It’s truly remarkable that after over a year of Covid weirdness I am here sitting in a gorgeous beer garden in a northern neighborhood of Chicago, the busy L train rolling overhead. “This is my dream”, I overhear someone comically state from a table nearby. However, it’s when the brewery speakers transition to the 2006 jam Young Folks by Peter Bjorn and John, and the entire yard of 30-some year olds instinctively start whistling along to its iconic intro, that I am reminded just how magical a good brewery can be. And, to be real, Chicago is full of unbeatable breweries and taprooms. I never understood why more beer nerds don’t come here on their beer travels in the first place.
Chicago is large and fairly overwhelming to a visitor. I get it, I am not from the city myself. I understand that there is a lot to unfold. With that in mind, I am compiling a few mini brewery crawls to show fellow non-Chicago people exactly how amazing the beer scene is. I will break down various areas of Chicago and list out some of the best spots to hit. You can also bypass this article all together, and go directly to my Chicago Beer Spots Map to see a continuously growing map of Chicago breweries and taprooms!
To start, I am focusing on the northern neighborhoods of Ravenswood and Lincoln Square. Frankly, if you just google “Malt Row” you will immediately find an amazing map of spots to hit in the Ravenswood area, so my work here was easy. Malt Row refers to the Ravenswood Industrial Corridor, and most of my favorite Chicago breweries are walkable within this area. It’s honestly a dream, and we’re all chugging accordingly. Start your Best Of Wilco/Smashing Pumpkins/Andrew Bird/other IL musician playlist now, because we’re crawling.
The first brewery on my list is Begyle Brewing, home to the aforementioned excellent beer garden. The brewery has a diverse tap list, an excellent events schedule, and is well-loved by their community. If you have ever wanted to try Yoga and Beer, or play skeeball over a few brews, then this is the spot. If you’re looking for a bite, they sometimes host food trucks directly outside their door. If you’re lucky, two golden retrievers who live with a brewery team member will show, and you’ll be starstruck (follow them on Insta, join the fanclub).
If you favor darker ales, check out Flannel Pajamas, a smooth oatmeal stout. If you time it correctly, Barrel-Aged Imperial Pajamas, a GABF Gold medal-winning aged version of the Flannel Pajamas, will be available. Beglye also has endless cool collaboration brews, and my favorite is the Goodbye Blue Monday Oatmeal IPA brewed with Irish-based Galway Bay Brewery. I have enjoyed it both in Chicago and Ireland, and it has been perfect every time.
Second on our tour is Dovetail Brewery, genuinely my favorite brewery in all of Chicago. I will never stop praising them, and everyone involved there is invited to my (unlikely) future wedding. Not only is their staff amazing, but they absolutely slay when it comes to traditional European styles. If you are looking for a German-style Hefeweizen or Kölsch, then it’s a mandatory visit. I personally live and die by their Rauchbier, which is a traditional smoked beer style from Germany. It’s truly the best Rauchbier I have had outside of Germany, and that’s not an exaggeration. I even MISSED Dovetail when I was living in Germany, and drinking traditional styles every day. I don’t know what else to say. This is my love letter to Dovetail.
I highly suggest you jump on a Dovetail brewery tour if they’re offering them. Not only will you get samples of their top hits, but you will also get to see their c. 1905 copper kettle brought over from Weihenstephan and their custom-built Coolship, which is essentially a wide tray that holds the wort during the brewing process. This is something that is most commonly seen in European breweries and is often thought of when brewing lambics. However, Dovetail uses its coolship for all their beers. This leads me to their second brewing focus on spontaneous fermentation. If you are curious about Krieks or a Framboise, this is your chance to go wild (lock me up for this joke).
Dovetail currently also has a patio, and it’s conveniently just across the street from Begyle’s summer beer garden. Perfect for this lazy dumb-dumb. If you really want to treat yourself, order Steingolds Bagels or grab a tasty pretzel from the Dovetail staff. Regardless, see you there. I go as often as I can.
4257 N Lincoln Ave: Hop Butcher for the World Coming Soon
Up until summer 2021, this was the OG Half Acre Taproom. However, Hop Butcher for the World will start brewing out of this location soon. Hop Butcher are loved, loved, lovedddd across Chicago for their hard-hitting IPAs, and their taproom is bound to be as unbeatable as their beers are. Check out this location and see what’s happening when you’re in Chicago.
Dying for some food? I insist you visit Taqueria El Asadero for some truly amazing tacos. It’s just down Lincoln Ave from the future Hop Butcher location, and it’s the perfect option when you’re trekking between breweries.
4721 N Lincoln Ave: Lincoln Square Taproom Coming Soon
If you have wandered down Lincoln Avenue before, you have likely spotted the distinct lodge-like exterior of the now closed Huettenbar before. Sometime (hopefully) soon this will be home to the new Lincoln Square Taproom, which might seem farmiliar if you have seen their Lakeview Taproom location. The Taproom crew have a goal to serve their neighors local beers, and the Lincoln Square taproom is bound to be the same. On top of their rotating local beers, the new location hopes to keep German-style beers available to honor the historic German roots of the nieghborhood. Well, Prost to that!
Gene’s is an absolute gem if you’re looking for a unique spot for a beer and snack. Gene’s is actually a small European-style market, but they also have a cool rooftop beer garden featuring a few tap beers and selection of grilled sausages from their store. This is a great spot to enjoy the sun and look over Lincoln Avenue. Again, it historically was a German-influenced neighborhood, which is why you can find a mini German beer festival “Maifest” in May. SHOULD you attend and channel your inner German with a casual liter of beer? Yes, yes you should.
If sausages aren’t your favorite food, Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits is a 15 minute walk from Gene’s, and conveniently on the way to our next location. Their biscuit of the day will just floor you.
Head farther north to find the newer Half Acre Balmoral taproom. It features a cool indoor bar space, and a spacious beer garden that is honestly perfect on a sunny and tipsy day. They also have a small menu of food, excellent brunch options, and their merch is usually cool as hell. If you are not in the mood for beer, they also have a full coffee menu and pour Chicago fave, Dark Matter Coffee. They do fill up quickly, so consider calling ahead if you’re on a time crunch.
Half Acre is easily one of the most established breweries in Chicago, and they are known for their hoppier numbers. If you want to go classic, grab a Daisy Cutter Pale Ale or Bodem IPA. However, they have great seasonal beers and I personally love their Lager Town Märzen.
Truly just three minutes away you’ll find Spiteful Brewing. They have a cozy taproom and a huge garage-door window that opens in the summer towards their patio. While you work your way through their gorg tap list, consider ordering in some snacks from the nearby food options. In a move that surprised me endlessly, I love their Tangerine Radler and would order it again. A bit off-brand for me, but it was so refreshing.
Finally, make your way to Empirical Brewing. Empirical’s nerdy ethos is immediately evident in their taproom, with lightsaber beer taps and Star Wars toys hanging from the ceiling. I’m sure there are other franchises referenced in their space, but it’s all Star Wars to me really. Most importantly, they have one of the most varied taplists I can think of. Personally, I think their sours are unbeatable so be sure to ask what’s pouring at the moment. Their symbiotic is a classic and there are usually variations of it on tap. A favorite series of mine is the Space for Everyone beer, which is brewed in collaboration with the Chicago Adler Planitarium. The most recent batch was a sour ale with pomelo.
Empirical has a patio in the summer, and two large indoor rooms to cozy up in. Stay in the front room and check out their giant murals, or wander to the back room when you can get up and personal with the brewing equipment there. Don’t be surprised if you see a few cats wandering around, as Empirical takes care of a few brewery cats, all named after the Ghostbusters. Check out their events before you go, as there’s something going on weekly. I personally cannot wait to dominate the Harry Potter trivia, as I am an expert on books 1 and 3-7. Chamber of Secrets can truly suck it, however.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say I do this route in some variety twice a month. I am aware that these neighborhoods are a bit far from the Loop, where you may be staying while visiting. However, both the L system and metra train routes are pretty reliable and can get you everywhere you need to go. If you’re taking the L, the Brown Line will get you to this area. Get off at Irving Park for Dovetail & Begyle, Damen to be bang in the middle, or Western for Gene’s Sausage Shop. Alternatively, if the Metra is most convenient, you would get off at the Ravenswood stop on the Union Pacific North line. A real insider pro-tip is that the Metra allows you to drink alcohol most days on the train if you can withstand the disapproving stares of weary commuters. I typically save Empirical for last and grab a 4-pack from them for the train ride, because their to-go prices are so reasonable.
This crawl is luckily not far from a few other amazing beer areas, so be sure to check out the map and see what else you may want to visit. Of course, do check each brewery to see what their opening hours are and availability is. Finally, let me know if you come across other cool bars in the area. Seriously, tell me. There are too many spots to keep track of, and this is a huge project for me to mistakenly start. We’d be lucky if I manage to get more that two guides written. Message me, meet me for a beer, BUY ME said beer. We’re in this together! Cheers!