What is the quintessential Chicago beer? The West Coast has it’s tongue-destroying IPAs. The East Coast excels at traditional styles, often influenced by recipes brewed by our founding fathers. But what is a Chicago beer? Regardless of the beer style, you better believe that it is barrel-aged. Goose Island started (and perfected) the trend in the US with its iconic Bourbon County Stout and Chicago is home to the pinnacle of craft beer fests: The Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beers, or FoBAB to those with the proper beer street cred. I was fortunate enough to attend the afternoon session of this 11th iteration of the fest held at the Bridgeport Arts Center on November 16, 2013.
When I think of a barrel-aged beer, I imagine a thick, viscous imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels but there were many offerings at FoBAB this year that challenged this barrel-aged beer stereotype. Colorado-based Oskar Blues aged their Gubna Imperial IPA in a tequila barrel and Off Color Brewing aged a lemon radler in a gin barrel with wild yeast. Both of these offerings were among my favorites for the evening, especially Off Color’s aforementioned Radlersnake. So refreshing!
In addition to being a beer fest, FoBAB is also a competition where BJCP judges rate beers in 11 categories. Goose Island Beer Company predictably took home numerous awards, including runner-up Best of Show for their Backyard Rye BCS, but there were some new brewers and breweries that took home medals. While not a new brewery, the Goose Island Brewpubs obtained a new Head Brewer last January. Nick Barron and the crew at the brewpubs won gold for their Cthulhu, an Imperial Oatmeal Stout aged in Elijah Craig Bourbon Barrels in the Strong Porter/Stout category and won silver for their Sour Wheat in the Wild Beer (Brett) category.
Rock Bottom Chicago, one of Chicago’s first brewpubs, has a new Head Brewer, as well. Hayley Shine joined the team last December (in fact, she attended last year’s FoBAB since she was in town looking for apartments) and also took home a few awards at FoBAB. Hayley and the Rock Bottom Chicago crew took bronze for their Old Mouldy Toad, a Brown Ale aged in a Woodford Reserve barrel, in the Classic Styles category and gold for their Grand Cru, a Strong Belgian Red Ale aged in a Cabernet Barrel, in the Strong/Double/Imperial Pale Beer category.
Off Color Brewing, a new Chicago brewery helmed by veteran Chicago brewers John Laffler and Dave Bleitner, took home two awards, as well, although not for my favorite, Radlersnake (it’s OK… They won my heart, which is just as good as a medal as FoBAB). They took silver in the Classic Styles category for their Scurried, a honey beer with molasses and oats aged in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels, and silver in the Fruit Beer category for Cherry Trouble, a Gose aged in gin barrels with cherries and B. claussenii.
There was a new category added to the competition this year for Cider/Perry/Mead and Chicago/Fennville, Michigan-based Virtue Cider took home the gold for The Mitten. I met cider maker Ryan Burk a few years ago through the Won Kim homebrew events and now he has a gold medal from FoBAB. So proud! Regardless of whether a brewery won an award or not, the real winners were the attendees. There is not a bad beer in the bunch and each beer reflected the brewers’ creativity and innovation in the art of barrel-aging.
For a full list of the winners, check out BeerDownload.
Of course there was amazing beer, but to me the best part of FoBAB (or any beer festival, really) is the people. Obviously I am not getting out as much and seeing all of my friends & brewers that I’ve met along my beer journey was a real treat. A huge thank you to the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild and to everyone that makes this event possible. And most importantly to my parents for watching Flynn. And to baby Flynn for sleeping through the night for the first time!
For more images from FoBAB, check out Christopher Murphy’s photo stream!