Last year, the Hop Culture Team visited Chicago for Juicy Brews Art Gallery, a celebration of craft beer and art. While in town, we explored Chicago’s expansive food and beverage scene. We ate hot dogs, sampled local fare at Cellar Door Provisions (recommend!), and even checked out natural wines at Diversey (sister to our favorite Oakland-based wine store, Ordinaire). And, of course, we visited lots and lots of breweries, coming up with our own list for the best breweries in Chicago.
Before we get into the rankings, I want to mention that Chicago is one of the country’s most mature beer markets. It has something for everyone: traditional European styles, experimental American styles, and everything in between. Because the city is so big (the largest in Illinois and the third most populous in the United States), and because we limited the list to five choices, this article focuses on breweries in Chicago-proper — like, those that you can reach within twenty minutes of the Bean or the ACME hotel.
And speaking of the ACME, it’s a rad and affordable place from which to explore the city, just south of the famous Gold Coast and a few blocks from Navy Pier. They have rock music in the elevators and a hot tub downstairs. Our team stayed there during the trip and had a very excellent time.
While Mikerphone and 3 Floyds are definitely team favorites, they’re a little further out. As a result, they don’t qualify for this list. Combine a visit to these five breweries with a trip to The Art Institute or Museum of Contemporary Art and a meal at Cellar Door and you’ve got yourself a fantastic weekend.
A List: The Best Breweries in Chicago, Illinois
1800 W Belle Plaine Ave | (773) 683-1414
If you’re a sucker for rustic beers, Dovetail is for you. Rather than naming their products in the confusing (though often hilarious) American tradition, Dovetail opts for a purist’s route, choosing titles that highlight the product’s style or key ingredient — try Dovetail Lager, Dovetail Hefeweizen, or Dovetail Kolsch.
And if you like a little age on your beers, check out Dovetail’s barrel program. It yields complex, nuanced expressions of traditional European styles. Combined with the traditional styles, the barrel program makes Dovetail Brewery the perfect spot for someone who has gone through the beer flavor wheel (lager, stout, IPA, sour) and has come all the way back.
Marz Community Brewing
3630 S Iron St | (773) 579-1935
On the opposite end of the spectrum from Dovetail is Marz, a uniquely American brewery that houses an arcade and serves beautifully-packaged, experimental concoctions.
The perfect place for a wild first date or a fun get-together with work friends, the Marz taproom regularly features twenty-four on-tap libations, which run the gamut from Chug Life, a Sparkling Lager, to Dillinerweiss, a Berliner Weiss with Dill and Red Pepper Flakes. Their food menu leans toward comfort food and we recommend the Wagyu Pastrami or Eggplant Marinara sandwich.
And if you’re a sucker for cool art, Mars has your number. We named “Cloudy Boyz,” their collaboration with Collective Arts Brewing, our favorite label of 2018.
Half Acre Beer Company
4257 N Lincoln Ave | (773) 754-8488
Somewhere between Dovetail and Marz is Half Acre, a relative OG by craft beer standards (it was founded by Gabriel Magliaro in 2006). While you may have heard of packaged brewery staples like Daisy Cutter West Coast Pale Ale or Pony Pilsner, the brewery also makes several draft-only offerings that are best experienced at one of their two taprooms.
For the original location, check out their space at Lincoln Avenue; for a beer garden vibe, visit the expanded facility on Balmoral. Both locations offer full food menus with elevated bar fare.
Corridor Brewery & Provisions
3446 N Southport Ave | (773) 270-4272
Corridor is a sophisticated project, the brainchild of Siebel- and Doemens-educated Greg Shuff. Also on the team are Director of Brewing Operations Brant Dubovick, who previously led Pittsburgh’s Church Brew Works to the Great American Beer Festival’s Large Brewpub Brewer of the Year Award, and Executive Chef Ryan Henderson, who cut his teeth at Momofuku, Empellon, and Alder.
The outstanding pedigree has led to flavorful hop bombs like Ope Fresh Hop Pale Ale and subtle farmhouse beers like Little Greys Light Saison, as well as a food menu featuring delicate salads, hearty sandwiches, and artisan pizzas. It’s Chicago’s equivalent to Austin’s Jester King.
Forbidden Root Restaurant & Brewery
1746 W Chicago Ave | (312) 929-2202
We owe discovery of this one to our friend Al Maka, gueuze geek and founder of A.J. Maka Distributing. A “botanical brewery,” Forbidden Root uses barks, stems, flowers, herbs, spices, leaves, and even roots to create products for even the most adventurous palate.
Additionally, the food menu at Forbidden Root pairs well with the beer, with items like the grilled carrots (pistachio hummus, coriander vinaigrette, and mint) and the Duck & Dumplings. And with 100% of all non-consumable merchandise profits going to charity, you can indulge responsibly.
2323 N Milwaukee Ave | (773) 227-2739
If you’ve seen Drinking Buddies, you probably recognize Revolution Brewing. After all, the fictional characters portrayed by Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson work at the brewery.
Founded as a Logan Square brewpub in 2010, Revolution Brewing has since grown to become the state’s largest independent craft brewery. You really can’t go wrong with any of the beers, though we’re particular fans of the Deep Wood Series, which sees barrel-aged beers canned and sent into distribution.
Off Color Brewing
1460 N Kingsbury St | (312) 929-2916
Another Chicago staples, Off Color was founded in 2013 by John Laffler (formerly of Goose Island Brewery) and Dave Bleitner (formerly of Two Brothers Brewing).
As you might expect, the pedigree of the founders is obvious in Off Color Brewing’s mature and technically excellent beers, which lean toward European styles. While the beers are serious, the branding is fun, leading to a very silly and unique taproom experience at both the original location and The Mousetrap, located on the North Branch Canal just west of the Old Town neighborhood.
If you’re looking for an Off Color beer to sample, try “Very, Very Far,” a Belgian-style Ale that won Gold at the Great American Beer Festival.
Maplewood Brewery & Distillery
2717 N Maplewood Ave | (773) 270-1061
Right in Logan Square is Maplewood, a brewery that makes both beer and spirits. Between their year-round pale ales, pilsners, and stouts, as well as their seasonal and specialty sours and barrel-aged releases, they have something for every palate.
And if you’re not in the mood for beer, you can always snag a single malt whiskey. The Lounge is a great place for a casual meetup, and we definitely recommend their Sunday brunch — try the Chilaquiles or Breakfast Hash.
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