One Lake Brewing is located at 1 Lake St. in Oak Park. | Melissa Elsmo

No matter if you order a pint of Oscar Milde, Austin Lager, or Lando, attention to detail and respect for ingredients are at the heart of every beer brewed and served at One Lake Brewing, 1 Lake St., Oak Park. But January is the ideal time to settle in with a friend to experience the evolution of One Lake’s imperial stout — Been Czar, Done That.

Been Czar, Done That is a rich, full bodied, high-alcohol beer with complex notes of coffee and chocolate. Unlike One Lake beers that take 10 days to ferment, the imperial stout spends a whopping 6 months under cold fermentation before making its way to the tap. The recipe is inherently complicated and makes use of seven grains that are milled on-site. Shawn Stevens, lead brewer and co-owner of One Lake, is especially proud his brewery mills the grains used in all their beers. Bringing in whole grains allows One Lake to brew in ways that closely mirror the style and origin of a variety of beers from around the globe.

“I don’t know of many small breweries that are milling their own grains, but it makes a big difference in our beers,” said Stevens.

One Lake Brewing uses barrels from Quincy Street Distillery to age their imperial stout, Been Czar, Done That. | Melissa Elsmo

One Lake’s “roasty-toasty” Been Czar, Done That boasts a 9.8% abv — imperial stouts were historically brewed in London and sent to Baltic countries and Russia. The increased alcohol content served as a preservative in the exported ales. Though the dark beer dates back as far as the 18th century, it is a present-day standout at the Oak Park brewery.

True stout connoisseurs, however, clamor for One Lake’s  barrel reserve editions of this bold brew. Barrel aging beer elevates brewing to an artistic level and both time and patience are key ingredients to realizing the full potential of this imperial stout.

Wooden barrels can only be used once during the bourbon making process because aging dilutes the charring on the interior of the barrel that is essential to developing proper flavor in whiskey and bourbon. The barrels are often recycled for aging beer, but that trend is relatively new in the history of brewing. The first barrel aged beer was produced at Goose Island in Chicago during the early nineties and has been gaining in popularity ever since.

Stevens transfers 55-gallons of finished Been Czar, Done That into two repurposed barrels sourced from Quincy Street Distillery, 39 E. Quincy St, Riverside. Half the stout ages in a bourbon barrel while the rest matures in a rye barrel for a full year before being bottled for purchase.

“It’s hard to wait 18 months to see if its good, but it is worth it,” said Stevens. “These are fire pit beers — they are for going through slow with the people you love.”

Shawn Stevens, lead brewer and co-owner of One Lake Brewing, discusses the beer making process during a behind the scenes tour of One Lake Brewing. | Melissa Elsmo

Each recycled Quincy Street barrel imparts a unique flavor to the imperial stout and Steven’s decision to age in two different barrels illustrates the impact of the actual barrel on the beer. The beer takes on woody notes and whiskey or rye flavor profiles, but the extended aging also increases the alcohol content to 10.4% and imparts noticeable vanilla notes. Air exposure during the 12-month barrel aging process also imparts caramel and dried fruit flavors to the finished product. The flavor of a barrel aged beer, like red wines, will continue to evolve over time after being bottled.

Been Czar, Done That barrel flights are currently on the menu at One Lake Brewing Company. The 2022 release of the stout is served alongside tastings of the recently opened 2021 bourbon and rye editions. Each of the aged beers are complex and boozy and unique unto themselves.

The barrel aged edition of Been Czar, Done That has also been entered into Illinois Craft Beer Association’s Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer. One Lake joins over 160 breweries from across the country which have submitted their “rarest, most exclusive wood and barrel-aged beer” for judgment. Stevens, however, is clear barrel aging at One Lake is a passion project and he is eager for people to come in and taste what time in a barrel can do. Cheers!

More on One Lake:

  • One Lake’s 2022 imperial stout has already been put in barrels to be opened in 2023.
  • Tastings of Quincy Street Distillery’s American whiskeys are also available by the flight at One Lake.
  • The 2021-barrel aged editions of Been Czar, Done That are available now and are expected to sell out by the end of the month.

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