“This one is badass,” said the man behind the counter of the Goose Island station, slapping down the handle of a beer that had been infused in a barrel of Dark Matter coffee beans. The brew was dark brown, bold, and, yes, pretty badass. But it was just one of the many standout craft beers available at the multiday Beer Hoptacular festival this weekend, which made its home in Pilsen for the first time at the Lacuna Artist Loft.
The event, now in its fourth year, has previously been held in Uptown and the West Loop, and has featured over 150 craft beers from sixty-plus breweries, including nineteen in Chicago. Alcohol aside, the selection was enough to make your head spin. For forty-five dollars, attendees were given a punch-card for thirty samples—which, on the last night, every brew station happily ignored—and a generously-sized sample glass.
Varied and sundry sculptures, installations, and paintings by modern artists overlooked the jam-packed crowd of brewers and tasters, lending a slightly surreal air to the night’s events. Local restaurants like Honky Tonk BBQ set up stations as well, sometimes leading to a beautiful synergy between food and drink; when I ordered a Pumpkin Spice Latte Tamale at the Dia de Los Tamales station, the server told me to hurry over to Destihl’s table and grab their pumpkin beer. “It’s a porter, too!” he noted approvingly, a nod to what was perhaps an overabundance of IPAs at the festival.
Jim Powers, the event’s co-founder, observed that most of the patrons hopping—or, later in the night, stumbling—from station to station hailed from the North Side. Powers, a record-store owner and amateur brewer, said he was glad to introduce them to Pilsen. “I’ve been coming down here for years. It’s an interesting mix of families and interesting people and music and culture.” He thinks that the craft beer movement embraces a certain DIY entrepreneurial attitude that’s well in keeping with the spirit of a neighborhood full of artists and small businesses.
Still, Powers admitted that “a lot of people have never even been to Pilsen,” and that it took some work to convince people to come down south.
In one of the rooms, a six-foot-tall map of Chicago invited drinkers to write their favorite “Beer Memories” on a Post-It note and stick it on the location of that memorable bar. The map ended abruptly at Pilsen, but bar-hopping South Siders nevertheless crowded the bottom with shout-outs to the likes of Maria’s and Horse Thief Hollow. South Side snubs aside, it’s appropriate that a neighborhood founded by beer-loving Bohemians was on the map that night.