Is Chicago becoming a true beer mecca?

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December 3, 2010 at 1:38 am

Tom Keith

Sure, the craft brew market is growing at about 5% a year, while the megabrewers are even or slightly down for the same period, despite massive advertising expenditures. (Advertising expenditures don’t always help a brand. I worked at Leo Burnett when it produced the “Drink Schlitz or we’ll kill you” campaign. That, plus a cheapening of the recipe, backfired. It was the brand that ended up dead.

But that 5% number sounds low for us in the Chicago area these days. While Chicago has long had a relatively small number of outstanding craft brew destinations, recently the beer scene seems to be exploding. Let’s explore the categories:

The Veterans have been around a number of years, and continue to be recognized for their excellence. The Great American Beer Festival earlier this year, and the World Beer Cup prior to that, recognized some of the Chicago area’s best breweries.

Goose Island — its 312 Urban Wheat Ale won the Gold medal for an English-Style Summer Ale at the GABF. Its Bourbon County Stout won a bronze. In the World Beer Cup, a Gold Medal went to the Goose in the “English-Style India Pale Ale category,” for its India Pale Ale. Goose won another gold for its American-Style Brown Ale “Nut Brown Ale,” hogging that category by also receiving a bronze for its Christmas Ale. Its Lolita [a sour Belgian-style Raspberry Ale] got the Silver in the “Fruit Beer or Field Beer” category. And Ratebeer rated Goose as the 26th best brewery in the world.

Piece — its Top Heavy Hefeweizen won bronze in the World Beer Cup’s South German-Style Hefeweizen/Hefeweissbier category. And it was among the top 100 brewpubs in the world according to Ratebeer — even though many think its primary focus is on New Haven-style pizza, rather than beer.

Two Brothers won a bonze for what may be its flagship, Domaine DuPage, in the Belgian- and French-Style Ale categories – quite a feat for a French-style ale, considering that Belgian styles usually dominate the category. And its wet-hopped Heavier Handed should challenge Three Floyds or an in-your-face hop experience.

Flossmoor Station won a bronze in the GABF’s Brown Porter category, for its Pullman Brown, and Ratebeer named it the 75th best brewpub in the world.

And, of course, what might be the region’s best brewer, just over the border in Indiana, Three Floyd’s Munsterfest won a bronze in the German-Style Märzen category.

Strangely, Woodridge-based Pabst also won the silver and bronze in the American-Style Specialty Lager or Cream Ale or Lager category, for its Rainier and Old Style brews, respectively. However, these aren’t brewed in the Chicago area; it’s likely they’re contract brewed by Miller.

The Toddlers have opened in the past year or three, and are already making a significant mark on the local beer scene.

Metropolitan bucks the trend of extreme beers … its Krankshaft, Flywheel, Dynamo and others reflect the ultimate in subtlety and drinkability. Doug and Tracy are all about beers for the connoisseur who doesn’t want a beer that slaps them silly upside the head.

Half Acre’s Daisy Cutter was rated as the world’s fourth best American Pale ale (ratebeer.com), and it probably produces the best canned beer in all of Chicagoland. Its retail outlet is interesting – not quite brewpub, not quite liquor store. You can buy a growler there, or just taste a sample, but don’t expect anything in the way of food.

Revolution continues to amaze, with new brew styles seemingly every week. Josh Deth knows what he’s doing, and he and his team do it well, with over 30 different beers brewed so far in its short life. Excellent food, too.

Newborns and in-utero

Argus Brewing, a father-son team brewing in the historic Pullman neighborhood, is in the early stages of building its distribution. It might be the best brewery in the entire South Side of Chicago.

Finch’s Beer Company will be located in Albany Park, and expects to begin production of its ornithologically named beers in 2011. The brewmaster, Richard Grant, is a refugee from Flossmoor Station.

Haymarket Brewing recently opened in the Randolph Street Corridor. The brewmaster is Pete Crowley, who raised the Rock Bottom Brewery at State and Grand to standards well beyond what could be reasonably expected for any chain brewpub, and currently serves as the President of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild. Great stuff is to be reasonably expected, probably opening the first week of December.

Pipeworks Brewing has its roots in Belgium (including collaborations with Ratebeer’s 2008 #1 brewery in the world, De Struise Brouwers). We told you about it here. http://www.thelocalbeet.com/2010/04/07/the-newest-chicago-brewery-in-the-pipeline-has-belgian-roots/ They’ve taken an interesting approach to raise funds to get their production brewery going ( http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/pipeworks/pipeworks-brewing-chicago-small-batches-big-beers?ref=city), and recently reached their funding goal.

Then, there’s a rumor that Evanston may be getting a brewpub of its own next year. Take that – home of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

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6 Comments

  1. CL Mike says:

    Thanks, now I have some new beers to seek out. I still think what has been produced from areas of Wisconsin and Michigan far exceeds the flavors of what is produced here in Chicago. A few examples would be Bell’s, Furthermore and New Glarus. But Three Floyds and Two Brothers definitely have some enjoyable brews.

    • Tom Keith says:

      I was trying to focus strictly on Chicagoland, but if you want to expand the region covered, I’ll fully agree with your recommendations, and add Founders (Grand Rapids, MI), New Holland (Holland, MI), the Livery (Benton Harbor, MI), and Ale Asylum (Madison WI – near the airport). I’ve also had some great beers from Crown Brewing, (Crown Point, IN).

  2. Matt says:

    Mike, I second you on New Glarus. While I don’t have extensive experience with the Chicago craft-brew scene, I have a bit and have drank at least a few brews from most on this list; I can comfortably say that New Glarus pretty consistently tops what I have had in Chicago (though Chicago has lots of really quality beer!). I especially think Dancing Man Wheat is a significant upgrade from Goose Island’s 312 as far as wheat beers go.

  3. [...] For those friends satisfied with a good brew, they’ll be happy to know you live in a beer drinking Mecca.  Look at your options. [...]

  4. Paul says:

    The Evanston brewpub is coming, but after Evanston gets a craft distillery. Take that, indeed.

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