It’s hard to sum up a beer trip to Chicago in one short article. It’s just as hard to sum Chicago up only in regards to beer, but we can try: Whether for a beer-centric trip or not, Chicago is that city you visit and start searching for an apartment before you even board your flight home.
Famous for Michael Jordan, Soldier Field, and Batman, among many other things, Chicago is becoming equally famous for beer. Craft beer has exploded in this beautiful city and attempting to take it all in during a single trip is nearly impossible, especially since you will likely want to take in everything else the city has to offer. Thankfully, there are ways to tie beer into a bunch of the other great attractions in the city.
One such attraction is the city itself. Chicago is home to some incredible buildings and one of the best ways to experience this is an architectural boat tour. The ninety-minute tour up and down the Chicago River is a perfect way to start a trip. You get a great view of the cityscapes, while learning all the history behind the architecture of these impressive buildings. Best of all, the Chicago’s First Lady Boat Tour offers some local beer on tap, so you can enjoy a few pints at the same time.
Nearby, and equally impressive, is the renowned Millennium Park, home of the famous Cloud Gate, more commonly referred to as “The Bean.” After spending an unexpectedly vast amount of time gazing into this mesmerizing sculpture, as well as checking out the other striking pieces of art, you can catch a show at the open-air amphitheater. The city offers a bunch of free shows here and they’re all BOYB, so you can grab some local beers at one of the nearby beer stores and catch a show. They also have some stands setup where you can buy pints of Goose Island.
Grabbing a few brews and a window seat at the Signature Lounge in the John Hancock Center provides one of the best views of Chicago. The beer list isn’t great, but there are some local options and the view from 96 floors above the city more than makes up for it. You could get a higher, maybe even better view from the top of the Willis Tower, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, but unfortunately you don’t get to enjoy a beer from way up there. There are also some acclaimed museums such as the Art Institute of Chicago, which was recently ranked the top museum in the world. It’s not a beer destination, but there are a few restaurants and cafés where you can take a break and savor a beer.
Beautiful art and architecture aside, Chicago is also home to an incredible brewery scene. The biggest and most well-known is obviously Goose Island, who still keeps their original production brewery in the city and is where all of their most sought-after beers such as the Bourbon County line and all of the sour sisters are still made. The production facility isn’t open to the public at the moment, though that should change soon, but the brewpub on Clybourne Avenue is. The brewpub is where it all began in 1988, when John Hall decided to start making beer. The pub, which has 25 beers on tap, including a bunch of beers you won’t find outside the pub, is still run by Hall to this day. Goose Island is still Chicago’s beer and the brewpub is a must visit for anyone who loves good beer.
Goose Island may be Chicago’s beer, but new guy, Lagunitas Brewing Co., is making a noteworthy impression. Started in Petaluma, CA, Lagunitas outgrew its facility and opened a second brewery in Chicago to cater to the East Coast in April of 2014. The massive brewery, located in the Lawndale section of Chicago, also offers what might be the best brewery tour in the city. Aside from a comparatively small neon sign, the brewery doesn’t look like much more than a huge, white warehouse, but as soon as you open the purple door and enter, you are instantly transported to their world. A walk down a very long hallway would seem boring in most cases, but here, the hallway is one of the best parts. With the Willy Wonka soundtrack playing in the background and the walls pasted with trippy projections, you instantly become immersed in Lagunitas’ vision. The old school desk below the neon sign pointing you in the direction of the taproom at a bend in the hallway only adds to the allure. It’s a hallway that must be seen to fully comprehend its impressiveness.
However, there’s much more to the brewery than just a hallway. The brewery tour itself is from a catwalk above the tanks. You get to walk above the entire brewery floor, getting a bird’s eye view of the operation. Also, centered above the brewery is a taproom with a full restaurant, making it a destination beyond just a tour and samples. Future plans are also in place to use some of the extra space as a concert venue.
Goose Island and Lagunitas are the large-scale breweries, but there are also a bunch of small breweries making great beers. Revolution Brewing has two locations—a production brewery open for tours and a brewpub which is about a mile and a half away. As each location tends to have different beers available, a trip to both isn’t a bad idea.
The Half Acre Beer Company is definitely worth the trip, as unfortunately, we only get a small amount of their awesome beers here in Philly. Plus, the chance to have a super fresh Daisy Cutter Pale Ale alone might be worth the trip to The Windy City. Other breweries worth a visit include Finch’s Haymarket Pub & Brewery, Piece Brewery & Pizzeria, Metropolitan Brewing Co., DryHop Brewers, Pipeworks Brewing Co., and Finch’s, amongst a handful of other breweries within city limits. It should also be noted that a short forty minute drive will get you to beer geek favorite—Three Floyds Brewery.
The Chicago scene goes beyond breweries though, and is also home to some great bars. One of which, The Publican, made a trip to Philly once to take over the kitchen at Alla Spina. Serving up some of the best food you’ll eat in the city, it should be near the top of your list of destinations if you make it out there. The bar offers a dozen taps, consisting of both regional and European beers. They also offer Lambic Doux by the glass or pitcher and have a vast selection of bottles. Plus, the communal seating makes for a great way to meet some locals and get tips on where else to visit.
More traditional beer bars include Food Network-famous Hopleaf, Local Option (who also act as gypsy brewers of sorts and have a number of their own beers on tap as well), The Map Room, The Bad Apple, The Long Room, and Twisted Spoke (great whiskey options as well), not to mention a bevy of others. Even the hotels seem to have great beer options in their lobby bars.
Chicago is truly an exceptional beer destination and it seems to have no signs of slowing down. Along with non-beer attractions and legendary sports teams, signing a short-term lease on that apartment you started looking for might be the only way to take it all in.