Brew Dude: Dec. 29, 2018

December 30, 2018

Chicago was crowned as the king of craft breweries in the U.S. with a total of 167, according to a study put together by the Brewers Association, which runs the annual national beer gathering Great American Beer Festival in Denver.

This past year, Chicago dominated in the newest and most exciting beer category, Hazy IPA, with gold going to Alarmist Brewing, bronze going to Eris Cidery and Brewery and silver in Hazy Double IPA going to Corridor Brewery and Provisions.

Chicago has this conception of itself as the “Second City,” nationally always second best behind New York, but in recent years, Chicago wouldn’t make a list of beer cities nationally overshadowed by Portland, Ore.; Denver, Colo.; or Grand Rapids, Mich., which has been crowned Beer City USA numerous times.

So, what do 167 breweries mean for a city and metro area of 8.2 million people? There’s a lot of beer to pay attention to here in Chicago. I have been doing this column for more than three years, and I have not been to all 167 breweries in the area.

One of the regular features of this column is a brewery crawl segment, when I chronicle the three or four best breweries in a given area such as O’Hare Airport or Tinley Park. I have a whole list of brewery crawl ideas planned for the new year, but I thought it was important to announce Chicago officially has been honored as the beer capital of the US.

With more than 6,000 breweries in the U.S., there are plenty of packed places with more national attention to their craft beer such as San Diego, Los Angeles, Boston or New York City, but Chicago has both quantity and quality.

Of the 167 breweries available to us in the Chicago area, I have been to 68. I have written about 59 of them in different capacities, and I formally have recommended visiting 41 of these breweries. All of that is to say I have been trying during the past three years to get to as many of these breweries as I possibly can.

“Tracking breweries is a full-time job,” Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association told me via email this week. “We have a staff member who watches this every day (news alerts, etc.) and has help in every state (guild leaders, bloggers). Given that two to three breweries open on average every day and five close a week, it takes a lot of time and effort to get this correct. Not surprisingly, we take brewery tracking very seriously.”

So, in honor of being named the beer capital of the U.S., I have come up with the Top-5 brewery experiences I have had in Chicago so far, and five breweries I can’t wait to visit in the near future.

Top-5 brewery experiences (in no particular order):

1. Brickstone Brewery & Restaurant: For obvious reasons, I have visited Brickstone the most times of any brewery in Chicago, Illinois, the Midwest and the U.S. I love Brickstone. I will pop in for a pint of the latest and greatest hazy IPA they have on offer. My wife and I will come in for a nightcap on a rogue weekend night we can get away. We will bring our daughter and our friends and family for a special occasion, such as the night we found out we were pregnant, an anniversary, a birthday or bringing people down from Chicago to impress them with fantastic beer.

2. Revolution Brewpub: Revolution Brewpub or even the Kedzie Taproom are special places to me in Chicago, as they are the first place I will recommend to first-time visitors to Chicago. They aren’t that easy to get to for Kankakee County folks, but Rev’s locations are excellent (except for parking) to try the entire catalogue of the Revolution beer experience. It is a must stop for me while I am in the city.

3. Goose Island Clyborn: I was there with my wife, Sam, and Nik White, of Chicago Beer Pass, when they closed their oldest location for renovations, and we had a blast. I was there recently for the Bourbon County Stout release party. Goose Island Clyborn is easy to get to with plenty of parking, terrific food and awesome people.

4. Metropolitan Brewing: Metropolitan has been in the Chicago beer game longer than most, but for so much of that time, it didn’t have a taproom. There was a long anticipation to finally settle on a location and build a space, but when it did, it built a beauty. The walkup to the brewery then was ominous, as there was raw construction in the lead up to the taproom, which contributed to the experience. Inside, it’s a great space with a beautiful view on the upper branch of the Chicago River.

5. Eataly with their Birreria Chicago taps: Eataly is a beautiful space in downtown Chicago with its gelato, Italian deli and multiple restaurants. There are several spots in Chicago craft beer I wouldn’t feel the need to bring Sam, as she is not a hardcore beer fan as I am, but then there are some spots I save to visit with her, and Eataly was definitely one of these. It probably is not considered one of the epicenters of Chicago craft beer, but it’s a fantastic time.

The five breweries I have on my list:

Wild Onion Brewing in Barrington is one of the older players in the beer game that apparently has a spectacular looking restaurant. Smylie Bros Brewing in Evanston has won some awards at Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beers and Great American Beer Festival with well-reviewed food as well.

Pipeworks Brewing is at the top of my list for whenever it’s new taproom opens. 18th Street Brewing is technically Northwest Indiana, but the Brewers Association included it in their calculation of Chicago. Burnt City’s new location, having moved out of its bowling alley space and closed its production facility on the South Side, also makes the list.

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