By Meredith Heil
Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout
Imperial Stout, 14.5%
For the past 15 years, OG Chicago craftmasters Goose Island has been marinating their wickedly intoxicating Imperial Stout in a variety of spent bourbon barrels. This year’s batch hung out on a combo of Heaven Hill, Buffalo Trace, and Wild Turkey, resulting in a velvety brew laced with luscious layers of coffee, dark chocolate, and stone fruit. What can we say? You don’t mess with the G.O.A.T.
Pipeworks Brewing Company Ninja Vs. Unicorn
Double IPA, 8%
A devilishly dank bouquet of Citra, Simcoe, and piney Columbus hops lurk beneath the surface of this potent Chicago-born double IPA’s eye-catching can. Crack one open and the room is instantly seeped in orange blossoms, resin, and fresh peaches delivered to the senses on a silky, surprisingly light caramel malt-fueled body.
Mikerphone Brewing Mikerphone Check 1, 2
New England IPA, 8%
Milwaukee native Mike Pallen, who cut his teeth at area mainstays Pipeworks and 18th Street Brewery, is the music-obsessed genius behind this suburban Chicago superstar. This cloudy, ridiculously juicy banger, first brewed in 2017, beguiles curious quaffers with its creamy, double dry-hopped depths, explosive blood orange and tropical fruit flavor, kick of bitter spice, and tantalizing golden tangerine hue. Now that calls for a mic drop.
3 Floyds Brewing Co. Marshmallow Handjee
Russian Imperial Stout, 15%
Honestly, if it weren’t so unfair to the other Hoosier contenders, we’d devote this entire list to these fearlessly independent rabble rousers. But alas, rules are rules, and thus Marshmallow Handjee, a bourbon barrel-aged big boy stout dosed with earthy vanilla beans, takes the crown. Ranked number two in the world by BeerAdvocate with a gleamingly perfect score of 100, this renowned white whale begins life as the brewery’s already stellar Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout before getting the tropical treatment with a heavy hit of bittersweet and epically aromatic vanilla.
Upland Brewing Company Pawpaw
Barrel-aged Fruited Sour Ale, 6.4 - 6.7%
The cream of this pioneering favorite’s sours is Pawpaw, a beautifully tart tribute to the state’s esteemed native fruit. The golden sour ale is rested on freshly harvested Indiana-grown pawpaw fruit, evoking a magic carpet ride of lush tropical fruit, green apple, dried grass, and lively lactic acid-induced tang. And at 6% to 7% ABV depending on the vintage, it hides a surprisingly boozy punch beneath all that calming smoothness.
Sun King Brewing Company Velvet Fog
Belgian Quad, 11.6%
The Velvet Fog, a bourbon barrel-aged Belgian-style Quadruple stands out among Sun King’s creative, genre-defying concoctions, not only because it took home the Gold at the 2012 World Beer Cup, but also because it’s plain delicious. The 11.6% elixir pours a bewitching dark purple color, ushering in a tsunami of plum and fresh juicy cherry flavors followed by a drying ebb of peppery baking spices, biscuit malt, and that distinctive Belgian yeast. Bold and belly-warming, it sure takes the sting out of yet another Colts loss.
Bell's Brewery Two Hearted Ale
American IPA, 7%
Bell’s helped to put Michigan on the craft map back in 1985 and after nearly 35 years, they’re still very much alive and kicking. Their beloved flagship IPA is a straight bill of American Centennial hops merges merrily with Bell’s fruit-forward proprietary yeast to give this crowd-pleasing IPA its signature grapefruit pith and pine needle aroma while the caramel malt solidifies each sip’s staying power.
Dark Horse Brewing Company Bourbon Barrel-aged Plead the 5th
Russian Imperial Stout, 12%
This full-bodied 12% ABV whopper from 24-year-old Michigan frontrunner Dark Horse boasts a 100% rating on BeerAdvocate. The brew bursts with roasty, malty goodness balanced out by a huge helping of earthy, herbaceous hops. Each draw engulfs the palate with vanilla, anise, toasted hazelnuts, light molasses, and a curious root beer note that lingers until the last drop. Plead the 5th’s secret lies in its complex woodsy char, a refreshing change from the many syrupy sweet chocolate bombs that tend to dominate the ever-popular category.
Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales Oro de Calabaza
Golden Ale, 8%
This Belgian-style Golden Strong Ale, rated the best Belgian Gold in the world by the New York Times in 2010, represents the very tip-top of their top-shelf fleet. Peppered with hearty noble hops and rested for several months on oak before a bout of bottle conditioning, it pours out Goldylocks yellow, with stone fruit, spice, and yeasty funk wafting up through a dense, inch-thick white foam cap. Lemon, apple cider vinegar, and peach preserves follow, along with a bit of must and worn leather to keep things grounded.