Beer geek weekend

Two world-class tastings here in the Midwest

By Kevin J. Gray

Empties line the street as folks wait to get into the Three Floyds party (left) and rare beer enthusiasts pack the hall for a sample...

Empties line the street as folks wait to get into the Three Floyds party (left) and rare beer enthusiasts pack the hall for a sample...

On a recent Saturday, the greater Chicago area hosted two of the Midwest’s premier beer events: The Three Floyds XV Anniversary party and the 9th Annual Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beers. DCP was there for both events.

Three Floyds XV Anniversary Party
For those uninitiated with Three Floyds, the brewery located just south of Chicago is a darling of the beer geek set. Three Floyds brews boundary-pushing beers in limited quantities, so the demand for Three Floyds beers is consistently high. (The brewery just resumed Ohio distribution after a several-year hiatus).

To celebrate their 15th anniversary, the brewery brewed a commemorative beer and threw a release party. Three Floyds’ brewers joined forces with several other top shelf breweries to create Baller Stout, a monster brew that blends each of the four participating breweries’ imperial stouts: Three Floyds Dark Lord, Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch, De Struise Black Albert, and Surly Darkness.

The release party gave enthusiasts opportunities to buy Baller Stout, as well as several other rare and very hard to find Three Floyds beers. A tent with fifty taps served beers from Three Floyds, Port Brewing, Surly, Struise, and Mikkeller. Several Chicago-area restaurants sold food and the brewpub’s stage hosted a band line-up that included The Melvins as the headlining act.

The brewery’s beers are famous for their strength and quality (Baller Stout clocks in over 13 percent ABV), but the brewery is notorious for insanely long lines at release parties. This event was no exception.

To pass the time, Three Floyds release party veterans bring all sorts of interesting beers to drink while waiting in line. The empties lining the gate featured some truly remarkable labels, and folks in the line were happy to share. Once in the event, we tried a healthy sampling of the taps, including Boogoop, a 10% ABV buckwheat wine brewed by Mikkeller and Three Floyds; Surly Wet, the Wisconsin brewery’s fresh hops beer; and De Struise Pannepot Reserva, a Belgian Quad-style ale.

The party turns social once folks have secured their beer allotments. We hung out with reps from Surly, and ran into some old friends from Dayton. The event lasted until about 10 p.m., but we left around 5 to head back to Chicago for our second event: the Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged beers.

Although Three Floyds won’t be celebrating another milestone anniversary for several years, those interested in the Three Floyds release party experience might want to check out Dark Lord Day (DLD), the annual limited Imperial Stout release party. DLD is typically held in late April. But get there early, and bring something to drink in line.

Ninth Annual Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beers
For the last nine years, the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild has presented the Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged beers, also known as FOBAB. Beers at FOBAB must be aged in some form of wood barrels, much like all beers were before the ascent of stainless steel aging vessels in the mid-20th century. The wood imparts interesting oaky and earthy flavors in and of itself, but many of the beers are also aged in spent bourbon, rye, rum, or scotch barrels, giving the beers complex boozy notes.

There were about 180 beers available from more than 60 breweries or brewpubs. The Midwest and the coasts were represented, but a dominant number of brewers come from Illinois, including Half Acre, Goose Island, Haymarket, Revolution, and Flossmoor Station.

The wood-aged beers are grouped in ten categories, including Strong Porters/Stouts, Barleywines/Wheatwines, Fruit Beers, Experimental Beers, and Wild Beers. The beers are generally fall into two camps: bourbon/spirit aged beers or sours.

What makes FOBAB so interesting is that most of these beers are not commercially available. Even for an experienced beer veteran, deciding on what to try at FOBAB can be overwhelming. Most are one-time offerings from breweries, where brewers get the chance to try something new. FOBAB is an opportunity to try some truly interesting, and sometimes, bizarre flavor combinations. Some of our favorites included:

  • Fitger’s Batch 3000—The Duluth brewery created a black saison brewed with peppercorns, then “dry hopped” with more black pepper. It sounds weird, but the brewers made it work.
  • Goose Island Ghost Pepper Bourbon County Brand Stout—This heavily anticipated imperial stout was aged in Heaven Hill bourbon barrels, then infused with ghost and ancho peppers. Spicy and hot, with a heat that lingers long after the rich flavor of the stout has passed.
  • New Holland Barrel-Aged Charkoota Rye—New Holland’s traditional Charkoota Rye is a smoked rye dopplebock. The wood-aged version was stored in rum barrels, adding a slightly sweet flavor to the already smoky beer.
  • Squatter’s Fifth Element—This Belgian style farmhouse ale, brewed using wild yeasts, is aged in American oak barrels for a year and has a sour flavor with hints of peach.

FOBAB is held annually in early November. The event is divided into two sessions, an afternoon session and an evening one. Watch the Illinois Craft Brewer’s Guild website (Illinoisbeer.com) for updates and be sure to get tickets early—sales are limited and the event sells out quickly each year.

Reach DCP freelance writer Kevin Gray at KevinGray@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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