Chicago’s 36 Best Local Craft Beers

What to Drink This Summer and Beyond

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FOR HOPEFUL METEOROLOGISTS
Three Floyds’ Alpha King American Pale Ale

Picture April in Chicago: As new growth claws its way through the winter-hardened earth, an untimely flower punches you in the face. Down, hops, down. Warm weather is almost here. Hooray for this assertively botanic alpha brew, a welcome reminder of spring year-round. 6% ABV. $5 pint, $10 six-pack.

FOR A POSTGARDENING PINT
Three Floyds’ Dreadnaught Imperial IPA

We confess a bias for Three Floyds, but that’s because its brews all share a distinctive hops profile—earthy, tangy, natty—that’s so, well, Floydian. With Dreadnaught, those hops are practically fertilized: Think damp moss meets compost. 9.5% ABV. $5 pint, $30 growler

FOR THE FREEDOM FIGHTER, PART 1
Three Floyds’ Gumballhead

Back off, man. This six-pack is mine. Come July 3, we’re scouring the aisles at Whole Foods, praying this unusually hoppy wheat brew, the perfect summertime quencher, is in stock. Otherwise, there will be blood on Independence Day. 5.5% ABV. $5 pint, $12 growler

FOR THE FREEDOM FIGHTER, PART 2
Three Floyds’ Robert the Bruce Scottish Ale

Call us morbid, but this bready, muddy ale is perfect for savoring while watching a dreary historical epic, preferably one in which hordes of people perish in battle. Not every warrior is a hero (but Robert was), and not every Scottish ale will please hopheads (but this one will). 6.5% ABV. $5 pint

Three Floyds Brewpub, 9750 Indiana Pkwy., Munster, Ind.; 219-922-4425, 3floyds.com

 

FOR BONFIRE BOOZING
Two Brothers’ Cane and Ebel

The Ebel brothers’ “hopped up red rye ale” is meant for the campfire, with an aroma (sharp, sour, pitchy) brawny enough to permeate wood smoke. C&E is hoppy all right, but since it’s brewed with cane sugar, there’s an underlying sweetness—charred marshmallows, maybe—that makes for a bold but well-balanced sipper. Sort of like those campfire songs: bittersweet. 7% ABV. $6 pint, $15.98 growler ($11.99 refill).

FOR PRE-, DURING, AND POSTNUP
Two Brothers’ Long Haul Session Ale

Designed for those days when you intend to crack open a few (hence the term “session”), this relatively low-booze beer outperforms expectations. Nutty and savory with a tart twist, it’s subtle enough to win over picky drinkers. In fact, it would make a great choice for a wedding reception, both for its name—good luck, happy couple, on the long road ahead—and for keeping Uncle Gary from getting too drunk. 4.2% ABV. $6 pint, $160 half-barrel keg

FOR MODERN-DAY MARINERS
Two Brothers’ Resistance IPA

So named because its makers were hesitant to go whole hops—er, hog—and embrace the India pale ale (a style dating back to British colonialism, when bitter hops preserved beer for long voyages), Resistance leaves us asking, “Why the wait?” Where some IPAs are weedy and astringent, this brew is oak-aged for a crisp green-apple finish. The delicate nuances wouldn’t survive sea passage, but for a day of fishing on the lake? Jolly good. 6.9% ABV. $5 pint

Two Brothers Tap House, 30W315 Calumet Ave., Warrenville; 630-393-2337, twobrosbrew.com

 

FOR A HARD NIGHT’S DAY
Wild Onion’s CentenniAle American Blonde

After battling a night of insomnia, you need a serious pick-me-up. This golden ale’s aroma of fresh-squeezed orange juice gives way to a tanginess that hangs on the tongue and sweeps away lethargy like a stiff cup of java (or a hair of the dog). Voilà! Breakfast of champions. 5.2% ABV. $4.50 pint, $145 half-barrel keg. Onion Pub & Brewery, 22221 Pepper Rd., Lake Barrington; 847-381-7308, onionpub.com

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Four more beers we would amiably toss back again
 

ARGUS’S MCCAFFREY’S IRISH CREAM ALE
The father-and-son team behind the young brewery Argus, in Pullman, whips up a handful of private-label beers for suburban bars, including this lightly carbonated ale for the Ballydoyle pubs in Downers Grove, Aurora, and Bloomingdale. Can’t make the trek? Argus bottles its beers, too. (For now, at least, Argus also contract brews for the just-launched 5 Rabbit Cerveceria, whose recipes—overseen by the local beer guru Randy Mosher—include the sprightly 5 Lizard). 4.6% ABV. $8.99 six-pack at Binny’s (1720 N. Marcey St.; 312-664-4394); other locations at argusbrewery.com

HARRISON’S WHEAT
Those seeking relief from strip-mall shopping sprees can pop across La Grange Road for a pint of this balanced brew and a heaping helping of nachos piled on what seems to be a turkey platter. A smidge bolder than 312, this standard American wheat beer makes for an appeasing replenisher when served ice-cold. 5% ABV. $3.25 pint, $11 pitcher, $25 growler ($7 refill), $110 half-barrel keg. Harrison’s Restaurant & Brewery, 15845 S. La Grange Rd., Orland Park; 708-226-0100, harrisonsbrewpub.com

STOCKHOLM’S STATE ST. PILSNER
Some suburban brewpubs multitask as all-purpose banquet rooms/music venues/community centers—giant halls where you can drink and carouse with pretty much everyone in town—but this cozy tavern shines for its intimate bar and genial hospitality. The underlying sweetness native to all of Stockholm’s brews works best in this pilsner that, with its gingery aroma and hint of spiced apple, could pass for a mild cider. 6.3% ABV. $4 pint, $13 growler ($6 refill). Stockholm’s, 306 W. State St., Geneva; 630-208-7070, stockholmsbrewpub.com

TAYLOR’S DARK SATIN GERMAN DUNKEL
Although only its Raspberry Wheat and Rusty Dog Amber snagged the “signature” seal out of Taylor’s dozen or so regulars, we say the dunkel would be most deserving of the honor—if, that is, it weren’t brewed offsite by Minhas in Wisconsin. The mahogany lager brims with malty toffeeness: It’s sweet enough you won’t want seconds, but pair a pint with a slice of sharp Cheddar and voilà! Dessert is served. 5.2% ABV. $4.50 pint, $7/25 oz. pour, $13.99 growler ($9.99 refill). Taylor Brewing Company, 717 E. Butterfield Rd., Lombard; 630-990-8700, taylorbrewing.com
 

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comments
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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