The Festival of Barrel Aged Beers 2013

We came, we #FoBABed, we still have headaches. Our beer correspondent hits the famously drunken FoBAB. Here are his favorite brews.

  • Photograph: Karl Klockars

    The Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer was held this weekend at the Bridgeport Art Center.

  • Photograph: Karl Klockars

    The Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer was held this weekend at the Bridgeport Art Center.

  • Photograph: Karl Klockars

    The Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer was held this weekend at the Bridgeport Art Center.

  • Photograph: Karl Klockars

    The Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer was held this weekend at the Bridgeport Art Center.

  • Photograph: Karl Klockars

    The Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer was held this weekend at the Bridgeport Art Center.

  • Photograph: Karl Klockars

    The Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer was held this weekend at the Bridgeport Art Center.

  • Photograph: Karl Klockars

    The Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer was held this weekend at the Bridgeport Art Center.

  • Photograph: Karl Klockars

    The Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer was held this weekend at the Bridgeport Art Center.

  • Photograph: Karl Klockars

    The Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer was held this weekend at the Bridgeport Art Center.

  • Photograph: Karl Klockars

    The Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer was held this weekend at the Bridgeport Art Center.

  • Photograph: Karl Klockars

    The Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer was held this weekend at the Bridgeport Art Center.

  • Photograph: Karl Klockars

    The Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer was held this weekend at the Bridgeport Art Center.

  • Photograph: Karl Klockars

    The Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer was held this weekend at the Bridgeport Art Center.

  • Photograph: Karl Klockars

    The Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer was held this weekend at the Bridgeport Art Center.

Photograph: Karl Klockars

The Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer was held this weekend at the Bridgeport Art Center.

At this year’s Festival of Barrel Aged Beers, I drew a notch on the back of my hand every time I tasted a beer. By the end of the afternoon, my hand bore four-dozen hashmarks. While that sounds like a lot, it only scratched the surface of the massive variety of brews available at this year’s festival—213 total beers were judged in 11 different categories.


Now in its 11th year, FoBAB has cemented its place as being one of two must-attend Illinois Craft Brewers Guild events (the other, Beer Under Glass, kicks off Chicago Craft Beer Week). While the event started with beers inspired by Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout, 35 brews from 22 breweries were entered into the wild beer/acidic category this year. The barrel-aging phenomenon has really gone far past stouts and dark beers; this year’s Best in Show went to Bell’s Le Bretteur. Following that were 33 Strong Porter/Stouts and 29 Strong/Double/Imperial Dark Beers. Brand new this year was the cider, perry and mead category, and nine of them were judged (based on the recent rapid growth of the cider side of the industry, that category will likely only get larger).


Unsurprisingly, the Goose Island family’s brewery and brewpubs (brewery and brewpubs—yes, I know they have different ownership, but let them rename themselves and I’ll split them up) did quite well, walking away with five medals and taking second place in the Best in Show category. Rock Bottom Chicago, Revolution and Off Color also performed well, with two medals each, while Three Floyds, Haymarket, Atlas and Wild Onion earned one medal apiece.


Standout beers amongst the many that I tried:


Atlas Brewing’s Gin Barrel–Aged Anniversary Ale The beer is immensely smooth and has an unexpected caramel sweetness. Even though I tried this one toward the end of the tasting, my fatigued palate was awash with fun, bright, candy-like flavors. I’m not quite sure where the gin made it in there, it was still damn fine.


One Trick Pony’s Kentucky Mountain Even though this Lansing brewpub is just a half hour away from downtown (and 15 minutes from Three Floyds’ brewpub), it doesn’t seem to have earned a ton of attention yet—perhaps that’s because they opened in a low-key manner. But man, was this barrel-aged Old Ale smooth, strong, silky and vanilla-sweet. Among all the hefty stouts and dark beers I tried on Saturday, this one seemed closest to the standard set by Bourbon County. Oh, and it’s 11% ABV, so that ounce or two made a serious impact. 


Brewery Vivant’s Belgian Weiss Is there anything this Grand Rapids brewery can’t do with Belgian style beers? Bright, sparkly, tart, light, complex and a standout amongst a field of many other amazing wild ales.


Also notable 5 Rabbit’s Missionario (the aroma was intoxicating on its own), Metropolitan’s Docks of Riga Smoked Baltic Porter (who ever expected Metro to make a porter? Though I was surprised to find this made an appearance in 2010 as well), Perennial Savant Beersel (huge, thick fruity flavors for a wild beer), Dark Horse’s 6 Pairs of Legs Maple Porter (well balanced and not overly maple-y, whereas many maple beers just taste like pancake syrup).


Stray observations:


• Hands down, favorite beer name at the festival: Sun King’s Stupid Sexy Flanders


• It’s great to see Minnesota's Surly back in the mix in Chicago—their Misanthrope wild ale was a little thin for my taste, but since they’re returning to the market today, I’ll thankfully have more of their beers to try soon. 


• I’m kicking myself for not getting to try the Bourbon County Stout Backyard Rye, but the opportunity to try BCBS with serrano peppers was too tempting to pass up. It was surprisingly subtle and the serranos added a slow burning heat and a tickle at the back of the throat. It resembled what ancho chiles do to a beer, but it was greener and more vegetal.


• Unsurprisingly, when you age a beer in a Tabasco barrel, it gets really spicy. Like, even hotter than the ZwanzigZ Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout on Ghost Pepper (which was shockingly well balanced). Way to go big with your Tabasco Imperial Porter, Ten Ninety Brewing.


• I didn’t try a single Barleywine, sorry. Why? Well, mostly because a) I don’t care for the style and b) I wanted to leave the Bridgeport Arts Center under my own power if I possibly could.


Full award details can be found here.



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