We’ve already expounded upon the glory that is chowing down Chi-town style, so it’s only fitting that we follow it up with a guide to the Chi’s other ingest-able claim to fame: beer. A surefire way to survive winter in the Windy City is a taxi-supported tour of Chicago’s brewpubs, breweries and beer-heavy bars, so if you’re lucky enough to live in the Second City, find yourself with a hefty layover in middle America, or just need a cover story for when you’re visiting the baby chick exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry, take a spin on the Chicago beer express with pints of deliciousness at the following locales.
Beer with a Burger
This most classic of food/bevvie combos gets a shot of Midwest pride at several of Chicago’s gourmet-yet-affordable gastropubs, due in large part to the Chi’s location in the heart of the meat belt. Kuma’s Corner, a relatively unassuming joint on the west side of the city, serves the best burgers in the city, according to extremely reliable sources TimeOut and the drunk karaoke host at the Copa Lounge; their menu contains a relatively staggering 22 burger variations, many of which are named for slash-rock legends (and one of which is called, simply, “Bongzilla”). On the beer front, they serve a number of limited-edition runs, including Lost Abbey out of San Marcos, CA, and they refuse to serve Bud or Miller products. Lest your hipster friends from Wicker Park get nervous, though, they do still offer PBR.
If you like your Rogue Dead Guy served with a bit more foodie flare, head to 42 N. Latitude in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood; with nine beers on tap, 27 bottle varieties and exotic foodstuffs like chorizo sloppy joes, 42 N. is sure to quench your thirst while simultaneously satisfying your delicate palate. Hop Haus, with two convenient locations on the near-north side and in uptown, also boasts a 24-burger menu (including buffalo, kangaroo and ostrich, served mini-style to avoid forcing you to choose just one) and, occasionally, live music to accompany your feasting and merriment.
Beer, Straight Up
Sometimes all you want in a bar experience is a crapload of beer and a knowledgeable wait staff. Chicago’s finest beerstablishments will meet that need with aplomb: The Beer Bistro, conveniently located walking distance from both of Chicago’s Amtrak stations, has at least 19 bottles and 120 drafts, plus a smattering of canned options, on hand at any given time. Nearby Jaks Tap, which boasts an ever-changing menu of American and imported craft beers, has also been a go-to watering hole for beer lovers for decades.
Did the mention of craft beers pique your interest? The Map Room, in hipster-y yet still-normal-people-friendly Wicker Park, “take[s] beer very seriously” with “over 200 unique brands representing 36 brewing styles from the U.S. and around the globe,” as well as a healthy selection of Intelligentsia coffees for those days you ‘accidentally’ find yourself at the bar at 9 AM. If you’re interested in enhancing your ability to be haughty about all things craft beer, then stop in for Beer School, The Map Room’s semi-regular series of beer edification seminars. Trust us; you don’t want to miss an opportunity to sound like you know what you’re talking about, especially when excessive drinking is involved.
Beer with an Accent
Some of us love to talk about how international we are, but few of us have the scratch to support international beer tours. Luckily, Chicago’s diverse population of drunkards is here to offer you a range of internationally-inspired watering holes, from Irish to German and back again. The Globe Pub in North Center offers a place for soccer fanatics, rugby fans, pub-quiz-aholics, and beer aficionados alike to meet, rub elbows and sample the “finest [beers] that Europe and the USA have to offer,” while Hopleaf in Uptown serves a multitude of Belgian and Belgian-style selections in glasses styled to match each brew exactly. They also hold semi-regular tastings and prix-fixe dinners, so you can tell the ol’ ball and chain that your beer drinking excursions are actually educational endeavors meant to expand your worldview. Drunkenly, of course. Logan Square’s Quenchers, meanwhile, eschews the on-tap scene in favor of a ridiculous number of bottled imports (last we heard, the count was up to 160) from far-flung places like Finland, Croatia and, of course, Milwaukee.
Despite its central-continent location, Chicago has a serious German population (see: Lincoln Square neighborhood, prevalence of sauerkraut at Chicago’s hot doggeries), represented well by German-style brewpubs like Huettenbar and Uberstein. For its part, Huettenbar is Oktoberfestive all year round, with 10 German beers (among many others) on tap and at least as many in bottles. If you can brave the circus that is Wrigleyville in the summer, Uberstein has just as much Germanic flair with a healthy dose of Cubs fever, not to mention a welcoming outdoor garden that’s fenced off from the nutjobs running drunkenly up and down Clark Street before and after home games. For those of you who prefer the style of the Emerald Isle, Mrs. Murphy and Sons Irish Bistro is a contemporary Irish restaurant/pub housed in a 1920’s funeral home (and features live Irish music on alternating Thursdays), while Duke of Perth in Lakeview does its best to bring it for Scotland the Brave with a healthy collection of draft and bottle lagers, as well as the Chi’s largest collection of single-malt whiskeys. Kilts strictly optional.
Beer to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth
You might not associate beer appreciation with sugar addiction, but a few establishments in the Chi prove that the two are inextricably linked (haven’t you ever tried to sound knowledgeable by describing a stout as “chocolatey”?). Hot Chocolate, Wicker Park’s resident den of sugary iniquity, may be best known for its haute desserts, but beer lovers also rejoice in the resto’s local artisanal beer selections (featuring the likes of Metropolitan Brewing Co., Two Brothers and 3 Floyds). We’d suggest a beer with… anything on the menu, basically.
If you approach your beer consumption with a more devil-may-care attitude, then head to Risque in Wrigleyville for a beer float. If you haven’t had the pleasure of venturing into the complicated world of beer and ice cream pairings, then never fear: trust us when we say that it’s far more delicious than it sounds.
Beer from a Hometown Brewery
Much like the Jackson Five fave “Blame it on the Boogie,” you might want to blame Chicago’s wealth of breweries and brewpubs on its location smack-dab in the middle of farm country (you know, because of the wheat), or, conversely, on the high number of business-inclined lushes living within the confines of this fair city. Any self-respecting brewery tourist should begin (and end, depending on where the day takes you) at Goose Island, which is perhaps Chi Town’s best-known brewery; stick to the original location on Clybourn unless you’re ready to fight hoards of fratty Wrigleyville-ites for your Honkers Ale, and be sure to ask to sample the most limited of each season’s limited-edition brews while you’re there.
Head to Ravenswood to find Metropolitan Brewing Company, home to sassy selections like Krank Shaft (“brewed in homage to the beer of Cologne”) and Dynamo Copper Lager (which allegedly “goes great” with everything from “first dates, football games, whiskey, tapas, [and] the Sunday newspaper” to night burritos, veggie omelets, business lunches, grilled mushrooms, pretzels, “rock shows, pumpernickel, salsa, grand openings, peanuts, sewing bees, extra sharp cheddar cheese, and holidays”). Public tours are conducted regularly, and private tours can be arranged with little to no effort. As a bonus, Metro recently acquired a new neighbor, Koval micro-distillery. Make a day of it by joining your love for craft beer with your love for all other alcohol; the fine folks at Metro even suggest pairing Koval’s Rose Hip liqueur with the aforementioned Dynamo for a “Rosy Winona”, aka ‘tiny sip of heaven’.
If you have a fear of pizza-less beer, then head to of-the-moment destination Piece Brewery and Pizzeria, which boasts some of the city’s most delicious selections in both categories. Winner of the 2006 World Beer Cup for Champion Small Brewpub, Piece features pizza with a signature, handmade crust, and hand-crafted brews that vary from “delicious” to “enlightening”. If you manage to get in on a Saturday night, you can also enjoy the musical stylings of your drunk friends during Piece’s extremely popular Live Band Karaoke. When you think about it, there’s really no better topping for your pizza (besides sausage) than public, musical humiliation.