The area within the borders that define Chicago is packed with breweries. However, it wasn’t always that way. Chicago was a bit of a brewing desert until Goose Island arrived barely three decades ago. While Goose Island (now a product of Anheuser-Busch) placed the craft beer revolution tinder it would still be another decade before Three Floyds added the much-needed spark across the border in Hammond, Indiana (they’d later move to nearby Munster).
Today, according to The Hop Review‘s absolutely essential Chicago breweries list (bookmark it), there are no less than 70 breweries within the city proper (and a whopping 114 breweries in the burbs). We’ve previously documented the fact that between the dates of May 25 and July 18 no less than 12 breweries opened taprooms in Chicagoland as a whole. That’s roughly 1.3 breweries opening per week. It’s hard to keep up.
We’ve gone ahead and compiled a list of the some of the essential Chicago breweries pouring beers in tap rooms or restaurants (before someone says anything, the taproom distinction is the only reason badass breweries like Pipeworks didn’t make the cut. That will likely change once they open the new facility).
Did we miss your essential brewery? Probably, we can only drink at so many places, but let us know where and why. We’re happy to add to this list.
Burnt City Brewing
2747 N Lincoln Avenue, North Center
Burnt City Brewing is one of the newer kids on the block, but it’s actually also one of the older kids on the block. Born from the ashes of Atlas Brewing Company (for reasons), Burnt City has some of the most badass and iconic beer cans on the market. Not only are the images striking, but the names of the beers walk along the sensationalistic edge without going over. And what about the product inside? Yes, in this rare case, you should judge a beer by the container. Burnt City as a whole has a healthy 88 point score on RateBeer (although some of that is leftover from Atlas).
Try these: If it’s Fall/Winter straight for the Freight Handler Milk Stout. On a hot summer day, you’re throwing back the Balloon Boy Farmhouse Wheat Ale. If you’re at the pub see if they have the Pterodactyl Deathscream or the Barrel-Aged Duncan MacCoconuts.
Half Acre Beer Company
4257 N. Lincoln Ave., North Center
Half Acre’s Lincoln Avenue brewery features a taproom with a rotating beer selection. Check the website for daily updates. The taproom is open Tuesday through Sunday starting at 11 a.m. Tours of the brewery are available on Saturdays starting at 11 a.m. A $10 tour gets you a guided tour, three samples, and a branded pint glass.
Try these: The Daisy Cutter Pale Ale is the go to Half Acre. It’s a lucky day if you arrive and the Galactic Double Daisy Cutter is on tap. You also can’t go wrong with most of the Akari Wheat Ale variants. When available the Akari Shogun brewed with strawberries is a destination beer.
Alarmist Brewing Company
4055 W. Peterson Avenue, North Park
The Alarmist tap room is one of the few places in Chicagoland to feature an “English beer engine.” The device lets bartenders pour cask conditioned beers from a tap. The tap room is open seven days a week.
Try these: The standard Alarmist beer is the Entrenched IPA. If heavier dark beers are more your style, the Skewmageddon is one of the best Oatmeal Stouts around.
1800 W. Belle Plaine Ave., North Center
Many new craft brewers are focused on breaking the brewing mold. In many ways, that makes Dovetail stand out for their commitment to perfecting the European styles of brewing. This is where you want to go for a traditional Dunkel, lager, or hefewiezen. Tap room is open every day except Monday. Bonus: Dog-friendly.
Try these: It could and should be argued that Dovetail makes the best Hefeweizen in the Midwest. This is the ideal beer for a hot Chicago day grilling out.
Hopewell Brewing Company
2760 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Logan Square
Hopewell isn’t afraid of refining what a brewery should be. In the taproom, you won’t find the rustic tavern feel with beer barrels piled floor to ceiling. Instead, Hopewell is going for more of a clean froyo joint sort of feel. It’s a welcome change and fits well with the overall branding of the company. The interior matches what you’ll find on tap. Most of Hopewell’s beers can be described as clean and crisp. Even the seasonal Off-Black manages to feel bright in the mouth.
Try these: You can’t go wrong with the flagship First Lager. The previously mentioned Off-Black is also on the top of the list. The Clover Club, brewed with gin botanicals, is a brilliant and tasty riff on the pre-Prohibition cocktail of the same name. Of course, you can’t go wrong with the flagship Swift IPA.
Lo Rez Brewing
2101 S Carpenter St., Pilsen
If you’re tired by the hop craze than Lo Rez is your sanctuary. Lo Rez is focused on building community while using the spirit of old world craftsmanship to connect with a modern society (it’s literally in their mission statement). You’ll feel that mission the second you walk into the Pilsen taproom.
Try these: Drink the malty list. Seriously. If available be sure to get the Far North Declaration which is a collab with Minnesota’s Far North Spirits. It comes from putting the delicious Public Declaration Imperial Stout into Roknar rye whiskey barrels. The Memory Fault Scottish-Style Strong Ale is well-balanced with roasted malt and hops. If your preferences lean more on the Belgian side of the dial check out the Barrel-Aged Primary Element Saison.
Motor Row Brewing
2337 S. Michigan Ave., South Loop
You’ll find plenty of decent ales at Motor Row, but where this brewer really shines is the selection of lagers. Although they have a healthy list of flagship beers, you’re warned to not fall in love with any single tap at Motor Row as they’re constantly experimenting and changing things up.
Try these: The Fleetwood Black was on the menu and then off, but it looks like it might be back to stay (fingers crossed). This black lager is light to drink with a soft roasted flavor. The fairly recent entry, The Future is Unclear, is the one for all of you unfiltered hopheads out there.
Off Color Brewing
1460 N. Kingsbury St., Lincoln Park
Continuing the trend of distinct labeling is Off Color Brewing. The Lincoln Park brewer stands out on the shelves thanks to the illustrations on the bottles (courtesy of illustrator Nikki Jarecki). Often the labels feature a grain mouse (who, as far as we can tell, doesn’t have a name) and suggest a certain amount of playful whimsy. That matches the beers you’ll find inside the bottles the labels adorn.
Try these: One of Chicagoland’s most fascinating beers is Off Color’s Troublesome. This Gose style beer is the combination of two beers; a wheat beer and a beer fermented with lactobacillus. Those beers are blended and reinforced with salt and coriander. Viola, you have Troublesome. Off Color’s Scurvy is, surprisingly, seasonal. This dark honey ale is plenty sweet but also dry. Oh, and if you can find it the Yuzu Fierce.
1801 W. Foster Ave., Ravenswood
SCIENCE! Empirical’s slogan is “exploring the science of beer. As a consumer, you’re a participant in determining what a final beer might taste like when it finally leaves the taproom and heads to the greater market (and the Rogers Park brewpub). Can’t really go wrong as a beer guinea pig!
Try these: Is it Halloween? If so, see if they have the double IPA Kitten Brainz on tap. It’s a beer to undie for. If it’s spring go for the Double Helix Imperial IPA and in winter hit the Phase Transition Robust Porter.
Old Irving Brewing Co.
4419 W. Montrose Ave., Old Irving Park
One of the best-kept secrets of the Northwest Side, Old Irving typically focuses on traditional styles like Weisses, Saisons and Kölschs. However, every once in awhile they’ll pull a Jon Lester and throw a curveball at your taste buds. For example, as of this writing, they’re serving up the “this has no right to be so delicious” Dunes of the Cape. What is it? A Tropical Milk Stout which reflects a Piña Colada. Old Irving Brewing has essentially put to rest the argument that stouts can’t be summer beers. The brewery also deserves a special nod for how involved they are when it comes to working with the greater craft beer community. They’re constantly collaborating with brewers from around the Midwest.
Try these: Of course, treat yourself to the Dunes of the Capes. We hope they’ll bring back the Krampus Cookies double imperial stout. Of the flagship beers, check out the Guten Tag Kölsch and the 1760 Berliner Weisse.
Forbidden Root Brewing Company
1746 W. Chicago Ave., West Town
Forbidden Root specializes in “craft botanical beer using natural ingredients including herbs, spices, barks, roots, honeys, stems, seeds, nuts, vanilla bean and cacao beans.” The result is a roster of unique brews unlike many you’ll find in the Midwest. In many ways, this brewery is the bridge between beer and cocktails. Case in point, the Fernetic which, as the name implies, is a collaboration with Fernet-Branca.
Try these: It’s difficult to choose! Definitely get a taste of the previously mentioned Frenetic. You’ll probably want to spend as much time sniffing it as you do sipping it. Have a friend who’s resistant to IPAs? Snoochie Boochies is the perfect gateway IPA. If you’re craving something a bit more herbal forward see if they’re tapping the Strawberry Basil Hefeweizen.
3340 N. Kedzie Ave., Avondale
Revolution was founded in 2010 which makes it, surprisingly, one of Chicago’s oldest and longest running craft brewers (thanks in part to Goose Island being acquired). In 2016, Revolution managed to land itself at number 46 on the list of Top 50 Craft Brewing Companies. That success hasn’t impacted the product and Revolution is producing some of the finest Chicago beers that can be found in seven states.
Try these: Is it Christmas? Go get the Fistmas. Are you feeling lucky? Ask if they’ve opened a Café Deth or Very Mad Cow. Any other day of the year? Citra-Hero or Fist City.
Moody Tongue Brewery
2136 S. Peoria St., Pilsen
[/media-credit]In late 2016, Moody Tongue was the first brewery to move into Pilsen. They weres followed in 2017 by Lo Rez and ALULU. Moody Tongue is the project of former Goose Island brewmaster Jared Rouben. Rouben’s beers are fascinating because the approach is similar to how a chef approaches plating a dish. Even the garnish that provides flourish needs to compliment the flavor.
Try this: Try the Shaved Black Truffle Pilsner because you can’t ignore the star of the theatre, but the Carmelized Chocolate Churro Baltic Porter is the breakout understudy you’ll applaud at the end of the night. Want something lighter? The Steeped Emperor’s Lemon Saison is like drinking a lemon meringue pie.
This article originally appeared on UpOut.com on July 31, 2017.
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