It may not be Portland or Denver, but in recent years, Chicago has carved out a beer niche of its own, with new breweries, bars, and brewpubs popping up every season. Chicago’s craft-beer scene can intimidate the average visitor and even beer fanatics, but that's no reason to skip the Windy City’s top beer meccas. Read on for some of the most indispensable beer destinations in Chicago, and get ready to knock back some of the best craft beers in the country.
Goose Island Clybourn
Although Anheuser-Busch bought it a few years ago, Goose Island Beer Company is the granddaddy of Chicago’s craft beer scene, having opened in 1988, and it’s still well worth a trip to the Lincoln Park brewpub. When you’re here, skip the ubiquitous 312 Urban Wheat Ale (which should actually be called 315 since it’s now brewed in Baldwinsville, NY) and instead enjoy a barrel-aged beer brewed on premises—especially if you can get your hands on the revered Bourbon County Brand Stout. On Saturdays and Sundays, Goose Island offers brewery tours for $10, which includes a taste of 6 fresh samples of beer and a souvenir pint glass; make reservations at least a week in advance.
One of Chicago’s most beloved breweries, Half Acre Beer Company brews and serves beer on Lincoln Avenue in North Center. Stop by the taproom for the freshest Daisy Cutter Pale Ale on the market, as well as a selection of beers that are nearly impossible to find anywhere else in the city. The brewery offers tours every Saturday at 11 am, but plan on getting there at least an hour early with $10 cash in hand if you want to get in; the early wait is worth it, because you will get a souvenir pint glass and three complete fills of that glass during the two-hour brewery tour.
Lagunitas Chicago Taproom
The California-based brewing company opened an enormous brewery in Pilsen back in June, and it’s already become a hotspot for Windy City beer fans. All the Lagunitas beers sold in Chicago now come from this brewery, but the freshest pours come from the welcoming, expansive taproom that has windows offering a view inside the brewery and a 700-foot catwalk offering visitors an indoor stroll. There are free tours here throughout the week, but note that only the weekday tours involve tastings. Live music and classic pub fare, like hot pretzels with mustard and cheese, round out the Lagunitas Chicago experience.
Insider Tip: If you’re coming in from out of town before April 5, 2015, the historic Loop hotel JW Marriott Chicago has a “Beercation” weekend package that, among other perks, will get you complimentary transportation to and from Lagunitas and tastings once you’re there.
Ask any Chicago craft-beer aficionado where to get the best selection of beers in Chicago, and you’ll get one answer: Hopleaf Bar. This Andersonville gastropub has been shipping in local, national, and international beers since 1992, and if you’re looking for the best Chicago picks or a hard-to-find 3 Floyd’s brew, Hopleaf is your best best. The bar’s selection of around 400 different bottled beers and 64 on draft will satisfy even the most discerning beer fan, especially one who is hankering for a good Belgian ale. There's also a great menu here: Favorites include the fresh Prince Edward Island mussels and the duck reuben on marble rye, slow-roasted and topped with a cranberry cream cheese spread, house-made sauerkraut, and Emmenthaler.
The Map Room
Dubbing itself “a traveler’s tavern,” this Bucktown beer bar has a selection that has landed it on Draft Magazine’s Best Beer Bars in America list. The Map Room offers over 200 unique beers that represent 36 different brewing styles from around the world, with 26 taps and usually a cask-conditioned ale too. This bar is cash only and doesn’t have its own kitchen, but visitors are encouraged to bring food or order it in, and they can munch on pretzel rods and peruse old travel books and copies of National Geographic at their tables while they wait for their food to arrive. Stop by for Beer School with Greg Browne, the brewmaster at Mickey Finn’s Brewery in Libertyville, Illinois, to learn about the different styles of beer—tickets are sold at the bar on a first-come, first-served basis.
One of Chicago’s best breweries, Revolution Brewing is a must for its beers alone, but its Logan Square brewpub sets it apart from the rest. Expect a wait here, as the popular establishment doesn’t accept reservations, and once you’re seated, there’s a wide variety of food and drinks to choose from. The bacon-fat popcorn (made with bacon, crispy sage, and shaved Parmesan) is mind-blowing and pairs well with the crispy pork belly sandwich or the Iron Fist fish and chips with roasted red pepper remoulade and honey-jalapeño slaw. Head chef Charlie Eure provides a menu full of food and beer pairings, and while Revolution’s most popular brews include the Anti-Hero IPA and Eugene Porter, get a flight in order to taste the lesser-distributed ones you can often only find in the brewpub. Those who want a greater taste of Revolution can visit the Kedzie Production Facility about a mile-and-a-half away for complimentary tours on a first come, first serve basis.
Piece Brewery and Pizzeria
It can be hard to find a good thin crust in the land of deep dish, but Piece Brewery and Pizzeria specializes in thin, New Haven-style pizza (with ample garlic) and brews its own beer to go with it. The Wicker Park pizza joint operates a seven-barrel brewhouse under brewer Jonathan Cutler, and its Camel Toe double IPA, Golden Arm German-style Kolsch, and Festivus Belgian ale are among the top picks here. The hand-formed pizzas range in styles from red to plain (a.k.a. cheeseless) to white (a popular choice being the white clam pie), and there’s even a chocolate pizza topped with hazelnut sauce and mascarpone cheese available for dessert. Piece can get loud when it’s busy, but stop by for Saturday-night karaoke if you’re looking for extra fun to go along with your beer and pizza.
Haymarket Pub & Brewery
Named after the 1886 Haymarket Affair labor riots that took place a short distance away from the West Loop restaurant, Haymarket Pub & Brewery offers great food and house-brewed beers that stick with the political theme, with picks like the Speakerswagon Pilsner, Oscar’s Pardon Dry-Hopped Belgian Pale Ale, and The Riot sandwich (with a house-made Italian sausage patty, smoked pulled pork, mozzarella, sweet barbeque sauce, and giardiniera). Get the Mathias Imperial IPA if it’s on tap, as this beer has won several awards. Those who plan to spend a lot of time at Haymarket can join the Local 737 Beer Drinker’s Union, a customer-loyalty program that allows members to try new beers with brewmaster Pete Crowley before they’re tapped.