Chicago’s 36 Best Local Craft Beers

What to Drink This Summer and Beyond

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Beer glasses
Bottom’s up: Two Brothers’ Cane and Ebel

It was tough—brutal, even—and yet, despite great hardship, we managed to nurse our way through the area’s collective beer menu, assembling a must-drink checklist that we think hits the spot. How we did it: To avoid the murky waters of one-off experimental batches and elusive seasonal specials, we stuck to varieties available year-round. We limited our search to beers brewed within 50 miles of the Loop, and we skipped all chains (sorry, Rock Bottom). We read countless reviews and consulted persnickety beer snobs, but we made the final cut using our sharpest instruments: our own taste buds, finely tuned after sampling 159 beers. But you don’t have to take our word for it. Spill your thoughts in the comments section below. We’re always up for another round.


Check out the 36 best brews in Chicago

10 THINGS… »
Homebrewing and beer-drinking tips, plus our beer-making video and details on our beer release party

Our 15 favorite places to find craft beer

A history of the Siebel Institute of Technology

Four connoisseurs tell us what they’re drinking

Pros tell us how to pair beer with food

CCBW 2011 »
Check out pics from this year’s Chicago Craft Beer Week

Download your own tasting sheet (PDF)

And vote in our poll to name Chicago’s signature summer brew on our Facebook page

Crown’s Special Forces IPA

With eight doses of hops, Special Forces is no shrinking violet: While some India pale ales (IPAs) aim to balance bitterness with perfumey florals, this beer comes to the rescue with an appealingly toasty malt finish. It’s a pint worth raising in honor of the U.S. Army Ranger for whom it was named. Think better backyard barbecues—brats, not hot dogs—on the Fourth of July. 6.4% alcohol by volume (ABV). $5 pint, $14 pitcher. Crown Brewing, 211 S. East St., Crown Point, Ind.; 219-663-4545,


Emmett’s McCarthy Red Ale

Coming this summer to a multiplex near you: Snake Plissken is back in Escape from Navy Pier, fighting a militia of Build-A-Bears armed with saltwater taffy. Victorious, our hero reaches for an ice-cold McCarthy, turns his head toward the nuclear sun, and squints his one good eye—you know, the typical action-flick fare. If, after paying ten bucks for a box-office flop, you could use a drink, make like Plissken and reach for this hoppy, caramel-laced red ale—a great postfilm replenisher. 5.2% ABV. $5 pint, $14 pitcher, $135 half-barrel keg.

Emmett’s Victory Pale Ale

As Dr. Seuss wrote of this pleasantly flowery pale ale in the long-lost volume One Beer, Two Beer, This Beer? Yes, Beer: “I would drink it on a lark. I would drink it in a park. I would drink it here or there. I would drink it anywhere.” 5.6% ABV. $5 pint, $14 growler ($10 refill)

Emmett’s Brewing Company; three locations, including Emmett’s Tavern, 128 W. Main St., West Dundee; 847-428-4500,


Figure Eight’s Where Lizards Dare

There are some who would gush over this brew’s big brother, Snake Pro, an imperial IPA that cranks every dial up to 11. We’re not those people, but we do love it for one reason: Going big on Snake Pro left room in F8’s lineup for a subtler IPA, and Lizard is nearly quichelike in creaminess. If you visit the storefront brewery, don’t miss the Scapegoat ESB or the Black Corridor imperial chocolate stout, two nitrogen pours that would have topped our list if they were available year-round (yep, that’s a hint). 4% ABV. $4 pint, $6.50/22 oz. bottle. Figure Eight Brewing, 150 Washington St., Valparaiso, Ind.; 219-477-2000,


Finch’s Cut Throat

This pale ale just hatched in April, but some 50 local bars have already taken it under wing and put it on draft (cans are on tap for later this summer). Biscuity on the front end, Cut Throat leaves you expecting a smooth, creamy finish but instead pulls a game-time pinch hit, finishing with a sharp spearmint snap—perfect for that round or two with pals following your weekly softball game. 5.5% ABV. $5.50 pint. The Beer Bistro (1061 W. Madison St.; 312-433-0013) and other locations;


5 Rabbit’s 5 Lizard

Hold on to your tamales. The nascent brewery 5 Rabbit takes traditional recipes and reworks them with Latin American flavors: Imagine if your witbier tired of the damp chill that is Brussels and took a spring break jaunt to Mexico. The result is this Belgian-style wheat beer, Mexican-style, with notes of coriander, passion fruit, and citrus. In a word: limey (and delicious). 4.3% ABV. $5 pint. Map Room (1949 N. Hoyne Ave.; 773-252-7636) and other locations;


Flatlander’s Lincolnshire Lager

Hang on, haters: This beer isn’t for you; it’s for your dad or brother or client who swears he’d rather have a Bud. The faults we find with Flatlander’s other one-note offerings aren’t a con here, as LL’s mild corn-fed flavor will be comfortingly familiar to fans of mainstream American lagers but gets them drinking local. You, meanwhile, can order Flatlander’s presentable Jackson Wit and pat yourself on the back for spreading the craft gospel. 4.9% ABV. $4.25 pint, $14 pitcher, $95 half-barrel keg. Flatlander’s Restaurant & Brewery, 200 Village Green Dr., Lincolnshire; 847-821-1234,


Flossmoor Station’s Gandy Dancer Honey Ale

We don’t know why Flossmoor doesn’t bottle this peppery sweet and delightfully viscous pale ale, unless it involves some sort of nectar-of-the-gods exclusivity contract. Perhaps the beer’s sneaky complexity is too good for mere mortals who shop in grocery stores. 5.8% ABV. $4.50 pint, $13 pitcher.

Flossmoor Station’s Iron Horse Stout

Sure, Guinness is an approachable pour for a day of marathon drinking and river dyeing, but a true locavore would pick up this tarry, oaty domestic alternative for an authentic St. Pat’s, South Side Irish–style. 5.6% ABV. $4.50 pint, $15.95 growler ($11.95 refill)

Flossmoor Station’s Pullman Brown Ale
(Click here for a sample tasting sheet for this beer)
There’s something downright colonial about this big and chewy brown. It’s what we’d want in our canteen when crossing the Delaware—a leathery, all-American tonic that warms the chest on icy trails. If there’s no nation-building on your horizon, reward yourself with a pint at the end of a bracing commute: Flossmoor Station is steps from the Metra Electric District line. 6% ABV. $4.50 pint, $50/28-pint keg

Flossmoor Station Restaurant & Brewery, 1035 Sterling Ave., Flossmoor; 708-957-2739,


Photograph: Anna Knott



3 years ago
Posted by JP

Great list. There are many that I have not tried. My new summer goal will be to have a pint of each on the list.

1 year ago
Posted by dcrns287

How does Zombie Dust (3floyds) not make this list?!

1 year ago
Posted by Whatever's Cleverer

Hmmm. Some nice ones on here, sure, but far too focused on a very few breweries. 4 of 36 slots for 3 Floyds and Flossmore? 3 of 36 for Two Brothers and Goose Island? That's 14 of the 36 slots for only 4 brewers.

Why not spread the love a bit to more of the up-and-comers like Flesk, Atlas, Ale Syndicate, or Solemn Oath (whose lack of a mention shows the writer clearly isn't in tune with the Chicago beer scene)? I would put many of these beers at the same level as some of the ones mentioned, or even higher.

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