It wasn’t that long ago that the idea of “Chicago beer” started with Old Style and ended with a draft from Goose Island’s brewpub. In the past few years, however, local breweries have been starting up in the city and suburbs at an astounding rate — from just a handful in the late 90s to about 200 today, scattered across Illinois.
With nearly everyone in Chicagoland now no more than a few miles from their nearest brewery or brewpub, fresh, fun, creative brews are easier than ever to enjoy. Pretty much all the breweries in Chicagoland have a beer worth celebrating, but there are a few making a notable variety of truly incredible beers. From city to suburbs, here are some of the best breweries around, in no particular order.
One of the first breweries to kick off the most recent wave of Chicago beer production, Half Acre is still one of the best. They started selling six-packs of their lager in 2007, and opened their own brewery in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood in 2009, with a store and taproom following soon after. Finally, in 2015, Half Acre opened a huge new facility a couple miles north so they could produce the massive amounts of beers like Daisy Cutter and Pony Pilsner that Illinois was clamoring for.
One of the greatest beers produced in Chicago today is their Daisy Cutter pale ale, a big, aggressively hoppy and bitter brew that’s still supremely drinkable year-round. However, IPA fans look forward every year to the return of their GoneAway India Pale Ale, literally one of the greatest IPAs in the country (they took silver at 2014’s Great American Beer Fest, beating out hundreds of other entries nationwide, though the beer was named Senita at the time). 4257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago
This south-suburban brewpub just off the Metra tracks (and in fact located in an old train station) is often overlooked in favor of other more mainstream and more widely-available breweries, which makes it easy to forget that Flossmoor has been making great beers for longer than basically everybody in the state. Very few operations are ever named Brewpub of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival, but Flossmoor took home that honor in 2006, and that’s just one of the many medals and awards they’ve earned for the hundreds of beers they’ve created over the years. They recently announced they’d be adding a beer garden and a smokehouse soon — more reason to hop on a train and head down. 1035 Sterling Ave., Flossmoor
Chicago craft-brewing pioneer Goose Island is still one of the top outfits in town, even five years after being purchased by Anheuser-Busch. It’s impossible to calculate the effect that Goose has had on the city’s beer scene — many former employees have gone on to start their own breweries — but for a good example of the many different ways a brewery can succeed in beer, Goose is a great test subject. You want an easy drinking summer beer even non-craft drinkers can enjoy? Simple — you want their 312 Urban Wheat. Maybe you’re looking for a food-friendly Belgian-style beer to serve with dinner? Grab their Sofie or Matilda. Craving something a bit crazy? How about their forthcoming cucumber-lime radler or a coffee pale ale? You want a beer that defined a style and made Chicago synonymous with barrel-aged stouts? Grab a Bourbon County Stout (if you can find one). Goose has still got the goods. 1800 W. Fulton St., Chicago
Dedicated to truly doing things their own way, Metropolitan is still a happy anomaly of a brewery despite being the first production brewery to open in Chicago in a decade back in 2009. Other Chicago breweries may make all those bigger, hoppier, crazier beers, and that’s fine. Metro does what they do — true-to-style, dialed-in lager beers — extremely well, and we couldn’t (and shouldn’t) ask for anything more. Their dedication to clean, spot-on perfect beers like their Dynamo Copper Lager and Krankshaft Kolsch (a year-round offering but a perfect summer-heat beer) makes them a great brewery, and their devotion to furthering Chicago’s culture of phenomenal craft beer makes them important members of the brewing community. 5121 N. Ravenswood Ave., Chicago
It’s sort of hard to explain Off Color to people since most casual beer fans wouldn’t recognize many of the styles they create. Kottbusser? Sahti? Gose? In spite of brewing beers many can’t pronounce, Off Color quickly emerged as a brewery that churns out the wild, weird stuff that makes its brewers happy without worrying about having the hoppiest IPA in all the land. Their brewers honed their talents while working with Chicago stalwarts like Two Brothers, Goose Island and Metropolitan and those skills show in their fan favorites like Dino S’mores (yes, it tastes like s’mores) and their Apex Predator farmhouse ale, perhaps the perfect brunch beer with its light, creamy, juicy, citrusy beermosa-esque-ness. 3925 W. Dickens Ave., Chicago
Imagine the craziest beer you can think of. Pipeworks has probably made something close to it. Of all the new breweries that opened in the past five to six years, only Pipeworks has earned the title of “Best New Brewery in the World,” bestowed upon them by RateBeer in early 2013. Since then they’ve blasted out hundreds of different beer recipes like their super-hopped Ninja Vs. Unicorn, their multi-flavored Abduction series of stouts and crazy-creative stuff like beers made to resemble cocktails such as a Dark & Stormy or an Old-Fashioned. Their new line of canned offerings are actually the first beers they’ve chosen to make year-round, and continue the hop-happy focus with brews like the instant classic Lizard King Pale Ale. 3912 W. Mclean Ave., Chicago
Now one of the biggest craft breweries in the country, Revolution started in 2010 as a brewpub in the city’s Logan Square neighborhood. Demand for their hophead/socialist beers surged throughout the city prompting the opening soon after of a huge production facility just a short distance north (with one of the coolest taprooms in town). Beers like the Anti-Hero IPA, Bottom Up Wit and Eugene Porter quickly became staples in bars and restaurants across the city, while a rotating variety of specialty beers like their Rosa hibiscus ale and A Little Crazy Belgian-style pale ale became reason to look forward to the changing seasons. 2323 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago
Once one of the smallest breweries in the state, Spiteful started as a nanobrewing operation working from a basement space in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood. They quickly became known more for their aggressive, creative beers as opposed to the relative closet they brewed them in. Spiteful’s beers include the happily hoppy Alley Time Pale Ale and the God Damn Pigeon Porter (which boasts variants that feature ingredients like raspberry and peanut butter). They recently announced they’d be expanding to a new larger space but that hasn’t taken their eye off the brewing ball — they took home two big medals at the 2015 Festival of Barrel Aged Beer, for their bourbon-barrel-aged barleywine and their spicy, cinnamony barrel-aged Chocolate Caliente Malevolence Russian Imperial Stout. 1815 W. Berteau Ave., Chicago
Just a few minutes from the Illinois border in Munster, Indiana, sits one of the most well-known, polarizing, sought-after, talked-about (and argued-about) breweries of the past two decades. Three Floyds has helped pioneer what American beer has come to be — extreme flavors, massive amounts of bitter hops and a healthy dose of sharp-edged thrash-metal attitude. It doesn’t get any more Three Floyds-y than their annual Dark Lord Day — the one day you can purchase their now-legendary Russian Imperial Stout — which is now a full-on festival of extremely hard-to-find beer, metal bands, communal beer-geek exuberance and even more beer. 9750 Indiana Parkway, Munster, Indiana
Karl Klockars has been covering the city’s beer scene for longer than most breweries have been in existence. He’s also written about food, drink and travel for Chicago Magazine, Thrillist, Draft Magazine and Time Out Chicago. In 2010 he helped create GuysDrinkingBeer.com, which has thrice been nominated as one of the nation’s best beer blogs by SAVEUR magazine.