Beery Best of 2012, & What to Watch for in 2013 — Tap Rooms

January 26, 2013 at 4:00 am

A series of articles on trends in the world of local fermentation

#1. Tap Rooms

Opening day at Revolution’s Kedzie St Taproom

The old view of tap rooms:

“Tap rooms are, almost by definition, the lowest of low on the drinking establishment food chain. One step below the dive bars young urban professionals love to slum in and two steps below the worn but friendly neighborhood tavern on the corner, they occupy a little-noticed segment of the liquor industry: that of the scruffy, leftover gin joint in a city that was once filled with them. As taverns attached to — or sometimes right inside — liquor stores, there’s little confusion about their purpose or pretense. Just as no one ever enters a liquor store with anything but a cold six-pack or a bottle of wine or something harder on their mind, no one picks a tap room for a first date, or to wish a departing office colleague farewell, or to scope out members of the opposite sex. Tap rooms, even the nicest ones, are about drinking and nothing but. Which makes them, in this day and age, something of an anomaly, if not an outright anachronism.”

-       Mark W. Anderson, in Gapers Block, July 16, 2003

The new view of tap rooms:

“Tap rooms are now the ultimate destinations to sample a brewers’ best efforts – often limited releases – in an environment the brewers themselves have determined will most enhance the appreciation of their beverages.”

-       Tom Keith, in The Local Beet, January 25, 2013

How things change in ten years.

These days, it seems like the taproom has evolved from a seedy afterthought in a down-and-dirty liquor store to a venue for local brewers to show off their best stuff.

In many ways, a taproom similar to a brewpub, except that brewpubs are usually food/restaurant oriented, primarily focused on serving their brews made on-premise only to patrons in-house. Taprooms, these days, may have a few munchies, but their mission is usually to show off the beers they make on-site, which they also distribute throughout the region. If anything, they have more in common with Napa Valley’s tasting rooms than they do with the corner bar.

And 2012/2013 could mark the beginning of the taproom era in Chicagoland.

Possibly the most influential taproom to open in 2012 was at Revolution Brewing, in their production facility, 3340 N. Kedzie Ave., Chicago. (Open Wed – Sat, 2 – 10pm).

It was followed shortly by a taproom added onto Half Acre’s store, at 4257 N.Lincoln Ave, Chicago (Open all days but Monday, from noon ± 1 hour ‘til 11pm [2am Friday and Saturday nights]).

The brand new Solemn Oath brewery in Naperville also includes a taproom (1661 Quincy Ave.) featuring their well-rated beers.

Pipeworks has even discussed adding a taproom, although apparently Beejay and Gerrit have so much on their plate simply keeping up with demand and expanding capacity, any taproom plans are on the back burner.

But surely the most anticipated taproom will come from Lagunitas. The iconoclastic California beermaker is already building a new brewery on Chicago’s West Side, which will instantly become the largest brewery between Milwaukee and St. Louis. The beers aren’t expected until fall 2013, but the tap room – elevated over the brewery’s main floor — should open in the spring, affording early visitors a view of what it takes to build a big brewery.

Of course, many other regionally distributed breweries have restaurants on premise — Goose Island (both of them), Two Brothers (also both of them), Three Floyds and Flossmoor Station are the first few that come to mind. They’re all worth a visit, but don’t hate them because they also have pretty good food.


Next up in the series: All the new breweries



  1. David Hammond says:

    Tom, as much time as I spend in bars, I was nonetheless unaware of the explosive (re)growth of taproom. What a cool thing — thanks for bringing it to our collective attention.

    • Tom Keith says:

      Quite a compliment from such a well-respected food journalist.

      Note one taproom I missed (there may be more):
      Tighthead Brewing Company’s Taproom
      161 N. Archer Avenue, Mundelein, IL
      Wednesday – Friday 4:00–10:00 PM
      Saturday 12:00–10:00 PM
      Sunday 12:00–6:00 PM (except open ’til 10 on Super Bowl Sunday)

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