Sometimes, FoBAB can seem a bit like a dream.
You wake up, you head downtown, you wait in line, you check your ticket, you drop off your jacket and bag, you grab your sample glass and you dive headfirst into a sea of humanity. Hundreds of people swirl around you, your ears can only register a constant rumble of crowd noise, you quickly fill your head with a potent dose of high-ABV crazy beers, your eyes zip from pitchers to signs to screens to banners to volunteers (who you thank for their efforts).
You drink real good beer. Beer from all over the nation. Some of the most sought-after beers in all the land. They’re yours. You can have them. You can have more of them. You can have things you never knew could be done with beer, and things you’ve loved before that maybe never expected to see again.
Then, all of a sudden, you’re back on a Red Line train headed north, wondering “did that happen?”
FoBAB reigns supreme. It’s a palate rollercoaster, from wild to acidic to fruity to candybar to rich, rich chocolate to rum to bourbon and back around on itself again. It’s a room full of riches that defies belief and creates legends. Spiteful’s BA Chocolate Caliente. DESTIHL’s Dosvidanya. Perennial Abraxas. Bourbon County Rare. All lustworthy beers, and I’ve had them all at FoBAB and didn’t even need to trade anything on the internet for it.
Check out the rest of our FOBAB coverage through the years
Suffice to say it was another good time at one of the country’s best beer festivals, even if they decided dim the lights on us like they wanted to make out with us or something.
According to ICBG Director Danielle D’Alessandro, the total attendance this year was 8,000 attendees between brewers, sponsors, media jerks like me, IMBIBE members and General Admission. It’s a pretty herculean effort to get that much incredible beer judged, set up, poured and imbibed safely and sanely, but it worked out for another year. Even if I do miss the nicer space at the Bridgeport Arts Center, the UIC Forum was another lovely spot to drink beer on a November Saturday.
Here are some of the high points I stumbled across:
My first stop was to the handful of beers from Odd Side Ales. The Hazel’s Nuts and Rye Hipster Stout — the latter which apparently included bacon, though I didn’t find any evidence of that — were both fine, but man, that BA Mayan Mocha Stout was worth the price of admission. A little hotter from the habanero than the last offering I had, but only by a touch. Just astounding.
At this year’s Beer Under Glass, I told you that one of the most entertaining things I tried was a dryhopped mead from Valpo’s Misbeehavin‘ Meads. FoBAB was no different. I went back for not one, not two, but three pours of their Bourbon-Barrel-Aged Sweet Potato Mead. The rich brown-sugar notes of the sweet potato played astonishingly well with the orange blossom honey wine and added a touch of bright barrel character on top of it. Not just good tasting, but unexpectedly fun.
If there was a breakout star of this year’s FoBAB, it had to be Weldwerks from Greeley, Colorado. A few people gave me a heads up on the Peach Climacteric and the crowdmind was right — this started out as a pretty good fruited sour, and then at the finish, bam — a big whallop of ripe, delicious, fresh peach careening over the head of the puckering tartness. I also have a soft spot for Mexican hot chocolate spiced stouts, and the Weldwerks version didn’t quite come through as highly as my preferred version from Tin Man, but it was still quite good as well.
I always find something new to love from Excel at FoBAB, and this year it was their Mint Julep beer, which ended up taking bronze in the Experimental category. Sometimes it’s just fun to see what people can do with beer to stretch the boundaries, and this wholly succeeded in that — sweet simple sugar and fresh mint merged with bourbon and wood to make the most successful beer-riff on a cocktail I’ve ever had.
I’m not a gin person, but I am becoming a gin-barrel-pilsner person, and I have Metropolitan to thank for it. Half Acre’s gin-barrel Pony is the progenitor of the form, and it’s quite good, but Metro’s “My Little Flywheel” pilsner aged in a gin-barrel had just enough of a malt-forwardness to let the gin notes rest right on top of it.
Folks lined up ASAP for a pour of Lost Abbey’s Duck Duck Gooze, which I certainly enjoyed, but along the same lines, I didn’t expect to be as blown away as I was by Jester King’s Spon 3. Listed as a “100% spontaneously fermented blend of 1, 2 and 3 year old beer” made with “malted barley, raw wheat, turbid mash, extended boil, aged hops, coolship knockout, oak fermentation (spontaneous)” and then blended. If all of that is adding up in your head to say “hey that sounds like a natural gueze in the style of Cantillon” you would be spot f’ing on and I’m still thinking about how this one transported me over to a dark brewery taproom in Belgium in two ounces of beer.
Favorite name of the festival: Ten Ninety’s “Free FoBAB Ticket.” Points for honesty.
Until this year I’d never bothered to try to find my way into the Brewers/VIP area — not my scene — but this year I stumbled into it and found myself craving something a little less…massive.
A Hickster cream ale from Scorched Earth was just the thing. Nice, light, a little sweet, purely a refreshing beer. Much needed at the moment, and much appreciated.
At 2:45, Goose Island tweeted this:
— Goose Island Beer Co (@GooseIsland) November 12, 2016
Shortly thereafter, I noticed quite a long line wrapping its way around the room. I walked over by the corner where the Brewery Listings were posted — probably 50 feet from the corner Goose was camped in — and asked, Is this the Goose Island line? Yes. What are you waiting for? 2014 Prop.
I walked 20 feet down the line. Is this the Goose Island line? Yes. What are you waiting for? 2014 Prop.
Another 20 feet. Another ask. Same thing. 2014 Prop. Another 20 feet. Another ask. Same thing. And on down the line.
Finally, after walking past what seemed like hundreds of people, the line finally ended somewhere in front of the stage. That’s a line that wrapped over halfway around the room, with everyone waiting for the chance to try a few ounces of 2014 Proprietor’s Bourbon County Stout. (Okay, one dude said 2016 Coffee.)
If you continue to question the power of Goose Island, if you’d seen that line you’d know that it’s still one of the most sought after, desired beers in the Nation. We were in a room full of amazing, inventive, imaginative, creative, incredible beers…and still people waited, waited, waited for one little pour of Goose Island beer.
My fellow GDB Correspondent Steve attended on Friday night. Here’s his thoughts:
Lines for the good stuff – Pipeworks Jones Dog, Destihl Dosvidanya, 18th Street Hunter, anything Bourbon County – were too long to worry about for me. There’s too many other good beers out there to try. I had hoped to get the Transient Electric Boogaloo, Rhinegeist Knucklehead and Blue Island Coco Drupe, but waited too long, as they went fast.
That said, when “last call” was announced I finally caved and went for the Goose Island BCBS 2yr barrel-aged Templeton Rye. I’m glad I did. It was remarkable. Not “it was my last one of the night, so my tastebuds were blown” remarkable, but genuinely remarkable.
What’s up, Cincinnati?!? Madtree, Rhinegeist, Listerman and Triple Digit all brought the good stuff north and I’m glad they did. I’ve heard buzz about the beer scene there, but aside from a few cans here and there, haven’t really had a chance to enjoy it. But after Madtree’s Chamomile Levanto and the collaboration between Listerman and Triple Digit – Chickow! – it’s suddenly moved to the top of my beercation road trip list.
NEW RULE: Enough with the lingering in front of the table. Honestly, get the beer and move. There’s just not enough room in that area, especially as lines begin blending and it’s impossible to get down an aisle. We spent a good 20 minutes trying to get through the first aisle – stouts and porters, of course – because people were just lingering as mad lines formed for Jones Dog and Hunter. Just, come on, get it and go.
Kudos to guest services. I saw Monterrey Security staffers gingerly working with those who’d had too much by night’s end, as they knew what they were dealing with and used just the right touch.
Sam Adams Utopias Aged on Cherries. That happened. It’s 28%. It burned my nose hairs. It scared me. I tasted my 1.5oz pour and – stunning. Smooth. How do they do it?!?
The chamomile beer from Madtree goes into the same category that I’m placing the Mint Julep from Excel. Fun, experimental, different. Yes, it’s a mint julep beer. And I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted that much mint in a beer. Spearmint, to be exact. Some were turned off. I wasn’t – I just found it so damned unique, I kept sipping it. Slow sipping, to be sure, but sipping. And each time, going: “huh. I have no idea what to make of this.” But I kept sipping.
Water was everywhere – and constantly being re-filled. Much needed and clearly a priority by organizers. Made it easy to stay hydrated. With that said, the food options weren’t as abundant. The cheap pizza and soft pretzels weren’t easy to find, buried behind the first row of beers. Just as they’ve designated a specific room for meads, for instance, perhaps consider a room just for food?
I tried a lot, but wasn’t always satisfied with what I had, resulting in some dumps. But some of my other favorites:
· Fremont out of Seattle, B-Bomb. Mercy me. A blend of 24-year and 12-year barrel-strength winter ales aged in 12-year-old and 15-year-old bourbon barrels. Goodness gracious that’s potent and delicious.
· Horse Thief Hollow continues to churn out hit after hit – I don’t get there enough to sample their goods. Their Hilltop is a weizenbock aged in Palo Santo wood, which gives it a unique woody taste.
· I missed out on the Destihl Dosvidanya – the word is out, the line for it was consistently long – but I did get the Dosvidanya Rye. The rye gave it a noticeable difference, but still, that base beer is just so tasty.
· Tin Man, out of Evansville, made me want more of their stuff in the northern part of the state. Their barrel-aged Csar is a Russian Imperial Stout that I was happy I let warm a little bit. It’s got a light chocolate flavor to it that I really enjoyed.
· Portland’s Alameda Brewing brought a 2014 Green Mountain Barleywine that delivers a touch of honey on the back end that made it a favorite. Even Karl might like this barleywine. OK, maybe not, but I did. [Ed. note: Karl says that’s unlikely, but possible.]
· The rye IPA aged in rye barrels from Blue Point – Rastafarye – was right near the top of my list. Something different and smooth.
· Surly’s barrel-aged Pentagram is a dark sour, aged with brett in red wine barrels and then High West barrels. The nose is strong, but it’s very nice and smooth.
There you have it. Another wonderous, Willy-Wonka-Golden-Ticket crazy beer festival. We’re already looking forward to next year.
Finally, here now are your official FoBAB 2016 medal award winners, directly from the FoBAB website.
CLASSIC BEER STYLE
GOLD // Horse Thief Hollow Brewing Co. – ‘Hilltop Weizenbock – Palo Santo wood aged’
SILVER // Wild Onion Brewery – ‘Bourbon Barrel Aged Jack Stout’
BRONZE // Revolution Brewing – ‘SmOAKed’
SPECIALTY / EXPERIMENTAL
GOLD // Listermann Brewing Company + Triple Digit Brewing Company – ‘Chickow!’
SILVER // Lakefront Brewery – ‘Lakefront Spiced Winter Lager’
BRONZE // Excel Brewing Company – ‘Mint Julep’
WILD BEER SOUR / FRUIT
GOLD // Arclight Brewing Company – ‘Soursmith Kriek’
SILVER // Port Brewing Co / The Lost Abbey – ‘Framboise de Amorosa’
BRONZE // Transient Artisan Ales – ‘Foeder 2: Electric Boogaloo with Apricot’
See you next year.