Libations in the Land of Lincoln: Beercation in Chicago
As an avid craft beer drinker living in St. Paul, Minnesota, it is almost criminal to say that I have never been to Chicago for beer. Well, thanks to Aaron and Jeff Zierdt, that is no longer the case. Chicago is the focal point of our trip. Over the years, I have heard nothing but amazing things about the beer scene in the Windy City. I am so excited to see it for myself in the company of Aaron and Jeff Zierdt. If you want to see what our day in Madison, Wisconsin was all about, check it out here.
La Taguara is A Madison Gem
Before we head to Mikerphone Brewing outside of Chicago, we need sustenance. In keeping consistent with out patronizing of ethnic mom and pop eateries, we set a course for La Taguara, an absolute gem in Madison specializing in Venezuelan and Latin American cuisine. It is quite busy for a Sunday morning and I always take that as a good sign.
Being a good Colombian, I order the Bandejita Paisa, a Colombian dish of epic proportions. I love this dish because it has a little bit of everything and is a fantastic tour of Colombian cuisine. From the crisp and crunchy pork belly to the smooth and flavorful pork sausage, there are a myriad of tastes and textures in this dish. The fried plantains provide a sweetness to all the amazing savory notes of the different meats on the plate. Aaron and Jeff both enjoy their dishes which makes me really happy since I suggested this spot.
Mikerphone Brewing Company
My first brewery stop in Illinois winds up being outside of Chicago at Mikerphone Brewing Company. Mikerphone Brewing is located in the suburb, Elk Grove Village, IL. If the vibrant baby blue of the garage doesn’t catch your eye, it is easy to miss. The drive between Madison and Elk Grove Village is about two hours. In that time, our lunch digests, and we are ready to start sampling some craft beer!
There is a definitive music motif in the taproom. In addition to vinyl records decorating the wall of the taproom, the tap handles are all microphones. Also, that vibrant baby blue is everywhere and really makes the aesthetic soothing, in my opinion. I see that they do not have flights, so it is a good thing I am not driving. I start with a half pour of their Upper Echelon, a NEIPA. It is juicy with a bit of hop-burn. Love it or hate it, Mikerphone brewing devotes around half their tap list to NEIPA-style beers. While those aren’t my personal favorites, they certainly are done well, here.
From Hazy to Clear, I am Glad I am Here
As I wade through a haze of beers in search of something crisp, I find there are actually several options that will take the ABV and the IBUs down a bit. I try the Kölsch-style beer, Hau5 Bier, and it is pretty decent. After that, I move onto the Resident DJ, an India Pale Lager. This beer is a wonderful combination of lager crispness and hop bitterness. In fact, this beer is so good that I opt for a full pour of it and it is served in a dimpled mug which is one of my favorite drinking vessels.
As Aaron, Jeff, and I happily sip our beers, we start thinking ahead to the soccer match that is on tonight. It is a World Cup Qualifier match against Panama. I hear that Panama’s defense is as stingy as the tollbooth that sits on their canal, so it is not a guaranteed win. We figure out a pub that is not too far away from our Airbnb where we can watch the game. With a game plan to watch the US Men’s Soccer team in place, we wind down our time at Mikerphone Brewing. I really enjoy the beers and conversation. There is a palpable excitement as we get ready to embark on the Windy City.
Airbnb is 27 Steps From a Brewery!
I don’t know who the patron saint of amazing Airbnb experiences is, but I am going to go out on a limb and say that whomever they are, we are in their good graces. In Decorah we had an insanely nostalgic 80s-themed Airbnb. In Madison we had a hammock, a tricky staircase, and a great location. Now, as Aaron assumes the role of Chewbacca and helps Jeff navigate to our Airbnb, we soon realize that our lodging for the Chicago leg of the trip is literally across the street from Begyle Brewing. I mean, if that doesn’t prove that we all were war heroes who saved orphans from an IRS audit in a former life, I don’t know what will. What is the phrase? When life gives you 27 steps to a brewery; take them! We unload our bags and proceed to the nearest watering hole.
Located near Wrigleyville and 27 steps away from an amazing Airbnb stands Begyle Brewing. When I was gathering info on Chicago breweries, Begyle Brewing came highly recommended from several people. The taproom is cozy and quaint. The entire space circles around the bathrooms located in the middle of the space. You can see into the brewhouse through the back wall of the place.
Begyle Brewing has a pretty diverse tap list. They walk the line between traditional, OG craft beer styles and the new and exciting NEIPA for the kids who like to wear their hats backwards and recycle. I opt for the Boat Shoes, a Kölsch-style beer-I am sure you are noticing a theme and connection to my unabashed love of this style. This beer is quite superb. We gather on some stools in the corner of the taproom as we catch the late afternoon sun peaking into the windows. We are all incredibly delighted at the good fortune of our Airbnb location.
The wonderful beers are making us happy, but there is also the comfort of being in Chicago, now. We will be able to have a semblance of a home base for 4 nights and not have to pack up and leave every morning. Also, Aaron is explaining every permutation that exists for the US Men’s Soccer team to advance to the World Cup. Aaron is easily the biggest soccer fan that I know. I have been lucky to attend plenty of MN Loons games with him. He knows a ton about the game and he is simply giddy for the game tonight. Jeff is also all smiles.
The reality that we are about to immerse ourselves in the he breadth and quality quality of the Chicago-area craft beer scene is hitting him. When Jeff is really happy, he has a wonderful laugh. As we are sipping our Begyle beers and looking across the street, Jeff laughs and smiles, as if to say, “Can you believe all this?!?!”
If You Can’t Be at the Pitch, You Might As Well Be at the Pub!
I order up a dry Irish stout and it is a roasty, creamy treat. Jeff and Aaron continue sipping, as well. We begin to sketch out a plan for tomorrow. Dovetail Brewery is about 2 blocks north of where we are currently sitting and they open right away at 11. This will be our starting point that will ultimately allow us to hit about 5 spots tomorrow. We are also cognizant of the time and decide that we probably need to head to The Globe Pub if we are going to get seats for the game.
We settle up and head to the pub. It is just a few blocks down Irving Park Rd. We walk in and the place is already alive with the fervent energy of a soccer match at a pub. We luckily secure a spot within view of the televisions. As excited as Aaron is to watch the game, I am chuffed over the fact that The Globe Pub has both an ESB (English Sporting Beer from Midwest Coast Brewing) and a brown ale (Winter Fields from More Brewing) on tap!
We order up some food and the drinks start flowing. Before we know it, it seems like the US team is trying to match the number of goals they score with the number of beers that we are ordering. Up to the task, we decide to keep drinking. Long story short, the US Men’s team wins 5-1, and our merry band of beer drinkers are all quite happy. We head back to the Airbnb and enjoy our nightcaps. Jeff has his customary DIPA and Aaron and I go for lagers.
Bookending a Day with Lagers
We awake rested and eager to hit the beer trail. However, we also need to find a place to eat. Aaron always has to get his run in before we set sail for the day because if he doesn’t he will lose a bet with Marcus and owe him money. Many world class athletes find different things to motivate them. For Aaron, the main reason to not let up is a combination of spite and stubbornness.
Jeff is always doing work things in the morning-emails, phone calls, posting his previous day’s recap of our travels. Everyone sticks to their routines on this trip. Me, I just need coffee in the morning. We establish that the first one up needs to crank of the java machine so that we can function as capable members of society. Once I have my cup of coffee, I look at Facebook, Instagram, and check out different websites for the breweries that we are visiting to get a sense of what is on tap.
When Aaron returns from his run with his gloves and neon-yellow jacket, we all know that brunch is the next order of business. Aaron finds a cool little spot called Savanna Restaurant. This place has a menu that melds American and Ecuadorean cuisines. That sounds good for me. It is about a 10 minute walk from where we are and will help wake us up.
The Chicago temperature is in the mid-sixties and it feels good. We arrive and get seated. I order a turkey chorizo hash and it is almost the size of Nebraska. I am sipping coffee and eating a wonderfully delicious breakfast. Life is good. With each sip of coffee, my brain powers up, and I realize that we have a full day of frothy fun ahead. We are finished with our meals, and my loins are girded with enough caffeine to wake the dead. It is time to head for our first beer destination of the day!
When in Chicago, Hightail it to Dovetail Brewery!
Among the plethora of things Aaron, Jeff, and I have in common, a vociferous admiration of lagers is in the top five of the list. Dovetail Brewery is known for their extensive lager list. Dovetail Brewery focuses on tradition and quality in their beers. I can say that if you visit Chicago and want to experience beers that, as a whole, rank well above the rest, Dovetail is definitely worth your time.
That One Is Going to 11…
We walk in and sit down at the bar. We have the place almost all to ourselves. There is one gentleman who is supposedly going to hit 11 Chicago breweries today. He claims that this is not his first one of the day. We are suspicious of his goal and whether or not he will still have pants on by the time rush hour hits. I mean, I guess that if you are only doing one pour at each spot and not driving, 11 breweries in a day is not outside the realm of possibility. However, that breakneck pace is not appealing to me at all. I prefer the meandering around the town and seeing where the day takes me. David, the bartender at Dovetail Brewery is also skeptical of this young gentleman’s lofty goal.
A Friendly Beertender Makes Everything Better
David is a wonderful gent who has a disarming demeanor about him. His gentle, yet knowledgeable approach to presenting the Dovetail beers is something I wish more bartenders possessed. In conversing with him and watching him interact, it is clear to me that he cares about the patrons enjoying themselves. After perusing the menu, we order up some beers and begin enjoying the first brewery visit of the day. The taproom has an older feel to it with the exposed brick and there are some really old-school faucets that look like they are no longer in use to the right of the taps behind the bar. I love the fact that they have different glassware to go with the different styles of beer that they are serving.
When at Dovetail, Drink Everything!
Between the three of us, we leave no tap line undisturbed. I am not sure if it is just the fact that we have that “first brewery of the day” energy or the titillating tap list, but we begin ordering pours with the fervor of an overly-caffeinated Yosemite Sam. As fast as we can order, David pours our beers in their proper glass vessels. We try the Czech Pilsner, the Helles, the Grodziskie, the Kellerbier, the Smoked Helles, the Altbier, the Hefeweizen, the Doppelbock, and the Kölsch.
Our favorites were the Czech Pilsner, the Helles, the Smoked Helles, and the Kellerbier. The ones that left a little to be desired were the Kölsch and the Altbier. That being said, the experience was tremendous. Between the wonderful conversation with David, and the beer chatter between the three of us, we all agreed that this stop lives up to the hype. It is rare to find this level of quality in a brewery these days.
One of the reasons I love drinking beer with Aaron and Jeff is that I learn a lot about tasting beer as we chat and dissect every sip. In general, I find that one can learn a lot about beers when they drink with others. Our palates are all different and the sensory reference points we all have for certain flavors and descriptors are all over the board. As we talk, we compare our beers with other beers we have had from other places and the conversation is a beer geeks nirvana.
Halfway to Half Acre. . .
We thank David for his hospitality and Aaron and Jeff leave some beers with him. Almost as if he sensed it, a brewer came out from the back and poached the Dortmunder tallboy for himself. I don’t blame him, after all, it is a GABF gold medal-winning beer. We say our goodbyes and order up a Lyft.
While the gentleman we met earlier is probably on his 7th brewery of the day when we order our Lyft, we don’t care. We are headed to Half Acre for some Daisy Cutter straight from the tap. Dovetail Brewery was a great way to start the day of craft beer exploration. Now we are on to an old favorite.
Sometimes, the best-laid plans go sideways on a beercation. When we pull up to Half Acre Brewing, we disembark from our ride and walk up to the door. It becomes evident once we get within 10 feet of the place that the taproom is not open today. This takes a little wind out of our sails, but we recalibrate and see that there is another brewery not that far away. So, we set a course for Spiteful Brewing.
After a short walk and a pass by a retirement home where Jeff visited on a previous visit, we arrive at Spiteful Brewing. In all honesty, I was really looking forward to going to Half Acre Brewing. I have loved the amazingly flawless nature of fresh Daisy Cutter over the years when I have been lucky enough to get it. Yes, I know that Half Acre recently became available in our market. Yet, I am one who likes to get things from the source. So, I am carrying with me a little bit of disappointment.
Hoppy Goodness at Spiteful Brewing
Lucky for me, sometimes a beercation has a way of turning a frown upside-down with some really great beer. Spiteful Brewing’s beers are just salve I need to take the sting out of missing out on Half Acre. I start with the Alley Time! Pale Ale. It is bright, hoppy, and clean-much akin to the aforementioned Daisy Cutter. A pale ale, when brewed this way, is manna from heaven as far as I am concerned. With one delicious beer in the system, it is time to move onto the Spiteful IPA. The Spiteful IPA is a throwback to the days when IPAs didn’t taste like an antidote for scurvy. This IPA is bright, citrusy, and has bitterness in the finish. The citrus comes across as grapefruit peel, and I love it.
Since the first two beers are from the hoppy end of the spectrum, I choose Farthing Dark Mild. This is a style that I love and an ABV (3.6%) that will keep the tread on the tire for me as it is still early in the day. The Farthing misses the mark for me. It is missing the tell-tale leathery and satisfying dark malt character that this style is known for. Again, if I were drinking this beer by myself, I wouldn’t have a sounding board for discussion about it. However, both Aaron and Jeff try it and we begin a wonderfully geeky discussion on how enjoyable a perfect dark mild can be.
A Rant About Wrigley
After the Farthing Dark Mild, I switch things up and go with the Cubby Bear Lager. This crisp and clean lager is an homage to some of the most obnoxious sports fans on the face of the planet. Like the nature of baseball knowledge of Wrigley’s Bleacher Bums, this beer is simple and easy to see through. If you go to a Chicago Cubs game, you will see an old-fashioned park that has been bastardized with advertisements and a fan base that is bereft of any sense of baseball history. Unlike Fenway Park, which still possesses a cathedral of baseball history and mystique, Wrigley Field is a glorified beer garden. However, unlike the team’s fans, this beer is enjoyable and something I would happily encounter again.
A Strong Finish at Spiteful Brewing
Next up for us is a can of high-octane decadence. We decide to split a Russsian Imperial Stout called Malevolence Chocolate Caliente. Of course, leave it to Aaron and Jeff to always end on a high note. Wow, this beer has a lot going on. This beer has a wonderful roastiness from the malt with drying heat from the pepper that has mellowed. The cinnamon spices add a wonderful accent and harmonize with the heat of the peppers. There is a nice sweetness that seems to come across as a combo of dark chocolate and molasses. What a nice way to end our time at Spiteful Brewing.
While the bartender barely engaged with us, the beers at Spiteful Brewing were well-made. By now, the thought of not being able to get to Half Acre seems like a distant memory. It is now late afternoon and time for some food. We are off to another Chicago craft beer institution: Hopleaf.
Hopleaf, A Chicago Craft Beer Food & Beer Mecca
If you drink craft beer, the chances are you also love a meal that is above the regular crap at Applebee’s. In my beercation wanderings, I always gravitate towards a place that can create synergy between craft beer and food. Hopleaf is a place in Chicago that will create a wonderful food and beer memory for you. Their tap list is jaw-dropping when it comes to a wonderful marriage of Belgian imports and local winners. The food is very much leaning into the Belgian cuisine that pairs immaculately with beer.
The beer menu is epic. I could literally spend five days just coming here for lunch and dinner. After some searching, I see a Begyle Brewing ESB on the menu and start off with that. I continue to peruse the dinner menu. As I am deciding on what delectable victuals I am going to enjoy, I smell the hint of smoke from the fireplace as the late afternoon sun shines through the windows, illuminating the high ceiling in the two level dining room. The ESB arrives and it is wonderful! It is a perfect harmony between floral and earthy hops along with a satisfying malt note.
Belgian-Inspired Beer & Food For the Win
I decide that I am going to dine on steamed mussels since it is a Belgian-inspired menu. We are all quite excited to be here. Everyone is enjoying their beers and conversation. As we plot the final destination of our evening, it is decided that Metropolitan Brewing will be a nice way to end our wonderful first full day in Chicago. Why not end our day the way we started? Since Metropolitan Brewing is known for having a bunch of well-made lagers, this decision is music to my ears.
The steamed mussels arrive and I order an Allagash White to go with them. I mean, pairing one of the best Belgian White beers brewed in the United States with Belgian food seems like a no-brainer to me. The mussels are plump and firm with an incredibly aromatic and flavorful wine sauce. There is an ample amount of bread available to sop up the sauce. At this point, the table seemingly enters into a voluntary vow of silence as we all savor our lovely dinner and drinks.
If you happen to find yourself in Chicago craving a wonderful meal that comes with a thirst for immaculately served craft beers, Hopleaf Bar is the place to go. The entire ambiance of the place from the smoke from the wood-burning fire to the exposed brick festooned with beer signs from local and far afield craft beer institutions, Hopleaf creates a memorable food and beer pairing experience.
Metropolitan Brewing Company and a Night Cap
Our craft beer-obsessed group probably could have just called it a night after Hopleaf and retreated back to the friendly confines of our Airbnb. However, the beercation wanderlust has taken over and we are thirsty for more of Chicago’s wonders. Our final destination for the night is Metropolitan Brewing Company. Depending on which local beer aficionado you talk to, Metropolitan has, arguably, the best selection of lagers in the city. Well, I am happy to investigate for myself.
The taproom is located in an event center and you definitely would not stumble upon the place. After a walk down a hallway and a really heavy metal door, like Oz pulling back the curtain, a spacious taproom appears before our eyes. A large bar anchors the room with seating out on a patio that overlooks a river. Lots of big windows make it seem elegant and accessible all at the same time. Our beertender’s name is Stan. Like David from Dovetail, he is friendly and incredibly well-versed on what he is pouring. He has a long beard and wears glasses and a baseball cap.
The Best in Show
The beer list at Metropolitan is full of things I love to drink, and this energizes me. I feel a second wind coming on and that is thanks to the plethora of classic styles that await. As a matter of fact, these beers will make the transition from second wind to three sheets to the wind a breeze!
I try as many half pours as time and liver capacity will allow because everything is so good!! The German Pilsner (Flywheel), Vienna Lager (Dynamo), Kölsch (Krankshaft), Doppelbock (Generator), Kellerbier (Heliostat), Dortmunder (Humbucker), Helles (Stromhaus), Rye beer (Arc Welder), and Schwarzbier (Javatron) are all sublime.
There isn’t a single beer at Metropolitan Brewing I would not order a full pour of down the road. Between all of these, the Heliostat, Javatron, and Stromhaus are my favorites. Several hours earlier, I would have been hard-pressed to imagine another brewery visit that would eclipse the beers we thoroughly enjoyed at Dovetail. Yet, here we sit at Metropolitan marveling at the quality and artistry in every sip. That is the wonder and serendipity of traveling for beer. One never knows where the next ah-ha moment of craft beer excellence will strike.
Meddling with Malört in Chicago
Along with these fantastic beers, the mood amongst our thirsty travelers is giddiness with a side of mischief. I say mischief because Aaron has a devilish gleam in his eyes that can only mean trouble. This tell-tale look is synonymous and evocative of the Fernet Fridays tradition at Lupulin Brewing Company where Aaron is a brewer. Fernet Friday at Lupulin is a thing of legend. It typically happens in the afternoon when Aaron switches from focused and task-oriented brewer to purveyor of Fernet and wackiness. If you are within the radius of a city block, Aaron will find you and before you know it, you are doing a shot of Fernet.
Fernet is an Italian spirit that is an acquired taste, in my opinion. For years, I had been curious about this spirit. I happened to be up at Lupulin on a Friday to plan for our trip. Aaron starts running around with a bottle of Fernet. I obliged his hospitality and soon found out that Fernet tastes like a spicy liquor that was aged on grapefruit peels. It is more bitter than any Vikings fan who saw them lose all 4 Superbowls in person.
When in Chicago…
98% of the time, Aaron is quiet and reserved. In order for him to come out of his shell, he either has to feel comfortable around you or be a little tipsy. Well, we have a perfect storm for his wild side to come out, and he starts talking about finding a place where we can get a shot of Malört. Aaron is fully in scheming-mode and is googling bars in our vicinity. Jeff and I are adamantly opposed to this fool’s errand of going to try to find Malört. However, Aaron is now acting like a gremlin and refuses to take our more prudent protests into consideration.
Our beertender Stan appears to check in on us and Aaron asks him where we can go to find shots of Malört. Stan’s facial expression transforms from a calm and stately publican to frisky abettor of fun and pulls from beneath the bar a bottle of Malört and 4 shot glasses. His smile is ear to ear and is only eclipsed by Aaron’s gleeful feeling of accomplishing the mission. At this point, I embrace the moment as well as this quintessentially Chicago right of passage. The Malört is as advertised-bitterness combined with what you would find in the fuel tank of a Cessna.
The four of us: Aaron, Jeff, Stan, and myself are now bonded by Malört. With the shots of Malört, we feel are also among the throngs of others who have checked off this box as a rite of passage into Chicago culture. Throughout our time at Metropolitan, Stan was chatty, witty, and kind. He did not rush us out when things closed down and joined us for a beer at the end of his shift. This is the type of wonderful camaraderie that craft beer can provide. We wound up coming back later in our trip to drop off beer for him after he treated us with such amazing hospitality.
As much as I yearn for the satisfaction that a perfectly brewed beer provides, it is the wonderment and awe of a truly special experience shared with humanity the emboldens me to travel and learn about the world around me. This Chicago beercation day has been nothing short of magical. Our eyelids are heavy and our souls renewed from a day of fun. We bid Stan farewell and amble out to our awaiting Uber back to the Airbnb. Sleep will come quickly and the rest will be much needed as tomorrow holds in store more brewery stops and a visit to one of Chicago’s best places to get deep-dish pizza.
Dan Beaubien has been involved with Beerploma since 2014 although his passion for craft beer dates back to 2006 when he started traveling for beer. He mostly covers craft beer events, festivals, brewery openings/releases, and beer reviews. Dan has a soft spot in his heart for authentic British Style ales, IPAs, and all things barrel-aged. If you have any questions or comments about this article feel free to email Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Leave a Reply