Recap: the Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer | Bleader

Recap: the Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer

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On Saturday my coworker Philip Montoro and I went to the afternoon session of the ninth annual Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer, put on by the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild at the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Hall. As usual, there were a lot more beers than I could possibly try—172, from 62 breweries—and as usual they were nearly all rare and interesting brews that I really wanted to taste. It was a good problem to have, but it still made decision-making difficult, especially given the high percentage of alcohol in most of them (the program doesn't list alcohol content, but warns at the bottom of some pages: "Please be aware that many of these beers are quite strong and should be enjoyed responsibly."). Two-ounce tasting portions add up fast when they weigh in at 10 percent alcohol or more.

The beers were organized this year by category (wild beer, strong porter/stout, experimental beer, etc.) rather than brewery, making it easier to taste comparable beers together—a good move, since trying a sour ale right after a chocolate stout is rarely an enjoyable experience. I suspected this to be a quintessential beer nerd event, which was confirmed (to my mind, at least) when I saw the highlighter collection of a guy waiting near us in the line to get in. But later, while I was waiting for a beer, I overheard the volunteer who was pouring ask a guy what he wanted, and the guy responded, "Whatta you got? Give me whatever." (Maybe he was just overwhelmed by the choices.)

Even if the number of beers was daunting, though, the crowd was not, despite the fact that the event was sold out. The fact that the Craft Brewers Guild limits ticket sales to a number the room can easily accommodate made the experience a lot more pleasant; it also meant that wait times for beer never exceeded a couple minutes, and often there was no wait at all. Below, the award winners and a few personal favorites.

Classic Porter/Stout
Gold: Flossmoor Station, Pullman Brown Reserve
Silver: Revolution Brewing, Barrel Aged Black Power Oatmeal Stout
Bronze: Revolution Brewing, Barrel Aged The General Molasses Porter

Strong Porter/Stout
Gold: Goose Island, Bourbon County Brand Stout
Silver: Uinta Brewing, Labyrinth
Bronze: Miller Valley Brewery, Celebration Porter

Barleywine/Wheatwine
Gold: Goose Island Wrigleyville, Honey B (also the overall winner)
Silver: Goose Island Wrigleyville, Broadshoulders Barleywine
Bronze: Piece, Mooseknuckle

Classic Styles (not higher than 7% ABV)
Gold: Rock Bottom Cincinnati, Sarah's Two Headed Buffalo
Silver: Finch's, Dirtier Bird
Bronze: Two Brothers, Resistance

Strong/Double/Imperial Pale Beer

Gold: Upstream, Old Market Kurgan
Silver: Rock Bottom Des Moines, Barrel Reserve Illuminator Doppelbock
Bronze: Sun King, Pappy Van Muckle

Fruit Beer

Gold: Three Floyds, Kinder Beer
Silver: Rock Bottom Chicago, Fallen Angel Abbey Ale
Bronze: Haymarket, Clare's Thirsty Ale

Experimental Beer
Gold: Goose Island Clybourn, Xocolatl
Silver: Flossmoor Station, Dark Matter Imperial Stout
Bronze: Haymarket, Steve It to Bieber

Wild Beer
Gold: Upland Brewing, Gilgamesh (also the overall runner-up)
Silver: Lagunitas, Chocolate Raspberry Brett Bourbon Barrel Aged
Bronze: Leelanau Brewing, Good Harbor Golden

Wild Acidic Beer
Gold: Port Brewing/The Lost Abbey, Veritas
Silver: Destihl, St. Dekkera Reserva Flander/Oud Bruin
Bronze: Bear Republic, Tartare

A lot of the beers that I tried and liked also turned out to be medal winners (some I tried after they won medals, but the announcement came late in the session). I'm not going to repeat the ones that overlap, except to say that both the Lagunitas Chocolate Raspberry wild beer and Goose Island Xocolatl were exceptional, the latter so rich and chocolatey that I suspect it would taste good heated up and served like hot chocolate. Other favorites:

Crispin Cider, Stagger Lee (apple cider aged in rye whiskey barrels)
Firestone Walker, Helldorado (honey-infused imperial blonde ale aged in Heaven Hill barrels)
Goose Island, King Henry (English barleywine aged in 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle barrels)
Goose Island, Lucky Leaiah (Irish red ale aged in an 18-year-old Elijah Craig bourbon barrel)
Port Brewing/The Lost Abbey, Angel's Share (barleywine aged in Heaven Hill barrels)
Rock Bottom Des Moines, Barrel Reserve Illuminator Doppelbock (doppelbock made with Weyermann malts and aged in Heaven Hill rye barrels)
Rock Bottom Lombard, Makin' Maple Bacon (imperial stout aged for one year in a Woodford Reserve bourbon barrel and given a hot maple/bacon/Maker's Mark infusion)
Three Floyds, Bourbon Moloko (milk stout aged for a year in a Woodford Reserve bourbon barrel)
Three Floyds, Conquistador de Muerte Porto (milk stout aged for a year in a port barrel with brandy-soaked ancho and guajillo chiles)
Three Floyds, Spazzerak! (a blend of beers aged in bourbon barrels with star anise and curacao orange peels for a year; meant to approximate a Sazerac)

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