Where to Drink Craft Beer in Chicago

craft beer in chicago
From taps to t-shirts, Revolution Brewing sports an agitprop look.

During my last visit, I had a hard time finding a good place to drink craft beer in Chicago. Well, two years brought a lot of change.

Last time, I interrogated a transplant from Colorado working at a Rock Bottom just north of the Loop. He directed me to Haymarket Pub & Brewery, which was a winner. I was determined to find something new when I dropped in during muggy mid-July.

I did well enough to give you my list of where to drink craft beer in Chicago. This list is by no means complete: I didn’t have a car, relying only on my feet augmented by some travel on the El. There’s more out there, but this is what you can find in range of Chicago Loop. Be warned: I am an enthusiastic, durable and fast walker. And I’ll admit that I cheat on the last selection – we took a commuter train to Geneva (about one hour) to meet my brother.

craft beer in chicago
Two years made a huge difference in the Chicago craft beer scene.

The Pour House
I headed north from my spot on the The Loop, just south of the river. My first mission was coffee (a dire failure that continues to a problem in Chicago – but that’s for another time). I skirted east of Goose Island and wandered some of the low-rise areas. That’s where I found Old Town. It struck me as a slice of Portland – a lot of the cool factor, but without the undying love for the local MLS team.

There, I passed the Pour House and its 30-foot-long row of taps. The atmosphere is a bit aloof and white-linen for my taste. But the beer menu impressed me. I also like the option to get 6-ounce tasting portions. That allowed me to try Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale (Alltech Lexington, Kentucky), Daisy Cutter IPA (Half Acre Brewing, Chicago) and Two Brothers Outlaw IPA (Warrenville, Ill). The Old Town Pour House menu breaks the selections down by type, which helps you find your favorites. Visitors like me just might enjoy a section that lists selections by geography – at least for the local/regional selections.

The Outlaw was the best of the bunch, yet Daisy Cutter was the standout. That’s because it’s the best example I’ve seen of a new variety gaining momentum – the session IPA. It’s only 5.2 percent, very low for an IPA. But the hops punch hard without overwhelming the malt. That’s no small trick for such a low percentage.

The Pour House’s standoffish vibe aside, it’s a great place to drink craft beer in Chicago. The tasting sizes and selection make it a winner.

Revolution Brewing
After my visit to Revolution Brewing, I found out how much people seems to love this brewery. For good reason – this is where you should drink craft beer in chicago. It has a great pub, excellent service, super beer (with plenty of creative spins) and a killer agitprop design aesthetic.

It can get crowded on weekends, especially since most of the first floor is only for those ordering food. But I prefer upstairs, anyway. It’s a little quieter and more laid-back.

Let’s get to the brews. I had an Anti-Hero IPA and a Black Power oatmeal stout. OK, so I’ll just have to say these beers rank right up there with the best of their genres. Anti-Hero can stand toe to toe with Oskar Blues Gubna, though I’d say it’s a hair less sweet and a bit more piney. Black Power doesn’t quite have the silky texture of a nitro-charged stout. It’s thick and moderately sweet, but far from cloying. It’s more roasty than chocolatey.

Sarah had some sort of Belgian ale. I gave it a taste, but not enough to form a big impression. I was working my way through Black Power at the time.

So back to Chicago’s apparent love for Revolution: We got soaked in a sudden cloudburst when we walked from the El to Revolution. We bought Revolution t-shirts and changed into them immediately. And wore them the next day. As we walked Chicago, random people stopped us to say how much they love Revolution – from the barista at Intelligentsia to a guy at the train station. Revolution, you are doing something right!

Geneva Ale House
Our final stop takes us to The ‘Burbs, leafy green and tranquil. And another rainstorm! This time, we get indoors at the Geneva Ale House just in time.

And there’s a Revolution brew I can’t resist: Gravedigger Billy, a barrel-aged Scottish heavy. Apparently, Revolution hooks local pubs up with some rarities … the beer geek’s version of the video game nerd’s Easter Egg. It averages a 4.3 Untappd rating. That’s way too damn low. It’s lightly carbonated, heavy as hell and saturated in whiskey overtones. It’s pretty much my perfect malty beer.

I followed that up with a Two Brothers Hop Centric. Its hops are more floral than piney (I prefer the pine) – and it hits a nice balance of malty and hoppy. It’s a very good example of a double IPA with not a note out of place. But nothing about it burned into my taste buds like some IPAs I’ve had. It won’t disappoint, but it won’t turn your beer world upside down.

As for the Geneva Ale House, we caught it during a quiet time. It was a relaxing place to hang out and catch up with my brother and sister-in-law (who loved Grave Digger Billy as much as I did). The service was attentive but not obtrusive. I wouldn’t mind trying the food during my next visit. It’s probably too far away to be considered a place to drink craft beer in Chicago … but I just can’t omit it.

One for the Future
Ahhh, Twitter, my friend! This is where I stumbled on SlapShot Brewing the week after I returned to Arizona. I didn’t have to feel bad about missing something cool – Slapshot hasn’t opened yet. And maybe it’s because I love the movie so much … but my gut tells me good things are gonna go down at SlapShot, and it will takes its place as a great place to drink craft beer in Chicago.

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Scenes from Chicago in the Summer

If you’re planning to visit Chicago, summer is the best time. Check out the photos and you’ll see a city that comes alive when the weather gets warmer. To be honest, it’s nowhere near my favorite American city. But I still had a decent time. The architecture is very cool, and you can get just about anywhere on-foot with enough time. On the downside, the food is overrated and so is Navy Pier. The public spaces, as you’ll see below, are also first-rate with parks scattered throughout the downtown area.

It's a busy summer evening at Sky Harbor.
The amazing giant chrome bean of Chicago

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Why Phoenix Can’t Be More Like Chicago

chicago bean
You'll never see anything like this in Phoenix.

In July, I dropped into Chicago for a four-day visit. Overall, I was underwhelmed. Some cool architecture, yes. But the city marinates in self-importance over its fading foodie scene. The pedestrians, cyclists and drivers are by and large savages. I’d much rather visit Portland, Seattle or Vancouver.

But -- Chicago has some terrific public spaces. I was puzzled. The last few years have been an economic disaster, and we’re only starting to poke through to better times. So where did Chicago get the scrilla to keep its public works projects afloat through lean times?

Through a city sales tax of more than 10 percent.

Interesting. This could never happen here in Arizona, where the city sales taxes hover around 2 percent, give or take depending on the municipality.

An outdoor concert venue - too visionary for small minds.

I’m not upset about not having to shell out another 8 percent per purchase (especially since an intern who’s from Chicago points out that at least half of the Windy City’s sales tax props up graft and corruption).

But you know, a 5 percent sales tax that’s effectively used wouldn’t bother me a bit. The first things I’d like to see? Improved bike lanes, quality city gyms, better parks, functional water fountains along the well-travelled canals, for starters. You know – stuff to make the city more liveable, to make people healthier and more active.

Why can’t this happen here? Because there are too many regressive bomb throwers like Sal DiCiccio, perhaps the most stunted person to ever sit on the dais for the Phoenix City Council.

DiCiccio’s notion of leading is to squawk "cut spending!" like a stuttering parrot. Somehow, I started receiving his "newsletters," which are little more than angsty screeds portraying him as a crusader for the little guy. I never signed up for this; I suspect his staff tapped into city data to find an audience upon which to push his small-time agenda.

Let’s look at some recent subject lines:
Your kids’ milk money pays for raises
Taxpayers misled: Food Tax for pay raises
Your Water Bill: Going UP -- You Can Stop It!
Expected Smears on Reformers
Phoenix can Lead Nation/Unions Stop Jobs
Phoenix Spending ‘ripe for abuse’
Union takeover – Phx City Hall

How sad. Not a single idea for how Phoenix can do more for its residents (nor any idea how to write better than amateurish hack level, but that’s another story). It’s all panicky demonizing and fear mongering. No inspiration, no original thinking. No innovation. DiCiccio equates good governance simply with spending less and taxing less -- and offering fat tax breaks to pet projects in the hope of a fleeting boost in low-paying jobs.

Improving city services? Offering amenities that truly world-class cities enjoy? Forget about it.

Sure, our current tax dollars could go further. Trimming here and there? Never a bad idea. But when that and squalling about unions is all a self-proclaimed leader can do, your city is in bad hands.

I’ve always wondered why Chicagoans who move to Phoenix constantly pine for their former city (well, during the winter months, at least).

Hmm, maybe the answer is the Sal DiCiccio mentality.