By Rebecca Zborowski
Hundreds of flannel shirt-adorned, under-30 brew enthusiasts crammed into the Aragon ballroom last Saturday for the 2nd Annual Beer Hoptacular. The typically elegant, ornate ballroom was transformed into what looked like, at first, to be a very expensive science fair, with Chicago’s best breweries occupying a small black tableclothed space to present their best brews. Though I’m more of a liquor gal myself, I’ve been experimenting with different brews lately, trying to decide which beer could become my go-to, my signature. The Hoptacular was far too large and crowded for me to try every beer available – and after 12 or so samples my notes began to get progressively sloppier – but here are the brews that held my attention, for better or worse.
Dogfish Head “Punkin Ale”
Ah, my old nemesis, pumpkin beer. After my harrowing journey to find the perfect pumpkin brew failed to achieve success before Halloween, I wasn’t keen to try another ashy-tasting entry. Punkin has a lot in common with Blue Moon’s pumpkin as far as taste, but had a more distinct personality. I enjoyed drinking it well enough, but I still stand by my earlier conviction that this gimmicky beer isn’t worth the hefty price.
Now, I’m actually a big fan of Modelo – you can often find me at a house party with a 40 of Modelo or Tecate. Verte is a more grown-up version of the classic: a rich, dark beer that almost tastes a bit meaty. The hearty sample was filling, and I admit I felt a little buzzed after trying it (although that might be attributed to the many samples that came before it).
This was a pleasing find. The canned brew is crisp and autumnal, with subtle hints of cherry flavor. It has the familiar citrus bite that’s been so successful for Blue Moon, but retains distinctive flavor. I would recommend this for relaxing indoors on a chilly afternoon.
I was wholly unimpressed with the pale ales I tried at the Hoptacular – a lot of bland, dry, unimaginative brews – but this one wins for zaniest flavor. The bartender dashed off a laundry list of flavor notes that created the ale: orange peel, chamomile, coriander, honey and an assortment of spices. The result perked up my tastebuds yet it was soothing (perhaps because of the chamomile) and had a slightly medicinal undertone. The carmel-y finish was a nice touch.
Sam Adams was probably the biggest fish at the Hoptacular, and the cozy Cherry Chocolate Bock was
very, very, good. The taste was exactly what the name promised – it was rich and sweet, very comforting. Actually, I don’t know if it was the taste I loved so much as the mood this brew put me in; it’s the perfect holiday beer. I’m not sure the difference really matters – if a beer puts me in a festive mood, why wouldn’t I drink it?
Over the course of the event I tried some very questionable ciders, and this one had a good, simple, clean taste. The no-frills cider was refreshing and crisp, and I wasn’t bored drinking it. Definitely better than the sickly-sweet Woodchuck that is ubiquitous in local liquor stores.
Blue Moon just always brings it, doesn’t it? I’m a bit of a fangirl when it comes to classic Blue Moon (we’re not going to talk about the pumpkin beer again) and these two brews were great. Crisp, clean, refreshing, an airy touch with bold flavor. These brewers should be given a raise.
Oof. The Smuttynose website describes this as “pungent”, which it definitely is. This flat-out tasted like celery seed. Perhaps beer connoisseurs will be thrilled with Finestkind, but it actively made me thirsty.
My only note for this one was “nail polish remover”, which really says it all.
This one was a challenge: a very deep, sharp brew very closely related to a Guinness but without the finesse. I also detected what tasted like Jaeger – and may I add I hope Jaeger notes don’t become a trend in brewing.
I was so excited to taste this one (who doesn’t love blackberries and pears?), but it was sadly quite disappointing. The flavors were very weak and had no punch, no tart or sweet contrast to add interest. It was just…flaccid. The cider was kind of like a Jolly Rancher that had all of the flavor sucked out of it; sadly, it was bland.
This one wasn’t really offensive, it just delivers exactly what it promises: the taste of fresh rye bread. I personally don’t enjoy drinking rye bread, but there’s a reason Goose Island is so popular, right? I think this beer will probably have no trouble finding an audience.
Rebecca Zborowski is a student at Columbia College, and is currently one of the two hapless interns for stevedolinsky.com