This year’s Festival of Barrel Aged Beer was the first time Tom had not had a hand in the creation of a single beer entered in the competition. But shit, after five medals for four beers in 2012 including “Best in Show,” perhaps the year off was well deserved. Not completely void of involvement, however, Tom served as a competition judge, and through the loving support of longtime friend and collaborator John Laffler, Tom’s spirit was alive and well in fermented form, appropriately titled “Tom Korder is a Jerk” (more on that medal-winning, tasty treat to come).
Still only 11 years young, the expeditious evolution of FoBAB is nothing short of incredible — especially in most recent years. Each new year brings with it a record number of brewer entrants, and tickets are swallowed up within minutes of going on sale. With so much interest, it may be safe to assume FoBAB would be similar in size and scale to the infamous Great American Beer Festival. Here’s the kicker — it’s not.
As intimate as a public festival with 1,000+ people can be, FoBAB is, in fact, just that. Held in the stunning Skyline Loft space within Chicago’s Bridgeport Art Center, the brick and beam aesthetic plays a seemingly poetic role in adding to the already humbling experience of drinking such aberrant beers. The vast majority of brewers and brewery representatives with beers entered into the competition make a point to attend, and not for the possibility of glory earned during the medal ceremony, but because this is hands down one of the best beer festivals in the U.S. With manageable capacity and easy access to both beer and bathrooms, this is more like hanging out at a bar than going to a beer fest. Kudos to Pete Crowley, Justin Maynard and Gary Valentine for continuing to build this truly remarkable experience, as well as the keen awareness to preserve its core intention from year to year (i.e. – beer first, guild fundraiser second).
True to form, this year’s fest showcased and awarded some of the industry’s most innovative thinkers. Not surprising, Off Color’s John Laffler, long time champion of Goose Island’s barrel program and renowned Twitter celebrity, took home two well-deserved silver medals — first for barrel-aged Scurry in the Classic Styles category, and my personal favorite, a gin-barrel aged Gose with cherries, named “Tom Korder is a Jerk.”
Not at all surprising to see another strong showing from Mr. Cory King. If you’re not looking for his Side Project beers yet, you should be (but good luck finding them). “Fuzzy,” a wild ale aged in chardonnay barrels with peaches, took home a well-deserved Gold in the Wild/Acidic category. And it’s my humble opinion that Saison du Fermier should have medaled as well. But whatever – it’s a damn fine beer regardless if it ever wins any hardware.
Another year with even more well-made beers and more new ideas. And although there were no Penrose beers in FoBAB 2013, you damn well better believe we’re looking forward to sending some tasty treats in 2014.