Chicago currently has more breweries than any other city in the U.S., with some 167 in the metro area. Most of these opened within just the past five years. And Chicago can lay claim to the world’s first Michelin-starred brewpub, Band of Bohemia. It stands more or less in the center of a corridor of commendable breweries, most of which also have taprooms. This section of Ravenswood Avenue, a light-industrial stretch on either side of some commuter rail tracks, doesn’t look fancy. But the quality of the beer is unimpeachable, and the taprooms are great fun.
These breweries are listed in geographic order from north to south.
In 2017, this brewery opened its second space, on Balmoral, just west of Ravenswood, with a taproom and a full restaurant. We sat at the bar, where a bartender provided cordial, if not especially helpful, service. When I expressed interest in ordering a flight, he produced a piece of paper on which he wanted us to write our selections, without offering to help us make our choices. Even so, I enjoyed all four beers we ordered, including the bright and zippy flagship Daisy Cutter pale ale, the citrusy and hoppy Fran saison, the fragrant and appealingly bitter Sailor’s Kush double IPA and a rich and strong barrel-aged Big Hugs imperial stout. In the summer, patrons can sit outside in the beer garden.
Half Acre Beer Company
2050 West Balmoral Avenue (entrance is in the back along Rascher Avenue). Tel. (773) 754-8488
Year-old Spiteful is just down the block from Half Acre, and it has a small, convivial taproom with a simple décor of wooden tables and exposed-brick walls. I appreciated that the beer menu included some more unusual styles, such as the bracing and sour Twang gose and the Debbie Downer dunkelweizen, redolent of nuts, clove and dark cherry. The beers brewed in better-known styles also satisfied. I very much enjoyed the classic Spiteful IPA and the powerful and complex Malevolence Chocolate Caliente Russian imperial stout, which ended on a surprisingly bright note of mint chocolate. The printed menu, as one might expect from a brewery called Spiteful, includes the occasional expletive.
2024 West Balmoral Avenue. Tel. (773) 239-6600
In a more prominent location on the corner of Foster and Ravenswood, Empirical has a spacious, dark and rather industrial tasting room, with more room for standing than sitting. We went on a weekday during the afternoon, however, and had no trouble finding stools at the bar. The bartender proved very helpful in assembling a flight of contrasting beers from the rather lengthy menu, including both classic and experimental brews. We tried the soft and yeasty Cold Fusion cream ale, the bitter and citrusy Juicy Pale Ale Mk. VII, the carob-toned Phase Transition robust porter and the highly unusual Relativity Red Kettle Sour, which tasted like nothing so much as sour plum and soy sauce. That last beer isn’t for everyone — including this writer — but the others tasted delightful.
1801 West Foster Avenue. Tel. (773) 293-7896
It will surprise no one that this Michelin-starred “culinary brewhouse” was my favorite of the breweries we tried. We arrived shortly after it opened and secured seats at the beautiful bar, where the friendly bartender helped us organize our beer flight. Beers at Band of Bohemia often make use of unusual ingredients, and they range from tasty to spectacular. I was especially taken with the jasmine rice beer, with exotic floral notes and a pleasingly bitter bite, and the Indian pale ale, a gingersnap of a beer with flavors of cardamom, anise and clove. I couldn’t resist ordering some wild boar agnolotti in white-truffle cream sauce, which was as wonderfully rich as it sounds. Our bartender brought a complimentary small glass of the recommended beer pairing, a well-balanced Autumn by Nature Oktoberfest. I could easily imagine being a regular here.
Band of Bohemia
4710 North Ravenswood Avenue. Tel. (773) 271-4710
This cheerful taproom also has a wide range of styles of beer on tap, including several lesser-known central European styles. An IPA was notably absent from the menu. “So many breweries who don’t know what they’re doing do IPAs,” the bartender explained, “because the hops covers the mistakes right up. We don’t have anywhere to hide.” Not that Dovetail needs to. We ended up sampling six thoroughly delicious beers served in beakers, including a creamy hefeweizen, a Vienna lager with an aroma of orange and brown sugar, a sharp and savory grodziskie (a classic Polish style) and a wonderful rauchbier that managed to be both smoky and caramelly as well as bright and fresh.
1800 West Belle Plaine. Tel. (773) 683-1414
A short walk from Dovetail, Begyle has a brightly industrial taproom with a stand-up bar for ordering rather than sitting and tables nearby for drinking. The bartender was very helpful in selecting our flight, comprised of the Brut Früt Riot, a blood orange-infused beer brewed in the newly emerging Brut IPA style; the crisp, spicy and round Goodbye Blue Monday oatmeal IPA; and the barrel-aged Imperial Pajamas, which had impressive focus cutting through its rich molasses and mocha notes.
Begyle Brewing Company
1800 West Cuyler, #1E. Tel. (773) 661-6963
In addition to the taprooms listed above, beer fans should also consider paying a visit to the always-busy Hopleaf Bar on nearby Clark Street, in the charming Andersonville neighborhood. It has some 68 beers on tap, about 400 bottled selections and a tempting menu of Belgian-influenced cuisine. The mussels are superb, as is the rich Nueske ham sandwich with frites.