A Local Expert’s Guide to Chicago Beer

At the moment, Chicago is all about baseball. Everyone loves to cheer on their favorite team with a glass of cold beer, right? Russell Shearer, local Certified Beer Server and Senior Sous Chef at JW MarriottJW Marriott, gives advice for drinking in the Windy City, including five beers to try this fall.

Russell Shearer is a Certified Beer Server in Chicago. Photo courtesy of Russell Shearer.

Beer in Chicago

Chicago is a town with a great beer history, home to early breweries of German and Alsatian immigrants in the mid-19th century. For decades, major beer companies conducted business from Chicago. When a (then) small-scale establishment known as Goose Island came on the scene in the late 1980’s the term craft brew was used. Goose Island was one of the earliest craft-style brewers in Chicago, leading the way for others such as Revolution and Two Brothers.

Since those days, craft beer has experienced a global blossoming, with new breweries opening “basically weekly”, according to Shearer. Though other cities cut the edge for craft beer (think Denver and Portland) Shearer says that Chicago came into its own in recent years, “At Chicago’s own pace, and own time ending up with a unique mix of intriguing breweries.”

It doesn’t hurt that Chicago is also a hungry city, welcoming to eaters and makers of all sorts of food. Finding an excellent meal, designed to pair with beer, is no challenge these days. In fact, many craft brew pubs are staging the food-friendliness of beer in similar ways to the wine world, with professionals such as Shearer working with diners in similar fashion to a sommelier.

Chicago's famous skyline and The Bean. Photo courtesy of Jill Barth.

Chicago’s famous skyline and The Bean. Photo courtesy of Jill Barth.

If You Go to Chicago

Now is the time to visit Chicago thirsty and curious. Shearer says that in Chicago today, “People are willing to support an avant guarde approach.” Visiting the local breweries gives visitors the opportunity to examine and experience new tastes and also to visit various areas of the city. Resource grid limitations such as water and energy, as well as zoning restrictions, are often a factor in finding a location. Many breweries are located in industrial sites, which have the capacity to supply the large amount of water and electricity necessary to brew beer.

In years past, the standard was to start small and work towards popularity to enable growth. But these days, many brewers have “skipped over the traditional system” says Shearer, and have gone to making small batch brews designed specifically to satisfy their neighborhood. This approach provides for a vast selection of nano-breweries, places that offer a distinct flavor and style reflective of the brewer.

Shearer points us in the direction of variety with this mix of recommendations, all of them worth a visit for their unique style, history and taste:

Local Option is in the well-known Lincoln Park neighborhood, a favorite for shopping, dining and drinking as well as the home of DePaul University. With a heavy metal theme, Shearer describes Local Option as “metal, Cajun, gritty and super-fun”. When I checked, they offered nearly 30 beers on-tap, a combination of proprietary, local, domestic and imported brews. Local Option also features a bottle list, kitchen service and special events. Menu highlights include a selection of Po’ Boys and tacos (plus other options, such as the list of “Appetizers for Destruction”). Beer to try: Kentucky Common, 6.5% ABV “modern interpretation of an ale style native to pre-prohibition Louisville, yielding an adventurous taste profile befitting both conventional and courageous palates”.

The beer list changes at Local Option. Keep up with the selection on Facebook. Photo courtesy of Local Option.

The beer list changes at Local Option. Keep up with the selection on Facebook. Photo courtesy of Local Option.

Corridor Brewery & Provisions isn’t far from Wrigley Field in Chicago’s West Lakeview neighborhood.  Head Brewer Brant Dubovick creates “farmhouse ales and hop forward beers”, which are only available onsite. There is no distribution unless taken home in a can or growler. Six drafts were available at the time of this article, all house-brewed. Corridor offers an all-day menu featuring artisan-style pizzas, salads and sandwiches as well as a brunch menu on the weekends. Beer to try: Wizard Fight, 6.2% ABV “Amarillo, Mosaic, and Citra hops create this citrus and pine blast. A true Chicago IPA.”

Corridor Brewery are house brewed and available to take home in cans or growlers. Photo courtesy of Corridor Brewery.

Corridor Brewery beers are house-brewed and available to take home in cans or growlers. Photo courtesy of Corridor Brewery & Provisions.

Arcade Brewery can be found just off of the Kennedy Expressway on Chicago’s north side. Arcade is all about art and community, featuring a collaborative Public Brew Series. Local writers and artists design the bottle label and community members contribute to the final aspects of the beer. Nearly 30 beers were listed on the day I checked, all of them with artist-designed bottling (artist bio included on the website). Beer to try: Chiberian Warmer, 7.7% ABV “winter warmer beer brewed with cranberry and orange peel. Chiberian Warmer is a perfect pairing for any hearty meal or cold winter night.”

Token bottle caps at Arcade Brewery can be traded in for access, items and more. Photo courtesy of Arcade Brewery.

Token bottle caps at Arcade Brewery can be traded in for access, items and more. Photo courtesy of Arcade Brewery.

Fountainhead is situated at the junction of three Chicago north side neighborhoods: Ravenswood, Lincoln Square, and North Center. Around since 2009, this well-established restaurant and brewery had 18 beers on tap as I wrote this piece. The selection includes a mix of local, domestic and imported beers as well as a bottle list, spirits, wine and Fountainhead’s own single-cask whisky program. The food offering includes a main dining room, weekend brunch menu, post-brunch menu (think: post-hangover fare) and rooftop bar menu. Beer to try: Illuminated Brew Works, The Churchill, 6.1% ABV “juicy, fruit-forward crusher that’s as murky as the fog of war, dripping with grapefruit & grape, and an unmistakable hint of strong, fresh marijuana”.

Fountainhead welcomes visitors on their Rooftop Garden Bar. Photo courtesy of Fountainhead .

Fountainhead welcomes visitors on their Rooftop Garden Bar. Photo courtesy of Fountainhead .

Band of Bohemia is located in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood and features a culinary and artistic atmosphere. At the time of this piece, five beers were available on tap as well as small plate, entrée and dessert menus. With a nod toward all things drinkable, they also feature a tea and coffee menu (on staff: a Head of Coffee and Tea) as well as a libations list. The Chef’s Counter is unique: “Executive Chef Matt DuBois will prepare and serve 12-14 courses with the option for each guest to add a mixed beverage pairing to accompany each course.” Beer to try: Pear Fenugreek, 9.7% ABV “light maple and a light celery note, add a ton of pear purée and you’ve got something close to magic. A true fall classic”.

Band of Bohemia's bottles are available for purchase from Chicago-area retailers and restaurants. Photo courtesy of Band of Bohemia.

Band of Bohemia’s bottles are available for purchase from Chicago-area retailers and restaurants. Photo courtesy of Band of Bohemia.

What About Baseball?

White Sox home, US Cellular Field (named such until November 1, 2016). Photo courtesy of Jill Barth.

The Chicago White Sox home, US Cellular Field (named such until November 1, 2016). Photo courtesy of Jill Barth.

The Chicago Cubs are entering The World Series this week. How’s the beer at Wrigley Field? It’s all Anheuser-Busch products, which include Goose Island (once local, now owned by A-B and brewed elsewhere). For more variety, wait until next season and watch the Sox on the south side, where during the 2016 season, they served craft options including Three Floyds, Half Acre, Hop Butcher for the World, Lagunitas, Metropolitan, Pollyanna Brewing, Revolution and Two Brothers in addition to their regular lineup from Miller-Coors. Until then, it’s time to visit some local establishments and discover Chicago.

 

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2016-11-20T22:18:22+00:00 By |

About the Author:

Jill writes about wine, travel and food on her award-winning blog, L'occasion. She is a contributor to Provence WineZine, Palate Press, VinePair, The Good Life France and other publications. She is a correspondent for American Winery Review and the author of a novel about Provençal winemakers during the Second World War. Follow her on twitter and Instagram @jillbarth.