I came to FoBAB prepared. I brought not one, but two pens with which to record the samples I tasted and their overall impressions. While waiting in line I perused the program and chose the beers I most wanted to sample, even noting their location in the room and forming a mental treasure map of sorts. I was calm, fully fed and watered, and ready for battle festing.
But when the doors opened, a frenzy took hold of every IMBIBE member in line, and we became a cloud of locusts who flew to the Barrel-aged Abraxas line. Once that delicious well had been sucked dry, the plague descended upon the Side Project pitchers, pushing brewer/barrel wizard Cory King out of the way (no, not really, but it could have happened). I admit that I fully participated in this feverish mob mentality behavior, but to be fair, I had never tasted BA Abraxas before (despite many attempts), nor had I ever even seen a bottle of Side Project in person (I can now confirm that they’re real, not a myth) so I only feel a tiny bit of good old Irish Catholic guilt for having gotten to taste them.
However, (here comes the tiny guilt monster) it was a shame that you basically had to have the IMBIBE early entry ticket to sample these crowd favorites on Friday night. They were supposedly gone by 6:30, leaving many people without a sample to speak of.
Anywhoozles, after engulfing my sample Barrel-Aged Abraxas and Side Project’s Raspe and La Fosse, I paused to look at the ginormous Goose Island line and decided to break free from the IMBIBE crowd for a moment. As delightful as they are, I’d had the pleasure of tasting many of the Bourbon County varieties in years past, so I decided to first go for some other new beers (to me) that made me giggle with excitement when I saw them listed on the program. Bell’s Black Note–no line. Haymarket’s Clare’s Thirsty Ale–no line! EVERY BEER except the Bourbon County family kiosk and the quickly draining Abraxas–NO LINE! I WAS THE QUEEN OF FOBAB!
Top to bottom/Left to right: Waiting in line to enter, BA Abraxas clinking, Goose Island’s corner kiosk, Pour Boys Homebrew Club in the house, and cheers to FoBAB 2014.
For me, FoBAB was like the best of every beer fest rolled into one. Being surrounded by beers of legendary quality, all available in the same space was truly magical, and at times, even overwhelming. While it did get immensely crowded and difficult to navigate within the inner aisles (Like a salmon fighting my way up a beer stream, “I just. Excuse me. Wanna taste. I’m sorry. Of Yuzu. I’m trapped!”)
So what did I learn at my first FoBAB?
• Next time I will up my pen numbers to 5, and I will not enter the room carrying all of them.
• I’ll probably also bring a small notebook because there’s little room in the pamphlet for note-taking. And I lost that thing anyway.
• As a fairly seasoned fest-goer, I already knew to dump the rest of my sample and to drink as much water as possible. This was one billion–no–one trillion times more important as every beer there was pretty high-octane. But FoBAB taught me that having a few stouts, then switching to sours/bretts was the most fabulous palate relief I have ever experienced. I’ll do that again fo’ sho.
• Would I purchase the IMBIBE early entry again? Absolutely I would. Once that first frenzied stampede subsided, the overpowering sense of joyous socialization that filled the room during that first hour was just perfect. Not that the feeling didn’t remain–I just became part-salmon later, remember?
My Top 5 Favorites:
5) Proprieter’s Bourbon County Brand Stout (Goose Island)
This beer tasted like a subtly sweet melted chocolate, followed by a balance of roasted cocoa and cinnamon.
4) Yuzu Er’d Og Begravet (Berliner Weissbeir by Off Color Brewing)
Light pepper and spicy herbal aroma with juicy grapefruit and lemon flavors–so refreshing, with many layers.
3) Clare’s Thirsty Ale (Stout by Haymarket)
A sticky sweet, rich raspberry flavor balanced with chocolate, roastey coffee hints and a medium-full mouthfeel.
2) Imperial Breakfast Magpie (Mead by New Day Craft)
This mead took me completely by surprise. It was a beautiful, rich red wine color with strong coffee nose, and a powerful dark blackberry/raspberry/honey flavor.
1) Vainglorious (Belgian Stout by Goose Island)
Ruby red with a dark fruit aroma and a full-bodied, juicy blackberry taste, balanced by a roasted coffee backbone.
FoBAB 2014 was every bit as magical as I’d imagined it would be. I got to hang out (and dance) with some really awesome people.
One week later, I feel like I’ve finally passed through the period of mild post-FoBAB depression that can only come from anticipating something for many months, and moved into a good place of fond memories. I am (so!) looking forward to next year’s fest.
p.s. I’m just wondering, is there any way that the ICBG can make the FoBAB playlist publicly available on Spotify? I know I’m not alone on this one…
The Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beers (FoBAB) is a celebration of all beers that have come in contact with wood at some point during their formation. FoBAB is put on each year in Chicago, IL by the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild (ICBG).