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Recap: 9th Annual Festival of Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer

By Alexander Hough in Food on Nov 14, 2011 8:00PM

“Shart Pants: A Tribute,” we requested from one of the yellow-shirted volunteers at Saturday’s Ninth Annual Festival of Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer. He nodded and poured two ounces of the double IPA from Louisville’s Against the Grain Brewery. “How did the beer get its name?" we asked. The pourer shrugged, not even bothering to speak over the din of 2,000 attendees and blaring rock, and handed us our glass. We were asking what the beer was a tribute to, although at that point, starved as we were for background information, we would’ve settled for a good pants-shitting story.

There was, of course, plenty of first-hand knowledge. Time doesn’t exist in the windowless auditorium of the Chicago Journeyman Plumbers’ Local Union 130 in the West Loop, but we’d wager we were two hours deep into our kid-in-a-candy-store tasting spree of the 172 wood-aged brews from 62 breweries in 22 states. We had tried a lot of beers already.

But we were downright parched for any other information about the beer. The volunteers were friendly enough, but they couldn’t tell us anything about how the beer was made. In some instances, they didn’t even know where the brewery was located.

There may be a silver lining here. Overthinking can be counterproductive. Trying Shart Pants was a whim, and we were rewarded with a pleasant surprise: a caramely, oaked double IPA with a refreshing bite from a trio of hops - a desert oasis after an extended stretch of imperial stouts and barleywines that had our tongue booze-stung and our mouth feeling like we’d woken up sucking on a Werther’s. At the Festival of Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer, it’s all about the aesthetic experience.

We enjoyed ourselves more, and tried more beers, once we let ourselves be guided by our id, with some counsel from casual conversations with fellow festival-goers. The attendees, a friendly bunch of drunks if there ever was one, seemed pleased as punch, too, and for good reason. Fact is, there weren’t just a lot of beers; there were a lot of great beers. A couple of them are still vivid memories for us: Bear Republic’s Barrel-Aged Ryevalry, which lacked some of the spice typical of rye beers but had a hoppy, Belgian yeasty citric dryness that balanced a beautiful honey body; and Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout, a savory brew that sustained coffee notes from the nose through the finish so vividly I thought I had paid a mustachioed Intelligentsia barista $4 to stir one of those stupid ceramic funnels into my glass.

An embarrassment of riches. Quality and quantity. We tried - oh, dear reader, how we tried! - to taste as many beers as possible over the course of the four-hour afternoon session, and still we didn't taste even a single of the festival's 30 award winners. We would’ve traded a few of those samples for a conversation with a brewer or two, but as long as the quality of entrants remains high, and as long as admission continues to be limited to ensure that lines are short (if they exist at all), we’ll be back for next year’s tenth anniversary.

Check below for this year’s winners.

Best in Show: Goose Island - Honey B
Runner-Up: Upland Brewing - Gilgamesh

Category 1: Classic Porter/Stout (14 entries)
Gold: Flossmore Station - Pullman Brown Reserve
Silver: Revolution Brewing - Barrel Aged Black Powder Oatmeal Stout
Bronze: Revolution Brewing - Barrel Aged The General Molasses Porter

Category 2: Strong Porter/Stout (28 entries)
Gold: Goose Island Beer - Bourbon County Brand Stout
Silver: Uinta Brewing - Labyrinth
Bronze: Miller Valley Brewery - Celebration Porter

Category 3: Barleywine/Wheatwine (18 entries)

Gold: Goose Island - Honey B
Silver: Goose Island - Broadshoulders Barleywine
Bronze: Piece Brewery - Mooseknuckle

Category 4: Classic Styles, not higher than 7% ABV (15 entries)
Gold: Rock Bottom (Cincinnati) - Sarah’s Two Headed Buffalo
Silver: Finch’s Beer - Dirtier Bird
Bronze: Two Brothers Brewing - Resistance

Category 5: Strong/Double/Imperial Pale Ale (14 entries)
Gold: Rock Bottom (Chicago) - Sled Dog Imperial Red
Silver: Nebraska Brewing - Melange a Trois
Bronze: Moylan’s Brewing - Hopsickle 2011

Category 6: Strong/Double/Imperial Dark Beer (15 entries)
Gold: Upstream Brewing (Old Market) - Kurgan
Silver: Rock Bottom (Des Moines) - Barrel Reserve Illuminator Dopplebock
Bronze: Sun King Brewing - Pappy Van Muckle

Category 7: Fruit Beer (17 entries)
Gold: Three Floyds Brewing - Kinder Beer
Silver: Rock Bottom (Chicago) - Fallen Angel Abbey Ale
Bronze: Haymarket Pub and Brewery - Clare’s Thirsty Ale

Category 8: Experimental Beer (23 entries)
Gold: Goose Island - XOCOLATL
Silver: Flossmoor Station - Dark Matter Imperial Stout
Bronze: Haymarket Pub and Brewery - Steve It to Bieber

Category 9: Wild Beer (18 entries)
Gold: Upland Brewing - Gilgamesh
Silver: Lagunitas Brewing - Chocolate Raspberry Brett Bourbon Barrel Aged
Bronze: Leelanau Brewing - Good Harbor Golden

Category 10: Wild Acidic Beer (18 entries)
Gold: Port Brewing/The Lost Abbey - Veritas 2010
Silver: Destihl (Normal) - St. Dekkera Reserve Flanders/Oud Bruin
Bronze: Bear Republic Brewing - Tartare