Chicago Brewery Tour: Part 1, The West Side

Part 1 of 3

Chicago’s reputation for making great beers is on the ascendancy. And this a reason you might be noticing why a lot of people visiting the windy city are here for the beer. There are sixty six breweries in Chicago and another hundred or so in the burbs. And whether you like it or not Chicago has become one of the top cities for craft beer in America. Not only do we have enough local breweries that would take you a year to try all of their beer, but Chicago has an incredibly diverse range of beers from around the country and the world making it one of the primary markets for the over hundreds of regional and national craft breweries to break into.

The explosion of breweries in Chicagoland is a relatively recent phenomena. In the past few years you can find a brewery in many of the high traffic hospitality and entertainment districts in the city. But there are also breweries opening up in out of the way industrial corridors and neighborhoods you have never visited before. This is great for Chicago and craft beer drinkers everywhere. You can drink hyper local and regional brews that are high quality, rad and fresh. Some of the first craft breweries started here in the city and a dozen or so advanced and innovative breweries are making beers sought after all over the world. We have some of the best bars in the world, and restaurants that make food to pair with beer that are internationally renowned.

For those of you with your favorite breweries and watering holes, you probably know where you like to go to have a cold one. But have you every considered doing a tour of some of the historic and brand new breweries that have popped up in the last few months and revisited ones you checked out a while ago? Where would you take out visitors from out of town? Well, let us help.

We created a few tours in which to investigate our city’s microbreweries and brewpubs that a reasonable person could finish in a day or two. And we picked breweries that have tap rooms or tasting rooms and have left out most production only facilities. You don’t like our picks? The Chicago Reader recently put out a guide to the best Brewery Tours in the city and The Hop Review has a comprehensive google map of all of our metropolitan breweries. We encourage you to design your own tours and guides to drinking beer and want you to share them with us. Enjoy the ride.

If you have one day to fill on a brewery tour of Chicago and are not going to Indiana to visit Three Floyd’s then this might be your best option. It’s close to the loop, the distances between them are not too far. It’s bike-able, walkable and taxi friendly. The tour includes a range of small brewpubs to the second largest craft brewing facility in Chicago. It also has a lot of food options. And if you want to eat your way through all this beer, this route maximizes your options. Enjoy.  – Edmar



Haymarket Pub & Brewery

 

Let’s start our West Side Tour with brunch or lunch in the heart of the Chicago Food Zone. Before the West Loop Randolph St corridor became the eating and drinking freak show that it is today, there was Haymarket Pub and Brewery. Opened by one of the OGs of the 90s brewing scene, Pete Crowley, Haymarket became one of the second wave of breweries in Chicago that helped push craft beer’s expansion into the mainstream.

 

Pete has one dozens of awards for his brews. I suggest you try a First Chance American IPA or their Mathis Imperial IPA and then get some classic pub grub. The Riot Sandwich is the jam. Housemade Italian sausage patties, mozzarella cheese, house made apple bacon BBQ sauce and giardinara all smoosh together onto a brioche bun. A hot mess. I would also recommend the smoked then fried wings, the sausage sampler, and do not miss out on the cheese curds with house made marinara.

 

Haymarket probably learned that opening a brewery in Chicago is a nightmare. After a few years of success on Randolph they embarked on opening a production facility in Western Michigan, a big suburb of Chicago. Look for their beer outside the tap room and on shelves everywhere in Chicagoland soon.

 

photo by Galdones Photography

 

Cruz Blanca

 

Rick Bayless has a nationally distributed line of beers called Tocayo. They are ok, but they’re nothing super special. Which surprised me because Rick should know better. But maybe he noticed he couldn’t control that aspect of his brand. So, being a Business Genius, Rick opened his own brewing joint in the middle of the Randolph Street food zone to make up for the contract brew. First thing I like most of all is the Cruz Blanca branding. It is some of the freshest and best stuff in town. I love the nod to the Mexico Olympics of 1968 because it reminds me of the Revolution, man, with fists help high in the air, the Paris revolt, etc. Second best thing I love about Rick is that he is a leader in sustainable business practices. His Frontera Farmer Foundation invested over $2 Million in local farms to help them scale up. What’s not to like about this guy? So it’s great that he has a brewpub, purchasing local farmers produce and making locally crafted liquid.

 

The brewpub crafts small batch European-style house beers imbued with what Rick’s best at: using Mexican flavors. My inside sources working for Rick tell me that the Marigold, a strong ale brewed with coffee and blackberry and the CDMX pilsner are the bomb. They also just perfected a brand new beer called If There Is Smoke, an amber, German-Style ratifier with cold smoked malt. Seems like smoked beers are having a moment this year.

 

If yer still hungry after eating at Haymarket there are delicious Oaxacan-style tacos here for you. The well designed tasting room with communal tables is right outside a visible production zone. It’s the standard for a sleek urban brewpub look, feel and taste, if ya ask me.

 

 

Goose Island

 

Goose Island is loved and hated. Beloved for being Chicago’s darling craft brewery that brought the world Bourbon County Stout, and the Sour Sisters line of beer. Others love Goose because they did most of the heavy lifting to bring craft beer to the masses with their 312 and Honkers Ale lines. And Goose is responsible for being the parents of so many brewers that went on to start their own breweries that its hard to even keep count. So this place is a sacred place. An important place to honor.

 

And then ABInBev, the Borg of Macro Beer, purchased them. Some say this was the beginning of the end of craft beer because it means Macro beer will now absorb the idea of Craft into their international marketing machinations and smash smaller craft breweries because of their unfair business advantages. This may or may not be true. One thing we know is that Bud Borg has infused a lot of money into their operations. The workers got paid better and the deal helped them grow massively. They have also mastered the art of marketing their liquid to the masses. No easy feat. Some beer nerds have forsaken the company and Goose is dead to them after selling out to the Man. But most Goose drinkers have no idea what happened or don’t even care. Goose is opening up tap rooms and tasting spots all over the world. Lets just hope they make good liquid which will proselytize the Chicago beer scene to the rest of the planet.

 

When you stop by the taproom on Fulton you will see what you might expect to see at a brewery operation as large as Goose. It has a classic tasting room vibe with barrels, reclaimed wood and faux old school paint on brick. There are windows that peak into the production zone, a look into the lab, the opportunity to get some good bar food grub, and tons of merch. There are special tap room only beers on draft every week and some rare bottles that you will be lucky to find anywhere. And if you are smart you will make every effort to check out the massive 100,000 sq ft barrel aging facility down the block. People would poke your eye out to have a chance to walk amidst that holy site of beer.

 

 

On Tour Brewing Company

 

After your visit to Goose Island walk north a few blocks to the next stop. On Tour Brewing just popped up out of nowhere it seems. The classic high roofed former boiler warehouse building has a 75 person seating area to sit at that looks upon the brewhouse as if it were a theater stage. You might not know this but most brewers don’t like being watched while they work, but its the curse of having a tap room. Just deal with it, brewers! It’s fun to watch you make our liquid.

 

I wish most brewery tap rooms didn’t have TVs but it seems like the thing to do lately, but whatever happened to good conversation? Everyone seems to dig the On Tour pilsner, but I dig the Paradise Waits IPA. It’s a solid Simcoe and Centennial hopped jam.

 

On Tour allows you to take some of their dozen or so draft beers to go as a 32oz crawler, my favorite container for imbibing beer from later. I haven’t seen it myself but food trucks are to make an appearance at the brewery to provide vittles to go with your beer. We look forward to seeing what these cats will offer to fresh beer fans from around Chicagoland.

 

Photo by BJ Pichman

 

Forbidden Root

 

Four or five years ago I was blown away by the fact owner and founder, Robert Finkel was fixated on making botanical brews. Back then my experience with this “style” of beer was related to Not Your Father’s Root Beer, weird alcoholic ginger beers, and Gruits. Little did I know that Robert’s obsession with botanical brewing would lead to a wide range of experimental and delicious concoctions made in collaboration with “Alchemist”, Randy Mosher, a well regarded author, brewer and apostle of the beer business.

 

Located in the West Town neighborhood, Forbidden Root opened up in the legendary Hub Theater, a site of many bacchanalian nights and alchemically dosed patrons back in the day. So it’s got good vibes built into it. It is almost a miracle they finally were able to open up their brewpub due to the crazy process it takes to navigate a ward’s politics, zoning, and moratoriums. So we are lucky. Today you can enjoy a pint of the botanical brews with some great food from their creative gastropub menu. We featured Forbidden Root in our last issue of Mash Tun ( issue 10) so check it out for a more in-depth history of the joint.

 

One more thing, brewer, BJ Pichman is also making some great IPAs, sour beers and pale ales to round out the botanical brewing side of things. We also expect him to host a Northeast Style IPA completion at the brewery some day soon.

 

 

Piece Brewery & Pizzeria
I know I said I hate TVs but this place is the blueprint for sports bar meets brewery and pizza joint.

And it wouldn’t be right to just end the West Side tour at Forbidden Root when ya know just up in Liquor Park is a brewpub that has been kicking ass since 2001. In fact they were one of the few brewpubs that opened after the 90s craft beer bubble. And boy did they win big. Head brewer, Jonathan Cutler, a Goose alum, has been squeezing out gems and winning major beer awards ever since they opened the place. This is extremely difficult to do nowadays since there are over 5,000 breweries in operation across the country. And ya wanna know why ya never see there beer on tap anywhere else? They can’t make enough to satisfy their customers’ demands in the tap room.

 

Their Kolsch, Golden Arm, is the best in the category. And most of the brews are spot on and great, as well. But the crazy thing about Piece is that the pizza is goddam delicious. It’s almost like the pizza outshines the beer sometimes, but that’s a good thing, right? World class beer meets world glass pizza. Jesus Christos, just let me die here.

 

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