FoBAB 2015: The Good, The Great, The Barrel Aged

In Event Review by Karl

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Even before we get started, I want to point out that our Steve Patterson was about 40 minutes ahead of the game for FoBAB 2015 with two brief text messages:

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Lo and behold, Steve had just texted me the sister beer to the Gold Medal winner for one of the premiere FoBAB categories, Strong Porter/Stout. The regular version won the medal, but the rye-barrel-aged version was pretty great too. As soon as they announced Dosvidanya as the winner in that category, the crowd started to move in that direction, but as soon as this happened:

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In case you cant read it, that says BEST IN SHOW: DESTIHL for Dosvidanya.

…I don’t want to say it was a mad rush to grab a pour of DESTIHL’s new superstar stout, but I will say that I have been in crowds at Slayer shows that rival the shoulders being thrown and personal space violated to grab a pour of that top-notch beer. The throng was immediately about 20 people deep and growing quick. I feel lucky to have escaped with all my limbs intact.

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And how about a hand for those volunteers facing down a wall of hands thrusting FoBAB-branded mason jars in their faces? I can only imagine being them felt a lot like this:

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So, I’m not saying we’re both totally FoBAB-psychic, but I did also break a Spiteful Brewing Malevolence Chocolate Caliente stout out of the cellar (read: the back corner of my fridge) in the last couple weeks, and that went on to take Gold for Specialty Strong Porter/Stout, also richly deserved. (Spiteful also took Gold for their Barleywine as well; two Golds in one year is impressive, but have you seen how small their barrel-aging program is?)

Unlike last year, I decided to brave the Goose Island lines, not once but twice. There was a brief lull in the Goose madness during the awards ceremony, so I jumped into line and winded my way around the line and grabbed a pour of Rare BCBS. It was pretty good. I don’t know if I can say it was $60 good, but if I had spent $60, I would assuredly say it was $60 good so as to preserve my fiduciary dignity. I thought Coffee BCBS was better, as I almost always do (that’s a beer that can do no wrong). Initially I thought it was a little ridiculous to have the line get wrapped back and forth as though you’re gearing up for the Iron Wolf at Great America, but in retrospect, it was nice not to have to fight that line through halfway around the room.

A view from the Goose line. Perhaps you can see how they had us snake around a bit. If you cant, just use your imagination. We cant do everything for you.

A view from the Goose line. Perhaps you can see how they had us snake around a bit. If you cant, just use your imagination. We cant do everything for you.

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For all the folks heading to Kaiser Tiger after the early Saturday Session for a chance to have a taste of the Malort-aged Dark Lord, I hope they stopped for a second to grab a taste of the Lunar Brewing “Malorted Stout” that pretty much everyone was bypassing. It was…interesting. The spiced-up Kvassian Root Down from Temperance was the only beer I spotted that brought the peppery heat (no tabasco-barrel aged beers from Ten Ninety this year, though I’m told they may someday make a comeback), and the Logganbier from Metropolitan was another standout. I’m used to Goose basically owning the crowd with their special sections, but the Revolution Oasis also had lines throughout the night for spins of the swag wheel and a couple different radler options.

Hi, Jess!

Hi, Jess!

For a minute, I thought to myself, “wouldn’t it be fun to do an entire FoBAB and only try beers under 4-5% ABV?” That plan was immediately torpedoed by my first beer — as soon as I saw it, I made a beeline for the Vietnamese coffee porter from Michigan’s Perrin Brewing at 15%.

Otherwise, I did split the difference fairly well between wilds/sours and heftier beers; the Whiskers from Off Color and Central State absolutely earned their medals, as did the 18th Street/Penrose Wild 18 collab. As always, I dodged all the barleywines & wheatwines as per my usual MO. (If you’re looking for in-depth barleywine coverage, you’re pretty much SOL on this site. They’re just not my style. #sorrynotsorry)

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SO. MUCH. BOURBON. COUNTY.

Other than the rush for Dosvidanya and the predictable Goose Island madness, the only other insane crush of crowd I spotted was for the 18th Street Hunter and the 4 Hands Madagascar stout, planted right next to each other for maximum crowd bottlenecking. Otherwise there seemed to be a little bit more space through the aisles compared to last year, the first goaround at the UIC Forum. The expansion to add a smaller second room was certainly helpful, as was an additional row along the wall for more beer space — this was the biggest FoBAB ever by number of breweries, and yet, it felt a little bit more spacious than last year’s event. (That could also be the difference between the Friday night session and a Saturday afternoon session, but I guess we’ll never know.)

Steve and I crossed paths long enough to talk some shop, watch some of the medals be handed out before diving back into the madness.

Here’s some of his thoughts:

  • The long line out front was daunting – particularly amid the Saturday afternoon snowstorm – but once inside, the crowd was noticeably thinner than last year. It was a great call adding more sessions to make that happen.
  • Also a good call? Bourbon County spreading out over two booths. Even then, the lines were long – but those pouring did a phenomenal job of keeping things moving. There, I learned that a year of rest has brought the cinnamon out in the 2014 Proprietor’s Stout and I also learned that the Rare hype is real. 2015 Rare is simply outstanding.
  • I was lucky enough to find this much-buzzed about “secret room” – ciders and sours and such. Cider has come such a long way, a standout from there was Apple Knocker, produced by Owl Creek Vineyard in Cobden, not far from the Illinois borders with Kentucky and Missouri. Their peach-infused cider and coffee cider were unique and tasty.
  • I spent a lot of my time among the Specialty/Experimental booths, where Imperial Oak, Milwaukee, Saugatuck, Horse Thief Hollow delivered memorable pours.
  • Another medal winner – and winner in my book – was the collaboration brew Wild 18 by Penrose and 18th Street. A brett wild ale fermented in French oak wine barrels, then dry hopped – medal-worthy, indeed.

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Other favorites:

  • Hailstorm’s Vlad the Conquistador. A Russian Imperial Stout with cinnamon, vanilla, chocolate, chili peppers and agave might have been my favorite of the fest.
  • FOBAB is a perfect event for a brewery like Moody Tongue – already pushing boundaries with unique and fun beers and they didn’t disappoint with their barrel-aged chocolate barleywine. It was all chocolate and all delicious.
  • Central States had what was surely the lightest ABV beer at the fest, the 3.3% Smells Like Laffler. This gose, blended with watermelon before resting in gin barrels was light and refreshing and a great change of pace from the darker, heavier offerings.
  • Milwaukee Brewing’s O-Gii is one of my favorite wits, bringing ginger and green tea to new levels and aging that brew in gin barrels was a real treat.
  • So a Russian Imperial Stout, American Barleywine and Scotch Ale walk into a bar… OK, so they went into a bourbon barrel for 10 months to make up Solemn  Oath’s Limousine Of The Damned. It’s as complex as you might imagine and incredibly good. Here’s to more of this making its way out of the Naperville brewery.
  • I’m not much of a pumpkin beer fan, so when I saw Horse Thief Hollow’s Cheval Deux has a sweet potato base, I almost passed. Glad I didn’t. Beyond the great barrel taste from Buffalo Trace barrels, this is a mighty good beer on its own.
  • Shoreline Worker Bee Imperial Honey Stout was something different – 40 pounds of honey go into each barrel, before being aged for a year in Elijah Craig barrels. There’s a nice touch of sweet to this that made it stand out.
  • I’ll admit that it was the name that drew me to both Sun King’s Cherry Busey and Against The Grain’s Raucho Man Randy Beverage. A wild sour and smoked rauchbier, respectively, were as fun as their names.
  • One of the first beers I tried was Pipeworks Jones Dog, which meant the bar was immediately raised for everything else I’d try. Vanilla beans, cacao nibs, aged in Elijah Craig barrels worked very well. Very, very well.
  • Imperial Oak brought a stand-out beer with their Beermuda Triangle – a tripel aged with cinnamon and vanilla in apple brandy barrels. It won’t be for everyone, but I really, really enjoyed it.

There you have it, folks. FoBAB 2015 in a 1500-word nutshell. You can view the rest of the winners on the handy-dandy Fobab.com. See you next year.

We leave you now the best way we know how — opening a can with a FoBAB medal for shotgunning purposes.

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About the Author

Karl

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Karl has written about food, travel and beer for Chicago Magazine, Draft Magazine, Thrillist, Time Out Chicago and more. His book, Beer Lovers Chicago, comes out in early 2017, and if you're buying, he's likely having a porter or a pale ale.