On Saturday (Nov. 17) I attended my third Festival of Barrel-Aged Beers (FoBAB). The two-day beer fest is a spectacle at the University of Illinois-Chicago Forum that features more than 300 barrel- or wood-aged stouts, porters, sours and ales — truly an embarrassment of high ABV riches.
Wisconsin breweries have done well in the past at FoBAB, and this year, although a few were in attendance, only one claimed a medal and was among the list of winners.
St. Francis Brewery (3825 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.) took second in the Specialty/Experimental category with TEOTWAWKI. The imperial brown ale is made with sweet potatoes and molasses and then aged in Heaven Hill barrels with vanilla, pecans and cinnamon.
The silver medal is a testament to what brewer Matt Hofmann has done at St. Francis since taking over in early 2017. The first-ever entry by the brewery was well regarded in a category that had nearly 30 total entries.
“It was awesome to win a medal. Just look at my photo on social media,” said Hofmann. “FoBAB certainly draws the heavy hitters, and it’s a huge honor to be judged as one of the best of the best. It most definitely provides some validation, but for me, the real validation comes from people coming through the pub door looking to try our beer.”
The good news for beer drinkers is that St. Francis still has bottles and a keg or two of TEOTWAWKI available from an October release. I tried it for the first time at FoBAB and found it to be nicely sweet and smooth. I thought the sweet potato flavor was present, and in a good way. It’s an unusual mix of ingredients for sure, but it’s delicious and seems perfectly suited for drinking during the fall and winter. Add a bottle or two to your collection.
There were plenty of other standouts at FoBAB, some you can find in bottles still and others that are much more obscure. Keep an eye out for these beers and the breweries they come from. They were some of my favorites, and most of them are within easy driving distance of Milwaukee.
Note: There are way too many outstanding beers at FoBAB to taste them all. This list is just a few highlights from what I was able to sample.
Fundamental Observation Imperial Stout
Bottle Logic Brewing, Anaheim, CA
There was buzz around this beer when FoBAB started on Friday night. And it seemed warranted when it claimed Best in Show on Saturday afternoon. The ambitious brew is aged in four different bourbon barrels — Heaven Hill, Buffalo Trace, Four Roses and W.L. Weller — and includes Madagascar vanilla beans to cut into the heat. It’s simply a world-class stout.
Vanilla Bourbon Barrel-Aged Chicow! Brown Ale
Listermann Brewing, Cincinnati, OH
I first tried beers from these guys at FoBAB two years ago, when they claimed a Best in Show honor. This 2018 entry is made with hazelnuts aged in Heaven Hill barrels with vanilla beans. The vanilla flavor is certainly there, and works great with the double brown ale base. It was a really nice departure from thicker stouts.
Deepest Shade Imperial Stout
Horus Aged Ales, Oceanside, CA
This beer, aged in French oak barrels with hazelnuts and coffee, was the best that I had at FoBAB. It is rich, creamy and incredibly smooth with a subtle sweetness and hints of chocolate and coffee. When you try a dozen or so stouts in a couple of hours they can start to taste the same. This did not. Its complex flavor definitely stood out. Brewer Kyle Harrop says the beer was extremely limited (and therefore isn’t available in bottles).
Henna: Karma Imperial Stout
More Brewing Co., Villa Park, IL
More has become a popular spot for Chicago beer lovers, who flock to the western ‘burbs for Henna releases. Last year’s batch earned Best in Show at FoBAB 2017 and at this year’s FoBAB the line to get a sample was long. The whiskey barrel-aged stout blends hints of toasted coconut, cocoa nibs and cinnamon. Keep an eye out for future releases. More is just a short trip down I-94. Note: More also poured Strawberry Marbles, a milkshake IPA that served as a decidedly refreshing break from heavier porters, stouts and ales.
European Vacation Sex Imperial Milk Stout
Only Child Brewing, Gurnee, IL
FoBAB always provides a surprise or two, and finding this brew (with a PG-13 name) was one of them. The rich stout is made with marshmallows, which weren’t really prevalent, and aged in Elijah Craig and Four Roses barrels. The name drew some interest, but the beer itself earned recognition.
Milk Man Double Milk Stout
Byway Brewing Co., Hammond, IN
This brewery from Hammond was another nice surprise. The stout is just sweet enough and has a fair amount of chocolate flavor. It is aged in Heaven Hill barrels to give it a tiny bit of boozy kick. Milk Man is well balanced and extremely smooth.
Dosvidanya Coconut Russian Imperial Stout
Destihl Restaurant & Brew Works, Champaign, IL
I’m a sucker for coconut stouts and this was a good one. Destihl has won a few FoBAB medals in the past (including a Best in Show in 2015) and they certainly know how to make barrel-aged stouts. This one didn’t take home any medals, but it was certainly a great take on the style.