Food & Drink

Discover the Best Breweries of Chicago's Rapidly Growing Craft Beer Scene

Published On 01/06/2017 Published On 01/06/2017
chicago's craft beer scene
Mathew Powers/Thrillist

Chicago’s beer scene is growing up fast, which is great news for beer drinkers in the city. In recent years, the number of Chicago taprooms has increased at seemingly exponential rates, the city’s well-known breweries have progressively expanded distribution, the marketplace has continued to grow, and existing concepts have continued to evolve. All these signs point to the welcome maturation of Chicago’s craft-brewing culture. We’ve also seen a number of those existing breweries and newcomers increasingly adding or expanding food offerings and entertainment, which is a welcome improvement to the overall brewery-going experience.

From established breweries expanding their offerings and reach, to an influx of new, smaller breweries, the "Drink Local" mantra of our beer community has only grown stronger and wiser with age, celebrated by a multitude of fests and creative collaborations. We’ve put together this helpful guide to help you navigate Chicago’s rapidly growing craft beer scene and answer that age old question, “Where should we grab our next beer?”

Expanding breweries and waistlines

When the Brewers Association, the national authority on all things craft beer, unveiled its list of largest craft breweries in April 2016, Revolution Brewing found itself on the list at No. 50. That may not seem like much, but Revolution is Chicago’s first brewery to crack the top 50 (discounting Goose Island's “craft” credentials). Later that year, Revolution expanded its production and also announced it would begin distributing its beer to New York.

Meanwhile, Aurora’s Two Brothers Brewing, which already distributes to more than a dozen states, opened in Naperville, its third Chicago-area location and fourth overall (including Scottsdale, AZ). And before any of that transpired, in 2014, Half Acre Brewing began the slow process of moving most of its operations from its Lincoln Ave location to 2050 W. Balmoral Ave. Half Acre's new space is a building spanning 60,000sqft of interior space plus an additional outdoor area and a restaurant to come.

Courtesy Bottleneck Management & Wagstaff Worldwide

Pub grub gets a welcome upgrade

Half Acre's inclusion of food as part of its new business plan has become increasingly commonplace at many breweries -- not just in Chicago, but across the country -- but it’s not just a gimmick to get you to stick around for more drinks. Indeed, Chicago’s very own Band of Bohemia recently became the nation’s first brewpub to obtain the coveted Michelin Star. Additionally, a former chef owns Tribes Alehouse, and Corridor Brewery & Provisions includes food as a fundamental part of its enterprise (duck and winter squash toast, anyone?). But, it’s not just breweries adding food to the menu -- restaurants often consider craft-beer integral to success. Chris Bisaillon, co-owner of Bottleneck Management, who operate such Downtown establishments as Sweetwater and Howells & Hood explain, “Craft beer is an elevated choice that many prefer when dining out, just like wine or cocktails. We have 90 draft handles, 12 for seasonals and special releases, as well as a tap exclusively for a local, possibly self-distributed breweries like Alter Brewing in Downers Grove.”

For breweries without a chef on staff, food trucks are as common as an IPA these days. Some trucks, such as Toasty Cheese, Pizza Boss, and Roaming Hog have developed a strong following all their own. And those food trucks are just one of many ancillary businesses helped by the by the flourishing Chicago craft-beer industry.  

The Open Bottle, Tinley Park | Mathew Powers/Thrillist

More breweries, more bars

In the midst of all this expansion and repurposing of existing outfits, new breweries continue to pop-up in droves. Dovetail and Skeleton Key are two of the most recent openings. Other breweries, meanwhile, have undergone name changes, such as Burnt City (formerly Atlas) and Myths and Legends (formerly Urban Legend), and they continue to thrive.  In fact, since January of 2013, more than 100 breweries -- that’s right, 100 -- have opened in the Chicago metro region, and the pace is increasing -- an average of three breweries every two months have opened up since 2015. Granted, a few breweries have closed -- Arcade, Slapshot, Ale Syndicate (temporarily), and a few others -- because no industry is infallible, but compared to successful breweries, it’s basically a drop in the bucket of beer.

In addition to brewery openings, there’s also been a rise in craft-beer bars and bottle shops, including The Barrel in the Pilsen neighborhood -- a self-described dive bar that specializes in serving only Chicago craft beer -- and numerous bottle shops such as Bitter Pops in Chicago, Oak Park's Beer Shop, and the Open Bottle in Tinley Park. The market within the city and suburbs is growing ever more crowded, but it doesn’t appear to be slowing down anyone’s success much.

Mathew Powers/Thrillist

Connecting with the community

In 2014, Illinois craft beer contributed more than 2.2 million dollars to the economy, the majority of which is in the Chicago region -- and politicians know it. When Motor Row Brewery opened in the once fledgling Motor Row District of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel showed up for its opening. But, not only is there an an economic impact, there is a cultural impact, too. Motor Row regularly hosts blues performances, which keeps alive a Chicago Southside institution. Meanwhile, Argus Brewing works with the Friends of Pullman to help the Pullman neighborhood, and Goose Island is working to clean up areas near Lake Michigan and keep the water clean. When fire ravaged portions of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Werk Force Brewing in Plainfield held a drive and sent supplies to people in need. Additionally, places like Temperance and Vice District host yoga classes and running clubs. To wit: Chicago’s craft beer scene is intertwined with its community socially, politically, and economically.

Mathew Powers/Thrillist

Has expansion changed the culture of Chicago’s craft beer scene?

One only needs to look at places like the aforementioned Chicago Brew Werks/Werk Force Brewing to understand the camaraderie between brewers that binds the industry in Chicago. It’s there that one can find home brewing supplies and take brewing classes, taste many brewing collaborations, and notice the multitude of stickers and posters provided by almost every other Chicago brewer (and national ones, too). Indeed, collaborations are still a mainstay within the community -- Half Acre has a link on its website for beers “brewed with friends,” and almost every Chicago brewery engages in something similar. Not to mention, festivals are a mainstay within the Chicago craft-beer community: Oak Park Micro Review, Festival of Barrel Aged Beer (FoBAB), Beer Hoptacular, and Chicago Ale Fest, to name a few. In fact, 350 Brewing’s Summer Fest randomly pairs breweries together to formulate collaborative brews just for the festival, known as Collab Roulette. And each May, the entire brewing community comes together for 10 days as part of Chicago's Craft Beer Week -- an entire industry forging together to celebrate Chicago craft beer.

Even if one looks to Chicago’s biggest brewery, Goose Island, one can find a strong sense of community. Despite the consternation associated with the Anheuser-Busch (AB InBev) purchase of Goose Island, the brewery continues to grow domestically and internationally just as the numbers of independent brewers increase in Chicago. Goose still demonstrates a strong commitment to its home city of Chicago with pub-only beers, special Chicago-only events, and routinely hosting festivals that include its “competitors” such as the Goose Island Stout Fest in February and the Belgian Beer Fest in the fall.  

Simply put, no matter the size of the brewer, collaboration and community is a must, and growth seems inevitable (at least so far).

Mathew Powers/Thrillist

Growing up gracefully

Chicago craft beer is alive and, more importantly, well. Those on the inside can speak of growing pains, and those certainly exist. However, to the average beer drinker, it is almost impossible to miss the growing influence and success of Chicago’s craft beer culture. Even local cultural institutions such Morton Arboretum, Field Museum, and Lincoln Park Zoo have all worked with brewers to create a beer just for them. For that matter, a visit to All Aboard Diner -- a train-themed kids restaurant in Downers Grove -- offers Revolution Anti-Hero IPA (for the grown-ups, of course). Almost no matter where one goes in the Chicago area, craft beer is there. And, with good reason -- Chicago breweries took home four gold medals and ten medals, overall, at this year’s Great American Beer Festival in Denver. And several Chicago-area breweries own World Cup awards, too.

So, If you find yourself at the Goose Pub in Clybourn or Lagunitas’ massive taproom; Gordon Biersch or Rock Bottom; Noon Whistle or Sketchbook; or tasting Around the Bend, Spiteful, Light the Lamp, or Metropolitan at home, you are enjoying the fruits of Chicago's craft beer’s success. It’s a success that continues because it relies on one basic premise -- dedicated, geeky brewers who love to turn water into wine-barrel-aged beer -- or pilsner... or IPA... or... saison... or anything else that makes you beer lovers happy to be alive.

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Mathew Powers is a Freelance Writer who mostly writes about beer and spirits, which is probably just an excuse to drink more beer. Follow him @sportschipsndip.

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1. Revolution Brewing 3340 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago, IL 60618 (Avondale)

Revolution's brewery is where kegs, cans and bottles get filled for distribution, and it's also the location of a taproom where tastings occur every Wednesday. This is not to be confused with the original brewpub location on Milwaukee Avenue, where you can get food in addition to your beer. Guided tours are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, so visitors are encouraged to drop by early and grab a pint while they wait.

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2. Goose Island Barrel Warehouse 605 N Sacramento Blvd, Chicago, IL 60612 (Garfield Park)

This 130,000sqft West Town facility is the storage spot for a myriad of barrels used to barrel age Goose Island's beer, and it also hosts Goose Island events throughout the year.

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3. Two Brothers Tap House 30W315 Calumet Ave W, Warrenville, IL 60555

Two Brothers Tap House is a family owned and operated brewery in Warrenville offering quality craft beers, elevated pub fare, and good cheer. Two Brother's line-up includes (but is not limited to) IPAs, French-inspired amber beers, seasonal specials, and a varied selection of limited edition beers (holiday Porter, Double IPA, Hefeweizein wine). Taste your way through the tap house's rotating roster of signature brews at the the on-site tap house, and check out the website for a calendar of brewery tour dates and community events.

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4. Band of Bohemia 4710 N Ravenswood Ave, Chicago, IL 60640

Ravenswood is home to Chicago's first-ever Michelin-rated brewpub, Band of Bohemia. The reverse-engineered brewhouse designs its dishes to complement the beer selection, rather than choosing its beer based on the food menu, as most restaurants do. The menu features Band of Bohemia’s own house beers, which are brewed with ingredients like fenugreek, basmati rice, pear puree, and coriander. Elevated bar fare, like malt-cured salmon with lentil chips and foie schnitzel with rye spaetzle, complete the experience, as do thoughtful cocktails. Tasting menus are also available, beer pairings optional (but strongly recommended).

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5. Tribes Alehouse & Grill 11220 Lincoln Hwy, Mokena, IL 60448

Tribes Aleshouse & Grill in Mokena is a south suburban craft brewery, bar, and restaurant with a penchant for hops, and a second location in Tinley Park. The seven-barrel, steam-fired brewery was added to an already existing 40-tap pub, adding 3,500sqft to the sprawling restaurant. The in-houses brewery is enclosed by glass walls, and is turning out hop-forward beers, so guests enjoy the elevated bar food on offer (beer-cheese dip, Belgian mussels, Wisconsin cheese curds, and burgers included) and watch the brewing in action.

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6. Corridor Brewery & Provisions 3446 N Southport Ave, Chicago, IL 60657

This Southport brewpub is a new hot spot in Chicago, serving up delicious beer and bar food.

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7. Alter Brewing Company 2300 Wisconsin Ave #213, Downers Grove, IL 60515

Alter Brewing Company in Downers Grove is a large, modern industrial brewery and taproom designed to welcome as many beer-lovers as possible. With a spacious seating area including pipe-legged wooden tables flanked by bright orange chairs, take a seat and enjoy Alter’s beverage program, which leans heavily on IPAs. Raw materials and supplies in the taproom, like spicy Belgian yeast and citrusy and piney hops from the Pacific Northwest, are sourced from all over the country and the world. Though Alter doesn’t serve food, you are more than welcome to BYO.

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8. Dovetail Brewing 1800 W Belle Plaine Ave, Chicago, IL 60613 (Ravenswood)

Situated in a three-floor, 22,000 square-foot industrial building built in 1928 in Ravenswood, Dovetail concentrates on German and Central European brews, featuring a lineup of lagers, pilsners, hefeweizens, a Franconian-style Rauchbier, and a Polish Grodziskie. The pair behind this laid-back, bare-bones taproom are deeply invested in their craft, using creative techniques like open-air fermentation and traditional Belgian-style Lambic brewing (a unique form of sour beer). It's a spot for everyone from beer geeks to those looking for an easy pint to sip.

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9. Skeleton Key Brewery 8102 Lemont Rd #300, Woodridge, IL 60517

Aptly named for the single key that opens multiple doors, Skeleton Key Brewery is a family owned and operated brewery, taproom, classroom, and incubator in Lombard. Beyond utilizing various yeast strains and innovative organic ingredients (like mushrooms, chrysanthemum, cherries, and Mexican hot cocoa) during the brewing process, Skeleton Key offers classes to further the education of craft beer connoisseur-hopefuls, and a one-on-one incubation program giving brewmaster-hopefuls the tools they need to start a brewery of their own. Skeleton Key Brewery is more than just a place that makes and serves beer -- it’s an integral part of Chicago’s suburban craft beer movement.

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10. Atlas Brewing Company 2747 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60614 (Lincoln Park)

Chicago's newest craft brew pub serving delicious cuisine alongside diverse blends.

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11. Myths and Legends Brewing Company 1115 Zygmunt Cir, Westmont, IL 60559

Formerly known as Urban Legend Brewing, Myths and Legends Brewing Company in Westmont is a small brewery and taproom that operates on the idea of telling stories through beer (hence the name). With a sizable list of brews under its belt, Myths and Legends features seven “core” beers that can be enjoyed on tap year-round, and a rotating roster of seasonal and limited time-only brews. Included in the core selection is The Creature, the flagship American Black Ale that put Myths and Legends on the map, and the namesake for the decorated VW van parked out back.

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12. The Barrel 2015 S Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60608 (Pilsen)

Located in the heart of Pilsen since the 1950s, The Barrel is a neighborhood mainstay with a modern approach to beer drinking. The corner tavern’s menu is chock full of craft beer, and focused primarily on local breweries. The colorful chalkboards display the current selection on tap, and in bottles and cans. The big names are certainly accounted for (like Half Acre and Lagunitas), but expand your Chicago craft beer prowess to the smaller, lesser-known locals that The Barrel has to offer.

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13. Bitter Pops 3345 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60657 (Lakeview)

Bitter Pops Original Beer Shoppe is to craft beer lovers what F.A.O. Schwarz was to 80s and 90s babies: a sprawling store with more options than are possible to explore in one visit, except it’s alcohol instead of toys and there’s a tasting room instead of a playroom. The 900sqft Lakeview specialty retail shop and tasting room is home to some 500 craft beer selections from around the world -- eight taps rotate daily, and 10 to 20 bottles rotate weekly through the tasting room. This is not the place to slam beers before heading to the bar on Lincoln Ave., it’s the place to explore, learn, and appreciate the world of craft beer at large.

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14. BeerShop 1026 North Blvd, Oak Park, IL 60301

BeerShop is Oak Park’s primary purveyor of American craft beer, dedicated to introducing the suburban masses to the wide world of the craft. BeerShop is a bar, bottle shop, and delivery service (kegs only), with a sizable selection of brews, but a clear favor towards local breweries. The shop instructs you to bring your own dog, and to bring your own food (there’s no kitchen here), but leave the beer to the experts.

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15. The Open Bottle 7101 183rd St Ste 105, Tinley Park, IL 60477

The Open Bottle is a craft beer shop and taproom in Tinley Park with a wide variety of brews from local brewers as well as national brewers, and international imports. Pop the bottles of your choice in the shop, take them home, or join in on daily tastings led by the shop’s knowledgeable staff for a deeper dive into different beers. The Open Bottle is reason in itself to head to Tinley Park.

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16. Motor Row Brewing 2337 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60616

Motor Row Brewing is a must-visit for beer lovers.

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17. Argus Brewery 11314 S Front Ave, Chicago, IL 60628

Located in the historic Pullman District in a building that once (appropriately) housed the Schlitz Brewing Company distribution stables, Argus Brewery was founded in 2009 by a father-son team, with a logo as an homage to the brewery’s former occupants (it’s a horse’s head) and named after the 100-eyed, all-seeing god in Greek mythology. Beyond producing just beers with heart and soul, check the website for custom Argus “BeerBQ Sauce” recipes.

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18. Temperance Beer Company 2000 Dempster St, Evanston, IL 60202 (Evanston)

Evanston’s first craft brewery and taproom in nearly a century, Temperance Beer Company boasts house brews, growlers to go, locally-sourced bar snacks, and on-site food trucks for the outdoor beer garden during the weather-permitting months. Temperance has three tap staples, the remainder rotating through roster of seasonal brews. Also, Temperance Trikonasana brings the beer-and-yoga gurus together once a month, pairing beer with vinyasa flow at the industrial space on Dempster.

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19. Vice District Brewing 1454 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60605 (Near South Side)

With 14 brews on draft in their taproom (including porters and IPAs), and windows that allow you to take a look inside the brewing area, this South Loop microbrewery is a place you need to visit.

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20. Werk Force Brewing Co. 14903 S Center St, Plainfield, IL 60544

Werk Force Brewing Co. is a one-time home brewing operation turned commercial brewery in Plainfield. To show its dedication to home brewers, Werk Force opened Chicago Brew Werks, a home-brew supply store replete with everything you could ever want or need to brew your own beers at home, or follow in Werk Force’s footsteps and open your own. Werk Force is home to out-of-the-box beers, utilizing experimental hops and yeast strains in the brewing process, and non-beer craft beverages like kombucha, craft soda, and locally-roasted, cold-brewed coffee.

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21. Half Acre Tap Room 4257 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60618 (North Center)

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.

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22. Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery 1 W Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60654

If partying with tourists lost on their way to Pizzeria Uno isn’t exactly your idea of a sweet-ass time, head up from Rock Bottom’s more touristy ground level to discover a lesser known, laid-back patio tailor made for drinking Rock Bottom beers while watching the Cubs demolish the latest competition on the large bar screens.

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23. Noon Whistle Brewing 800 E Roosevelt Rd,Unit C, Lombard, IL 60148

With its name derived from a Wisconsin tradition to crack a beer when the town whistle went off at noon, this Chicago brewery is an operation we can get behind. Because of this inspiration, the brewery focuses on session brews that have a low ABV, like the year-round The Parker (dry, hop-forward witbier) and the dangerously drinkable Lilacia (a smooth, refreshing saison with citrus notes and a bit of a bite). They also brew barrel-aged beers, like Da Percolator (a malty Scotch ale brewed with actual coffee), that are much higher in ABV. Beat the buzz with food from rotating local food trucks, and yes, your pooch is welcome at this laid-back, cozy taproom.

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24. Sketchbook Brewing Co. 825 Chicago Ave, Evanston, IL 60202

We love exploring the new beers on tap at Sketchbook Brewing Company

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25. Around the Bend Beer Co. 2601 W Diversey Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 (Logan Square)

Around The Bend Beer Co. is a Logan Square-based brewery known for its flagship ale, Silk Road, a galangal pale ale. The brewery prides itself upon using unusual flavors (i.e. galangal) and yeast strains in the brewing process to produce cutting-edge beers in a city with a sprawling craft beer scene. You can find Around the Bend brews at various Chicago restaurants and bars, including decades-old staples like Small Bar and Timothy O’Toole’s, as well as more recent additions to the culinary scene like Owen & Engine or The Publican.

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26. Spiteful Brewing 1815 W Berteau Ave, Chicago, IL 60613

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.

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27. Light the Lamp Brewery 10 N Lake St, Grayslake, IL 60030

Lake County’s Light the Lamp Brewery was founded in 2011 by a group of suburban dads who shared a love for hockey and beer (and probably their children). The dads ventured into making their own craft beer through research and trial and error, and now have a bustling brewery and tap room, as well as a sizable roster of various styles under their belts -- aptly named in accordance with their favorite pastime -- including Power Play IPA, Bench Minor Blonde, Red Line Ale, and Sin Bin Stout.

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28. Metropolitan Brewing 5121 N Ravenswood Ave, Chicago, IL 60640 (Ravenswood)

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.

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