It’s no secret that we Chicagoans love our beer, and this month we’re exploring the many ways to enjoy it across our town: in beer gardens and on brewery patios, at home, and even in Chicago’s history. With summer on the horizon, it’s the perfect time to kick back and crack open a cold one.
Suds & Sunshine
Chicago’s brewpubs and taprooms offer cold beers under the hot sun on expanded patios perfect for summer weekends. No matter where you land in Chicago or the suburbs, you’re likely not far from one of these watering holes.
- Half Acre Brewery Balmoral West Edgewater. When Half Acre expanded to its 60,000-square-foot production space west of Andersonville, they also expanded into the outdoors with a spacious beer garden. Sip the brewery’s signature pale ales and IPAs around one of their colorful bistro tables.
- Off Color Brewing’s Mousetrap Goose Island. Planted among the rustic warehouses-turned-retail of Goose Island’s North Kingsbury Street, enjoy Off Color Brewing’s creative ales at their outdoor picnic tables. Grab a pizza on the way (Pizza Capri’s thin crusts are close by), and pair it with the malty and aptly named Beer for Pizza.
- Metropolitan Brewing Avondale. Metropolitan Brewing is known for its German-style lagers, but the real star here is the Riverside Patio. Bring Fido or the kiddos to take in the sunshine and views of the Chicago River, which sparkles with the shine of string lights after sundown.
- Pilot Project Brewing Palmer Square. Pilot Project, which serves as an incubator for multiple breweries to experiment with small batches, has something for everyone: classics like IPAs and lagers, plus funky hard kombuchas and barrel-aged beers. Grab a seat at a picnic table in the mural-lined courtyard.
- Horse Thief Hollow Beverly. On the South Side, Horse Thief Hollow pairs classic brews with Southern-inspired cuisine like gumbo and BBQ. Awnings stretch across the large patio out back for long, relaxing days at the brewery.
- Smylie Brothers Brewing Co Evanston. Set in the heart of downtown Evanston, Smylie Brothers provides quite the space and ambience for beer drinking. There is excellent people watching to be had from this brewery’s front patio, along with a variety of beers and Texas-style BBQ.
- Buckledown Brewing Lyons. Find a spot at one of the picnic tables on this patio in the western suburbs—umbrellas shade patrons during sunny days, and heaters make cool evenings enjoyable. Check their Instagram account for frequent pop-up food events.
A How-To For Home Brew
Why go out when you can make your very own signature brew at home?
Step One: Prep Your Supplies
Brewing your own beer begins with a few basic pieces of equipment: a brewing kettle, fermenter and air lock, funnel, sanitizer, auto-siphon, stir spoon, bottles and bottling supplies, and a beer recipe kit (or, for the more experienced, your own ingredients). Most brew supply shops sell kits that have everything you need. Make sure you thoroughly sanitize your supplies before you get started!
Step Two: Brew Your Wort
Now it’s time to brew. Begin by steeping the grains in your brew kettle until the water reaches 170 degrees (about 15 minutes). Remove the grains and bring the water to a boil. Once it’s rolling, remove the kettle from the heat and add the malt extracts, then return to a boil. Next, you’ll add your hops according to your recipe. Your brew is now called “wort,” or sugar water. To cool it quickly, put your pot into ice water.
Step Three: Fermentation
All your wort needs to become beer is a little fermentation. To do so, put the cooled wort into the fermenter, add water, and stir it up to aerate. Add yeast and seal the fermenter, then store it somewhere dark and cool. The yeast will take it from here.
Step Four: Bottle & Enjoy
Fermentation usually takes about two weeks, at which point your homebrew is ready to bottle. As always, begin by sanitizing everything—bottles, bottle filler, etcetera. Then boil your priming sugar and add it to the bottling bucket. Next, transfer your beer from the fermenter to the bottling bucket, then to the bottles. Refrigerate for two weeks, then pop the top on your own brew and enjoy.
History In The Making: Beer & The Chicago World’s Fair
The 1893 World’s Columbia Exposition in Chicago’s Jackson Park left an indelible mark on the city and the brands that were born there, from Cracker Jack to Juicy Fruit. Of all the industries on display, brewing was arguably one most affected by the fair.
A special report presented to the Fair’s Committee on Awards found that America had recently become the third-largest producer of beer in the world, putting the States behind only Germany and Austria.
With beer’s popularity on the rise, there were several German-style beer gardens across the fairgrounds and on the Midway Plaisance, where the world’s first Ferris Wheel towered overhead.
While Pabst Blue Ribbon is said to have claimed its name during the Chicago World’s Fair (the can even reads “Selected as America’s Best in 1893”), the beer did not actually win the blue. First place went to Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser.
While you can’t time travel to the fair, you can get a taste of the era’s beer in Temperance Beer Co.’s All the World Is Here, a collaboration with the Field Museum and the Chicago Brewseum. The cream ale is made from barley malt and American corn varieties featured at the Exposition.