From the road: A mini tour of Chicago’s beer scene

The Revolution Brewing brewpub is located in Logan Square at 2323 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago.

Photos by Brian Sorensen

Every now and then my job takes me on the road. Any time I travel I spend time researching my destination city’s beer scene, usually through online tools such as Beer Advocate’s travel guide feature. I can usually pinpoint a few beer-centric locations to help while away the hours following the work day’s end. Earlier this week I traveled to Chicago, which is known as one of the country’s great beer towns. It also happens to be American Craft Beer Week, so I thought it would be a good idea to document a few of my stops in the Windy City. Tuesday night I visited three popular breweries along the CTA Blue Line. What follows is an account of how the night unfolded.

Revolution Brewing

2323 N. Milwaukee Avenue

Anti-Hero IPA

My first stop was one of the fastest growing breweries in Chicago. Located in Logan Square, Revolution Brewing opened its doors in February 2010. Production has since exploded – from 8,000 barrels in the first year to an expected 50,000 barrels in 2014. A full-scale production brewery was added just up the road, giving Revolution two locations to meet the tremendous demand for its beer.

The brewpub was bustling when I arrived for dinner. I was told that it’s often difficult to find a seat, and this night was no different. The building itself underwent extensive renovations prior to Revolution’s opening but retains much of its original character. A stamped tin ceiling in the dining room immediately caught my eye. Exposed beams and an elevated kitchen open to the dining room add to the ambiance.

Revolution’s flagship beer is Anti-Hero IPA. At 70 IBUs it’s big on hops, but somewhat light in body and mouth feel. Floral and citrus dominate the aroma and taste. Anti-Hero is a wonderful beer that is easy to drink. Chicagoans obviously agree because I saw it on tap handles all across the city.

I also sampled Rosa, a summer ale brewed with hibiscus flowers and orange peel. It’s a little tart but highly refreshing. The orange really stands out in the flavor profile. A robust porter named Eugene is a deep, dark brown (almost black) and full of chocolate notes. Fortunately Revolution offers 5-ounce samples for $2, perfect for trying a variety of beers without getting too tipsy.

Visiting Revolution was a great way to start my beer tour of Chicago. It’s located in a cool part of town with a lot going on. The brewery and the brewpub are a short distance apart – so if you’re in the mood for an early dinner followed by a brewery tour, Revolution is for you.

Piece Brewery & Pizzeria

1927 W. North Avenue

Piece Brewery’s draft board

A short train ride away from Revolution, Piece Brewery & Pizzeria is perhaps the most heralded of the breweries I visited while in Chicago. It opened in July 2001 and uses a 7-barrel brew house to produce a wide range of beer styles. Piece recently won a gold medal at the World Beer Cup for “The Weight” – an American pale ale. But it was just the most recent of many medals earned by Piece over the last several years. A quick scan of the Brewer’s Association database reveals a total of nine medals awarded to the small brewpub since 2002.

Situated among numerous bars and restaurants in Wicker Park, Piece is a popular place for young professionals to gather. After being carded at the door – which is odd considering it’s also a restaurant – I walked into a large dining room that was overflowing with people. Hockey was on the many flat screen TVs scattered throughout the room. Blackhawks fans were in a festive mood as their team prepared to take the ice for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. A vaulted ceiling with exposed beams and a massive skylight hover above the crowd. The aforementioned medals hang inside frames on the walls of the dining room.

The aroma of pizza hung heavy in the air at Piece. From what I could tell the pies are as much of a draw as the beer. But speaking of beer, there are many to choose from – most of which bearing humorous names such as Camel Toe, Barrel-Aged Mooseknuckle, and Dysfunctionale. Camel Toe is touted as an “Egyptian IPA,” but drinks like a traditional American double IPA. It’s dark orange in color, with resinous pine and citrus in the aroma and taste. A little bit of heat from the alcohol is present, though slightly less than what might be expected of a 9.5% ABV beer. It’s an outstanding beer to say the least.

Piece has a terrific atmosphere and appears to be the perfect place to watch a big game. The pizza is enormous, and looks absolutely delicious as well. There is often a wait for seating, but the quality of the food and the beer make it more than worth your time.

Haymarket Pub & Brewery

737 W. Randolph Street

Haymarket Pub & Brewery is located at the corner of Halsted and Randolph in Chicago.

My last stop was a highly regarded brewpub in the West Loop. Though a bit of a hike from the nearest train stop, Haymarket Pub & Brewery is located in an area of upscale restaurants and is a popular destination for locals and out-of-town visitors.

The Blackhawks game was still going on when I arrived, and the crowd was thick and energetic as a result. The place has somewhat of a sports bar vibe with TVs in every direction. There are two main rooms at Haymarket – on one side the bar and on the other a dining room. A corridor separates the two with a view into the 15-barrel brew house. The beer selection was outstanding, with 32 taps that featured around 10 house beers. As is the case at Revolution, smaller pours are available so that a wide variety can be enjoyed without the risk of overindulgence and the inevitable embarrassment that follows. It had been a long night already, so for this I was extremely appreciative.

My notes are a little sketchy at this point in the trip, so I’m not sure I can speak to the specific beers that I tried at Haymarket. My research tells me that the most popular beer is Mathias Imperial IPA, which is named for an officer who was killed during the infamous Haymarket affair (a labor riot that took place in 1886). The brewpub is also well known for traditional Belgian styles and barrel-aged beers.

A great beer town

I only had a chance to visit three breweries while in Chicago, but I could tell that folks there are passionate about their beer. Though the iconic Goose Island Brewing Company was purchased by mega-brewer Anheuser-Busch in 2011 (thereby losing its status as a true craft brewery), Chicagoans have responded by opening a slew of small breweries that cater to the sensibilities of the “drink local” crowd. So if you are in the Windy City and have a taste for craft beer, spend some time reading up on how you can best experience a great beer town. I promise that it’s time well spent.

Brian Sorensen
Brian is an admitted beer geek, occasional home brewer, and member of the Fayetteville Lovers of Pure Suds (FLOPS). You can follow him on Twitter at @EBSorensen.