-Midwest beers to be just as tasty as they are innovative. This porter was the most coffee-forward drink I had all day – and I had actual coffee with breakfast. The coconut was subdued but present-enough to come off like a dash of flavored creamer in a spicy and earthy roasted coffee concoction. It had enough flavor to pass as a stout, but the body was true porter – a beer I found to be a true masterstroke. (Stop giggling.) Craig also quite enjoyed their Whiskey Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout with Chocolate.
Goose Island Clybourn – Proprietary | Imperial Stout | 11.5% (Craig)
Proprietary is Goose Island Clybourn’s Dark Crusader Imperial Stout aged in Woodford Reserve barrels with coconut. Having had Dark Crusader last year and loved it, and having tried a sample of the BA Dark Crusader (it blew the Cthulhu that I was having on tap at the time out of the water), this was one of the beers I was very excited to try. It retained the big body and the roasty and chocolate qualities of the Dark Crusader base, then added sweetness and vanilla notes from the Woodford Reserve. The coconut seemed to vary by pour, but even with little-to-no coconut present, this one was a winner. And the people agreed, as it won the People’s Choice award at the fest. Also don’t sleep on Impervious, another outstanding stout (though a touch sweeter than Dark Crusader) that was also being poured that’s currently resting in barrels.
Horse Thief Hollow – Cocovore Cuvee | Imperial Milk Stout | 9.8% (Ryan)
Although the program and Untappd entry for this beer suggest otherwise, according to Kim from Hail To The Ale, this beer is a blend of 60% Cocovore Imperial Milk Stout, 35% Cheval Deux Sweet Potato Brown Ale, and 5% Pat Mac’s Irish Red Ale. And I believe her, because she was with us and much more sober. I do recall the earthy sweet potato, cinnamon, and nutmeg flavors coming through clearly from the Cheval Deux, with a seriously creamy milk chocolate compliment. That much I remember, as well as my slight infatuation with one of their brewers, Andy, who is the spitting image of Michael Fassbender. (Hey HTH, free future beer name: The F. Assbender…Doppelbock?) One thing I don’t remember is how I ended up with head brewer Dave Williams’ number in my phone, and why I called him twice after the fest. But yes, this beer was extremely memorable and the result of some expert blending to achieve the perfect balance of some complex flavors. And sorry Horse Thief Hollow if I weirded you guys out. I’m going to go breathe into a paper bag now.
2nd Shift Brewing – BA Liquid Spiritual Delight (LSD), Coffee LSD | Imperial Stouts | 11.5% (Craig)
Ryan and I would like to thank everyone for completely ignoring 2nd Shift Brewing at this fest. Upon entering, I surveyed the lobby area breweries and saw 2nd Shift (which wasn’t listed on the preliminary list), found Ryan and said, “2nd Shift is here.” We both immediately said, “LSD!” They decided to bring two versions of their stout: a version with Blueprint Chiri Coffee and one barrel-aged in Pickney Whiskey Barrels. The coffee LSD was very coffee forward, while still retaining the joys of the base LSD beer (vanilla, chocolate, toffee, thick body), while the barrel aged version rounded it out and refined and amplified the base beer’s notes. Since neither ever kicked (both were poured from bottles), I went back multiple times.
Maplewood Brewery & Distillery – Mind FK | Tea-Infused Russian Imperial Stout | 11% (Ryan)
Count this Crotchee as the surprise of the fest. Although I don’t typically like beers that I couldn’t discuss with my grandma, Mind FK is infused with black tea and has added coconut and cocoa nibs. The effect of the black tea took this rich and sweet, thick-bodied middle of the beer and made it finish dry and slightly perfumey. It reminded me nothing of Criss Angel, and that is always a favorable quality in beer or anything.
Revolution Brewing – Café Deth | Imperial Stout | 13%
Deth’s Tar is one of my favorite, if not my favorite, beer from Revolution Brewing. Aged in both Old Forester and Heaven Hill bourbon barrels then blended together, this version adds El Salvadorian coffee to the mix. The result was a lovely creamed coffee with vanilla, chocolate, and caramel notes and minimal heat from the bourbon, allowing multiple pours without noticing the 13% ABV. Plans are to bottle this in late 2016 as well, which I can’t wait for.
The Lifetime Crotchee
Spiteful – Malevolence Chocolate Caliente | Russian Imperial Stout | 10.5%
It was amazing to me that the line at Abraxas was what it was when there was a tiny little cask of this beer still pouring around hour two of the fest. This beer isn’t that old and it got a Lifetime Crotchee (which also could’ve been yours, Pete Crowley, had the Clare’s made an appearance). But it wins because it’s been just about the best beer of every fest it’s been featured at: Craig loved the barrel-aged version more than I at last year’s StoutFest, but I still thought it was damn good. Then at FOBAB and this event, it was so clearly the best beer available. At first it seems like it’s going to be a palate-scorching cinnamon bomb, but each sip brings forward the chocolate and vanilla, with a slightly spicy pepper finish. This is the Hunahpu/Abraxas killer. This is the best adjunct stout being made currently, hands down.
The lifetime Crotchee is given to the beer that we’re basically sick of giving an award to every year and, therefore, enters the perpetual “Get it” category. Last year Spiteful brought barrel-aged Malevolence Caliente and we loved it (well, Craig did anyways). This year, Malevolence Caliente was on cask and was stellar again. Where it really shined was when compared to Vanilla Abraxas, as the Malevolence Caliente just had more pop from the cinnamon and chiles than the Abraxas (although tip of the hat to Perennial for not making it a vanilla bomb). One of the best beers of this festival or, for that matter, any festival it might be at. The brewers at StoutFest agreed, as it won the Brewer’s Award for Best Beer. So just get it, OK?
Other Fest Notes (Craig)
Setup: While it looked like the event was crowded, moving was not too difficult and the worst line for a beer (excluding one) was one person deep. Kudos to the planners for removing the booths from the patio to allow for more room for the breweries situated there. The number of breweries, however, is at a maximum, as there really is no other spot for Goose Island Clybourn to put more without drastically changing the setup. With the lobby, patio, loft, cellar, Henry’s Place (the 2nd bar), and the Henry’s Place area filled to the brim with breweries, including a downstairs “V” setup that I mostly avoided, it might be time to start putting a cap on the participating breweries. That being said, I enjoyed myself thoroughly.
Bathrooms: They need more. When the men’s bathroom is 10+ deep and you’re constantly leaving to go to other business to use the facilities, it’s a problem. But that’s a problem (outside of Port-O-Potties outside) that I have no idea how to fix.
One is the Loneliest Number: If that was only the case for Perennial’s Vanilla Abraxas. Even before general admission was let in at noon, there was a line the length of the patio. This quickly dissipated once the Vanilla Abraxas kicked, but a good job on attendees for having only one massively dumb line at this sold out event.
In summation, this is one of the best beer events of the year – every year. And thank you to the people of Goose Island Clybourn for having us year after year, and not kicking us out for handing out pictures of crotches.