Photo courtesy of Hopewell Brewing Co.
Back in the day, Chicago was a PBR town; an Old Style town. You could live the High Life whenever you wanted and find Schlitz, a blue-collar favorite, on tap at about every corner pub. But thankfully, for our now more refined palates, times have changed, and Chicago finds itself on the cutting edge of the craft beer movement. Lagunitas adding a massive facility here a few years ago helped, so did Goose Island’s sale to Anheuser Busch in 2011—a monumental move that took the brand to a national level.
Whether you prefer a rich blackberry stout, the most bitter of IPAs or a lighter wheat ale, Chicago has a bearded expert brewing a future award-winner. Here is a look at some newish north-side breweries that have garnered plenty of attention of late.
Note: Though we love them too, left off this list are Chicago’s more-established beer producers like Revolution, Half Acre, DryHop, Pipeworks, Metropolitan, Piece, Haymarket, etc.
1. Band of Bohemia
Photo by Trent Modglin
Founders Craig Sindelar and Michael Carroll originally met one another at the revered, Michelin-starred Alinea in Chicago; Sindelar was the sommelier and floor manager and Carroll was in the kitchen as a waiter and bread maker before moving on to the popular Half Acre Brewery.
They admit they always saw themselves more as a “culinary brewhouse” and less as your typical brewpub with fish and chips, cement floors and flat screens showing sports highlights. Customers, in fact, have told them Band of Bohemia doesn’t feel like Chicago at all, instead more like London or even California. They quickly realized that was meant to be a compliment.
Expect a seasonal, ingredient-driven menu for both food and beer and a heavy focus on pairings, like a peppercorn saison with their honey cake dessert; the house Noble Raven with the steak tartar and olives; or a porter with a rich, maple character and a hint of smoked almonds and blackberries matched up with their Italian pudding.
This brewery and taproom can be a little tough to find the first time, tucked away like it is in the Ravenswood industrial corridor, where former ivy-covered brick factories and warehouses now house gyms, loft apartments, restaurants and design firms.
Décor is sparse, and dogs are plentiful, but neither detract from the quality of the beer. Don’t leave without trying one of their barrel-aged imperial stouts, the Tough Guy coffee brown ale or the Free Bird pale ale.
3. Burnt City Brewing
The former Atlas Brewery in the trendy Lincoln Park neighborhood was rebranded in late 2015, but the key ingredients remain intact like flavorful experimental beers, smoked meats and bowling. Word to the wise, though: You may want to avoid too many double IPAs, as Burnt City Brewing’s classic bowling alley still uses manual scoring.
4. Corridor Brewery & Provisions
Photo by Trent Modglin
A little more than a year ago, the Southport Corridor neighborhood witnessed “an urban Chicago twist” added to traditional French and Belgian ales. Throw in a little American attitude, a mouth-watering menu and a comfortably low-lit restaurant and sidewalk patio, and it’s easy to grasp the popularity of Corridor Brewery & Provisions, which shares ownership and recipes with the popular Dryhop Brewery in town.
If beer experimentation is your thing, this is your place. Reason being, they focus on the “one-off” idea, meaning they’re consistently trying new recipes and rotating beers in and out. Wizard Fight is an American IPA that is “chock full of mosaic, citra and amarillo goodness,” and anything from the Mothership series (bringing attributes of an oak barrel to beer instead of the opposite) earns positive reviews. Their Funkatorium was particularly tasty the night we stopped in for a flight.
Photo courtesy of Dovetail Brewery
Talk about learning from the experts: Owners Hagen Dost and Bill Wesselink formed a common enthusiasm and assembled their business idea while taking master brewing classes at the famed Doemens Akademie in Munich. The concept at Dovetail revolves around continental European-style beers (German, Czech, Belgian, Polish, etc.) using traditional methods. At their core is a philosophy that beer should “be a sublime experience” that plays on all of the senses: appearance, aroma, flavor, mouth-feel, aftertaste, even sound.
In essence, they believe that great beer requires time and patience to produce, meaning complex mashing regimes to gain depth of character, a coolship for clarity and flavor, open fermentation to give yeast a low-stress working environment, and long maturation times to present the beer at its peak quality.
Popular menu items include their lager, hefeweizen, Rauchbier and Grodziskie, and they’re excited about a long-term project of lambic-style, spontaneously fermented beer.
6. Empirical Brewery
Photo courtesy of Empirical Brewery
Empirical just happens to be the largest startup craft brewery in Chicago history, offering one seasonal line of beers designed to convert people to craft (approachable, balanced, full-flavored beers) and one seasonal line for the hard-core craft drinkers (imperial/robust beers, higher alcohol). The taproom is routinely experimenting with new products, hence the name Empirical, because they “use empirical observations of these experimental beers to constantly improve the production line of products.”
Their Infinity IPA is a staple for sure. The Gamma-Ray ginger wheat, a massive hit, is only available once per year. Don’t leave without trying the Chromatic Imperial Red Ale, Phase Transition Robust Porter and Up Quark Passion Fruit Pale Ale.
7. Forbidden Root Restaurant & Brewery
Just opened in 2016 in the increasingly hip West Town area, Forbidden Root Restaurant & Brewery is Chicago’s first “botanic brewery,” utilizing local ingredients of all kinds (sassafras anyone?). Check out the inviting front room, which is great for people-watching on Chicago Avenue.
8. Hopewell Brewing
Hopewell’s three owners—Jonathan Fritz, Stephen Bossu and Samantha Lee—met in college, formed a bond over a love of quality beer and spent a summer traveling across the Western U.S., camping and visiting every craft brewery on their radar.
Now, Bossu and Lee are hitched, and the trio is finally back together again in Chicago after spending time in Philly, Portland and New York City (where Bossu worked as a brewer at Brooklyn Brewery). The focus is on creating clean, bright and modern craft brews. Their 6,000-square-foot facility in the heart of the up-and-coming Logan Square neighborhood boasts a modern taproom (pictured at top) with blonde wood and floor-to-ceiling windows that is not only BYOF and pooch-friendly, but also filled with board games in case you feel like challenging a friend to Risk, Connect Four or Trivial Pursuit. Another bonus: Some of city’s more popular food trucks typically linger outside for when the hunger pains creep in.
Attention-grabbing on the beer menu, in particular, are the Farm & Family Saison, a dry, almost champagne-like French farmhouse style; and the Swift IPA, Hopewell’s take on a West Coast-style IPA—not too bitter, but with plenty of pine and juicy tangerine notes.
Trent Modglin is a born traveler and publisher of The Real Chicago, an entertainment magazine focused on how best to enjoy the greatest city on Earth.