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This month I had the pleasure of trying something new. Actually, I had the pleasure of trying a bunch of beers I had never had before! The Illinois Craft Brewers Guild presented the 9th annual Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer, and it was like no beer fest I had ever been to before. Not only were there many taps from dozens of different breweries, but these were not just your normal, run-of-the-mill beers either. These were big, flavorful beers, which is why it was a good thing that they restricted sampling a bit.

The way the fest worked was that you get in, and they give you a book with a description of each beer and sixteen tickets. One ticket equals one sample. You could always buy more tickets, but I was not left wanting more tickets. By the time I left, I had had my fill of strong, barrel aged beers. If you want to know which beers were judged the best, you can stroll over to the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild website and check out who took the gold. I had some favorites, however, and I was happy to drink on all sides of the oak aged spectrum.

Surly Brewing Moe’s Bender: This was a very interesting beer. Surly took their oatmeal brown and infused it with even more coffee and chocolate flavor. Add in some vanilla from the oak and they have created something that drinks almost like a cafe con leche. It’s a bit sweeter, but it still got the strong roasted flavors that make me think I should be drinking it for breakfast.

Goose Island Bourbon County Stout: This is the ultimate barrel aged stout in my mind. Weighing in at 13% abv, this viscous stout explodes with caramel, cacao and booze. In fact, I like nothing better than getting a bottle and drinking it…alone. Over the few hours that it takes to finish, you really gain an appreciation for how temperature and other factors play a key role in the tasting of a beer. And another great thing about BCS is that Goose Island occasionally bottles different renditions of it; actually, at the fest they were pouring four different flavors of BCS. The first to go dry was the ghost pepper infused stout.

My favorite of the fest was actually somewhat unexpected. I thought the most drinkable beer there was a collaborative brew between Lunar of Villa Park and Blue Cat Brewpub of western Illinois called Wood Aged Black Zemon. This black saison had just enough spicing to let you know it was there, but it never got in your face. It was also black as night. I thought I would get some roast from a beer that dark, but what I actually got was a citrusy, sour, refreshing experience that I wish I could go back to.

Some of my honorable mentions at this fest are Rock Bottom’s Liquid Sun Brandy Tripel, Two Brother’s ASKEW and Destihl’s Oud Bruin.

One of the best things I found about this fest was that there were just so many different beers that I had never tried before. And I doubt I’ll be seeing many of the beers that were there very soon. This is one of the great things about fests. You get to find out what’s new and what you like. Having gone to Lunar Brewing a number of times, I was still surprised by how good I found their saison to be. Having tried Bourbon County Stout numerous times, I wasn’t surprised at all. But the fest was an educational experience; it showed me that I need to head over to more local breweries to get their specialty beers! So next time you’re driving west of the city, make a stop in Villa Park for some under appreciated Chicagoland beer.

Did you make it to the fest? Which was your favorite? Leave me a comment below and share some beer love!

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