"Chicago" by Carl Sandburg

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders

-excerpt from the poem "Chicago" by Carl Sandburg (1916)

Chicago Skyline

Chicago Skyline
The Chicago Skyline from a Near West Side highrise

Monday, September 19, 2011

Breweries in Chicago

Seemingly overnight Chicago has transformed from a major city with one lone microbrewery into a beer-lover’s paradise.  As American tastes have leaned towards more craft brewing, Chicago has not let go an opportunity to put itself on the map.  While we don't yet have microbreweries to the extent of, say, Portland, the growth of the Windy City’s brewing industry has happened in the blink of an eye.

What’s interesting is that this isn’t the first time Chicago has been a beer-brewing juggernaut.  One hundred years ago, the City of Big Shoulders was as crucial a beer-making metropolis as any.  Even though Prohibition killed this industry in Chicago for a long time (as it did for a lot of other cities), the Siebel Institute in Lincoln Park has managed to remain an institution of higher brewing for generations.

This article will provide a synopsis of the breweries that are open or opening soon, how to get to them, and their respective tour details.  So why is this important?  Well it’s a great sign that, even in these difficult economic times, there is a major industry growing in Chicago creating jobs and wealth for the city.  Secondly, it's another reason that Chicago is a destination.  A few weeks ago, we waited in line for 90 minutes outside the Half Acre Brewery (article coming soon).  Two people beat us there, beer tourists from Toledo.  Getting tourists to spend money in Chicago helps our economy, and virtually any reason to get people to spend their money here is a good thing for the city.  Lastly, it’s another cultural thing to do!  If you love trying new beers, what better way to discover something than taking a brewery tour?  Besides, the beer doesn’t get much fresher than drinking it where its made.

So if you have an interest in what exciting things Chicago breweries are doing, please read on!  One more thing to note: this article covers breweries and not “brewpubs”.  [A brewery sells and distributes their product whereas a brewpub serves house made beer, but you can only find it at that location (or maybe in a growler in your fridge)].  So you won’t find places like Revolution or Piece in this entry.  Not saying there isn’t a place for brewpubs; they’re awesome too, but for the sake of conciseness we’re just sticking to the big boys for this one.

“Born On” Date: 1988
Where it’s at: Lincoln Park (1800 N. Clybourn Ave.)
Getting there by L: Red Line (North/Clybourn) or Brown Line (Armitage) – 2 to 3 block walk from either station

The Icon: Honkers Ale (English Style Bitter).  Honkers Ale is still the classic, but the “vintage line” of beers they’re crafting in the Belgian style (Sophie, Matilda, Père Jacques, etc.) are really good.
The Scoop: We’re gonna save a lot of detail for our forthcoming Lincoln Park entry.  This is not actually the main brewery that brews and distributes the majority of their beer (that one is located in the West Loop).  However, if you want a tour, you can only do it at the Lincoln Park location.  There is also a brewpub in Wrigleyville (3535 N. Clark Street).  They were recently purchased by Anheuser-Busch InBev, resulting in a lot of beer aficionados sticking up their noses at Goose Island.  However, the reality is it will allow Goose Island to make and distribute the same products on a much grander scale.

“Born On” Date: 1997
Where it’s at: Warrenville (suburb – 30W315 Calumet Avenue)
Getting there by L: It’s in the burbs, and there’s no Metra Station really close, so basically you’re driving.
Tours: At the moment, Saturdays and Sundays at 1:00pm.  They’re free, which is great, and you get a few samples at the end.  No need to make reservations.
The Icon: Domaine DuPage (French Style Country Ale).  Just a wonderful beer that’s popping up everywhere.  Slightly sweet and caramel tasting, big flavor.
The Scoop: If you can find it, your reward is delicious.  The brewery is located in the middle of an industrial park and is essentially unmarked.  If you’re in the industrial park, it’s at the southeast corner of Calumet Avenue and Talbot Avenue.  They also have really good food (consider the muffuletta, but the burger is good too), so stopping for lunch should be considered.  Just make sure you’ll be done eating by the 1:00pm tour or wait till you’re done.  The tour is about an hour.

“Born On” Date: 2006
Where it’s at: North Center (4257 N. Lincoln Avenue)
Getting there by L: Brown Line (Montrose or Irving Park) – 4 to 5 block walk from either station
Tours: Hehehe, yeah ummmm…welp…so here’s the deal: they used to sell tickets to their lone tour of the week (Saturdays at 1:00pm).  Their tours are booked until June 2012.  The only way to get into a tour is to wait in line outside their brewery before the tour and hope that some people don’t show up for their reserved time.  They will take up to 60 people total.  So if 57 reservations show up, then the first three people in line get in and that’s it.  If you want to make the tour, our suggestion is get there a little before noon and hope to get lucky (your chances are very good if you're at the head of the line). Dress weather-appropriate.
The Icon: Daisy Cutter (Pale Ale).  It’s that one you’ll see on tap in every decent bar in the City.
The Scoop: Great beer, great tour.  Here’s another one we’re saving more detail on for a later entry.  That being said, it’s hard to get on a tour for a reason, supply and demand.  Hard to believe that they opened just over five years ago and, other than Goose Island, they’re the oldest kids on the block.

“Born On” Date: 2008
Where it’s at: Ravenswood/Andersonville (5121 N. Ravenswood Avenue)
Getting there by L: If going by train, your best bet is actually the Ravenswood Metra station.  Then it’s about a 3-4 block walk north.  You can also take the Red Line (Berwyn or Argyle) and go about one mile west.  The Brown Line (Damen or Montrose) is also an option, and it’s also about a mile away, just go northeast from Damen, or a mile directly north from Montrose.
Tours: Sporadic, but worth it if you can go.  The space is small and you’ll get to know your neighbor really well, but the staff is courteous and come to YOU to refill your glass from a pitcher.  Check their website as you have to reserve a space ahead of time, usually $5 per person and held early on Saturday afternoons.
The Icon: Krankshaft (Kölsch).  Smooth, light, refreshing, enjoyable lager.  I (Michael) can recall the first time I had it, thinking I’d never tasted a beer like it.  Good out of a bottle, but GREAT out of the tap.
The Scoop: Metropolitan only makes lagers.  This may not seem like a big deal, but considering that over 90% of the craft beers you’ll try are ales, this is a nice change of pace.  Also, while most beer snobs associate macro-brewed lagers with blandness, there’s not an issue with this in any of their beers.  Beautiful flavors and colors come out of all their beers, so this is a real unique brewery that Chicago can flaunt.  We had the privilege of visiting the brewery back in April.  You can check out what we thought here.

“Born On” Date: 2009
Where it’s at: Roseland (11314 S. Front Street) – they’ll tell you it’s in Pullman, but that’s actually the other side of the train tracks.
Getting there by L: It’s really too far south to take the L, although you could take the Red Line (95th/Dan Ryan) and either take the bus or a cab from there.  However, it’s easy via Metra, just take the Metra Electric Line (Kensington/115th Street).  You’d get off on the west side of the tracks and go less than two blocks north up Front Street.  Unfortunately, Roseland is not a neighborhood without problems and Front Street is a fairly quiet industrial street.  Although the chances of you running into any kind of trouble during the daytime are fairly low, driving is always an option.
Tours: Like the Loch Ness Monster, the evidence of their existence is vague.  As of now, it appears that you can schedule an informal tour by calling the number on the website.  However, we’ve tried to do so about a dozen times, not getting past the pre-recorded message.  If you have luck getting on a tour, please let us know how you accomplished this.  We’d really like to give these guys our business sometime.
The Icon: Well, hard to say.  As of now, their beer is not available to get in the store.  They are contract brewers that make specialty beers by request from taverns throughout the Chicago area.  For example, if you’ve ever had a McCaffrey’s Irish Cream Ale at the Ballydoyle (Downers Grove, Aurora, and Bloomingdale – Stratford Square Mall), that was actually made by Argus.  And you can’t find McCaffrey’s anywhere else.  So that’s cool, right?
The Scoop: But if you can’t make it to a brewery tour or the Ballydoyle, don’t fret.  You’ll soon be able buy their beer elsewhere, like at Binny’s.

“Born On” Date: 2009
Where it’s at: Albany Park “The Alb” (4565 N. Elston Avenue)
Getting there by L: The nearest station is on the Blue Line (Montrose) and then it’s a half mile walk northeast.  Also, you can take the Brown Line (Kimball) but then it’s a mile and a quarter southwest.
Tours: It looks like a couple times a month on Saturdays at 3:00pm.  You’ll need to buy tickets ahead of time on their website, and it’s $10 per person.
The Icon: At the moment, Finch’s is only making two brews: Golden Wing (Blonde Ale) and Cut Throat (Pale Ale).  For the sake of convenience, we’ll call it a tie.  Both can be found at many bars across Chicago.
The Scoop: Since they’re the new kid on the block, it’ll be interesting to see what Finch’s has in store down the line.  They’ll need to keep pace too, with the aforementioned breweries having a head start and some other newcomers not far behind.

Coming Soon… (Thanks to TimeOut Chicago for the background info)
The ‘hood: Wicker Park (1675 N. Western Avenue)
Via L: Blue Line (Western – O’Hare) then it’ll be about a three block walk south.

The ‘hood: Back of the Yards (1400 W. 46th Street)
Via L: A little far from the L, but you can take the Red Line (47th) and go about a mile and half west, or take the Orange Line (Western) and go a mile and a half northeast.  Again, fair warning, but New Chicago Brewing Company will be located in an industrial area with a less than stellar reputation.  

These guys are already making beer and its available at many bars.  It will be contracted at, and distributed from, the Argus Brewery (see above).

Tours: Saturdays (12:30pm, 2:00pm, 3:30pm) and Sundays (1:30pm, 3:00pm, 4:30pm).  Cost is $10 and in most instances you should try to call and make reservations ahead of time.

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