Chicago’s Beer Scene Brimming With Choices

April 15th, 2010 · 7 Comments · Beer & Food, Beer Reviews, Beer Travels, Events

Field Museum - Click on the pic for the rest of my CBC pictures.

As a beer drinker and native Chicagoan, last week’s trip to the Craft Brewers Conference was also a great excuse to see family and old friends, visit some of my favorite drinking and eating establishments, and explore several new places that are a part of Chicago’s growing image as a world-class craft beer destination. It can easily be said that the week did not disappoint.  

Destihl Brew Works at the opening reception

Things started off with a bang at the opening reception of the conference on Wednesday night, held at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History. Growing up, this was always my favorite museum to visit. I could stare at the exhibits for hours, my mind often wandering off to places only Indiana Jones was likely to go. For this visit though, my mind was firmly focused on all of the great craft beer spread throughout the main hall. Various breweries from all over the state and region had booths where they were pouring some mighty fine beers, and appetizers were passed to accompany the beverages. There were many highlights, but one of the standout brews was the Antiquity Rye Wine Barrel-Aged Belgian Sour from Destihl Brew Works in Normal, Illinois. I’d never heard of this brewery, and I was impressed by the barrel-aged sour from this little-known brewery. One of the more interesting sounding beers of the night was the Goose Island Maple Bacon Stout. Sadly, the product itself didn’t live up to the expectations from the name, but I commend the effort. It was at this reception that I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Charlie Papazian, President of the Brewers Association, for the first time, as Charles Finkel of Pike was so kind to introduce me. We didn’t get to talk much, but it was still a pleasure to meet the man.  

In addition to the opening reception, there were many events spread at bars and brewpubs throughout the city. I managed a nice balance of seeing all of my longtime Chicago friends, while attending events and visiting plenty of bars. But, it was impossible to hit everything, and there were a few things that I wish I could have fit in. Following are a few of the places we did make it to.  

Sheffield’s – I used to live around the corner from Sheffield’s, and it is still one of my favorite bars anywhere. There is always a great beer selection, and the place is huge, with three different bars and one of the best outdoor patios in the city. It can be packed if there is a Cubs game, since it is near Wrigley, but that wasn’t an issue this week since the Cubs were out of town. We visited the bar on two separate nights, once for a night featuring the eccentric beers of Shorts Brewing, and another for a Michigan Brewers Guild night, which featured gems such as a cask of Bell’s Hopslam, Founders Double Trouble, and much more (In other words, I don’t freaking remember). The Shorts beers we had were interesting, to say the least. Their Key Lime Pie did indeed taste like a big, sweet, key lime pie. I really enjoyed it, but couldn’t even finish my small glass of it due to the sweetness. They also had a Pistachio beer, which did really take on the flavor of the nut. While interesting, I just couldn’t imagine repeatedly drinking beers like those two. But, their Huma-Lupa-Licious IPA was right up my alley. It’s big hops were balanced nicely, but hop flavor shot out of the glass.  

My friend Bri drools over the charcuterie plate at Publican

The Publican – Holy Mary Mother of God. I wish this place was in Seattle. I’d heard the hype around this new restaurant/gastropub with an impressive list of house-made pork products paired with an extensive beer list, and it lived up to its lofty praise. It’s not cheap, but it’s OK to splurge on a place like this every now and then. We shared house-made spicy pork rinds (amazing), a charcuterie plate that included pork pie, head cheese, duck galantine, morteau sausage, and hunters salumi, and then some mussels cooked in gueuze to top it off. They had an extensive beer menu full of Belgian brews, American craft, and other beers from around the world. I had a Three Floyd’s Ham on Rye (smoked Rye beer) that went perfectly with the charcuterie plate, and then switched over to an uber-hoppy Three Floyd’s Dreadnaught. The Publican definitely impressed, and I can’t wait to go back someday for a full dinner.  

Delilah’s – Located on the north side of town, Delilah’s is about the complete opposite of the Publican. A bit of a dive punk rock bar, it is no flash and all 

Tactical Nuclear Penguin

substance. They have a list of great beers on tap, and they are very well-known for their selection of over 400 whiskeys. We were there to try the BrewDog Tactical Nuclear Penguin, which was part of a rare beer tour for CBC attendees. We didn’t do the actual bus tour and just went straight there in a cab to make sure we snagged a taste of this ridiculously high-octane brew (which, they only had two 12oz bottles of!). At 32% ABV, we didn’t need any more than the 1-oz sample we received to get our fill. To be honest, it was interesting to try but really a bit of a mixed up mess overall. I also had a pint of something nice from Half Acre Beer Company, a still-new Chicago brewery that has been slowly growing since 2007. It’s amazing that I lived fairly close to Delilah’s for a few years and never managed to make it in. It is an unpretentious watering hole with good craft beer, and this would be a regular place for me if I still lived in Chicago.  

Revolution Brewing– This new brewery in the Logan Square neighborhood sounds like it is doing a booming business. Josh Deth, who used to brew at Goose Island, opened up Revolution just last month and it has been going at full speed ever since. The beers we had were solid, but a bit unspectacular. I was really hoping to try their 3.5% ABV Working  Man Mild on cask, but it blew right before we got there. The cask Eugene Porter was a worthy replacement, though, and the best of what I tried. A food highlight at Revolution was most definitely the Bacon Fat Popcorn – popcorn cooked in bacon fat and served with crumbled bacon, fried sage, and Parmesan. Yep, it is as good as it sounds. Not exactly your movie theater popcorn, but perfect for drinking beer. Really, Revolution is a nice neighborhood brewpub that will keep locals coming back. Definitely worth a visit. 

Piece Brewery & Pizzeria – For many visitors, this place is as much about the pizza as it is the beer, and people flock in to get their fill of both. Knowing it would be busy, as anywhere is in Chicago on a weekend night, we headed there at 7pm on a Friday and proceeded to wait 90 minutes for a table for 3. No bother to us though, as there was plenty of great beer to keep us happy while waiting, and they managed to have the Cubs, White Sox, Bulls, and Blackhawks all on their multitude of TVs at the same time. The beer really is world-class; I’m more impressed every time I go back. Their very hoppy double IPA, Wingnut, was my beer of choice, while their Golden Arm Kolsch is one of the better brewpub versions of the light style you’ll find. And the pizza? We got our pie with sausage, mashed potatoes, and onions with red sauce. It might sound odd, but it is truly wonderful.  

Rock Bottom Chicago – Brewer Peter Crowley (who is leaving soon to open his own brewery, Haymarket) has turned this location of the Rock Bottom chain into a much-respected brewpub that has won multiple awards. Their Redline Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout is decadent, and for CBC they had just a few special beers on tap. Ralph’s Centennial ‘Hop Head’ IPA was a perfect beer to celebrate Ralph Olsen’s retirement from Hop Union earlier in the week. They also had a very hoppy German Pils showcasing hops from the German Hop Growers Association. For CBC attendees, Rock Bottom was the official late night hang out, and upstairs they had 95 beers on tap from all over the region, as well as a few kegs from as far as the Pizza Port brewpubs in southern California. It was quite a sight, as was the Chicago Dog buffet they had laid out. Nice touch.  

Brasserie Jo – This upscale bistro was also very centrally located to the convention center. We were here for a North Coast Brewing event that had selections from the brewery’s lineup paired with food from the bistro. The pairings were nicely done, and some of the food was quite nice. Tough to say much else about this place, since I didn’t get to spend much time there.  

Clark Street Ale House – Another centrally located place on the near north side of Chicago that I had never before visited. Impressive beer selection (I think a lot of it was special for CBC week), welcoming laid-back vibe, enjoyable bartender, and just a great place for a Saturday afternoon beer. Enjoyed a Founder’s Double Trouble IPA here; delicious.

Three Floyd’s – Worth the 30 minute drive from Chicago (in good traffic), Three Floyd’s is located just across the border in my hometown of Munster, Indiana. I visited earlier in the week with my parents, and enjoyed their world-class beers, as always. I had a glass of Barrel-Aged Popskull, a collaboration beer they did with Dogfish Head, and I couldn’t help but get a fresh Dreadnaught on tap. I’d skip the food (head to Munster Gyros or Schoop’s Hamburgers instead!). I could say plenty more about how much I love this place. If you are serious about your beer, no trip to Chicago is complete without trucking it down to Munster to visit their brewpub. Flossmoor Station Brewery is another must-hit if you head down that way. 

Food:
Chicago is full of good food, but these are two of my favorite places and worth your time if in the area.
Clark Dog– There are tons of hot dog places in Chicago, and I grew to love Clark Dog since it was close to where I lived. Now I have to go back every time I’m in town. Open late (3am, 4am on weekends), good food, and the same guys have been working there forever it seems like. Two cheese dogs and cheese fries, please.  

The Berghoff– Long known as Chicago’s oldest restaurant still in operation, this classic downtown German venue closed its doors briefly in 2005 or 2006, but fully re-opened the restaurant and bar in 2007. This is another place I visited often growing up in the Chicago area, and it was great to be back. Their classic Weiner Schnitzel is true to from, and their creamed spinach might have been the first vegetable that I ever enjoyed. Their beer, which is contract brewed by Minhas Brewery, is acceptable, but I really enjoy their Root Beer, actually.  

Place Missed on this Trip That Are Very Worthy:
Goose Island – The first brewpub that I ever visited. Great beer and food, and lots of history here.
The Map Room – Regarded as probably the best beer bar in Chicago. I usually make it here every visit, but we just ran out of time (and stamina).
Hopleaf – heavy on the Belgians with plenty of American craft to balance.  

There are plenty of other places that I can’t mention in this long, 1,700 word post. Check out RateBeer’s list of Places for a more complete list of what is worth hitting.

I promise this is the last of my wordy posts wrapping up my CBC experience…back to regularly scheduled mostly-local programming after this.

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7 Comments so far ↓

  • Allecia

    Wow–you really made the rounds. I lived in Lakeview for 8 years and miss Chicago terribly. But it’s nice that the beer community there is finally becoming a major force in the city’s food scene. Looking forward to checking out Revolution.

  • Travis

    This is awesome. I was about to email you for suggestions. My wife and I are going to chicago in 2 weeks for our anniversary. Now I know exactly where to go. Unless you left out a secret awesome place. Thanks!

  • Tim Nichols

    Last time I was at Delilah’s they had the Westvleteren 12, and I think it was less than 8 bucks! Great beer selection. Liked Berghoff’s too!

  • Lynn Stevens

    Travis, When you’re checking out Revolution, also try the nearby Quenchers and Small Bar (on Albany).

    Coincidentally, someone just wrote that Logan Square (the neighborhood of all of the above) is like a little bit of Seattle.

  • Pat

    travis, for pizza definitely try geno’s east, if youre wife wants to shop (window shop for your sake!) there’s one right up on the miracle mile

    whats the hot dog place where they cuss you out after midnight?

  • Suzy

    great pics and write ups for the whole CBC trip!! I’d admit as a beer drinker you sometimes don’t really think of how huge the industry is and all that goes into it – like you said with labeling companies, etc. that really have nothing to do with beer but of the industry of making beer….anyway, nice insights into the industry

    I’ve never been to Chicago, but looks like a great place for beer and food, esp. w/ places like Publican, Clark Dog and sights of taps that make me drool (esp. stuff like Founders).

    And on that video of the Symposium beer (which sounds amazing) I recognized a face. Turns out I went to college with one of the founders and brewers at Half Acre and we lost touch about 7 years ago after grad school.

  • Kaiser

    Glad people are enjoying the writeup…and it was useful to at least one person planning a trip there!

    Ben – the city is definitely worthy of a trip. I wish I would have been into beer when I lived there as I am now. That’s crazy about your friend at Half Acre; nice hookup for you in the future maybe!

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