Consider this: the last time you had a friend visit from Houston or Albuquerque or wherever, they invariably heaped praise upon their city’s growing brewery scene. Uh, chyeah. There’s a growing brewery scene everywhere, but nowhere with more bonafides than Chicago. We've tapped the collective wisdom of some of the city’s biggest beer geeks -- you know, the guys you see in commercials with their sleeves rolled up, taking big whiffs of hops and nodding their heads in approval (except not the actors, the actual guys). Here are their picks for beer shops, brewery tours, homebrewing, and more.
Best Chicago beer shops
We found out that Chicago beer geeks love The Beer Temple. Like, a lot. The Avondale shop isn’t the biggest beer store in the multiverse, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in selection. Still, there were also several surprises mentioned that we’ve never heard of. If you live near one of them, consider yourself lucky.
"Andersonville Spirits is a pretty great shop. Those guys know their booze and they're great folks. A more low-key spot I love is called La Primera Fruit, Liquor & Meats. I had to look on my receipt to find out what it was called because they don't have a name on their sign, but they always have a huge selection that seems to be ever-changing and constantly growing." -- Raleigh Smith, project manager at Malt Handling
"I have to. I have to say Crown Liquors. Call it a slashie; call it a twofer. The beers in our taproom are always represented if they're available for retail package, and we often have hard-to-find or limited releases in addition to the old standbys.” -- Ryan McDonough, Crown Liquors/Rocking Horse/High Dive
"Rogers Park Fine Wines: this is a great shop with a stellar beer selection that is criminally under-patronized. The guys that work there are nice and will oftentimes let you try samples of rare beers and spirits." -- Marc Marashi, project manager at Malt Handling
Best homebrew shops and resources
Think about this: what if, instead of buying beer all the time, you could just make it and cut out the middleman? We know, pretty crazy idea -- but it's possible. You can start out small by ordering a homebrewing kit from Mr. Beer, which makes brewing beer as easy as stealing candy from a store staffed by babies. Or, sign up for a brewing class at Beef & Barley, in which you’ll get hooked up with a brewing kit and then leave the beer at the bar until it's ready to get picked up a month later. (The first class is March 7th and costs $35.) If you're really ready to get serious, also swing by these spots:
"I love The Beer Temple because it is both a bottle shop and video blog where you can learn to homebrew." -- Rob Sama, owner of Baderbräu Brewery (opening this spring)
"Brew & Grow. These guys have been around for a while and know the Chicago beer scene. Plus, they are always super helpful whenever I stop in, no matter how simple or complex my question.” -- Chris Quinn, owner of The Beer Temple
Best beer bars
Finding a great beer bar is kind of like getting fired or accidentally setting your car on fire: it makes you want to drink beer. Fortunately, there are plenty of places to do so in Chicago, including these:
"Jerry's (Sandwiches) has a solid tap list that's pretty Midwest-friendly if you want to drink local but still have a variety of options. Also, it's never bad to have a dope sandwich to smash with your beer.” -- Raleigh Smith, project manager at Malt Handling
"I love Paddy Long’s because they have a great beer list and pair it with bacon -- which go together exceptionally well. The neighborhood bar is always a hit on our beer tours." -- Bruce White, founder of Chicago Beer Experience Beer Tours
"Fireside Lounge: love this spot. Abe does a really great job of keeping a rotating selection of rare and interesting beers on draft, as well as an extensive selection of bottles, making it around 200 total varieties. It's also a 4am bar, which is either a really wonderful or really horrible thing, I'm not sure. But if you ever wanted to order a filet mignon at 2:30 in the morning while sipping on a craft beer or bourbon, Fireside would be the place to do it.” -- Marc Marashi, project manager at Malt Handling
"I have been going to Hopleaf for 20 years. Michael knows how to curate a selection with a heavy emphasis on Belgian." -- Cleetus Friedman, executive chef at Fountainhead
"The Map Room, of course. Local Option always has some massive tapping going on every other weekend it seems, and they have great food. We also spend a fair amount of time at both Emporium locations, one for cans and bottles and the other for draft.” -- Gerrit Lewis, owner of Pipeworks Brewing Co.
"The Green Lady and Four Moon Tavern. Great neighborhood bars with excellent beer service that a lot of people don't know about." -- Chris Quinn, owner of The Beer Temple
"Small Bar. Nice selection, great welcoming staff, and good grub to munch on in a friendly neighborhood tavern. Also, Fischman Liquors. Have a few pints from their good selection which always includes limited-release beers, then walk next door and take some six-packs home from this slashie." -- Kris Nagy, Scofflaw Group
"Map Room, Hopleaf, and Local Option. They’re classics for a reason." -- Ryan McDonough, Crown Liquors/Rocking Horse/High Dive
Great Chicago beer tours
Going on a beer tour is kind of like going on a regular tour, except that at the end of it you get beer instead of useless knowledge. Beer trumps knowledge every time, but you can actually get both at these tours:
"Chicago Brews Cruise offers pretty great tours." -- Raleigh Smith, project manager at Malt Handling
"The Revolution Brewing tours are a must. Free, informational, and you get free beer. Plus, the taproom is a great scene. You can't go wrong.” -- Jess Straka, "Jane of All Trades" at Off Color Brewery
“Use your feet, Chicago is a great walking city. There are tons of breweries within walking distance from each other. I used to do this in college: I’d take a whole Saturday, walk around 20 miles, and hit more than eight breweries! -- Tim Faith, innovation brewer at Goose Island
"Kevin's [Chicago Brew Bus] tours give you a great feel of what Chicago really is -- the best beer city in the country. With so many breweries to choose from, all he really needs to do is drive you there. But that’s not all he does. By bringing in personality and knowledge, he's able to take the tour a bit over the top and slam it home." -- Cleetus Friedman, executive chef at Fountainhead
"The one and only Chicago Brew Bus." -- Gerrit Lewis, owner of Pipeworks Brewing Co.
"The Brews Cruise. The owner Rick has a great rapport with local brewers and seems to get access to places other people can't." -- Chris Quinn, owner of The Beer Temple
"Lagunitas Brewing Company. Start the tour in the tasting room, sipping on some of their selections while playing foosball, and then take the tour of the massive brewery. Follow that up with some suds and grub from the taproom and listen to some live music." -- Kris Nagy, Scofflaw Group