Beer thirst is being quenched in Chicago. With over 200 breweries in the greater area, Chicago has certainly established itself as one of the top beer cities in the country. But which breweries can make an impression in the midst of all this bubbly? Here at Bellhops (we’re Chicago movers, by the way), we went searching, listened to the experts, and did a little testing of our own to find what we believe to be the nine breweries that blew to the top of this Windy City.
With two medals in one year from the Great American Beer Festival, On Tour Brewing gained attention in Chicago fast. Mark Legenza, On Tour owner, built a vision for both his brews and taproom to captures the simple, joyful, easy times of life. For Legenza, this kind of joy had a lot to do with music, laughter, friendship, and freedom. And these themes run subtly throughout the brewery, from the name to the welcoming environment and variety of approachable beers. This brewery was not built to be exclusive.
On Tour did not sweep into Chicago just to gain business. They’re serious about their desire for community and make efforts to support the surrounding area by hosting local musicians, comedians, and storytellers, inviting people of all fitness levels to an on-site weekly yoga class, participating in fundraisers for forest preservation, and hiring local food trucks to offer some grub to their customers.
Try this: Cymbals and Saxophones
On Tour tried out a boozy belgian-style IPA last year. But with this new Belgian IPA, they’ve toned down the booze and turned up the crushability! This beer reaches only 5.8%ABV (vs. the 8.8% of last year’s version), but still billows with the floral and fruity flavors of Belgian yeast.
Named in honor of Aztec mythology, 5 Rabbit Cerveceria brings beautiful, authentic Latin American culture to the Chicago brew scene. This cerveceria (which translates to brewery in English) is a miracle spot for anyone who enjoys the rich and vibrant colors and flavors of Latin American culture and the first US-based Latin American inspired brewery. 5 Rabbit distills these cultural features into delicious brews, and every Thursday, they serve their beers with authentic spit-roasted pork tacos in toasted corn tortillas made by taquero, Angel Herrera.
Try this: Yodo con Leche
This creamy imperial porter is brewed with Finca Agricola Cafetal coffee beans from Costa Rica which have been custom roasted in Chicago and combined with milk caramels from Argentina, dark and caramel malts, chocolate rye, and oatmeal for a creamy mouthfeel and mocha flavor.
Located in Avondale, Metropolitan Brewing blooms with golden light that reflects off the Chicago River and through the 12ft. floor-to-ceiling windows. Here, locals sit at large, reclaimed wooden tables and sip lagers. That’s right. This brewery has not hopped on the hop-train. You won’t find a single IPA on their menu. But you will find crisp, clean, and incredibly drinkable German-style beers and lagers as well as a jovial community and geek-humor branding.
Try this: Krankshaft
Metropolitan’s flagship kolsch is a must-try on their beer list. This lemony drink ends perfectly dry and crisp. Of course these masters of lagers would brew the freshest, crackery kolsch in the land. Though Metropolitan doesn’t serve food, feel welcome to throw a few bratwursts and some slaw in your purse and enjoy the pairing in their beautiful taproom.
Eris Brewery and Cider House, designed and built in a century-old church in Irving Park, was named to honor the Greek goddess of mayhem. And mayhem is exactly what founders Michelle Foik and Katy Pizza were prepared for when they stepped into the brew scene in Chicago as a group of women selling both beers and ciders. But rather than responding with mayhem, Chicago locals have flocked to this stunning taproom since its recent open in February of 2018.
In contrast to the airy minimalistic design of most of the breweries opening in Chicago, Eris is a weighty and gothic with brick framed windows, heavy steel beams, thick dark-stained booths made from the reclaimed wood found in the building, old radiators that have been repurposed, 21 foot exposed brick walls, and wide windows filled with warm light and downtown street views. The women behind Eris don’t come unarmed either. Foik previously spent over 20 years in the beer industry and Pizza previously founded Hop Head Farms in southwest Michigan. Their head brewer, Hayley Shine, brewed for the Rock Bottom chain for over 10 years before joining up with the Eris team and crafting their crisp cidars and balanced brews.
Try this: Snake Snub
Eris’ blended drinks of mixed brews and cider bring another new bubbly to the brew table. Snake Snub is a blend of their Original Snub, a light ale fermented with apple juice, and their Pedestrian Dry Cider, a crisp, fresh, and tart granny smith cider.
Chicago locals knew and loved Goose Island Beer Company well before Anheuser Busch swept it under its large wing. In fact, many locals know Goose Island as the brewery that started the craft beer craze in Chicago. Now their beers are much more widely known and recognized, and the brewery brings in both locals and tourists to enjoy their well-known brews like the Goose IPA and Four Star Pils. Goose Island’s Chicago taprooms, however, brew a few exclusive beers just for their home-boys. These include their Next Coast IPA, a balanced citrus and tropical beer, Lill Moxie, a cream ale brewed as a solute to Chicago’s industrial past, and 312 Dry Hopped, a bright and bitter take on their previous 312 Urban Pale Ale.
Try this: Soliel Saison
Served exclusively in Chicago, this golden saison is brewed with kombucha tea and ginger juice. Soliel bursts with bright, light, and refreshing flavors even at an ABV of 5.5%.
Put on your fancy pants for this decadent journey of the senses. Band of Bohemia calls itself a culinary brewhouse, and rightly so, winning the first ever Michelin Star awarded to a brewpub. Old books, velveted, high-back chairs, exposed brick, long golden curtains, and teal, leather bar stools fill their building. Their dishes, listed on the menu as preface, interlude, conclusion, epilogue, and libations, come to you like pieces of art perfectly placed on clean white plates. And their beer, in its display and quality, seems to be just as intentionally and perfectly crafted. But no one is delicately dabbing at the corner of their mouth with a silky white napkin in this brewpub. Band of Bohemia, though it takes incredible care of the food, drinks, and experience they provide for their customers, maintains that relaxed, communal bohemian way of thought.
Try this: India Pale Ale
Bohemia’s IPA makes the list because of two reasons: first, its delicious. Second, it’s been crafted to match the breweries unique and colorful themes. This IPA really does connect back to India, being spiced with cardamom, coriander, cloves, star anise, roasted grapes, and kaffir lime leaves. This thoughtful array of Indian spices mirrors the thoughtful quality placed into each piece of this brewpub.
Revolution Brewing popped up among a few other breweries after Anheuser Busch bought out Goose Island. Some of Goose Island’s employees decided to break off on their own, and one of these offshoots bloomed into the largest independently-owned brewery in the state. Revolution founder, Josh Deth, barrelled into this business full force, creating beer with loud, aggressive flavor profiles and lots of it (an ongoing flow from eight 800 barrel fermenters, to be exact). The breweries bold red branding and wall-length American flag mural adds to the independence theme and ryles the onlookers to raise a fist for independent brewers.
Try this: Freedom of Speach
Revolution’s peach session sour goes down easy at only 4.5% ABV. This beer is very drinkable, no flavor overpowers another or your palate. And the balance of tart sour with sweet peach will most likely leave you wanting more than one of these crispy clean brews in your drinking session (hence, the name).
Half Acre raced to start canning their beers before any other brewery in the state. And if you’ve seen their stand-out cans, you might expect a grungy, eccentric environment in their taprooms. But Half Acre’s aesthetics perfectly straddle clean, modern cottage and quirky, experimental art. Their Balmoral taproom, located just west of Andersonville, is laid out with chunky wooden tables and a large garden patio. This taproom brews beers that are exclusive to the location, like their Fully Saturated Double Daisy Cutter, an 8% ABV double pale ale, or their 5.2%ABV Pony pilsner.
Half Acre’s first location in Lincoln, founded in 2006, has acted as a how-to-guide for many other great breweries that have grown out of the city since. Their business, branding, and brews have kept a steady flow of customers and regulars moving happily through their doors.
Try this: Deep Space
One of Half Acre’s heavier beers, Deep Space double IPA, drives the ABV up to a whopping 10%. The sweet, boozy character of this beer will compliment and hold up nicely to Half Acre’s most delicious food item on their menu, the Porketta Noodles. This dish is made of juicy, tender pork and sauteed veggies laid over curly ramen noodles, bathing in a spicey stock and honey, soy sauce tare. You won’t find ramen as delicious as this without buying a plane ticket.
Stretching their creative limbs, Forbidden Root, Chicago’s first botanical brewery, doesn’t limit itself to hops, grain, water, and yeast. Rather, they allow nature’s rich world of wild ingredients to inspire and expand their brew recipes. Each beer bursts with a bouquet of local botanical ingredients, from merigold pedals to mission figs.
Since opening in early 2016, Forbidden Root has grown in popularity and admiration among locals and beer connoisseur. While their fascinating brews do take center stage, the drinks don’t outshine the beautiful window-filled front room or the quality and detailed menu of delicious and diverse dishes. Each piece of Forbidden Root compliments and supports the others.
Try this: Fernetic
This 8.4%ABV Imperial Black Ale has been brewed with over 20 different botanicals including rhubarb root, peppermint, saffron, wormwood, and star anise. Sip this spiced blend alongside the Malted Lamb Ribs which are roasted in a tamarind sorghum glaze and served with pickled Fresno peppers.
If you can spare the room in your belt and your wallet, finish your meal off with the Forbidden Root Float, a sweet blend of pistachio gelato, strawberry granita, basil syrup, whipped cream, and their signature Strawberry Basil Hefeweizen.
How could we really narrow 200 breweries down to the 9 best? Here are a few great taprooms with brilliant brews that we couldn’t leave out…
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