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Chicago rolls out a pint-sized barrel-aged beer festival

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Chicago’s Goose Island brewery is widely credited for launching the barrel-aged beer trend in the 1990s with its Bourbon County Stout line. So it should not be surprising that the city also is home to the nation’s oldest and largest event celebrating this genre, the Festival of Barrel-Aged Beer (or FoBAB), which will have its 12th annual rendition this fall.

But barrel-aged beer fans, and newcomers interested in learning, will have an early opportunity to preview the wares on Sunday. A Mini-FoBAB is being staged by Haymarket Pub and Brewery and Pete Crowley, its owner and head brewer.

Crowley -- the president of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild -- invented the idea for the larger Festival of Barrel-Aged Beers when he was working for the Chicago branch of the Rock Bottom brewpub chain.

This is a ticketed event, and there will be two three-hour sessions on Sunday, one from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and the other from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. It will take some prudence and stamina for participants to make it through a full three hours, because many (though not all) barrel-aged beers tend to be on the higher end of the alcohol scale.

Brewers’ production of barrel-aged beers, and consumers’ interest in drinking them, has been rising. Repurposing barrels that previously were used for bourbon, other spirits, and in some cases even wine to age beers adds notes of vanilla, caramel, coconut, and other essences extracted from the wood. And beermakers are adding to the adventure by flavoring these beers with ingredients such as coffee, chocolate, and fruit.

There were 85 breweries and more than 230 beers represented at last November’s full FoBAB, and Crowley said, “We turned away 20 breweries.”

While Mini-FoBAB will have a fraction of that number, it will provide an ample appetizer. Crowley said Haymarket itself will be providing samples of 10 different varieties of barrel-aged beers, including Clare’s Thirsty Ale (an imperial stout aged on raspberries) and Rosemary’s Red Devil (an imperial red aged with rosemary and burnt orange peel).

Other breweries contributing to the festival include Chicago-area fixtures such as Goose Island, Revolution, Rock Bottom Chicago, Solemn Oath, Flossmoor Station, and Pig Minds; Sun King from Indianapolis; Deschutes of Bend, Oregon; Allagash of Portland, Maine; and Great Divide of Denver.

Crowley said he realized about five or six years ago that barrel-aging had become a real thing within the craft beer community.

“I realized how crazy we were for barrel-aged beer and how much the brewers were into it,” Crowley said. “It gives the brewer the ability to do something extra with their beer. You can brew a beer and make two or three or four beers out of it, different barrels, different ingredients. You can put raspberries in one. I think that’s why they geek out on it so much.”

For more information on the Mini-FoBAB event, visit http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/634277.

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