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I ended up aiming for new local breweries, since there were quite a few that I'd never tried before—though I also stopped by the tables of some old favorites, like Pipeworks, Half Acre, and Revolution. Below are some of my favorites from the evening.
Goose Island: The first beer I tried at Hoptacular was Gillian, a saison brewed with strawberries, white pepper, and honey. My colleague Philip Montoro has described the beer in much more detail than I could, so I'll just link to his post. But it's a really good beer that's well worth tasting if you get a chance.
Slapshot: This is a brand-new brewery in Little Village, and I was pretty impressed with both of their offerings: Honey, You're Blonde, a nicely hopped, well-balanced blonde ale; and 1926, a fruity, slightly bitter rye pale ale.
Une Anee: Another newish Chicago brewery (located in West Town), Une Anee makes Belgian-inspired beers—and, judging by its Less Is More saison and Maya Belgian IPA—makes them well The saison is citrusy and surprisingly hoppy, with a finish almost more bitter than the IPA's. That could be because the IPA has a pronounced sweetness, though.
Urban Legend: Located in Westmont, this brewery opened in August. They were previewing Wino, their Festival of Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer entry: Krispy Karl Russian imperial stout aged in a red wine barrel. It smelled toasty and tasted like dates, incredibly sweet and complex, with distinctly savory notes—I tasted balsamic vinegar and (I could swear) fish sauce, which was much more pleasant than it sounds.
New Belgium: They had their Lips of Faith coconut curry hefeweizen on tap, so I tried it again to see if I liked it better that way than from a bottle. Turns out, I do. It's not quite as intense—and, as I noted before, a tasting portion of it seems like about the right amount.
Revolution: I was surprised by how much I liked the Red Skull imperial red ale, which was fruity, rich, and nicely hopped. I kept writing down things like "full," "well-rounded," and "hits everywhere in your mouth"—it was getting late in the evening by that point, but I think that gives some idea of what the beer is like.
Illuminated Brew Works: A brewery so new that it's still in the process of being licensed (at least according to their website), they had two beers brewed in collaboration with DryHop that were some of my favorites of the evening. Death Is the Real Drag is a black pepper and cherry sour beer, and even though I'm not generally a fan of cherry flavor or sour beers, I really liked its sour cherry flavor and peppery backbone. 50% Chance of Death, a saison, tastes like cardamom and pepper.
Attendees can vote on their favorite beers, and I ended up trying only one of the winners, the Pipeworks white imperial stout (which took third place). First place went to Fallen Angel, an amber lager from Lucky Monk, and second place to Not Your Father's Root Beer, an alcoholic root beer from Small Town Brewery. I realized after the fact that I could have looked at the voting display—people drop bottle caps into clear plastic containers to vote—to see what people were enjoying, though it's possible that people voted only at the end of the evening. Maybe next year.