Craft breweries are sprouting up in the Chicago metro region faster than Midwestern corn stalks in July. Although most breweries serve their beers in a small “taproom,” many are unable, or unwilling, to do so.
Let’s face it, drinking beer on one’s couch, patio, hammock,or rooftop isn’t exactly that bad, is it?
Is there a better summer tradition than firing up the grill and cracking open a beer? Who doesn’t like a beer after mowing the lawn? Then, when nature pulls a gray blanket over the sun during fall and winter, it might behoove one to stay indoors. When the water turns to ice, maybe it is best to watch a game or binge-watch Netflix while enjoying a hearty brew. (Side note: If you are a Bears fan, I recommend beers with low alcohol content as to avoid any unnecessary inspiration to heave a bottle at the TV.)
A few breweries, like Finch Brewery, have demonstrated that success is not predicated on running a taproom. Due to their popularity, Finch finally has plans for an elaborate (read: not small) tasting room that will be finished by 2016 or 2017; their success came first. Other Chicago area breweries are less popular, but craft brewing is all about the local place and the little guy. I encourage you to give a few lesser-known breweries a shot – there are many and tasting new beers rarely disappoints.
Here is a sample of a few Chicago beers I enjoyed over the 4th of July weekend:
Metropolitan Brewery, 5121 N Ravenswood, Chicago.
On their website, they proclaim, “We specialize in German-style beers, mostly lagers. Chicagoans all the way…”
I tried the Iron Works Alt: A German Alt Lager. A copper-colored beer (always pour your beer when possible) with a nice herb-hoppy finish. This won’t confuse you with a pungent West Coast IPA, but the hops provide a steady dose of subtle bitterness balanced by the sweetness from by the molasses. Uncommon in the States, Alt bier is something Metropolitan refers to as a “nerd pleaser.” The craft world tends to lean more to ales, common to Ireland and the UK, but this bier screams Germany and I think it’s das gut.
51st Ward Brewery, Westmont, IL
I first came across 51st Ward at the “Ballpark Brew Fest” in Schaumburg in May of 2015. I was blown away. I stood in line for a few tasters of their Krispy Kareem Stout and subsequently purchased a few for home enjoyment shortly thereafter.
For the 4th of July, I partook in the Control Freak Imperial Azacca IPA. Whoa! That’s a lot of words, right? In essence, Imperial implies it is a strong beer. In this case, it essentially means this is a double IPA. Meanwhile, Azacca refers to the overtly bitter hops with subtle tropical fruit flavor commonly grown in Washington.
The cloudy, reddish-orange Control Freak hits you hard with hops bitterness and a little spice at first sip, but it finishes dry and clean – almost no aftertaste. The beer is packed full of flavor and is sure to make each taste bud jump up for joy. I love this beer and I’m starting to fall in love with 51st Ward Brewery.
Off Color Brewing, 3925 W. Dickens, Chicago.
The brewers at Off Color graduated from the famed Seibel Institute Brewing Academy in Chicago and once interned at the aforementioned Metropolitan Brewery.
I decided to try Scurry – brown ale brewed with honey, molasses and oats. Despite the prominence of honey and molasses on the label, the beer does not taste overly sweet. In fact, the impeccable balance of complex flavors is astounding. Scurry would accompany a pork, pasta, or hearty vegetarian meal nicely. If you are a beer drinker that detests lagers, fruity beers, or summer-seasonals, this is the beer for you; it’s robust, but goes down easily like iced tea on a hot day – a wonderful beer.
Maplewood Beer and Spirits, 2717 N Maplewood, Chicago (Logan Square)
(Note: This is the former Mercenary Brewing – see their website for details on their little legal skirmish with O’Dell Brewing.)
As longtime home brewers, they embrace the craft mantra. An artistic representation of the Chicago flag adorns their logo and soon they will craft spirits in addition to their craft beers.
I tried the Fat Pug Stout as an after-Sunday-dinner refreshment. It is a high quality stout, but I have a few criticisms. First, the recommendation written on the bottle notes that one should enjoy it cold – uncommon for a stout. I followed their directions, but the beer tasted far better once it warmed. In fact, I didn’t enjoy my first few sips, but really enjoyed the beer by the time I was finished. Second, pouring the beer provided almost no head at all, which is a little surprising for a milk stout. It looked like a glass of flat Coke or Pepsi. Ultimately, it lacks the body and sweetness associated with milk stouts. With that being said, the stout is incredibly pleasant with wonderful notes of oats, a bit of chocolate (I think) and subtle roasted coffee flavoring. If you never read the bottle and enjoy the beer for what it is, you’ll be happy. I love the beer, but I think it is a stout best served slightly chilled.
Chicago breweries vary in size, style, and method of sale allowing each beer drinker to find the beers that suit their tastes. Going to a brewery can be fun, but sometimes it’s good to stock one’s fridge with a plethora of fermented goodness, regardless if a brewery has a taproom or not.