A decade ago, you had to work to find a good craft brew in or around Chicago. But now, from Gary to Gurnee, you’re never more than a few miles from freshly brewed and finely crafted lagers and ales. How does a discerning drinker cut through the noise? We found 10 beers that are produced on a regular basis and made within an hour of downtown that rise above the rest of the city’s scene, from style-defining stouts to IPAs with staying power, and ranked them. Raise a glass to our favorites.
1Bourbon County Brand Stout
Goose Island Beer Co.
Despite — and perhaps because of — its foreign corporate ownership (the brewery was bought by conglomerate Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2011), Goose Island is now Chicago’s global beer ambassador. And it built its reputation on this bold chocolate-by-way-of-coffee, take-no-prisoners stout that’s been consistently delicious for two decades, a rare feat for a small-batch prestige brew. Without it, our beer scene would still be playing catch-up. $15 for a 16.9-ounce bottle
2Daisy Cutter Pale Ale
Half Acre Beer Company
After starting out with a middling lager brewed in Wisconsin, Half Acre opened its first brewery, in North Center, in October 2009, offering an initial trio of beers. Only one of those, Daisy Cutter, remains. This West Coast–style pale ale is exactly what the city needed in the early days of the craft beer scene, and it still stands out today — sharp, bitter, rich with notes of pine and grapefruit, but not so aggressive that you couldn’t sit on a two-flat stoop and crush a four-pack. $10 for a four-pack
No true craft beer lives in more Chicago refrigerators than this one. Anti-Hero makes up half of this Avondale brewery’s impressive 82,500-barrel-per-year production. It even spawned its own comic book. That only happens when you’ve got a damn good beer, which this IPA — marked by a winning balance of pine-grapefruit bitterness matched with toffee-caramel sweetness — most assuredly is. $10 for a six-pack
4Flywheel Pilsner Bier
Pilsner was a dirty word in craft beer circles when this brew debuted in 2009, so much so that Metropolitan initially billed it as a “bright lager” in the hopes of fooling drinkers into falling in love with its crisp, sharp, and lightly bitter flavor. It worked, but there’s no reason to mask its identity anymore — Pilsners have had a renaissance of late, as more craft breweries tire of making a parade of IPAs. Call Metro a craft brewer ahead of its time. $12 for a six-pack
5Ninja Vs. Unicorn Double IPA
Pipeworks Brewing Co.
Aside from a few flagship beers, the brewers at Pipeworks rarely repeat a recipe (that creativity helped get them named the best new brewery in the world by RateBeer in 2013), but when they do, it’s because they’ve created a classic. This thick, chewy, and unrepentant hop bomb arrived when the IBU (International Bitterness Units) wars raged fiercely. Ninja vs. Unicorn emerged victorious. $12 for a four-pack
6Top Heavy Hefeweizen
Piece Brewery and Pizzeria
This wheat beer has been winning hardware for longer than 95 percent of Chicago breweries have been in business (most memorably, it won gold at the Great American Beer Festival in 2009). No wonder a generation of Chicago drinkers have darkened the doors of Piece’s North Avenue brewery, looked at the foot-tall glasses of creamy, golden beer redolent of bright fruit and cloves, and declared, “I’ll have one of those.” $18 for a growler
7Zombie Dust Pale Ale
3 Floyds Brewing Co.
Yes, this brewery is in Indiana, but 3 Floyds looms so large over Chicago’s craft beer scene that it may as well be annexed by the city. Zombie Dust has maintained a level of hype that’s almost unheard of for a daily drinker. One Chicago store even hung a sign: “It has been __ hours since we’ve been asked for Zombie Dust.” There must be some black magic in this blend of citrusy, fruity Citra hops, casting an unbreakable spell over drinkers. $12 for a six-pack
8Malevolence Chocolate Caliente Russian Imperial Stout
When Spiteful introduced this Mexican-hot-chocolate-inspired creation in 2015, chucking crazy stuff into stouts wasn’t exactly new. But there was still something marvelously inventive about this beer. The marriage of fudgy mocha topped with an ancho chili bite and smoothed out by barrel aging blew the doors off big, boozy pastry stouts. $11 for a 22-ounce bottle
9Shaved Black Truffle Pilsner
Moody Tongue Brewing Company
A $120 bottle of Pilsner infused with shavings of black truffle sounded, at first, like a gimmicky bid for viral attention. And yet, in making it, brewer Jared Rouben created a beer unlike any other: nutty, savory, earthy, even a touch briny (an ideal companion to the oysters served at Moody Tongue’s Pilsen taproom). It’s a Michelin-worthy composition in a bottle. $120 for a 22-ounce bottle
Off Color Brewing
Brewer John Laffler has often described Miller High Life as the perfect beer, so he took the recipe (with MillerCoors’ blessing) and tweaked it with wild yeast, turning “the Champagne of Beers” into a funky, tart sparkler that’s still thirst quenching. This is what craft brewing can do at its best, making something straightforward into something astoundingly interesting — and extremely drinkable. $30 for a 25-ounce bottle
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