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Beer Tue Nov 13 2012

Stop The Presses: Beer Nerds On The Rise In Chicago


There are those who enjoy drinking beer on weekends, and then there are those who enjoy sniffing, tasting, and waxing poetic about the provenance of hops in their beer on weekends. If last weekend's Beer Hoptacular is any indication, the scale of drinkers in Chicago is tipping towards the latter.

The Beer Hoptacular was every beer nerd's dream--over sixty breweries in one tent, pouring more beers than even the most determined connoisseur could taste in a night. The breweries represented a large part of the growing Midwest craft brewing industry and many local favorites, as well as some of the more interesting small breweries on the East and West coasts.

Although there was no shortage of aficionados typing tasting notes into beer apps, the Hoptacular was also a great place for newbies to learn about a variety of craft beers in one place. The main tent offered an interesting mix of standard-bearers, cult favorites, and brand-new breweries.

A recap of some of the highs and lows:

Local fans of Bells brewery were distraught when their beer disappeared from Chicago shelves in 2006, after Bells willingly pulled out of the Illinois market to protest what they called an unfair distribution deal. Today, Bells is back in Chicago a big way, and was showing off a solid selection of beers at the Hoptacular. The trusty Two Hearted Ale was balanced by a seasonal Best Brown Ale (available September to February), rich with coffee and cocoa flavors but much hoppier and more lively than many of the other seasonal brown ales at the event. Like many other brewers, Bells was also serving a Winter White, which was light but with intense clove and orange peel notes--good for when you want holiday cheer that won't put you to sleep.

In attendance were several new Chicago area breweries, including 5 Rabbit and Lake Effect Brewing. Lake Effect is so new that owners Lynn Ford and Clint Bautz have yet to quit their day jobs, and the brew system was up and running in their new Portage Park space only a few weeks ago. And yet, not only did the newcomers generate some of the most buzz, the 5 Lizard wheat ale from 5 Rabbit took home the 2012 Beer of The Year award.

"Holiday" brews were a theme at the Hoptacular, but not to very good results. Now, I don't want to hate on all seasonal brews, but I think most beer lovers would agree with me that eggnog seasoning does not a delicious beer make. The most offensive of these was the Holiday Spice Lager from Lakefront Brewery. And spiced it was--as one seasoned drinker put it, "It tastes like biting into one of the cloves in a baked ham."

Rounding out all the IPAs and porters were delicious hard ciders from Crispin and Foxbarrel. The unfiltered apple cider and 100% pear cider were so delicate and refreshing I had a hard time believing they were alcoholic. In fact, I could see drinking these for breakfast in a slightly boozy smoothie.

But why stop at beer? Outside the main tent, you could learn to pair beer with cheese and chocolate. This contributor chose to pair her beer with a Chubby Weiner hot dog, and thought that the relish perfectly complemented the malty notes in the Finch Golden Wing.

In three years, the Hoptacular has moved to bigger venues twice to keep up with demand and accommodate the sold out crowds. Where will it be held next year, the United Center?

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Sarah / November 13, 2012 4:03 PM

Having been to my fair share of craft beer events in Chicago, Hoptacular was a nice event. That said, many local organizations like the IL Brewers Guild, put on fantastic events (like FOBAB this weekend) rather than by some large production company.

I think the author should check out the history of 5 Rabbit. It would be incorrect to say that they made their debut at this year's Hoptacular.

Kathryn / November 13, 2012 4:37 PM

Sounds awesome- I'll be sure to check it out next year. / November 14, 2012 12:12 PM

I think it's only a matter of time before a group of investors come together to create Chicago's first official outdoor German-style biergarten on a sprawling 2 acre plot of land somewhere in the city. I'm talking sausage's on the grill, live folk, jazz, blues and R&B music, kids, dogs and lots of local brewerers. A solid month straight. A guy can dream can't he...?

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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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