The Chicago area has nearly 170 breweries. According to stats from the Brewers Association, that ranks the Windy City first in the United States. Excellent beer bars abound too, so it's definitely worth a trip south for the weekend if you're a beer lover.
There are too many beer destinations to choose from in Chicago, so I’ve narrowed it down to a few of my favorites. I followed some loose criteria when picking these spots. They had to be within the actual city limits of Chicago (apologies to places like More Brewing Co. and Mikerphone Brewery), they had to be places I’ve been, and they had to have great beer (no-brainer).
Half Acre and Revolution are certainly important parts of the foundation of Chicago’s craft brewery scene. The Revolution Brewpub in Logan Square is a lively spot with a great beer list, and its large taproom a couple of miles to the north hosts releases for Rev’s world-class barrel-aging program.
But, I’m a pale ale and IPA guy, and Half Acre crafts those styles extremely well. There are always a few on tap at the Balmoral taproom, which opened in 2017, including the ubiquitous, but not to be overlooked, Daisy Cutter Pale Ale. It’s a large space with ample woodwork and welcoming vibe. If you’re looking for slightly cozier environs, head two miles south to the original Half Acre Lincoln taproom. Be sure to order a Space IPA, a fantastic throwback blend of citrus bitterness and malt that isn’t available anywhere else.
2050 W. Balmoral Ave. and 4257 N. Lincoln Ave.
The lively warehouse space in Bridgeport is eclectic in both décor and its tap list. Bright, colorful prints adorn brick walls and a large oval bar in the center of the space is ringed with invitingly minimal wooden stools.
Art isn’t relegated to the interior design: Two dozen beer options include Citra!Citra!Citra! IIPA, The Bubbly Creek Berliner Weiss and the popular Jungle Boogie, a delicious pale wheat ale made with rooibos tea. Want to experiment? Try a pour like Nasal Cavity, a golden milk stout made with wasabi root and vanilla.
3630 S. Iron St.
Great places for haze abound in Chicago — case in point, the delicious Alarmist Brewing Le Jus NEIPA won a gold medal at the 2018 Great American Beer Fest — but the ample selection of juicy brews at Maplewood is hard to beat.
The small taproom tucked unobtrusively at the end of the street bustles with beer drinkers sipping on staples like Juice Pants IPA, a limited brew or two like the amazing Moonfruit IIPA or the straightforward flagship Charlatan APA, a less hazy brew that also managed GABF hardware this year with a bronze medal.
2717 N. Maplewood Ave.
Lovers of lagers find refuge in the warehouse overlooking the Chicago River. You won’t find any IPAs on the menu, but you will find crisp gems like Dynamo Copper Lager and Krankshaft, a tasty Kölsch-style brew. In the fall, it’s hard to beat Metropolitan when it comes to seasonal brews like Afterburner Oktoberfest and Arc Welder Dunkel. A tap list filled with manageable ABVs means you can hunker down and spend an hour or two of serious sampling.
3057 N. Rockwell St.
Off Color doesn’t make IPAs and they could care less if that doesn’t appeal to you. What they do make are some of the most inventive brews in Chicago. Apex Predator is a delicious saison and Off Color’s flagship beer, but the menu is also loaded with sour ales, goses, stouts and a Finnish Sahti or two — you just don’t see that mix everywhere.
Enjoy the variety in an interior that’s a rustic mix of brick and ample woodwork. In warmer months, the picnic tables on a sizable patio are ideal.
1460 N. Kingsbury St.
Logan is the best pinball bar in the Midwest, and the place also has an amazing selection of old school video games. The arcade pairs perfectly with the beer menu, and that’s why it lands on this list.
Twenty rotating taps often include world-class brews like Revolution Café Deth or a rare local beer. The bottle and can list has plenty of options too, including Pabst cans for those who want to blend into the hipster Logan Square vibe. Most of the people who play the pins here regularly are pros, and so is the person who puts together the beer list.
2410 W. Fullerton Ave.
Founder Chris Quinn is one of the most knowledgeable beer gurus in Chicago and a Siebel Institute Master of Beer Styles and Evaluation. The spot is a combination taproom and bottle shop (a business model that’s rampant in Chicago and one that I wholeheartedly agree with) that has stellar selections on both side of the coin.
Quinn has clout in the Chicago beer community and the tap menu reflects that. Enjoy oddities from the likes of Scratch Brewing, Pipeworks, Hop Butcher and Michigan standout Transient Artisan Ales in the large but warm taproom. The bottle shop is never short on rarities either and it features one of the best walk-in beer coolers I’ve ever seen.
3173 N. Elston Ave.
The original Fishman’s was a slightly divey, but awesome, joint several blocks north of where the new bar opened in the summer of 2018. The new space in the up-and-coming (if not already here) Six Corners area has the same friendly vibe as the old, but with less of an edge and a more family-friendly bend.
Bright murals, with not-so-subtle nods to local breweries, adorn brick walls, and ample restaurant seating complements a sizable food menu. But the highlight is what happens at the rectangular wooden bar in the center. Two dozen taps pour plenty of locals like Mikerphone, Pipeworks and Hop Butcher and there’s always a rarity on the list. Looking to impress your beer savvy friends? Shell out $80 to $100 and order from the vintage bottle menu that includes a few aged Cantillon selections.
4058 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Selection at this legendary Andersonville beer haven borders on ridiculous. Nearly 70 taps and hundreds of bottle options make choosing difficult. The menu has plenty of great American craft beer choices, and more than a few rarities, but it’s also heavy on imports. If Belgians are your beers of choice, expect a lengthy stay at Hopleaf. An excellent food menu provides the base you’ll need.
5148 N. Clark St.
From the outside it’s hard to tell what’s going on in the nondescript sandwich shop/liquor store across from Humboldt Park. But that’s the beauty of this hidden gem. Next to the sandwich counter at the entrance is a small bar pouring twenty well-thought taps. Expect to find local standouts like Hubbard’s Cave or The Alarmist.
The spot is popular with regulars but welcomes newcomers too. Have a couple of pints, scarf down a West Sider sandwich and head to the adjacent liquor store, which always has a surprise or two in its beer coolers.
2956 W. North Ave.
There’s just something about the Map Room. Maybe it’s because it’s tucked into a low-key area of Bucktown. Or because it feels like a regular neighborhood tap with a world traveler theme. Or maybe it’s the exhaustive list of bottles, including a ton of imports, and nearly 30 tapped beers. I suppose it’s all of these factors that have made the place one of Chicago’s best for more than 25 years.
Just be sure not to expect to actually sip on one of the beers on the chalkboard above the bar. If it’s something special, you’ll likely discover another Map Room staple, the matter-of-fact “nope that’s out” line from a bartender. Hey, it happens.
1949 N. Hoyne Ave.
Cheers to the glorious melding of no-frills neighborhood tap, modern beer bar, well-appointed beer store and Korean-Polish fusion food. Huh?
It’s amazing that this Bridgeport staple offers all of this goodness. I prefer the cozy and dark original bar. If you don’t, just walk into the bright and modern adjacent space that houses more tap options and Kimski, a food counter that includes choices like pierogis, potato pancakes and a pork belly bowl.
Around 40 taps, including a fair number of rarities, and an extensive bottle/can list keep you quenched. If you’re looking for a genuine beer bar, a darkened bar stool at Maria’s is the best option in Chicago.
960 W. 31st St.