The birthplace of the craft beer revolution back in the 1980s, the US is now home to over 4,000 breweries – with more opening every week. Chicago isn’t unique, then, in its ardent suds appreciation. But even against such a craft beer-loving landscape, the Windy City is a standout. It offers up dozens of taprooms to swing by for a flight (or a growler fill). Its breweries turn out rare beers that people travel from all over to sample. And then there’s the 7th annual Chicago Beer Week, held this year from 19-29 May. Whether you plan on attending some of the festival’s 300+ events, or are content simply going on a crawl of the best microbreweries in Chicago, these are the city’s unmissable stops for beer geeks.
Half Acre Beer Company
One of the very brightest stars in the Chicago craft beer galaxy, Half Acre now brews across two locations – its original outpost on Lincoln Avenue and its new space on Balmoral Avenue – in order to keep up with ever-increasing demand. If you only try one of Half Acre’s brews, make it their flagship Daisy Cutter: a dank and juicy West Coast-style pale ale. But then again, why have only one? Swing by the Lincoln Ave taproom, where a good 14 brews are available on draught.
Off Color Brewing
One of Chicago’s most popular brewers, Off Color has plenty of local cred. For starters, founders John Laffler and Dave Bleitner met while working at Metropolitan Brewing, before logging hours at Goose Island and Two Brothers, respectively. Now, in their own Logan Square-based brewery, they turn out all kinds of exciting brews, from Scurry, a German-style dark honey ale, to Apex Predator, a brightly flavoured farmhouse ale. Though Off Color doesn’t (yet) have a taproom, it offers Saturday brewery tours and hosts a bottle shop, where visitors can pick up beers fresh off the bottling line.
Also based in Logan Square (and founded by Josh Deth – another Goose Island alum), Revolution Brewing got started only six years ago, but already bears the title of Illinois’s largest craft brewery. The brewers produce an impressive 50-odd different beers each year, meaning that visitors to the taproom won’t have a shortage of styles to try. If you’re unsure of where to start, try the Anti-Hero IPA: described by the brewery as “an American hop assault,” it certainly isn’t for the timid.
5 Rabbit Cerveceria
As its name suggests, 5 Rabbit Cerveceria serves up craft brews with a distinctly Latin American sensibility – a perfect fit for Chicago, given the city’s rich Latino heritage and community. The results are unlike anything else you can find in town, including an imperial stout made with cacao and spices, a wheat beer infused with guava, and a double wheat that features hibiscus and ginger. To really get the full experience, show up for Taco Thursdays, when tacos al pastor and tacos de bistek are served alongside the brewery’s pints.
Is it a coincidence that Solemn Oath was co-founded by one John Barley? Or was it destined from birth? Either way, we’re happy that this brewery came about. Located in Naperville, in Chicago’s western suburbs, these guys have quickly distinguished themselves with their range of Belgian-inspired and barrel-aged brews (though they also experiment with other styles, including a German kölsch-style ale and the delightfully named Snaggletooth Bandana, an American IPA).
Two Brothers Brewing Company
Based in Warrenville, Illinois, Two Brothers is one of the Chicago craft beer scene’s OGs: the brewery was founded all the way back in 1996, by brothers Jim and Jason Ebel. After spending time living in Europe, the two were inspired by the traditional styles they found there. Today, many of their beers still reflect that continental heritage, including Domaine DuPage – a French country ale – and Ebel’s Weiss, a German-style hefeweizen.
3 Floyds Brewing Co.
All right, so 3 Floyds is technically located over the border in Munster, Indiana. But a) it’s a totally driveable 45-minutes from downtown Chicago, and b) it’s widely considered to be one of the best craft breweries in the United States, so this one is worth travelling for. While the supremely rare Dark Lord, a Russian Imperial Stout brewed with coffee, Mexican vanilla, and Indian sugar, is the brewery’s most coveted release, there’s more to discover at the brewpub, including 20 taps and other rare, pub-only releases.
As its name suggests, DryHop loves its hops. Guided by award-winning brewer Brant Dubovick, DryHop describes their brews as “rebellious” and “challenging,” but they’re also highly drinkable (look for their Chicago Beer Week Pineapple India Pale Lager, made with smoked malt and pineapple puree). It’s worth noting that, among the many microbreweries in Chicago, DryHop also offers some of the best bites around – think salmon with kimchi rice, tempura green beans and sweet chilli sauce and shrimp soba noodle salad with miso vinaigrette. But if you’re looking for some stodge to sop up all those suds, don’t worry: the burgers here also hit the spot.
Virgin Atlantic operates direct flights to Chicago from London, just in time for Chicago Beer Week.
What are your favourite microbreweries in Chicago? Have we missed any of your favourites? Let us know in the comments section below.