During my last visit, I had a hard time finding a good place to drink craft beer in Chicago. Well, two years brought a lot of change.
Last time, I interrogated a transplant from Colorado working at a Rock Bottom just north of the Loop. He directed me to Haymarket Pub & Brewery, which was a winner. I was determined to find something new when I dropped in during muggy mid-July.
I did well enough to give you my list of where to drink craft beer in Chicago. This list is by no means complete: I didn’t have a car, relying only on my feet augmented by some travel on the El. There’s more out there, but this is what you can find in range of Chicago Loop. Be warned: I am an enthusiastic, durable and fast walker. And I’ll admit that I cheat on the last selection – we took a commuter train to Geneva (about one hour) to meet my brother.
The Pour House
I headed north from my spot on the The Loop, just south of the river. My first mission was coffee (a dire failure that continues to a problem in Chicago – but that’s for another time). I skirted east of Goose Island and wandered some of the low-rise areas. That’s where I found Old Town. It struck me as a slice of Portland – a lot of the cool factor, but without the undying love for the local MLS team.
There, I passed the Pour House and its 30-foot-long row of taps. The atmosphere is a bit aloof and white-linen for my taste. But the beer menu impressed me. I also like the option to get 6-ounce tasting portions. That allowed me to try Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale (Alltech Lexington, Kentucky), Daisy Cutter IPA (Half Acre Brewing, Chicago) and Two Brothers Outlaw IPA (Warrenville, Ill). The Old Town Pour House menu breaks the selections down by type, which helps you find your favorites. Visitors like me just might enjoy a section that lists selections by geography – at least for the local/regional selections.
The Outlaw was the best of the bunch, yet Daisy Cutter was the standout. That’s because it’s the best example I’ve seen of a new variety gaining momentum – the session IPA. It’s only 5.2 percent, very low for an IPA. But the hops punch hard without overwhelming the malt. That’s no small trick for such a low percentage.
The Pour House’s standoffish vibe aside, it’s a great place to drink craft beer in Chicago. The tasting sizes and selection make it a winner.
After my visit to Revolution Brewing, I found out how much people seems to love this brewery. For good reason – this is where you should drink craft beer in chicago. It has a great pub, excellent service, super beer (with plenty of creative spins) and a killer agitprop design aesthetic.
It can get crowded on weekends, especially since most of the first floor is only for those ordering food. But I prefer upstairs, anyway. It’s a little quieter and more laid-back.
Let’s get to the brews. I had an Anti-Hero IPA and a Black Power oatmeal stout. OK, so I’ll just have to say these beers rank right up there with the best of their genres. Anti-Hero can stand toe to toe with Oskar Blues Gubna, though I’d say it’s a hair less sweet and a bit more piney. Black Power doesn’t quite have the silky texture of a nitro-charged stout. It’s thick and moderately sweet, but far from cloying. It’s more roasty than chocolatey.
Sarah had some sort of Belgian ale. I gave it a taste, but not enough to form a big impression. I was working my way through Black Power at the time.
So back to Chicago’s apparent love for Revolution: We got soaked in a sudden cloudburst when we walked from the El to Revolution. We bought Revolution t-shirts and changed into them immediately. And wore them the next day. As we walked Chicago, random people stopped us to say how much they love Revolution – from the barista at Intelligentsia to a guy at the train station. Revolution, you are doing something right!
And there’s a Revolution brew I can’t resist: Gravedigger Billy, a barrel-aged Scottish heavy. Apparently, Revolution hooks local pubs up with some rarities … the beer geek’s version of the video game nerd’s Easter Egg. It averages a 4.3 Untappd rating. That’s way too damn low. It’s lightly carbonated, heavy as hell and saturated in whiskey overtones. It’s pretty much my perfect malty beer.
I followed that up with a Two Brothers Hop Centric. Its hops are more floral than piney (I prefer the pine) – and it hits a nice balance of malty and hoppy. It’s a very good example of a double IPA with not a note out of place. But nothing about it burned into my taste buds like some IPAs I’ve had. It won’t disappoint, but it won’t turn your beer world upside down.
As for the Geneva Ale House, we caught it during a quiet time. It was a relaxing place to hang out and catch up with my brother and sister-in-law (who loved Grave Digger Billy as much as I did). The service was attentive but not obtrusive. I wouldn’t mind trying the food during my next visit. It’s probably too far away to be considered a place to drink craft beer in Chicago … but I just can’t omit it.
One for the Future
Ahhh, Twitter, my friend! This is where I stumbled on SlapShot Brewing the week after I returned to Arizona. I didn’t have to feel bad about missing something cool – Slapshot hasn’t opened yet. And maybe it’s because I love the movie so much … but my gut tells me good things are gonna go down at SlapShot, and it will takes its place as a great place to drink craft beer in Chicago.