The Brewers Association reported last year that Chicagoland, which includes the surrounding urban areas, has more breweries than any other metropolitan area in the whole country. Denver isn’t too far behind, as are Seattle and San Diego, but with 167 breweries, Chicago wins the top accolade. Consider taking a brewery tour—there are many in Chicago to choose from—to learn about your favorite beers and the process it took to make them.
From Alarmist Brewing in North Park to Whiner Brewery at Back of the Yards, Chicagoans and tourists alike won’t have trouble finding a great beer to wet their whistles. Picking the top 10 breweries, then, is a herculean task for any writer, and one that is obviously disputable, but the following is a decent list to get you started.
Half Acre Beer Company
In a city that has detonated with craft breweries in the last decade, Half Acre Beer Company, founded in 2006, is considered one of the original players. The first brewery location is on Chicago’s north side on Lincoln Avenue and the expanded space is about 15 minutes away on Balmoral—both complete with kitchens and taprooms and both offer inexpensive tours. The Balmoral spot, however, has a lovely outdoor beer garden that is perfect for drinking all of those Daisy Cutters.
Dozens of IPAs, porters, Belgian-style ales, pilsners and the like are made regularly at Revolution, the state’s largest independently-owned brewery. The Brewpub in Logan Square has a huge draft list, which includes favorites like Every Day Hero, Fist City, Anti-Hero, and the double oatmeal stout Café Deth. A pub menu—baked pretzels, cheese curds, wings, pizza, salads, and burgers—is also available to soak up all of that beer. The nearby Brewery and Taproom on Kedzie is a massive 90,000 square-foot facility that also houses a beer hall, open Wednesdays—Sundays.
If German-style lagers are your thing, then head straight for Metropolitan Brewing—they’ve been making this sort of beer since 2009 and they’re quite good at it. Krankshaft, the flagship brew, is made year-round and offered at Soldier Field, O’Hare and Midway International Airports, and at the home of the White Sox. Once a bit under the radar, the popularity of Metropolitan Brewing has increased since the addition of the Rockwell Taproom (listed on their website as dog, kid and freak-friendly) in Avondale, overlooking the Chicago River.
Lagunitas Brewing Company
We know that Lagunitas is technically derived from California, however, this brewery operates a mammoth 300,000 square-foot facility in Chicago’s Douglas Park. Acquired by Heineken in 2017, Lagunitas is a popular Chicago beer staple. Order a Lagunitas IPA, Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’, or a Dogtown Pale Ale at Illinois’ largest brewer. Grab a stool, eat some oleaginous pub food, and stay for the live music.
Goose Island Beer Company
Goose Island brews are well known throughout Chicago and the country and some folks have scoffed at the mainstream reach since the 2011 sale of the company to InBev. Since 1988, however, this beer company has consistently produced high-quality, great-tasting beers, and while it’s no longer considered a craft brewery by any stretch of the imagination, Goose Island’s beers are still striking and delicious. Visit the Goose Island taproom on Fulton Street or the one on Clybourn Avenue and order a 312 Urban Wheat Ale, Goose IPA, Green Line Pale Ale, or a Ms Brightside.
On Tour Brewing Company
Founder, brewer and Chicago native, Mark Legenza developed his passion for making beer through home brewing before creating On Tour Brewing Company in Chicago’s West Loop in 2017. This spot is ideal for hanging with friends while listening to live music, eating noshes out of food trucks, and drinking a Half Step American pale ale or a Heads All Empty IPA. If you’re gluten-free, grab a rotating cider.
Band of Bohemia
Band of Bohemia makes our list because it’s completely original and unlike any other brewery in Chicago. This Michelin-starred brewpub puts as much emphasis on the beer as it does the culinary program, pairing the two in such a way that the overall experience will knock your socks off. The list of house-made tap beers changes but currently, you can enjoy The Mother of Kites, Sliced Bread, or The Noble Raven Ale, the flagship brew.
Marz Community Brewing
The Marz Community Taproom and Kitchen, located in near south side’s Mckinley Park, is just plain cool. Colorful art hangs on the brick walls; a wraparound bar, couches, and bar stools create an open environment for socializing; pinball and old arcade games are sprinkled about; and 24 beers are offered on tap. Be prepared to taste a newfangled flavor and order a Splash, a tropical pale ale; the American wheat ale Jungle Boogie flagship beer; or Chug Life, a sparkling lager. A decent menu, with lots of diverse offerings, will satiate you so you can eat, stay and play as long as you like.
Off Color Brewing
Off Color Brewing has a relatively new tap room called The Mousetrap, located in the trendy Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. The claim to fame here is the madcap offerings that are experimental and inventive. To keep you at the edge of your seat, order the fruity Off Color Apex Predator; the Off Color Barrel Aged Beer for Tacos, a wheat beer with an agave flavor; and the Off Color Tooth and Claw, a lager inspired by the Field Museum’s tyrannosaurus rex dinosaur—Sue. You’re sure to fall in love with the art work on the labels as much as the quirky titles.
Pipeworks Brewing Company
Merrit Lewis and Beejay Oslon didn’t follow the traditional route of attending brewing school before opening up their own brewery in Chicago. Instead, the two friends traveled to Belgium and worked for free at De Struise Brouwers. When the pair returned, they crowdsourced funds and opened Pipeworks Brewing Company in 2012. While Pipeworks doesn’t have a taproom yet, you can visit the Dojo bottle shop inside the production facility to purchase beer. The can art is vibrant and unique, a true thing of beauty—show up to a house party with a pack of Ninja vs. Unicorn Double IPA; Citra Saison; Sea Cucumbo; Hey, Careful Man, There’s a Beverage Here!; or Spotted Puffer Imperial IPA. Enjoy responsibly with friends.