Anyone who’s ever spent more than five seconds in Chicago has come away with one irrefutable nugget of local knowledge: Chicagoans love their beer. (Also: hot dogs.) And while the shift from Schlitz and Old Style has been many decades in the making, few could have predicted the massive scale of the craft beer boom over the past 10 or so years. Now with over 200 breweries and counting in the city and suburbs, here are the best Chicago brewers to crack open for a fine taste of what the Windy City has to offer -- from the big boys of craft to tiny new local upstarts you should know.
Founded in 2006 well before the current craft beer craze took hold of America, Half Acre is one of the OGs of Chicago brewing and is regarded by many experts as the finest craft brewer in the city. With not one, but two breweries on the North Side (within a 10-minute drive of each other), Half Acre recently opened its massive 60,000-square-foot Balmoral facility as a testament to its increasing popularity and thirst for experimentation. Daisy Cutter (one of five year-round ales) is the beer that put Half Acre on the map, but the new digs have carved out more room for so-called “wyld beers” marked by experimentation and mixed fermentation. There’s food at the tap rooms of both popular locations and, in a sign of its ever-rising status, Half Acre even threw a massive new beer fest this fall in Millennium Park.
Must-try beer: With hints of blended pine, citrus, papaya, and mango, the deliciously dank and dry Daisy Cutter remains popular for good reason. It’s basically “drinking outside on a patio in Chicago summer.” In a can.
Brewing German-style beers and lagers on the North Side since 2009, Metropolitan largely flies under the radar amongst non beer-aficionados but continues to dominate as one of the most respected beer makers in Chicago. While many contemporary breweries fall over themselves trying to get your attention with the weirdest or most hop-forward beers imaginable, Metro keeps things simple with just flat-out good beer whose easy drinkability remains its finest asset. Metro’s profile has been raised slightly thanks to the recent addition of its Rockwell Tap Room, easily one of the best taprooms in the city thanks to its homey atmosphere (with reclaimed-wood tables and chairs) and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Chicago River.
Must-try beer: Krankshaft, their flagship Kolsch-style beer, is brewed in homage to Cologne, Germany, featuring lemony flavors and a dry, clean finish characterized by Metro’s trademark high drinkability.
Founded as a brewpub in 2010 by former Goose Island employee and Handlebar founder Josh Deth, Revolution has helped lead the local craft beer revolution to become the largest independently owned brewer in Illinois. Picking up the mantle left by Goose Island following its sale to InBev, Rev’s massive 90,000-square-foot Kedzie facility houses a German beer-hall inspired taproom that starred in the 2013 film Drinking Buddies. Famous for its aggressive flavor profile and hop-heavy creations, Rev is known for year-round core ales like Anti-Hero and Fist City, but its popular seasonals and excellent deep wood series ales showcase its deep pool of talent.
Must-try beer: For something a little different from Rev’s typical lineup, dig into their deep wood series to try the award-winning Deth’s Tar barrel-aged imperial oatmeal stout brewed with English specialty malts to create a rich, chocolaty profile with notes of vanilla, toasted coconut, and caramel candy.