Anyone who has ever been in or around Chicago knows that it’s a city bold in style and flavor, exceptionally vibrant, and teeming with diversity. The beer culture in Chicago is reflective of the city itself: compelling, unabashed, and progressive. As demand for craft beer continues to skyrocket, more and more Chicago breweries are entering the market and locating in just about every neighborhood around town. With this rising concentration of breweries in Chi-town, craft brewers work to differentiate themselves with experimental styles, secret hops, unusual packaging, and limited editions.
And in this competitive Chicago market, the adventurous beer lover wins. A tour through this energized and eclectic brewing community will take you back and forth across the city, wind you through charming neighborhoods, and even set you on your way to the suburbs and into Indiana.
Start on Chicago’s northwest side near Logan Square at the 60-barrel Revolution Brewing Brewery & Taproom. There isn’t a big sign out front, but the door is marked. Head upstairs to a spacious industrial-style taproom. A massive window and garage door to the brewing operation give you a look at those crafting your Anti-Hero IPA. Lean on a whiskey barrel, play a game of shuffleboard, and taste one of up to fourteen beers on tap. Try out the Citra Hero, a nice IPA fermented with English ale yeast and then dry-hopped. It’s a fine way to kick off your Chicago beercation.
Leave Revolution and head north on Kedzie to stop by and sample Johnny’s homebrew at Brew & Grow. This clean, spacious store is an ideal place to develop your next recipe. From there, head south to find Beer Temple, a very well-stocked bottle shop run by Chris Quinn, a certified cicerone. We stopped in on a recent Saturday afternoon, and it was humming with devotees looking for something unexpected. Chris was freshness dating bottles but had plenty of time to make suggestions and help us find a new favorite. We picked up an Une Année Sanguinaire Belgian-inspired red ale and a Telegraph Rhinoceros, a “rye wine” from California’s Telegraph Brewing Company.
Next, head over to Half Acre Beer Company (pictured at top) for a look at the brewery that first canned craft beer in Chicago. Sip on the popular Daisy Cutter Pale Ale and then grab some tall boys to go.
HopleafBefore going back south, stop in Andersonville to visit Michael and Louise’s Hopleaf Bar. Open since 1992, this uptown tavern has an extensive yet refined beer list, including some of the best local options and Belgians in cans. Hopleaf opens at noon 365 days a year, so you can have an enlightened beer-bar experience every day. Share the $100 bottle of St. Feuillien, a 3-liter gem that packs an 8.5 percent ABV punch. By now, you probably need some food. Order a big bowl of Prince Edward Island mussels and frites to pair with an Escape Artist from Temperance Beer Company and enjoy them out on the urban back patio.
The West Loop area is loaded with hip restaurants in every direction up and down Randolph. Haymarket Pub & Brewery is a nice place to stop in for a beer before finding a table. It’s two bars in one, with the front one a sports-focused space and the back bar the “drinking and writing theatre.” Named for the Haymarket Square riots, the brewery (and beer list) offer many nods to the memory of those lost. The Mathias Imperial IPA, named for a fallen policeman, is full of Citra hops and is a fine representation of Chicago’s fortitude.
Continue your trek south to the newly opened Lagunitas Brewing Company on the near southwest side in Douglas Park. Lagunitas chose this underdeveloped area to build six acres of brewing goodness under one roof. Brought to town via California by native Chicagoan Tony Magee, Lagunitas is now Illinois’s largest brewery and one of the few with a female brewer, Mary Nowak, at the helm.
The brewery and taproom is Lagunitas Maximus for sure. When you enter, you are greeted and set to stroll down a long industrial hallway, with the brewery on your left, listening to none other than the theme song from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. It fits for sure. There are many friendly workers strategically placed to help you get upstairs for a mason jar of Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’. During the walk to the taproom, we passed one Lagunite with about eight beers sticking out of a watermelon. He said, “Lagunitas is against fruity beers so we make beer fruit.” The beer watermelon was shared later in the taproom. Be sure to plan your visit Wednesday through Sunday because on Monday and Tuesday the taproom is closed for nonprofit events.
Your Chicago brewing experience doesn’t stop at the city limits. Find a designated driver and go to 3 Floyds Brewing Co. in Munster, Indiana. Three Floyds makes phenomenal beer, and much of it you’ll find only at the brewpub. As they say, “Now it’s time to kick back and take a break from planning world domination,” and try the Secret Sub Lair, the Deesko, or the ever-popular Zombie Dust. The food is also well above average at this small brewpub, and the artwork on the bottles, walls, and beer tenders is worth seeing. Take a few extra dollars to keep the turntable spinning and pick up some Alpha King to go. You’ll thank us later.
Back in Illinois, visit the Barley brothers at Solemn Oath Brewery in the southwest suburbs. The light industrial park taproom offers Belgian and barrel-aged SOBs (Solemn Oath Beers). Make sure you remember the rules, though, at Solemn Oath: no cash, no tips, no food, and a three-beer max. The Butterfly Flashmob Belgian IPA with 7.5 percent ABV and 90 IBUs will give you such a nice taste of pine and citrus that you won’t mind playing along.
While nearby, make a quick stop into one of the two locations for Two Brothers Brewing Company. Perhaps try the brewpub in Warrenville for a Cain and Ebel, a hopped-up red rye made with Thai palm sugar. At this point, you’ve only just scratched the surface of what Chicago has to offer. Another great option to find interesting and rare beers includes Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar in the Bridgeport neighborhood. This is an excellent representation of what Chicagoans call a “classic slashie,” a taproom and liquor store combined. And Maria’s claims to have the largest selection of craft beer in the city.
You could also stop into The Map Room. This is a local corner bar, so respect the ambiance. And take cash. They don’t take credit cards. Developed as a “traveller’s tavern,” the space is stocked with National Geographic, World Book, some cool old maps, and plenty of good beer—including 3 Floyd’s Arctic Panzer Wolf and Off Color Brewing’s Troublesome, a drinkable gose brewed with coriander and salt.
Although you still have only just begun to drink in the entirety of Chicago’s beer scene, you’re on your own from here. Wherever you decide to go on your Chicago tour, you will find a very dynamic brewing scene, creative taste sensations, and inventive brewers looking to make names for themselves. Enjoy and cheers!
PHOTO: WES KITTEN