Some things are better left up to the experts, whether that be slapping pucks with sticks/headbutts or ranking Chicago area breweries. And since the Hawks are preoccupied this time of year, we turned to six local beer aficionados and had them rank the best breweries in Chicago while telling us a little bit about why the hell they ranked them so. These are the winning vote-getters.
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11. Begyle Brewing, 15 points
Founded in 2011 by supporters who bought subscriptions to this community-based brewery, Begyle raised another $19K the following year via a Kickstarter campaign for a counter-pressure growler filler. So clearly, this up-and-coming brewery in Chicago’s crowded North Center/Ravenswood brewer’s row has its backers. Aside from spinning the traditional brewery business model, they also put out satisfying beers that are as easy to like as they are.
Experts say: “They are passionate about what they do, they don’t take themselves too seriously, and have been putting out solid products one after another.” - Cleetus Friedman, Fountainhead
Key beers: Comb the Desert, Blonde Ale, Tough Guy Brown
10. Off Color Brewing, 16 points
As one of the newest breweries to make its way onto this list, Off Color was founded in early 2013 as a partnership between former Goose Island barrel-age brewer John Laffler and Dave Bleitner, formerly of Warrenville’s Two Brothers. They thrive on making offbeat beers with a focus on brewing forgotten styles of ale, particularly those made in Germany before the late 15th century. Their experience and unorthodox approach to craft brewing has made them instant players in the local craft scene.
Experts say: “There is something about the obscure beers that I love, the label art, and [co-owner John] Laffler. It all goes so well together and I had no doubt they would jump right into the local beer scene.” - Cleetus Friedman, Fountainhead
Key beers: Scurry (on nitro), Troublesome
9. Marz Community Brewing, 17 points
Helmed by Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar co-founder (and full-disclosure, expert for this article) Ed Marszewski, Marz is obsessive about its Bridgeport roots, with beers named after Chicago’s favorite rotting river area, Bubbly Creek, as well as Marszewski’s counterculture magazine Lumpen (he also publishes Mash Tun: A Craft Beer Journal). The Marz collective is comprised of home brewers, professional brewers, and artists who found each other while drinking beers at Maria’s, and is currently one of the most sought-after small-batch artisanal beers in town.
Experts say: “This upstart Bridgeport brewery has come out of nowhere to be an instant favorite. Their mainline beers like The Machine are great, but it is their ‘one-off’ beers that are winning new fans daily.” - Michael Roper, Hopleaf
Key beers: The Bubbly Creek, The Machine, Galaxy Buddy
8. Spiteful Brewing, 18 points
Founded in January 2010 by Brad Shaffer and Jason Klein, Spiteful Brewing's name was taken from a childhood friendship that started instantly following a spiteful incident during a game of pond hockey. Initially homebrewing in the kitchen on a stove, their goal became supplying Chicago with proper beer that they would hand-deliver to liquor stores and bars. As other breweries continue to grow and expand, Spiteful remains committed to its nanobrewery roots.
Experts say: “Nanobreweries are aplenty in Chicago, but Spiteful makes some of the best IPAs in the region.” - Ed Marszewski, Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar
Key beers: Bitter Biker Double IPA, Messenger IPA, Spiteful IPA
7. Penrose Brewing Company, 19 points
Started by two former Goose Island employees in 2014 in the western suburb of Geneva, Penrose focuses on Belgian-inspired session ales, oak barrel-aging, and alternative fermentation. These guys are as well known for their food-centric beers as they are for their taproom, which fits right in with Geneva’s small, but bustling food and restaurant scene.
Experts say: “These guys are jerks. From the first dinner I did with them, to the second, third, and fourth. I love their beers and Belgian influence. I think they are going places.” - Cleetus Friedman, Fountainhead
Key beers: P2, Wild V, Navette
6. 3 Floyds, 20 points
Even with it being outside the state limits, 3 Floyds is ubiquitous in Chicago’s beer scene. Founded in 1996 with only a few hundred dollars, a five-barrel Frankenstein brew kettle, repurposed open Swiss cheese fermenters, and an old Canfield’s Cola tank, 3 Floyds is just as “not normal” today as it was back then. Its across-the-border south suburban command center is a must-visit for any self-respecting craft beer nerd, and the releases on Dark Lord Day rivals Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout release on the beer mania Richter scale.
Experts say: “They consistently turn out high-quality beers highlighted by their IPAs. Their entire portfolio is filled with winners.” - Kris Nagy, Scofflaw
Key beers: Alpha King, Zombie Dust, Gumballhead, Dark Lord Imperial Stout
5. Solemn Oath Brewery, 23 points
Having recently marked its three-year anniversary with the annual Oath Day celebration, this emerging west suburban powerhouse is all about the party. Focused on Belgian-inspired and barrel-aged beers, its plan is to quickly rotate through dozens of beers across a range of styles while continuing to experiment with offerings such as its 12% ABV Heavyweight Ticklefight Champion of the World whiskey barrel-aged barleywine.
Experts say: “Newer to the scene, they have a ton of energy and it shows in their beers... Great lineup of American-style IPAs as well as Belgian-inspired brews.” - Kris Nagy, Scofflaw
Key beers: Axe Scar Pig, Kidnapped By Vikings, Snaggletooth Bandana
4. Goose Island Brewery, 26 points
What is there left to say about the brewery that basically started the craft beer craze in Chicago? Even though it was famously sold to Anheuser-Busch and many of its employees have left to start their own breweries, it remains a powerhouse while continuing to innovate and make beers like Bourbon County Stout that fans will scour liquor stores for. And if you don’t see them at a Chicago festival this summer, you’re obviously not paying attention.
Experts say: “Lots of people have dropped them like a stone since the A-B purchase, but they are still making extraordinary beers... Blindfold test Sophie, Madame Rose, or Lolita and I doubt that anyone would call them anything but great.” - Michael Roper, Hopleaf
Key beers: Matilda, Sofie, Fulton Street Blend Coffee Ale, Bourbon County Stout
3. Revolution, 37 points
Logan Square, Avondale
Revolution may not be quite as famous as Goose Island, but it was famous enough to star in the indie beer-centric film Drinking Buddies. And as the surrounding Logan Square neighborhood has blown up in terms of drinking signfigance, so has this Chicago institution founded by former Goose Island employee/Handlebar founder Josh Deth. With more aggressive flavor profiles than most Midwestern beers, a huge grassroots following, and plans to triple its brewing capacity, it's clearly on the cusp of something big.
Experts say: “Rev seems to be making all the right moves at all the right times, and makes a lot of damn good beer to boot... If you had to pick one brewery to serve for the world as Chicago’s face of a truly independent, large-scale brewery, you could do far worse.” - Karl Klockars, Guys Drinking Beer
Key beers: Anti-Hero, Jukebox Hero, Working Woman
2. Metropolitan Brewing, 38 points
In 2009, Metropolitan Brewing was the first brewery to open in Chicago in 10 years. Specializing in German-style beers and lagers, Metro can be counted on to deliver solid, easy-drinking beers that are clean, flavorful, and always on-point. Making a bold move to focus on Vienna-style lagers in a sea of craft ales and IPAs helps set it apart, as does its affable geek humor and devotion to community.
Experts say: “A lager brewery doing traditional styles the hard way. Crisp, clean, and infinitely drinkable can describe their everyday lineup.” - Kyle Fornek, Binny’s Beverage Depot
Key beers: Krankshaft, Afterburner, Dynamo
1. Half Acre, 41 points
Sans flash or in-your-face marketing, Half Acre is content to sit back and let its beer do the talking with expertly crafted brews like the flagship Daisy Cutter that has blossomed into a staple beer in every corner of the city. Founded in 2006, the brewery sponsors a local bicycle club and makes efforts to reduce its carbon footprint even as it eyes a new, larger brewery that has the local beer community salivating.
Experts say: “Half Acre has been doing everything right since their founding in 2006. Their model of creating a kick-ass brewery, store, and taproom has been the blueprint for all the great breweries in the city.” - Ed Marszewski, Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar
Key beers: Daisy Cutter, Akari Shogun, Big Hugs
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1. Begyle Brewing1800 W Cuyler, Chicago
2. Off Color Brewing3925 W Dickens Ave, Chicago
3. Marz Community Brewing3315 S Halsted St, Chicago
4. Spiteful Brewing1815 W Berteau Ave, Chicago
5. Penrose Brewing Company509 Stevens St, Geneva
6. 3 Floyds Brewpub9750 Indiana Pkwy, Munster
7. Solemn Oath Brewery1661 Quincy Ave, Naperville
8. Goose Island Brewery1800 N Clybourn Ave, Chicago
9. Revolution Brewpub2323 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago
10. Metropolitan Brewing5121 N Ravenswood Ave, Chicago
11. Half Acre Tap Room4257 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago
This fresh and pumping brewery's doling out their own delicious brews -- head to the tap room for a taste!
Off Color Brewing is a brewery in Chicago.
Helmed by Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar co-founder Ed Marszewski, Marz is obsessive about its Bridgeport roots with beers named after Chicago’s favorite rotting river area Bubbly Creek, as well as Marszewski’s counterculture magazine Lumpen.
Founded in January 2010 by Brad Shaffer and Jason Klein, the name of this small brewing operation was taken from the owners' childhood friendship that started instantly following a spiteful incident during a game of pond hockey. Spiteful brews a nice variety of ales, from the standbys to the more experimental brews, including a solid British-American hybrid beer, and a chocolate banana porter.
Started by two former Goose Island employees in 2014 in the western suburb of Geneva, Penrose focuses on Belgian-inspired session ales, oak barrel-aging, and alternative fermentation. They’re as well known for their food-centric beers as they are for their taproom, which fits right in with Geneva’s small but bustling food and restaurant scene.
What do you get when you combine a 15 barrel brewhouse (that's 465 gallons, in case you were wondering) with three bonafide fermentation tanks? If you guessed beer, you're not wrong. If you guessed a whole lot of beer, you're still not wrong. Three Floyds, located in a one-time office-space-turned-craft-beer-refuge in Munster, IN has been brewing up and selling out of its own ales, lagers, seasonal brews, special small batch projects, and the occasional guest beer, since its inception in 1996, and is showing no signs of slowing down.
Solemn Oath Brewery is a west suburban powerhouse that specializes in the production of Belgian-inspired, West Coast-style, barrel-aged beers. The Naperville brewery has a taproom that’s open -- and at capacity -- seven days a week, featuring tap staples like the Butterfly Flashmob Belgian IPA and Nourri au Fourrage American Milk Stout, and seasonal or experimental one-offs you likely won’t be able to find anywhere else. The feverishly changing taproom menu is divided by style and process: barrel-aged, Belgian-style, hop-driven, yeast-driven, malt-driven, high-gravity. The earlier you go, the better -- when your favorite keg is kicked, it’s on to the next one.
A pioneer in bourbon/barrel-aged beer, this Chicago brewery specializes in hand-crafted ales and lagers, seasonal brews and specialty beers. Over 20 different draft options accompany wide-variety lunch and dinner menus. Highlights include stunners like 2015's BCS rare, which was aged in barrels that held Heaven Hill whiskey for more than 30 years.
Salvaged wood and classic styling make for a handsome space wherein you can down your favorite Revolution brew and pair it with a tasty sandwich, burger, or even a pork chop.
This brewery is located right next door to Koval Distillery, pumping out small batches of specialty beers and holding tours of its facility by reservation.
Half Acre's tap room can house nearly 100 suds enthusiasts in a lodge-like drinking nook sporting Douglas fir tables, weathered walls re-purposed from a Wisconsin grain elevator, and a painting of a brew-swilling bear. On the menu are plenty of IPAs and pale ales (like the Vicious Pet IPA or Tuna), as well as hush puppies, duck melon bruschetta, and roasted bone marrow and other savory bites to pair.