From its abundant parks to its 18-mile Lakefront Trail to Millennium Park with its eclectic concert programming at the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the Windy City is home to many great―and free―recreational activities. Even the Art Institute of Chicago (Thursday evenings only) and the Lincoln Park Zoo are free. It’s no wonder the Craft Brewers Conference was held in Chi-town this year.
Beyond scarfing down Polishes and Chicago deep-dish pizza or pounding Old Style out of a paper cup at Wrigley Field, Chicago is a haven for fans of quality tunes and craft brews.
Chicago Blues was born from musicians such as Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy building on elements from the Mississippi Delta; Chicago brewers developed wood-aged beer by looking south for bourbon barrels. The proximate Bourbon Trail enabled Greg Hall at Goose Island to create Bourbon County Stout, which you can try at both brewpub locations, Clybourn (1800 North Clybourn) and Wrigleyville (3535 North Clark Street). Clybourn has 25 flagship and experimental taps where you might just try a bourbon-aged Extra Naughty Goose or Burton’s Maplewood Farm Maple Bacon Stout.
Craft Beer Institute president, Cicerone Certification program director and Chicago resident Ray Daniels says, “The new chef is a Certified Cicerone and the new brewer is very food-oriented [a Culinary Institute of America grad] so there are some very interesting things going on these days.”
About 30 miles south in Chicagoland, Flossmoor Station Brewery (1035 Sterling Avenue, Flossmoor) was another pioneer among barrel-aging and, time and vehicle permitting, is sure to offer tasty treats.
Speaking of tasty, forget pub grub, Chicago perhaps reigns as the gastropub capital of the U.S. The Publican and Hop Leaf lead by example. At the Publican (837 W. Fulton Market), Daniels says guests should expect to pay “top dollar, but they have a fantastic beer list and world-class food.” Sean Paxton, the Homebrew Chef, recently returned raving about an “insane” meal there consisting of beef heart, veal sweetbreads, seafood and charcuterie. When he finally got to the beers, his eyes glazed over like the house made nut caramel tart. The menu includes Cantillon Lou Pepe-Framboise ($5 for 750-ml) and nearby Three Floyds equally-hard-to-find Behemoth Barleywine ($35 per bomber).
For those who still want solid beer and excellent food but at a better value, Daniels suggests checking out Hop Leaf (5148 N Clark Street). While Paxton raves about their charcuterie as well, don’t overlook creative sandwiches such as the Duck Reuben and the “CB&J”―house-made cashew butter with fig jam and morbier cheese pan-fried on sourdough. When ordering beer from their taps or well-thought-out 16-page bottle list, don’t overlook the local Wild Blossom Meadery meads. As an aside, Daniels gives the thumbs up to the newest brewpub, Revolution (N. Milwaukee Avenue), its “innovative pub food, excellent beers and an extensive set of guest taps.” Other brewpubs include Moonshine (W Division Street) and Piece Brewery and Pizzeria (1927 W. North Avenue).
As for plain, straight-up watering holes, three spots are must-see/must-drink for lovers of the craft. The Map Room (1949 N. Hoyne) in Bucktown is the local preeminent beer bar, but Sheffield’s (3258 N. Sheffield) is a three-bars-in-one beer garden, and unlike the Map Room, has a food menu. And another hot beer garden is The Village Tap (2055 W. Roscoe Street). Not too many places offer craft beer by the pitcher like they do.
A good way to burn off a few of these liquid calories is by walking around a neighborhood. Erin Drain, manager of the South Loop location of wine store Lush (1257 S. Halsted Street) that boasts an diminutive but impressive beer bottle selection, says nearby Pilsen is ripe for exploration including “one of the best, original restaurants around: Honky Tonk BBQ” (West 18th Street). Between Pilsen and Bucktown lies über-hip Wicker Park. Drain points to its “great shops and restaurants and arts scene. Myopic Books [1564 North Milwaukee Avenue] is one of the best used-book stores in the city. Lots of couches and cats.” And in the heart of the hood, Dee’s Place (W. Division Street) a late-night soul restaurant with everything from ribs to fried okra. This new jazz-club themed place is BYOB and a mere block from D & D Liquors (W. Division Street) with a huge bottle selection.
Of course, depending on how late you’re there and how much local beer appreciating you do, you may need to hit the Twisted Spoke (501 N. Ogden Avenue). At this biker-themed joint from the Einhorn brothers (Cliff and Mitch) behind Lush, Drain stresses the need to order either the Elvis French Toast (it’s stuffed with bananas and peanut butter) or the spicy, cheesy “Chilla Killas” chilaquiles. And if it’s hair of the dog you’ll be needing, while they have about 170 bottles and 20 taps including local brewers Half Acre (4257 N. Lincoln Avenue), Metropolitan (5121 N. Ravenswood Avenue) and Two Brothers Brewing (in this case being Jim and Jason Ebel), which is 30 miles west in Warrenville.