FoBAB 2017: A Beer Phantasmagoria and the Year of the Coconut Adjunct

In Event Review by Karl

Our FoBAB 2017 recap is here with a few hits and a few more misses.

Last year, I said FoBAB was like a dream. This year, I realized it’s really more like a mass hallucination.

Did we all just experience that? Was that just me, or did each of us have the same collective dream of wild ales, barrel character and pastry flavors?

Just walking up and down the rows trying to read the signs, the barrel info, the beer styles, all while trying to dodge hundreds of other people doing the exact same thing is enough to disorient a person.

Doing it with a head half-full of high-gravity beer only adds to the surreality. The lights dim, the music turns up, the pours flow over and over, the din of the crowd flows over you at a dull roar everywhere you turn.

Even when you try to take it easy, the haze of FoBAB comes over you. At one point, I was talking to Moody Tongue’s Jared Rouben about my perceived differences between his gingerbread stout and his 12-layer-cake stout and in a flash of realization I stopped what I was talking about and simply said:

“Shit, I think I gotta chill out.”

Jared laughed and we parted ways and I went to drink some water. And that’s what a handful of 16% abv beers will do to you, especially over the span of like 75 minutes.

Check out the rest of our FOBAB coverage through the years

Each year we gather for a collective freakout over a collection of beers that represent years upon years of collective time resting in oak, on hickory, on beechwood, packed full of spices and berries and vanilla beans and cocoa nibs. We arrive, we imbibe, we overserve ourselves despite all amounts of preparation, we stumble home on buses and in Lyfts and on foot to who knows where.

In short, we FoBAB. At this point, it’s a verb as much as it’s an event. Are you ready to FoBAB? Did you FoBAB this weekend? Man, I got FoBABed. (Okay, so that’s more of an adjective.)

Still, something about this year’s FoBAB felt a bit like the wave breaking and rolling back to me. No one’s ever going to get a full overview of the beers being poured, and I didn’t even try to sample as many options as I have in previous years, but of the few dozen I tried, very few made me stop and savor more slowly — and nothing brought me back for seconds.

Maybe my miss-to-hit ratio was just bad luck, but I went in hoping to hit the big winners and by and large I did — I got to sample Medianoche Reserve, Lost Abbey Cable Car and Jester King’s SPON offering. None of them gave me any holy-shit-this-is-great moments.

The one beer that did give me a holy-shit moment? The Heaven Hill barrel aged version of Listermann/Triple Digit’s Chickow. Of course, the brandy-barrel version took runner up for best in show, but this continues the tradition of me liking the odd variant out (see also: DESTIHLs Dosvidanya regular vs. rye, and Temperance’s Might Meets Right Manhattan vs. Boulevardier).

The names of the game in the Specialty Strong Porter and Stout category was coconut, coconut, coconut.

There were tons of brews with coconut as an adjunct: 18th Street’s Hunter Coconut, Arrowhead Ales Coconut Killjoy, Bell’s Blackbeard’s Bear Hug with coconut and cinnamon, Braxton’s Dark Charge Coconut, Coronado’s German Chocolate Cake, Half Acre’s Benthic, Lil’ Beaver’s Whole Lotta Wonderful, More Brewing’s BA Karma, Quaff On’s Blue Hawaii, Saint Archer’s Coconut Stout, Sierra Nevada’s Cocoa Coconut Narwhal, and Upland Brewing’s Teddy Bear Kisses with Coconut and that’s just one category.

That’s crazy. It must have been the right thing to do, though, considering More’s BA Karma won Best in Show (and was tapped out within a half hour of early-admission entry). Maybe this summer we can continue that trend with a parade of tiki beers, please?

Tapped out at 12:36pm.

The other mini-trend which can stop ASAP as far as I’m concerned is the scotch-barrel-aged beer. My pour of a Java Man Cometh with Chocolate and Peanut Butter from Dayton Beer Company sounded great on paper, and then my palate was blasted with peat smoke which annihilated any hope of tasting the beer beneath; it sounds like the Firestone Walker Scotch Parabola suffered from the same super-smokiness and even though the Islay Stout was being poured by Goose Island I had no intent of giving it a try. Sorry, brewers — I don’t like scotch. Please don’t ruin your beers with it.

Still, there were a few happy surprises. Braxton Brewing’s Dark Charge RIS with ancho chile balanced nice big chocolate and cinnamon flavor with a ribbon of pepper running through that served as a great accent as opposed to something more up front. Rhinegeist’s Double Oaked Mastodon served up bourbon fierceness and red wine elegance all floating over a nice smooth Belgian dark strong beer.

Scorched Earth’s Barrel #51 Flemish-Style Brown Ale was crazy rich with tons of funky flavors and wine-barrel character thanks to all sorts of little bugs that fed the brew. Finally, the Lo-Rez Memory Fault was a surprisingly restrained and well-balanced Fernet-barrel aged beer that I found myself appreciating even though the other Fernet/beer experiments I’ve tried have been more gimmicky than great.

And, of course, Metropolitan won the “best beer name” contest with their “Laffler Hates This Beer”, a Vienna lager with guajillo chiles (barely there) and smoked black peppercorns (right up front and accented the lager flavor nicely). Their “On Color” took runner up for best name, and even though I didn’t get the teal, lime and pineapple mixed into the pilsner I loved the juniper berry flavors floated on top. Not to mention the fact that those two beers were just stupid refreshing after tons of heavy, heavy beers.

Similarly, the gin-barrel-aged Gamma Ray from Empirical Brewing was equally bright, sharp, snappy and fun. Unlike scotch-barrel aged beers, I don’t like gin — and I do like gin barrel aged beers. Weird, right?

Well, it was a weird year. Coat check cluster-f’s. Beers kicking quick. Ticket price increases. 200 brewers, cidermakers and meaderies sending beers. More breweries from more places sending beers, bringing a new national aspect to an otherwise Illinois-heavy fest. Applause mixed with groans from the crowd when Wicked Weed took a medal. Ohio and Illinois breweries splitting the dominance, with 7 medals each going to Buckeye State and Land of Lincoln brewers — and an IL brewery took best in show while an OH brewer took runner-up.

And finally, the same number of crazy beer lovers in another sellout year.

It’s FoBAB. You can’t help but appreciate the craziness, now 15 years along (even if no one really remembers the first one). We FoBABed. We did it again.

fobab 2017 recap

Obligatory FoBAB barrel rack photo.

Your winners are all at the FoBAB site here. The rest of our FoBAB 2017 coverage is here.

One final moment I overheard as I wandered around:

“There’s too many weiners here! They took one of our bathrooms! Goddamnit!” ~ An attendee, none too pleased to find that her ladies room had been converted to a men’s restroom.

There’s too many weiners here. Strangely poetic and somehow apropos. See you next year, FoBAB. Probably.

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About the Author



Karl has written about food, travel and beer for Chicago Magazine, Thrillist, Time Out Chicago, AskMen and more. His book, Beer Lovers Chicago, is now available via Amazon and other booksellers.If you're buying, he's likely having a porter or a pale ale.

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