March/April • Volume 43 • Issue 3

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The Chicago Craft Brew Scene

Paul-Brian McInerney, University of Illinois at Chicago, pbm@uic.edu

While Portland, Denver, and San Diego get much attention as craft brewing hotspots, the Chicago craft brewing scene is growing rapidly, with 34 new craft breweries opened in 2014 alone. Small-scale and independent, craft brewers are the artisans of beer production. Despite accounting for less than 10 percent of total market share in 2014, craft brewing is vibrant throughout the United States. The industry sector seems to be recession-proof: craft beer sales grew 17.3 percent in 2013 against a 1.6 percent overall drop in beer sales industry-wide (Brewers Association, 2014). The growth of craft brewing in recent years provides a fascinating laboratory for organizational and economic sociologists to study various industry dynamics (Carroll & Swaminatham, 2000; Rao, 2008). I am currently studying collaboration and apprenticeship networks among craft brewers in Chicago to understand boundary maintenance and expansion in markets.

Over the past year and a half, I have interviewed many brewers in the city about the local market. There are some real perks to this line of research, including a number of my respondents often offer me beer before beginning our interview, and several brewers have sent my research assistant and I home with something interesting to try. Aside from insights into the dynamics of the local industry, I have learned much about the many styles that Chicago craft brewers provide. The list below represents some of the best Chicago craft brewing has to offer. As such, the list is curated to highlight the most popular and interesting breweries in the city. If you are not already familiar with beer styles, it is worth doing a little research ahead of time to find out what you like. Otherwise, most of these breweries and bars offer samples and flights if you would like to compare different styles before committing to a pint. With few exceptions, the brewers listed below distribute exclusively in Chicago and the surrounding region. Some brewers sell only from their specific location. Visiting tap rooms and beer bars is a really fun experience: the brewers and barkeeps are knowledgeable and always happy to talk about beer and brewing or share stories about how they got started in the business. While in Chicago, be sure to visit and enjoy what they have on offer. Also, leave big tips.

Going to the Source: Craft Brewers

Revolution Brewing (Brewpub: 2323 N. Milwaukee Ave.; Brewery and Taproom: 3340 N. Kedzie) Founded as a brewpub in 2010, Revolution Brewing helped lead the second wave of craft brewing in Chicago. The brewery offers a broad array of beer styles with several guest taps from local and regional craft brewers. The food is excellent, with great options for vegetarians and vegans. Revolution Brewing is located in the increasingly hip Logan Square neighborhood.

Half Acre Tap Room (4257 N. Lincoln Ave.) Along with Revolution, Half Acre helped start a new wave of craft brewing in Chicago. Ten taps offer a wide variety of styles, most of which are only available at the Tap Room. The atmosphere is welcoming. Half Acre does not serve food, but has binders of take-out menus available for you to order and have delivered to the tap room.

Piece Brewery and Pizzeria (1927 W. North Ave.) What’s better than pizza? Pizza paired with award-winning beer. Piece offers New Haven style pizza along with a variety of beer styles, all brewed on site. Piece is located in the heart of hipster Chicago, Wicker Park.

Haymarket Pub and Brewery (737 W. Randolph St.) This brewpub features more than 30 taps. Haymarket does not distribute, so you can only get their 10 house-brewed varieties at the pub. With easy access to CTA buses and trains, Haymarket is closest to the conference venue. 

Dry Hop Brewers (3155 N. Broadway St.) Dry Hop is Lakeview’s neighborhood gastropub. The chef and brewmaster work together to ensure dishes pair well with the beer on offer.

Outside the City:

Three Floyds Brewing Co. (9750 Indiana Parkway, Munster, IN) Three Floyds brews some of the best rated beers in the country. Three Floyds (or 3F) is also known for hosting Dark Lord Day, a beer and music festival at which it distributes its limited edition Russian imperial stout.

Two Brothers Tap House (30W315 Calumet Avenue West, Warrenville, IL) Part of the first wave of craft breweries in the Chicago area, Two Brothers tap house offers comfort food and signature beers in a casual setting.

Pig Minds Brewing Company (4080 Steele Drive, Machesney Park, IL) Pig Minds is a vegan brewpub located near Rockford, IL.

Solemn Oath Brewery (1661 Quincy Avenue #179, Naperville, IL) Known for their unique beers available in large format (22 oz.) bottles, Solemn Oath’s tap room overlooks their brewing facility. Tipping is forbidden, but you can buy your bartender a beer.

Tapping into Variety: Bars serving Local Craft Beer

Local Option (1102 W. Webster Ave.) Heavy Metal-themed beer bar with 29 taps.

Hopleaf (5148 N. Clark St.) Brewpub offering a wide variety of local and Belgian brews.

Map Room (1949 N. Hoyne Ave.) Small, local place with a great beer selection.

Fountainhead (1970 W. Montrose Ave.) Brewpub with excellent food, and it offers dozens of taps and hundreds of bottled beers, along with an amazing selection of whiskies for the brown liquid drinkers.

References

Brewers_Association. (2014). U.S. Beer Sales 2013. Retrieved June 5, 2014, 2014, from http://www.brewersassociation.org/statistics/national/

Carroll, Glenn R., & Swaminatham, Anand. (2000). Why the Microbrewery Movement?

Organizational Dynamics of Resource Partitioning in the U.S. Brewing Industry. American Journal of Sociology, 106(3), 715-762.

Rao, Hayagreeva. (2008). Market Rebels: How Activists Make or Break Radical Innovations. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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