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Drink Fri Jun 11 2010

A Festival of Fruity Beers

The name Beer Hoptacular conjures a carnival of beer -- an apt description of the two-day event that drew several thousand craft brew lovers to the Aragon Ballroom in Uptown last Friday and Saturday. Breweries included local legend Goose Island and new(er) kid on the block Half Acre, as well as Sam Adams, New Belgium, Bell's and 31 others sampling more than 100 beers. The mood was festive, but a crowd of beer-swilling frat boys this was not: As Flossmoor Station's head brewer Bryan Shimkos put it, the crowd was a nice blend of savvy beer drinkers and home brewers, and people who wanted to try more unusual beers "without having to pay $8 a bottle and then not like it."

I'm the kind of person who handles hard liquor better than beer, so I knew I'd need a strategy to guide my evening, one that didn't include sampling every beer. I decided to focus on fruit-forward beers, skipping roasty stouts and hoppy IPAs in favor of beers that hinted at summer's farmers market bounty.

I started at Sam Adams, which was sampling several beers, some distributed in Chicago and some not. The Imperial White hits you with a big, bold candied papaya and citrus scent up front, and a spicier finish. This was probably my second favorite beer of the evening and would pair nicely with a grilled fish sandwich and roasted red pepper salad.

If you're going to focus on fruity beers, you can't skip the cider booth. Crispin Cider served up two of its "artisanal reserves," and while I'm not usually a big cider fan, I enjoyed both: Honey Crisp, which my husband loved; and The Saint, a cider fermented with Belgian Trappist beer yeasts, which was my pick. The beer yeasts add a nice complexity, while the maple syrup finish helps round out the crisp apple flavors.

Bell's Oarsmen was the most refreshing beer I drank at Hoptacular. It's a fantastic summer beer: smooth, not too hoppy, with a lemony finish. This is the kind of beer a lightweight like myself can get used to. If you're a beer geek, you'd call this a classic session beer -- and the perfect setting for your session would be the beach!

I tried Destihl's stout at Stout Fest this year, so I was excited that this Bloomington-Normal, Ill., brewery was offering a Raspberry Wheat last weekend. Brewed with 125 pounds of raspberries, you definitely get a nice berry tang; but at 8 percent alcohol, this is no beer to trifle with (get it ... berries ... trifle ... forget it.) Good news for Destihl fans: They're planning to expand to Burr Ridge and Champaign-Urbana by year's end.

Now for my favorite beers: New Belgium knocked it out of the park. The official Hoptacular program suggested the Fort Collins, Co., brewing company, known for its core brands 1554 and Fat Tire, would be sampling four beers: Fat Tire, Ranger IPA, Skinny Dip and Trippel. And it's true, those beers were on tap. But a friendly fella was also dipping into a stash of bottled beers tucked into the corner of the booth, and these, my friends, these were the beers that stole the show for this gal.

The Lips of Faith series are New Belgium's limited edition, tiny batch beers brewed for brewery celebrations and milestones. There are quite a few beers in the series, but I tasted Eric's Ale and La Folie.

Eric's Ale is a sour beer aged in oak and refermented with peach juice. The result is a very fruity nose, a sour taste up front, and a spicy, round finish with hints of vanilla. Though it was not cloyingly sweet, I'd liken it to a dessert wine: meant to be sipped and savored, definitely not a session beer.

La Folie was hands down my favorite beer at the festival. It's a sour brown ale with a beautiful reddish hue and a taste to match -- like tart strawberries with a dry, slightly grassy finish. This beer is made for toasting your best friend's engagement or celebrating the birth of a rosy-cheeked baby girl. La Folie was only bottled once this year -- a truly special beer that you better believe I would hoard if I could find it in Chicago.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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Editor: Robyn Nisi, rn@gapersblock.com
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