Microbreweries Deliver a Taste Explosion

Remember the 1980s, when American wine drinkers en masse debated the fruity finish of the Glen Ellen vs. the Beringer white zin? My, how the communal palate has grown.

The legalization of microbreweries in 1983 made way for American brewing companies to leap from a paltry 40 to more than 500 today, according to beer-brewing-advice.com. Now, infinite combinations of malt, hops, barley, yeast and water offer suds selections beyond the Miller, Budweiser and Old Style.

“The trend is toward palate education,” says Brian Grano, owner of Mickey Finn’s microbrew pub in Libertyville. “A hand-crafted beer versus, say, a Miller Lite, hits more of the senses, and if you’re not used to that, it can be overwhelming.”

So grab some buds, with a small b, and head to a local brew pub to join the taste explosion. If you don’t know your hops from your malts, here’s a beer cheat sheet.

The Onion Pub and Brewery
Lake Barrington

Owner Mike Kainz and his family entered the business in 1996. Kainz says “the brewery is still the heart and soul of the business,” complementing the full-service restaurant and banquet hall (highlighted by a 40-foot vaulted timberframe ceiling) with 11 home brews on tap and seasonal favorites throughout the year. “The beer we serve travels no further than 100 feet from kettle to tapper,” he says. “Which means you’re drinking beer at its absolute peak of quality and freshness.”

Mickey Finn’s Brewery
Libertyville

This favorite watering hole of locals and visitors touts its “appreciation of tradition” with seasonal beers brewed in Belgian and German styles, as well as favorites such as its amber and wheat ales. The pub, full-service restaurant, and upstairs Amber Room featuring live entertainment on weekends and some weeknights, making “Finn’s” a regular stop for many. Mickey Finn’s offers tours, discussions and even the opportunity to brew with brewmaster Greg Browne—simply call ahead and schedule an appointment.

Flatlander’s Brewery
Lincolnshire

Its 7 home brews and additional seasonal varieties qualify Flatlander’s as a hand-crafted brewpub. With events such as autograph signings by Chicago’s professional athletes, weekend bands and Monday open mic nights, it’s easy to mistake Flatlander’s for just another restaurant/bar. Don’t. A full menu, including Sunday brunch, is worthy of groups of all types and sizes. And only at Flatlanders can you find out what Grandpa’s Golden Blonde looks like.  

The Lucky Monk
South Barrington

The Lucky Monk has attitude—that’s a good thing. “When you name your restaurant after Trappist monks who’ve spent centuries perfecting their craft, you’re serious about your beer,” its website reads. “That’s why we hired a master to craft our house brews, and why our beer list spans the globe.” Manager Claudia Ruiz says the tasty pizza, burgers and salads enhance the restaurant’s “elevate your soul” mission in a comfortable setting that caters to families and friends. Personal tours with the brewmaster, available on request, add to the attention owner Jeremy Samatas strives to give his customers.

Ram Brewery
Wheeling

If old Continental Bank was “the big bank with the little bank inside,” the Ram Brewery is its hops and barley equivalent. A pub/eatery opened in 1971 in Washington is now one of 27 locations across the U.S.,with 3 in Chicagoland (Wheeling, Schaumburg and Rosemont). Every location of the Ram features 6 regular, locally-brewed beers on tap and additional seasonal varieties. This kid-friendly, casual restaurant draws in crowds for the big games, offers brewery tours throughout the day and hosts brewing classes twice a year.

For more great restaurants, check out our Dining Guide.