The Expo is a trade event attended mostly by beer buyers for local stores, bars, and restaurants. It's a little different from most of the beer tastings that are open to the public, where brewers tend to bring their rarest and most unusual offerings; here, the beers are mostly stuff that's readily available. What makes it interesting are the new breweries: some still in the process of opening, some already established but new to Chicago. After the jump, the best of what I tried.
So new that it doesn't exactly exist yet, Ten Ninety is currently building a brewery in Chicago and expects to begin distribution sometime next month. It's named for the approximate original gravity of each of its flagship beers—1.090, which means the wort is much denser than water (1.000) and will ferment into a high-alcohol beer. Ten Ninety doesn't specify ABV for their beers, but does mention that the Imperial Witbier has an alcohol level more typical of wine than beer. That's especially dangerous since the beer doesn't taste like it's high in alcohol; it's light but complex, with a rich mouthfeel and flavors of lemon zest and orange peel. My other favorite, the imperial porter, is equally interesting: brewed with cayenne pepper and pomegranate juice, it's tart, spicy, and deeply chocolatey. Their other two flagship beers are an imperial IPA (also very good) and the Jaggery Tripel, which wasn't available at the tasting.
Saugatuck has been around for eight years, but available in Chicago for only about seven months. Most of their lineup is straightforward—IPA, blonde ale, pale ale—and excellent; I especially liked the amber ale and brown ale. The one that stood out, though, was the Serrano Pepper Ale, an amber ale brewed with locally grown green serrano peppers. The beer has a strong green pepper aroma, but while you can definitely taste the peppers it's only mildly spicy. This would be a great summer beer—and since it was released just last week, that seems to be the idea. My friend immediately started fantasizing about drinking it with jalapeno-cheddar cornbread.
This is another brewery that's existed for several years but is new to Chicago. They describe their coffee beer, Oscura, as "more 'iced coffee' than 'double-mocha-mud,'" and that's pretty much right on: the beer is a light, clear brown rather than being dark and cloudy, and it tastes almost exactly like iced coffee. Fatty Boomblatty is a yeasty, citrusy Belgian-style golden ale with aromas of ripe banana; hops and coriander balance the sweetness. My favorite, Knot Stock, is an American pale ale cold-infused with cracked black pepper. It's fairly hoppy, but there's also some malty sweetness, and the pepper complements the hops instead of intensifying them. The spicy finish is a combination of hops and pepper, not overwhelming at all. Furthermore also had the nicest-looking kegs (maybe the only kegs, come to think of it).