I slacked and took last week off, but we’re back this week to close out the year and look back at four of our favorite beers from 2021. All in all, I had over 700 different beers in 2021. While these may not necessarily the “best” beers or “truest” to style, for one reason or another, the follow are our four favorites, the ones that jumped out the most and have stayed with us the longest.
Revolution Brewing- VSOJ 2021 (15% ABV Barrel Aged English Barleywine)
This summer marked the return of Very Special Old Jacket or VSOJ as it is known in these parts. I would guess that this was the single most sought after beer in the Chicagoland area in 2021, with prices as high as $50/can.
While I love barrel aged stout and IPA, and have a growing fondness for well done lagers, there is little for me that can top a well-done barrel aged barelywine. Outside of VSOJ, this year I’ve been a huge fan of Riverland’s Old Fashioned Googly Eyes, More’s Roaming Elephant, and Phase 3’s Arabesque. But the one that really started it all for me was Straight Jacket, VSOJ’s little brother.
VSOJ basically takes regular Straight Jacket and through extended aging and blending, adds complexity and depth to the flavor. VSOJ is a cuvee or blend of different barleywine casks aged between two and four years. Here are my tasting notes from early October:
“At 15%, VSOJ is woozy boozy and punches you like Tyson Fury’s fist meets Deontay Wilder’s face. Down for the count. At first glance, it doesn’t look like a barley wine. More like freshly tapped syrup oozing straight from the maple tree. Viscous and pleasing visually with minimal head even when aggressively poured.
On the nose, it’s Caramello meets bread pudding meets nary trace of bourbon heat. I get huge notes of toffee, raisin, chocolate, and caramel.
The body is silky and rich. Full of toffee, dark fruits, and cocoa. Tobacco and leather. As JR Ross would say, “By Gawd!”
As it wraps, VSOJ finishes with a mouth coating French silk that dries out nicely. A fascinating ride. The Dude abides.”
And here is a spoiler alert- next Friday, January 7th, we will be on site at Revolution to taste through the individual barrels that will make up the cousin to VSOJ- VSOR (Very Special Old Ryeway). Stay tuned for more on that one.
Goose Island- Proprietor’s Bourbon County Brand Stout (12.8% Barrel Aged Imperial Stout)
Throughout this blog, we’ve featured a number of Goose Island’s Bourbon County beers. It’s pretty safe to say that year in and year out, they are some of the very best barrel aged beers released. In fact, I don’t even like ranking the lineup because that implies that the one’s that rank lowest are “bad”, while in reality, even my least favorite of the bourbon county releases is better than 90% of other beers I’ll drink through the year.
One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Bourbon County is how it relies on base beer, wood, and time to express nuanced flavors and typically eschews heavy adjuncting. The one exception to that every year is Proprietor’s Stout. Proprietor’s is a Chicago only release that started in 2013 and has featured flavors ranging from coconut to guajillo peppers and pecan to spumoni. This year’s version was designed by Emily Kosmal and was inspired by strawberry shortcake. I was absolutely blown away. Here are my tasting notes from late November:
Unbelievable. Chocolate covered strawberry nose. Malty chocolate coconut mid, doing all the mouthfeel things. Still a barrel forward beer. An amazing expression.
I’ve had a bottle or two since and am still absolutely in love with this beer. I’m typically not a fan of adjuncted stouts- they tend to be too sweet for my taste- but this beer was able to capture all of the flavors advertised while still showcasing the delightful qualities of beer, wood, and time.
Mikerphone Brewing- Well Well Well (19.78% Barrel Aged Imperial Stout)
Our office is about 12 minutes from Mikerphone and it’s one of my favorite spots to head to on a Friday afternoon. I don’t know the exact number, but it seems like Mikerphone put out over a dozen barrel aged beers in 2021 and I was fortunate to try most of them. Mikerphone’s barrel program is quickly becoming recognized as one of the best in Illinois not only because they consistently put out a great product, but also because they push the limits of what our brains can handle. If you never push the limits, how can you ever find them?
At 19,78%, Well Well Well is the limit pushing stout of all limit pushing stouts. Here are my tasting notes from early November:
Well, Well, Well is 19.78% and pours a porter brown. A little lighter than traditional imperial stouts. When swirling in the glass, you see the liquid clinging to the glass. Spider legs for days.
The nose overwhelms with char, tobacco, and molasses. Of course there is alcohol there, but from the malt, not the spirit.
The palate is dry, as you’d expect, and not overly sweet. While I was expecting more dark fruits, I was pleasantly surprised with wonderful chocolate flavor.
The bourbon character picks up on the finish, with the all wheat recipe keeping it smooth and drinkable. I get oak and some fusel alcohol.
This beer reminds me so much of Weller and chocolate mousse. A beer that makes the spirit worlds collide.
Well Well Well, once you get past the big ABV, is exactly what it sets out to be. It’s a wheat heavy malt bill aged in Weller bourbon barrels. Weller, one of my favorites, is a fully wheated bourbon and Pappy Van Winkle’s little brother. To me, wheated bourbons are much smoother, sweeter, and oak forward than spicier rye bourbons. I get so much of that bourbon in this beer its astounding. I saved a bottle specifically for NYE to welcome in the New Year with close friends.
Maplewood Brewing- Barrel Aged Cuppa Neat R.V.W (13% ABV Barrel Aged Imperial Stout)
We saved arguably the best for last. I’ve been drinking Maplewood’s BA Cuppas for the last couple of years and while I enjoy the eclectic adjuncts they use, I have long yearned for a non-adjuncted base version. It finally came a long a few weeks ago in the form of Barrel Aged Cuppa Neat R.V.W. R.V.W stands for the barrels in which it was aged- Rip Van Winkle Barrels- and neat means no adjuncts.
I managed to get a couple of 2 packs as well as a draft pour and what made this beer so special to me is I immediately understood all of the adjuncts they’d used for their other BA Cuppas over the years. Maplewood understood the base beer and then chose adjuncts to help enhance specific flavor profiles in the base. Read my tasting notes from neat and just imagine all of the different things you could pair with it:
This is a wow beer. A non-adjuncted stout, I get big notes of dark fruit and licorice on the nose. Some late cherry. Palate is marshmallow fluff and vanilla. The barrel revs up on the finish, bringing back the fruit and also leather and dark chocolate. Almost like a chocolate covered cherry. Amazing.
So that wraps our final Friday Four Pack of the Year. As we take the rest of the year off, we look forward to all the exciting things we have planned for 2022 and are grateful to live in the greatest beer city in the world. On behalf of everyone at Triplex Sales, we wish you a very happy and Safe New Year full of phenomenal beer. Cheers!