Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beers

FOBAB 2017: 15 Superlatives from the 15th Annual Fest of Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beers

From November 11-12th, 2017 FoBAB (the Festival of Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer) celebrated its 15th year here in Chicago at the UIC Forum. I was able to attend the early admission Saturday session on November 12th from 12-5pm with a magical media pass in hand … er ’round neck.

Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beers

15 years of FoBAB have come and gone, but as this was my fourth time attending – my own “Senior Year,” if you will – I’ve come up with 15 Senior Superlatives to commemorate my 2017 FoBAB experience. Please enjoy the following picks for most the most memorable personalities of FoBAB 2017:

1. Life of the Party: Revolution Brewing

Going into FoBAB weekend, there was already a general local buzz surrounding Rev’s recent move to all canned offerings, including all of their barrel aged beers. The first beer I sampled at FoBAB was VSOJ (Very Special Old Straight Jacket), and while I typically don’t love barleywines, this one (which took took Bronze in the Barleywine category) blew me away and just got me generally pumped for the fest.

Revolution also hosted their “Revolution Oasis” again in the northwest corner of the festival hall where fest-goers could play games, sit in overstuffed leather chairs, and drink low-ABV cans of Rev beer. While I did not do any of these things, (ha, whoops!) I appreciated their floor presence and general good vibey-ness that started to spread from that corner, permeating the entire festival.

2. Most Likely to Have Kids First: Coconuts

Coconuts cohabited in barrels with so many beers at this year’s festival, and a lot of people noticed. I won’t try to name them all, but Guys Drinking Beer did a nice job of starting the coconut beer list by naming twelve just from the Specialty Strong Porter and Stout category alone. Coconuts, I love you, but you may want to slow your roll.

3. Biggest Flirt: Raspberries

I was not mad about this one, and I flirted back. Some old favorites – Clare’s Thirsty Ale (Haymarket) and BA Dark Secret with Raspberries (BrickStone Brewery) – plus Raspberry Vlad (Hailstorm Brewingwere there batting their big beautiful berry-filled eyelashes at me ( … what? they were …), but Jester King’s Atrial Rubicite (which took Silver in Wild Beer/Sours with Fruit) and Arclight Brewing Company’s Soursmith Black Raspberry both stood out as particularly delicious raspberry-bombs and took two of my Honorable Mention spots of the fest.

4. Most Likely to Be Sorted Into House Slytherin: Scotch Barrels

As everyone knows, the House of Slytherin is known for producing many dark wizards. While not evil in and of itself, the Scotch barrel can be prideful, craves attention, and loves to take charge, just like a Slytherin … and boy, did it. Don’t get me wrong –  I like a nice earthy, smokey mouthful of fresh Scottish moor sometimes, but this was no Laphroig we were dealing with here.

Scotch Parabola by Firestone Walker and Goose Island‘s Islay Stout were both completely taken over by the power of their Scotch barrels, leaving no trace of malt, roast, or anything resembling delicious beer in their wake. For the record, I feel no remorse in saying this because these breweries both make a ton of wonderfully delicious and drinkable beers, all of which do not involve scotch barrels. Avada Kadavra, scotch-BA beers!

5. Most Artistic: X01 by Dovetail

I’m a sucker for creativity, and this “Rauch Flanders” was one of the most unique beers I tasted. Husky, smokey malt aroma and flavor floated on top of puckeringly sour red wine, dried cherry, and raisin. Smokey AND sour, this beer was pretty polarizing and I heard a lot of mixed opinions about it, but that made it all the more interesting to me, and opened my eyes to what can be done with American Wild ales.

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6. Biggest Prankster/Class Clown: Metropolitan Brewing

On the surface, Metropolitan was just there to shoot spitballs and mess around with John Laffler of Off Color, with beers named Laffler Hates This Beer and On Color, but upon further examination it was clear they had submitted some seriously good beers. (Who am I kidding, we all knew they’d been paying attention all this time in beer class instead of writing notes and clever beer names.) Among the most respected breweries in Chicago, Metro brought their A-game, serving up clean, refreshing beers in a sea of adjunct stouts. I especially enjoyed On Color‘s lime and juniper character that reminded me of a light and fruity gin beverage.

7. Most Likely to Cure A Disease: Proprietor’s Bourbon CountyBrand Stout (2017) by Goose Island Beer Company

This beer has everything you need to cure the common cold – cassia bark (basically cinnamon), banana puree, and bourbon, and while it might sound like a crazy idea, it really worked. Not only did this curious concoction taste delicious, I felt a lot better after I drank it. Plus, it’s widely distributed across the country now, so the chances of people getting their hands on this magical ill-curing beverage are quite high. The anecdote is out there, so snag some if you can.

8. Most Likely to Open a Yoga StudioGin Barrel Farmhouse by Smylie Brothers Brewing Co.

This was my absolute favorite beer of the fest, and not just because it offered my palate some much-needed respite from the never-ending barrage of bourbon and adjunct stouts. I performed a child’s pose into my glass of this super-refreshing beverage with citrus fruitiness and perfectly traditional saison pepper and spice notes. This beer stood out as well-crafted, disciplined, and I could meditate over a glass or two all day.

9. Best Shoulder To Cry On: Here Be Monsters with Vanilla by Cerebral Brewing

This beer was my second favorite beer of the fest; it felt like a hug in a glass and told me softly that everything was going to be OK. But seriously, this stout stood out to me as not too sweet and tasted of toasted marshmallow with beautiful vanilla notes from being “conditioned on Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans,” and the 16 months in bourbon barrels only seemed to enhance these qualities. I want this beer to be my lifelong best friend to whom I can whisper all my troubles.

10. Talks the Least, But Says the Most Barrel Series 18 by Blackberry Farm Brewery

This beer was the best beer that I had in the sour room, my third favorite of the fest, and took Silver in Wild/Brett Beer, but it managed to fly under the fest radar. Never a line for this delicious red wine barrel aged Brett beer, it was clean, juicy and fruity, refreshing, and original.

Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beers

11. Most Likely to Be The Next Existential Film That Wins the Oscar: Things! by Upstream Brewing Company

Even though almost no one at the Saturday early session was drinking this beer until it was announced as critically acclaimed (same story goes for its variant with cucumber and lime) this beer won Gold in the Wild Beer (Acidic) Sours category, and I absolutely agreed … once I knew it won. (Yep, I’m totally guilty, too.) An American representation of a highly revered traditional Belgian style that lived up to its predecessors, this beer was “blended from three different french oak barrels, each with their own unique culture” to create a delicately refreshing, complex, and citrus-fruity beer.

12. Most Likely to Invent an Alternative Form of Clean Energy: Mikerphone Brewing, for Softly Spoken Lies

Upon reading the description for what I assumed would be a total disaster, I knew I had to try it out of pure morbid curiosity. But I was totally wrong. This double milk stout with cinnamon, cocoa nibs, and vanilla was aged in Fernet barrels, giving the base beer a lovely hint of menthol and mint which went well with the chocolatey beer. Buy this stock immediately, and I am sorry I ever doubted you, Mike.

13. Most likely to work for the CIA: Chickow! Heaven Hill Barrel by Listermann Brewing Company/Triple Digit Brewing

Another honorable mention for me, this beer really snuck up and wowed me with its smoothness and balance. This beer’s extreme deliciousness was also a surprise, considering that the Brandy Barrel version of this same beer won gold in Specialty/Experimental category; I preferred the Heaven Hill barrel when tasting the two version side by side. Warming with notes of plum, raisin, and caramel, not only was this an unexpectedly delicious offering, I would have told it anything it wanted to know if I consumed any more of its 10% goodness.

14. Most Likely To Turn Island-Stranded Boys Into Savages, Ultimately Resulting In the Boulder-Squishing Death of the Chubbiest One For Symbolic Reasons: BA Karma by More Brewing

BA Karma was everyone’s favorite, including the judges – this beer won Best in Show, and Gold in the Specialty Strong/Porter Stout, so not surprisingly it ran out in the first 30 minutes of the Saturday session after gaining a lot of social media hype from Friday night’s session. It was deliciously dessert-like, and I wouldn’t ever refuse a taste of this creative expression of beer … I hope that no one gets squished over a beer, ever. 

15. Most Likely To Become An Astronaut, Land On and Colonize Mars, Become the First Black, Female President of The New United States and Win The Nobel Peace Prize: The macaroni and cheese served in the Brewer/Media Lounge

OK, I know that this was not a universally accessible experience for every attendee, but – news flash – they serve food in the media & brewer’s lounge, and “that mac and cheese was the best food I have ever had in my life,” blurted an unidentified female beer blogger who was drungry, aka, drunk-hungry. Many, many thanks to the Illinois Craft Brewer’s Guild for arranging the arrival of this gastric miraculum created (and patiently served to drunk people) by Bub City BBQ.

Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beers

And Finally …

If you don’t have a way to access to that secret and wonderful food room, it’s never a bad idea to take a short mid-fest break. Just allow yourself to be swallowed by one of those giant chairs at the Revolution Oasis and watch the fest go by for 10 minutes. Drink some water. Get on Grubhub and order some Bub City mac & cheese straight to that chair. You’ll be better for it the next day, and you might remember a few more of the beers you try.

My Top Three Beers
1: Gin Barrel Farmhouse by Smylie Brothers
2: Here Be Monsters with Vanilla by Cerebral
3: Barrel Series 18 by Blackberry Farm Brewery
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Honorable Mentions
1. Atrial Rubicite by Jester King
2. Chickow! Heaven Hill BA by Listermann/Triple Digit
3. Soursmith Black Raspberry by Arclight Brewing Company
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You can view all the official list of 2017 winners (and now, all past years!) at FoBAB.com.

Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beers
Cheers, and thanks for reading!

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2 thoughts on “FOBAB 2017: 15 Superlatives from the 15th Annual Fest of Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beers

  1. All due respect, I feel you’re doing Scotch Whisky (and its barrels) a disservice by equating all Scotch to Islay peat-bombs. There’s a huge variety of character across the segment, but it seems that many brewers just go for the Ardbeg/Laphroaig peaty phenolics. It may be a barrel availability issue, in which case fair enough, but there’s a number of ‘big’ beer styles that would do well in any sort of former Sherry barrel that had then had Scotch aged in it (PX sherry especially, IMO) . The Christmas cake, chocolatey nutty notes of a sherried Scotch would complement an Old Ale or a Quad wonderfully. If you can get hold of it, try a Paradox Compass Box or Paradox Isle of Arran by BrewDog to see how imperial stout does in non-smoky Scotch barrels 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jon, thanks for your comments! Unfortunately there was a very small segment (only three beers) represented at FoBAB that used Scotch barrels, and all three were overtaken by the barrel in a very peaty, smokey way that didn’t compliment or uplift the beer involved, IMO. However, I would love to branch out and try some of BrewDog’s offerings – I will definitely keep my mind open and my eyes peeled. This is the first year (of which I’m aware) that Scotch BA beers were even entered at FoBAB, so it’s very possible that it’s either lack of experience or lack of barrel availability in the US, as you suggest. Thanks for reading, and cheers! 😀

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