We always want what we can’t have. Chicagoans got a lot more interested in microbrews when the Michigan-based Bell’s, a local favorite, pulled out of Illinois in 2006 due to distribution woes. The good news is Bell’s is back, in limited supply, under the label Kalamazoo; look for it at Handlebar (2311 W. North Ave.; 773-384-9546). But the dry spell got us wondering: If the beer can’t come to us, should we go to the beer? Heck, yeah. Although Bell’s doesn’t offer tours, these other regional microbreweries do, and they’re all within an easy drive of the city. Those who don’t do road trips should check out Piece (1927 W. North Ave.; 773-772-4422), the small brewpub and brewmaster champ at the 2006 World Beer Cup.
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30W315 Calumet Avenue;
If you’re starting a business, it’s handy to have a name that makes for clever puns. Take Jason and Jim Ebel, the two brothers behind the family-brewed, family-named Cane and Ebel, a red rye ale with 70 pounds of Thai palm sugar in each batch, and Ebel’s Weiss (think The Sound of Music), a traditional Hefeweizen. The brothers launched their empire with a homebrewing supply store, The Brewer’s Coop, in 1992 before adding a brewery in 1997. Late last year, the entire operation resettled in new digs a stone’s throw from the original site with an additional 30,000 square feet of space.
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An alcoholic odor and aftertaste bookend this French country-style ale’s sweet center, where notes of brown sugar, toffee, and macadamia mingle.
TOURS Free; noon and 2 p.m. the first Saturday of every month. One point of pride is their machine that fills 140 bottles a minute and was last owned by Bell’s (a hand-me-down system powers the microbrew industry). Make a fuss over it and you might earn heartier-than-average pours when it comes to the five free samples.
IF YOU GO The company’s own gastropub, called The Two Brothers Tap House, opened in February; beercentric specialties include pizza crust made with Prairie Path Ale and blue cheese dressing spiked with Domaine DuPage French country ale (a bronze medalist at the 2007 Great American Beer Festival).
GET IT LOCALLY Hopleaf Bar (5148 N. Clark St.; 773-334-9851), Smallbar (2049 W. Division St.; 773-772-2727)
9750 Indiana Parkway;
Launched in 1996 by dad Michael and sons Nick and Simon, this family affair sits on a dreary, industrial stretch of back-road Indiana. Even the street looks as if it could use a drink. But inside, the cozy brewpub serves up beer-battered cod and whatever’s fresh from the brewery in back—a whopping 60 varieties a year, ranging from the flagship Alpha King to small-batch beers that never make it outside of Indiana.
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Orange in color, herbaceous in flavor, this type-A American pale ale gets its citrusy scent and aggressively bitter back bite from handfuls of hops.
TOURS Saturdays at 3 p.m. A buck gets you a bottle to nurse while ambling along behind the on-duty brewmaster.
IF YOU GO Aim for Dark Lord Day, April 26th, when the brewery releases—and sells out of, in a matter of hours—Dark Lord, a viscous Russian imperial stout. But get there early. Devotees travel from as far away as Japan and camp out for first crack. Or trek down another Saturday and stop in the brewpub, a Chicagoan’s only chance to taste one-offs such as Gorm Noire, a peppery black Belgian ale.
GET IT LOCALLY Delilah’s (2771 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-472-2771), Green Eye Lounge (2403 W. Homer St.; 773-227-8851)
690 Commerce Court;
A Nothing pairs with beer like higher education. Launched in 1997 by two grads of Holland’s tiny Hope College, this brewery now spreads its “art in fermented form” gospel in ten states. In addition to its roster of mainstays, seasonals, and “High Gravity” ales—brews ranging from 7 to 11 percent alcohol—New Holland plans to introduce a line of rum, gin, and whiskey in time for Chicago’s annual WhiskyFest in April.
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An aroma of bacon and burnt cookies announces this pitch-dark oatmeal stout; bold flavors of baking chocolate and coffee grinds follow.
TOURS Saturdays at noon, 2, and 4 p.m. A raging snowstorm on the day we visited might have discouraged fellow pilgrims; we had a private tour, which meant extra samples (the usual is three). The $5 fee also includes a pint glass and 15 percent off merchandise.
IF YOU GO Make time for a meal at the downtown brewpub (66 E. 8th St.; 616-355-6422), where the burgers are marinated in beer and the beers are one of a kind. One-off batches—such as Ichy’s Trippel, a trumped-up version of the Ichabod Pumpkin Ale—are available only here. It’s also the lone spot to sample New Holland brandies, distilled on-site.
GET IT LOCALLY Quenchers Saloon (2401 N. Western Ave.; 773-276-9730), Edgewater Lounge (5600 N. Ashland Ave.; 773-878-3343)
7734 Terrace Avenue;
A “America’s number-one rated brewery”: The title, bestowed in 1998 by a conference of brewers at Chicago’s Beverage Testing Institute, is just one in a long list of accolades racked up by this suburban Madison brewery. Launched in the mideighties with a German brewmaster specializing in German-style beers, since 1987 Capital has been under the leadership of Kirby Nelson, whose influence can be seen in everything from the fermentation tanks named for Frank Zappa songs to the much-decorated doppelbock Autumnal Fire.
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Applesauce on the nose conjures pork-chop reveries, but this brunette lager’s briny body is more saltwater taffy than schnitzel, with a roasted-malt finish.
TOURS Fridays at 3:30 p.m.; Saturdays at 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. The $2.75 fee includes a three-ounce mini stein and at least six samples of what’s on tap. Expect crowds. Call for gift shop hours.
IF YOU GO Go thirsty. Beer flows like water at the on-site Bier Stube and, in summer, Bier Garten. Available-only-here drafts include Amber Waves, a mash-up of Island Wheat (made from crops grown on Door County’s Washington Island) and the popular Wisconsin Amber. The beloved Bockfest takes place in February; watch the Web site for next year’s dates.
GET IT LOCALLY Sam’s Wine & Spirits (1720 N. Marcey St.; 312-664-4394), Binny’s (213 W. Grand Ave.; 312-332-0012)
1872 Commerce Street;
In Milwaukee, the onetime brewing capital of watery American-style lagers, Lakefront is redefining the industry. Born in 1987 from the Klisch brothers’ homebrewing one-upmanship, America’s first certified-organic brewery produces the country’s oldest certified-organic beer, the heavenly E.S.B. (its Extra Special Bitter ale). What’s more, president Russ Klisch petitioned the government for an exemption from the definition of beer so that his barley-free New Grist, designed for gluten-intolerant drinkers, would qualify. He’s even persuaded selected Wisconsinites to grow hops, a crop long dormant in the Midwest that is currently experiencing a nationwide shortage.
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Honey-hued and as comforting as sourdough. A mellow, freshly baked biscuit of an organic ale, with a finish that hints at banana.
TOURS Mondays through Thursdays at 3 p.m.; Friday environmental tours at 3:30 p.m.; Friday fish-fry tours every half-hour from 6:30 to 8 p.m.; Saturday tours every half-hour from 1 to 3 p.m. All except the Friday fish-fry tours are $5 and include a pint glass, four six-ounce samples, and a coupon for a free beer at one of several local bars. Fish-fry tours, $10, also include a $5 dinner voucher; call 414-273-8300 for dinner reservations.
IF YOU GO Take the environmental tour, in which Klisch details the facility’s eco-friendly practices. Then stay for the fish fry and order the cod.
GET IT LOCALLY Sheffield’s (3258 N. Sheffield Ave.; 773-281-4989), Map Room (1949 N. Hoyne Ave.; 773-252-7636)
2400 Highway 69;
Dan and Deb Carey—he’s the brewmaster; she’s America’s first female brewery founder—nearly caused a riot several years ago when they cut out-of-state distribution to better satisfy Wisconsin demand. The move left Chicagoans crying over their last New Glarus beers, whose gripping flavors (try the Raspberry Tart) belie a simplicity inspired by the German purity law of 1516, which limited beer to its most basic ingredients. A massive expansion is slated to open to the public in mid-June; watch the Web site for details. The existing brewhouse will continue operation, focusing on Dan’s limited-release Unplugged series.
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Whiffs of grass and chamomile give way to notes of citrus and buttered toast in this unfiltered, cask-conditioned ale, brewed with a pinch of corn.
TOURS Free audio tours and a tasting room ($3.50 for three 3-ounce samples and a souvenir glass) operate from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily; the gift shop is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Deb might host private tours at the new facility; call for updates.
IF YOU GO There’s no food on-site, but the tiny town of New Glarus, a.k.a. America’s Little Switzerland, provides plenty of options. Pair a New Glarus draft with fondue at the Glarner Stube (518 1st St.; 608-527-2216), or sip in the cherry-paneled Puempel’s Olde Tavern (18 6th Ave.; 608-527-2045).
GET IT LOCALLY When asked about returning to the Chicago market, Deb says, “Never say ‘never.'”
Illustrations: Rod Hunting