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Festival of Wood & Barrel-Aged Beers 2014

We drank our way through 75 beers at the annual festival of barrel-aged beers to pick our 10 favorites

 (Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh)
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Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh
The Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer, held this weekend at the UIC Forum, brought together hundreds of aged beers.
 (Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh)
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Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh
The Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer, held this weekend at the UIC Forum, brought together hundreds of aged beers.
 (Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh)
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Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh
The Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer, held this weekend at the UIC Forum, brought together hundreds of aged beers.
 (Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh)
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Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh
The Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer, held this weekend at the UIC Forum, brought together hundreds of aged beers.
 (Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh)
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Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh
The Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer, held this weekend at the UIC Forum, brought together hundreds of aged beers.
 (Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh)
6/20
Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh
The Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer, held this weekend at the UIC Forum, brought together hundreds of aged beers.
 (Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh)
7/20
Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh
The Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer, held this weekend at the UIC Forum, brought together hundreds of aged beers.
 (Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh)
8/20
Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh
The Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer, held this weekend at the UIC Forum, brought together hundreds of aged beers.
 (Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh)
9/20
Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh
The Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer, held this weekend at the UIC Forum, brought together hundreds of aged beers.
 (Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh)
10/20
Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh
The Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer, held this weekend at the UIC Forum, brought together hundreds of aged beers.
 (Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh)
11/20
Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh
The Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer, held this weekend at the UIC Forum, brought together hundreds of aged beers.
 (Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh)
12/20
Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh
The Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer, held this weekend at the UIC Forum, brought together hundreds of aged beers.
 (Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh)
13/20
Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh
The Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer, held this weekend at the UIC Forum, brought together hundreds of aged beers.
 (Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh)
14/20
Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh
The Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer, held this weekend at the UIC Forum, brought together hundreds of aged beers.
 (Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh)
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Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh
The Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer, held this weekend at the UIC Forum, brought together hundreds of aged beers.
 (Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh)
16/20
Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh
The Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer, held this weekend at the UIC Forum, brought together hundreds of aged beers.
 (Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh)
17/20
Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh
The Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer, held this weekend at the UIC Forum, brought together hundreds of aged beers.
 (Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh)
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Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh
The Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer, held this weekend at the UIC Forum, brought together hundreds of aged beers.
 (Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh)
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Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh
The Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer, held this weekend at the UIC Forum, brought together hundreds of aged beers.
 (Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh)
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Photograph: Lynn Millspaugh
The Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer, held this weekend at the UIC Forum, brought together hundreds of aged beers.
At any beer festival with more than a few dozen brews on tap, it’s nearly impossible to get an objective take on what’s "the best." It’s even harder at the Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beers (FoBaB), where massive stouts and barleywines run rampant and any beer less than 10% ABV is for lightweights. Between us, we only managed to try about 75 beers, which is a mere sliver of the 275 beers entered in the festival. Even with all that booze-infused beer battering our palates, some of the brews still managed to stand out. After stumbling out of the UIC Forum, we compared notes and came up with a list of our 10 favorite barrel-aged brews. Want more suggestions? Here's the full list of winning beers from each category and the Guys Drinking Beer recap (with thoughts on the Goose Island line).

Atlas Brewing Sauternes-Barrel-aged T-Rex Hugs

Last year I ranked Atlas’s gin-barrel-aged Anniversary Ale among my top finds, so I was looking forward to seeing what the Saller brothers could do with some other non-bourbon offerings. Who knew that a Belgian-style strong dark ale played well with wine barrels? The already-rich caramel notes received some added depth to the sweetness, the creamy body grabbed a good amount of oaky goodness and the finish had a bite of vinous sharpness to it.—KK

Bell’s Brewery Wild One

This sour brown ale, aged in wine barrels, was my last beer of the fest and helped me end things on a high note. It's a remarkably balanced and nicely tart blended beer with a great structure.—AC

Breakside Brewery Aquavit Barrel-Aged IPA

Portland, Oregon’s Breakside took second place in the Experimental Beer category for this beer, a blend of American-style IPAs aged in aquavit oak barrels. Aquavit is a spicy Scandinavian spirit and the barrels pass on anise flavors to the beer, which also has plenty of hops. This beer was my top pick overall.—AC

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Excel Brewing 2nd Anniversary Imperial Porter

I’ve been keeping my eye on this downstate brewery for a while now, and even moreso with the news that it brought in former Stone brewer Ron Burguiere in September to revamp its lineup. At GABF, I was impressed with their Bose Roggen black lager but, man, this massive porter killed it. Big, huge, gooey chocolate, coconut, toffee and marshmallow flavors along with rye whiskey barrel on top, backed up a body so thick you felt like you could take it in your hand, throw it against the wall and have it stick. Come north when you can, Excel.—KK

Middlebrow Who's That Girl

Lots of beers at FoBAB are very limited offerings, so it’s nice to see that Chicago’s Middlebrow will be offering Who's That Girl in a limited bottle run in December. If you see it, grab it—the crisp, fruit-forward wild brett beer is aged with peaches in cabernet sauvignon oak barrels.—AC

Off Color Brewing Papillon

The winner of the Wild Beer (Brett) category (the brewery also took first in the Fruit Beer category for Yuzu Er’d Og Begravet), Papillon is a wild beer that’s aged in gin barrels with wild yeasts. Funky, tart and fruity with a clean finish, this beer from Chicago brewery Off Color was a welcome palate-cleanser at FoBAB, but I’d happily drink one of these anytime.—AC

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Penrose Brewing Wild V/Wild VII

Even though Tom Korder’s Belgian-inspired beers like Proto Gradus and P-2 came out of his Geneva brewhouse already on point, I’ve been waiting for my first crack at the brews from his wilder side. These didn’t disappoint. One of my first destinations of the night was the brett/acidic section, in the hopes of savoring some brighter beers before my palate became saturated with whiskey and high-ABV stouts. Both of these were highlights of the bunch. More aggressively tart, bitter and biting than the rest of the wilds I tried (except perhaps for the appropriately named Vinegar Strokes from Stickmen Brewery), I preferred either of these to anything else I tried from either category.—KK

Spiteful Brewing Absinthe Barrel-Aged The Sales Guy

Considering Spiteful’s notoriously small size, I didn’t expect to ever get my hands on the bottled release of its absinthe barrel–aged Klutzy Buffoon saison. When I saw it had not one but two different absinthe-barrel-aged options on hand—Klutzy infused with cherries, and the Belgian Abbey single Sales Guy—I fought straight through the throngs to find them both. The aroma of anise and licorice from the Sales Guy brew was intoxicating, and the interplay of the spirit and the beer melded very well to create a single complementary flavor, not two competing parties.—KK

Temperance Beer Co. Manhattan Barrel-Aged Might Meets Right

The bronze medal in the Experimental Beer category went to the version aged in a Boulevardier cocktail barrel, but the “sister” version of the Might Meets Right stout was the winner for me. Brewer Claudia Jendron got two barrels from Utah's High West Distillery and the barrel used to age Manhattan cocktails brought an up-front cherry tartness paired with the added complexity of the bourbon and wood from the barrel.—KK

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Upland Brewing Co. Rambutan

The Bloomington, Indiana, brewery brought three beers to the festival, including the Rambutan, a wild/acidic beer that’s 25% red ale and 75% lambic and aged with fresh rambutans (prickly Asian fruits). The red ale was aged in bourbon barrels (which also aged beer) and the lambic was aged in oak barrels (which also aged wine), so there's a lot going on here. I really like Upland’s sour fruit beers and Rambutan's tropical fruit aromas and intense sourness didn't disappoint.—AC

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