That dudes love to talk about beer almost as much as drink it is a worn-out cliché that fuels many a beer commercial. Chicago women, it would appear, are just as big into the ever-expanding craft beer culture as their counterparts. Or least just as likely to mount a posse to investigate a beerstravaganza like the now annual Hoptacular! at the Aragon. With two tasting sessions, more than a 100 beers available and a smattering of food and entertainment, all under one spectacular roof, the potential for a good time and a buzz from the potent brews drew well. Both tasting sessions were sold out at $35 per advance ticket, and the massive ballroom was as full as it could comfortably be. One might expect some frustratingly long lines for sample brews, but I found it easy to navigate my way to an open tap and never wanted for another sample for too long. Dozens of brewers each had several beers for tasting—a few bigger boys such as Blue Moon, Modelo/Victoria, Boston Beer Co. (Samuel Adams) and Sierra Nevada lined up against crafts known and obscure. Overall the feeling was less about promo than unbridled enthusiasm, as craft beer culture is still far from sleek and more often, like those Gumballhead beer labels, just plain tie-dyed goofy as hell. Homebrewing kit sellers had their own space, and there were moments when I felt like I was crashing a slightly hippy-ish singles mixer—caught in the flirtatious crossfire of not-yet-professional young people six sample tastings into their evening. But that's what beer is good for, right? Bringing people together to, you know, talk about hops and yeast.
As for samples, I tried to hit stands I knew little about and try things I haven't had before. Why on earth would I stand in line for Two Brothers when I've had each of their beers at least nine times? I tried many more beers—and finally tried that DarkMatter coffee from Star Lounge, but I didn't drink enough brews to truly judge a best-in-show. And I'll have to try the likes of Destihl beers from Normal, Illinois, on my own time, since that booth was bone dry by the time I got to it. The highlights: Argus California Steam (a California Common Style ale), Fox Barrel Pear (from the godlike Crispin Cider Co.—they can do no wrong in my book), New Belgium Lips of Faith Super Cru (a fruity Belgian ale unlisted on the program that was like nothing else I sampled). Look at it as an aficianado gathering or just a social event, there are lots of reasons the Hoptacular sells out.