In the heart of the American Midwest, Chicago is in many ways the epicenter of craft beer culture in this country. It’s home to several brewing schools that send master brewers all across the United States, countless iconic breweries whose product can be recognized from coast to coast, and a city culture that perfectly complements the beer scene: baseball, pizza, and amazing live music. On top of that, Chicago’s relative proximity to Wisconsin and Indiana means that other powerhouse breweries are just a stone’s throw away. Whether you like European-style lager, New England IPAs, the bitterest sour or the darkest stout, there are plenty of Chicago micro breweries with your name on them. Let’s talk about some of the best breweries in Chicago, shall we?
Check out our craft beer guide to St. Louis, another epicenter of brewing!
Transit: Irving Park Brown Line
The first on our Chicago breweries list is tucked away on a picturesque and otherwise entirely residential side street in Chicago’s beautiful Ravenswood neighborhood, Dovetail is one of the most celebrated breweries in the 312 for their star-studded lineup of European-style lagers. While they might be best suited to baseball season and the summer heat, these beers can give even a chilly fall or winter day that porch swing feeling. I should know — I first sampled a couple of their offerings in the socially-distanced beer garden just as it was getting a little too cold to do so towards the end of 2020.
Try their Helles for the ultimate easy-drinking beer. Described as being brewed “especially for baseball season,” you’ll see what they mean. Their Vienna-style lager is a personal favorite of mine, with a rich, warm and creamy character to it. And while their Kölsch is delicious and worth ordering on its own, they also offer a Kölschbock (on account of being crossed with a doppelbock) that is stellar and unlike anything you’ll find at another Chicago brewery. If you don’t get a chance to stop by their brewery, pick up some cans at a Binny’s in the city.
Transit: Irving Park Brown Line
Situated right across the street from Dovetail, visit Begyle to switch it up after getting your fill of lagers — this is the opposite end of the beer spectrum. For the time being, they have a reservation system for their beer garden that’s quite typical of Chicago breweries at the moment. Begyle’s brews range from blondes to barrel aged stouts and everything in between. Like any good brewery, they also get playful with their staple brews and regularly offer seasonal variations worth trying. This is particularly true of their Imperial Pajamas, a bourbon barrel-aged stout that won a Great American Beer Fest gold medal in 2019. With an ABV over 13%, it’s no joke. But in a city full of stouts like this one, you’ve got to get serious to take a seat at the table. This community-supported brewery is emerging as one of Chicago’s best.
Half Acre Brewing
Transit: Montrose Brown Line
I don’t know what’s in the water up in Ravenswood, but it must be especially good for brewing beer… Half Acre’s taproom on Lincoln Ave in the North-side neighborhood is a great place to hang out and try some of Chicago’s most iconic (and aesthetically pleasing) beers, complemented by a revolving line-up of limited releases with psychedelic can designs and some similarly out-there tastes. This is the home of Daisy Cutter, a pale ale on tap at pretty much every bar and restaurant and Chicago, but Half Acre’s lineup remains wonderfully deep even after you move past the heavy-hitters. Their original reaper stout has notes of cocoa and vanilla that combine for a wonderful finish. If IPA’s are more your speed, you may not feel the need to visit any other brewery in Chi-town after a day at Half Acre: their special-release lineup typically includes double IPAs, DDH IPAs, and the odd west coast IPA.
Transit: California Blue Line, then Bus 94
Another north-side brewery that knows their specialty and sticks to it, Metropolitan has a huge industrial-style space on the Chicago river a few minutes from Bucktown. Their outdoor patio is the perfect place to enjoy their German-style lagers while taking in a view of the Windy City skyline. The staff here are incredibly welcoming, and the taproom manages to retain a friendly neighborhood feeling to it while serving up some world-class beers. Almost everyone brings their dogs, and I saw one group bring along a deep-dish pizza from the nearby Pequod’s — talk about a killer combo. If you want to take one of their flagship beers home, like the Krankshaft Kölsch or Generator Doppelbock, they have a relaxed growler-filling policy that welcomes growlers from other breweries or any “weird” growler you might have engineered at home.
Goose Island Brewery
Transit: Clybourne Red Line
You don’t need to be a beer snob to have heard of Goose Island, probably the most recognizable Chicago beer to the general public across the country. Their Clybourn taproom is a spacious and central location that you can easily integrate into your Chicago itinerary. If you get the chance to visit in person, you’ll have access to their bottled lineup of bourbon barrel aged stouts, but their year-round and seasonal offerings are just as enticing. All the choice might have you keeping your seat for a few hours, so it’s a good thing they have a delicious food menu, too. Some highlights include the Lost Palate Hazy IPA, their 312 Urban Wheat Ale, and my personal favorite during the warmer months, a passion fruit ale called SPF. I haven’t had a chance to try their Christmas IPA, but you’ve got to love that, right?
As I said in the intro, Chicago’s convenient location between Wisconsin and Indiana makes it easy to launch a daytrip or two to some fantastic breweries one state over. There’s a lot of great beer in Wisconsin, but if you had to pick one brewery as a destination, it’s got to be somewhere whose beer you literally cannot get outside of Wisconsin: New Glarus. In this small town outside of Madison, and about two-and-a-half hours from Chicago, husband and wife Daniel and Deb Carey operate a brewery and taproom that pumps out some of the best brews in the state. Their Spotted Cow Ale is a popular favorite, so smooth that I can only compare it to drinking butter. Fat Squirrel brown ale and Two Women Lager are fantastic, too.
Only 45 minutes from Chicago in the other direction, you can find the brewpub for 3 Floyds Brewing in Munster, Indiana. From Zombie Dust pale ale to Gumball Head wheat beer, their brews are famous across the Midwest and South — I first had one while working in a restaurant in Nashville. These are usually pretty pricey in Chicago-area stores, so securing a few six packs with a taproom pitstop on your way out of town might be the way to go.
What’s your favorite of these Chicago based breweries? Let us know on Twitter!