The Growler wonders what’s brewing in the City of Big Shoulders.
By Anthony Cefali
The first half of the 1900s formed Chicago, the City of Big Shoulders, as we know it today. After recovering from the Chicago Fire of 1876, Chicago maintained its place as the second largest city in the United States through two world wars, a space race, and the many notorious Daleys holding political office. Neighborhoods developed around the distinct ethnicities and cultures of immigrants seeking new opportunities. These neighborhoods with their long histories and peculiarities constitute the lifeblood of Chicago. No tour of the city—be it for beer, music or history of political corruption—would be complete without visiting several of the disparate pieces that make up the whole.
While the city has changed over the years, one thing remains constant: Chicago is a beer town. From the distinctly industrial images of Metropolitan Brewing to the Latin-American flair of 5 Rabbit Cerveceria, Chicago breweries are built on the neighborhood identities. Follow along as we Chase the Beer Scene around The Loop through some of the most vibrant and pleasant neighborhoods this side of the Mississippi. Besides the neighborhood charms, the beers themselves exert a distinct, urban Midwesternness that always makes you feel at home.
Volunteering at the Brewery
The north side of Chicago stands as a veritable oasis to the urban doldrums of downtown. Tree-lined streets and green space abound, making Metropolitan’s location confusing since their design and packaging celebrates the more metallic and somewhat-robotic side of brewing. But it makes sense when you arrive at Metropolitan’s brewery, an old auto body shop in the Ravenswood industrial district. The brewery focuses solely on lagers—full-on, duck-and-cover lagers—striving to cast off common perceptions of most macrobrew lagers by coaxing bold flavors from their Krankshaft Kölsch, a famously pale, light lager.
While Metropolitan doesn’t have a tasting room or regular tour hours, they do offer hands-on brewing experience. Volunteers help bottle and keg all of Metropolitan’s distributed beer in the company of brewmasters Doug and Tracy Hurst, and Phelps, their loyal and amiable brewdog. Physical labor not what you had in mind? Walk a few blocks east and belly up to the bar at the Hopleaf, one of the most forward-thinking gastropubs in the city. Metropolitan’s old standbys—the honest, true-to-style Ironworks Alt and the dependable Dynamo Copper Lager—are almost always on tap and pair great with the mussels or the duck Reuben.
Lincoln Square Ravenswood Farmer’s Market
Half Acre gives the beer experience that all breweries should aspire to. No food. No liquor. Just Half Acre beer and plenty of it. A thorou
ghly neighborhood affair, Half Acre occupies exactly that, a half of an acre in Lincoln Square. In true Chicago style, head brewer Gabriel Magliaro started with an idea and put his nose to the grindstone, brewing traditional beers as a display of mettle, and hawking bottles around town. Now, Half Acre demand outpaces supply for the reliable Daisy Cutter and old-world-pub-worthy Over Ale. Their brewing repetoire expanded with an ambitious one-off and seasonal program that explores bold new frontiers.
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Half Acre anchors Lincoln Avenue, a major neighborhood thoroughfare coursing through Lincoln Park’s scholarly and creative areas before terminating near Ravenswood. Magnificent oak and maple trees line the streets of Lincoln Square, and block parties and playful snowball fights mark the passing of seasons. Stop by the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce’s Farmer’s Market open each Thursday from 4 to 8 p.m. until October 24 and take in the beautiful colors and smells of the fall harvest.
The Half Acre taproom is a thing of beauty itself, all reclaimed wood and communal tables augmented by Half Acre’s trademark style of hyper-realistic cartoony playfulness. After working through the tap list, head over to the Fountainhead—no relation to the novel, thank heavens!—for a pleasant Chicago rooftop experience and a beer list to match.