This content was originally published by The Hop Review, a digital magazine that joined the Hop Culture family in March 2020.
This piece was written by Jack Muldowney.
UNIVERSITY VILLAGE, CHICAGO
Another chilly November weekend arrived just in time for the Festival of Wood & Barrel-Aged Beer to return for its 17th year, right here in Chicago. The annual crown jewel event of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild was held for the fifth year at the corner of Halsted and Roosevelt, at the University of Illinois-Chicago Forum.
There, anyone looking to layer on their beer jacket was able to do so at one of the country’s most lauded celebrations of all things barrel-aged beer. At this year’s FOBAB, guests were greeted by 412 beers, ciders and meads from 229 different breweries (up from 213 in 2018), split out across 12 different categories.
Twenty Nineteen saw the home state, Illinois, again winning big with 12 medals. Next in line in the medal count were Ohio (5), California (4) Florida (3) and Nebraska (3).
Some notable accolades that caught our attention were the slew of repeat winners from 2018–many of which won for the same beer entered back-to-back years. Those breweries included: Church Street Brewing’s Holy Moly (Itasca, IL), Pollyanna Brewing’s Orenda Vol. 3 (Lemont, IL), Werk Force Brewing’s Farmhouse Vultures (Plainfield, IL), MORE Brewing’s Mendhi (Villa Park, IL); Superstition Meadery (Prescott, AZ), Off Color Mousetrap, Revolution Brewing, Half Acre Beer Co. (Chicago, IL); and of course back-to-back Best in Show winners Bottle Logic Brewing (Anaheim, CA).
And as with every year at the fest, there were plenty of first-time winners–some surprising, and some surprisingly overdue. A first for us this year was our participation in podcast ABV Chicago’s inaugural FOBAB Fantasy Draft. And while we didn’t fashion the winning team, it already had us brainstorming for 2020 (and we highly recommend you rounding up a group of BA fans to host your own league)…
But for now, we’ll focus on the top picks from this year. Below are a few brews from the 412 offered that made an impression on us–as well as a list of the winners in each category.
THR’S 2019 FAVORITES
Angry Orchard (Walden, NY)
EDU – It’s funky, slightly sour, and just all around ‘odd’ (and everything we like in an old-world style cider).
Bottle Logic Brewing (Anaheim, CA)
Fundamental Observation – Last year’s Best in Show remains strong; a bourbon barrel-aged stout blend with mellow Madagascar vanilla.
Branch & Bone Artisan Ales (Dayton, OH)
Silence Mill – Just the right amount of foeder funk is balanced perfectly by the sweetness from the locally sourced honey.
Hailstorm Brewing (Tinley Park, IL)
Vlad vs. Zombie vs. Shark – We’d never guess this clocks in at a whopping 18%, as it’s incredibly well balanced and pours as thick as motor oil.
Lost Abbey (San Marcos, CA)
Peach Afternoon – Like eating peach crumble, the little touch of sweetness from the fruit counters the acidity perfectly.
MORE Brewing Co. (Villa Park, IL)
Mendhi (2019) – A medalist two years in a row, Mehndi has a massive fudgy aroma and taste, with just a hint of barrel character.
Penrose Brewing Co. (Geneva, IL)
Wild 10: Double Barrel – It’s always a surprise to us that beers as good as this wild ale can get ‘overlooked’ at FOBAB; a great beer in a sea of great beers.
Phase Three Brewing Co. (Lake Zurich, IL)
BA Curvature (Coconut, Vanilla, Cassia) – While not the most balanced beer, this suburban Chicago hype machine crafted a liquid cookie and it was fun to drink.
The Rare Barrel (Berkeley, CA)
Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset, Repeat – A welcome funky golden sour with a slightly tart blend of strawberry and pineapple… We went back for seconds.
Temperance Beer Co. (Evanston, IL)
Heaven Hill BA Might Meets Right – Year after year, this bourbon barrel-aged stout just hits the mark; perfectly balanced with ample oak character and not too much heat.
Finally, we’d like to congratulate all of the winners at 2019’s FOBAB.
2019 FESTIVAL OF WOOD
& BARREL-AGED BEER WINNERS
Best in Show
Bottle Logic Brewing (Anaheim, CA)
Arcane Rituals – Barleywine aged in a combination of bourbon, brandy, and VSOP cognac barrels
Lost Abbey (San Marcos, CA)
Peach Afternoon – French Oak-aged sour with Matsumoto peaches and peach tea
STRONG PORTER STOUT
GOLD / Wolf’s Ridge Brewing (Columbus, OH) – 3-2-1 Double Barrel Dire Wolf
SILVER / Crystal Lake Brewing Co. (Crystal Lake, IL) – Boathouse Reserve: Rye Whiskey Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout
BRONZE / MORE Brewing Co. (Villa Park, IL) – Mendhi (2019)
SPECIALTY/STRONG PORTER STOUT
GOLD / Cerebral Brewing (Denver, CO) – Vanilla Rye Here Be Monsters
SILVER / Hidden Springs Ale Work (Tampa, FL) – After Dinner Decadence
BRONZE / Half Acre Beer Co. (Chicago, IL) – Vanilla Benthic
GOLD / Bottle Logic Brewing (Anaheim, CA) – Arcane Rituals
SILVER / Haymarket Brewery & Taproom (Bridgman, MI) – Barrel Aged Bollocks
BRONZE / Kros Strain Brewing (Lavista, NE) – Barrel Aged Barleywine Vol. 2
CLASSIC BEER STYLE
GOLD / Kros Strain Brewing (Lavista, NE) – 53 Magnum
SILVER / Derive Brewing Co. (Columbus, OH) – It’s Only Dirty Paper!
BRONZE / Church Street Brewing Co. (Itasca, IL) – Holy Moly
STRONG PALE BEER
GOLD / Pollyanna Brewing Co. (Lemont, IL) – Apple Brandy Barrel Aged Orenda Volume 03
BRONZE / Great Lakes Brewing Co. (Cleveland, OH) – Barrel Aged Tripel Dog Dare
STRONG DARK BEER
GOLD / Revolution Brewing (Chicago, IL) – V.S.O.R. (Very Special Old Ryeway)
SILVER / Pollyanna Brewing Co. (Lemont, IL) – Orenda Volume 2
BRONZE / Taxman Brewing Co. (Bargersville, IN) – Bourbon Barrel Qualified
GOLD / Werk Force Brewing (Plainfield, IL) – Farmhouse Vultures
with Blackberries & Raspberries
SILVER / Revolution Brewing (Chicago, IL) – Strawberry Jacket
BRONZE / MyGrain Brewing Co. (Joliet, IL) – I Have Time
GOLD / 5 Rabbit Cervecería (Bedford Park, IL) – El Pirata
SILVER / Madtree Brewing Co. (Cincinnati, OH) – Joon: Chamomile & Elderflower
BRONZE / Monday Night Brewing (Atlanta, GA) – Tie 8 On
WILD BEER (BRETT)
GOLD / Afterthought Brewing Co. (Lombard, IL) – Afterthought Ale: Wine Barrel Fermented (Yuzu & Key Lime Juice)
SILVER / Hacienda Beer Co. (Baileys Harbor, WI) – L’hiver
BRONZE / Branch & Bone Artisan Ales (Dayton, OH) – Silence Mill
WILD BEER (SOUR)
GOLD / Mobcraft Beer (Milwaukee, WI) – Sour Golden Ale
SILVER / Off Color Brewing – Mousetrap (Chicago, IL) – Procatsination
BRONZE / Upstream Brewing Co. (Omaha, NE) – Things!
WILD BEER (SOUR with FRUIT)
GOLD / Lost Abbey (San Marcos, CA) – Peach Afternoon
SILVER / Forager Brewery (Rochester, MN) – Dollar Menu Pie
BRONZE / Coppertail Brewing Co. (Tampa, FL) – Creature De Mer Rouge
GOLD / Misbeehavin’ Meads (Valparaiso, IN) – BBA Caramel Apple Cider
SILVER / Garagiste Meadery (Tampa, FL) – Cognac Barrel Aged Black Widow
BRONZE / Superstition Meadery (Prescott, AZ) – Grand Cru Berry
Photography by Matt Geerling.