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By Sarah Ryan | Photo: Half Acre photo by Brew Bokeh; Lagunitas photo by Ryan Tamborski | September 2, 2015
Chicago is undeniably a craft-beer town, and nothing beats going straight to the source. Taking a tour and chatting up the beer experts in the taprooms at these top-notch breweries is a surefire way to find your new go-to brew.
When out-of-towners think Chicago beer, they likely think Goose Island—started in 1988, it was one of the earliest to make a splash on Chicago’s craft beer scene, and the 2011 acquisition by Anheuser-Busch InBev definitely put it on the national radar. But the new Goose Island taproom shows this craft beer behemoth hasn’t lost its edge. The sleek space is a redesigned production facility that Goose Island has had since the ’90s, and the local touches, including clever murals by Right Way Signs, make the space a must-see. There’s a wealth of beer being brewed here as well, and the tour, led by infectiously friendly beer-loving guides, lets you get an inside look—tasting Goose Island classics along the way (while wearing some surprisingly flattering aviator safety glasses). But one stop on the tour is a real indicator of where Goose Island’s passion lies: the innovation room. This small two-barrel system allows brewers to experiment, and if the small batch passes the brewmaster’s muster, it will go up as a taproom exclusive. And if certain beers become particularly popular, Goose Island may end up bottling them. Cheers to keeping it fresh.
Must-Try Brew Blue Line, an easy-drinking American craft pilsner, had everyone buzzing, as did the No Collar Helles-style lager, a recent collaboration with Pitchfork headliner Chance the Rapper.
Insider Tip If you can swing it, schedule your tour on the third Friday of the month, when the taproom breaks out the hard-to-find Bourbon County stout on draft. Tour $12, 1800 W. Fulton St., 800.466.7363
The Chicago branch of Petaluma, Calif., based Lagunitas is expansive, but Lagunitas isn’t done yet—it just added an additional 250-barrel brewhouse, doubling the brewery size. When the full expansion wraps up in 2016, it will be the single largest craft brewing facility in the country. And it is certainly a sight to see. The catwalk around the taproom allows guests to take a self-guided tour, but opt for a tasting tour. These weekday-only affairs have a leisurely kickoff in “The Basement”—where you sample beers, hear Lagunitas stories, listen to music and play giant Jenga—before heading to the catwalks to see the brewery.
Must-Try Brew The mango-infused Monzango! fusion ale, created for this fall’s World’s Fair in Chicago’s sister city Milan
Insider Tip Don’t rush through the entry. Watch brewers at work as the Willy Wonka theme plays in the hall—pure imagination, indeed. 2607 W. 17th St., 773.522.2097
Half Acre marks a decade in 2016, and the years have been kind. It recently opened an additional 60,000-square-foot production facility to handle in-demand staples like Daisy Cutter (the space will eventually house a beer garden and taproom). The extra room allows brewers to play around in the original brewery with new recipes that rotate through the taproom (note, out of the 10 beers on draft, six can’t be found anywhere else). If you venture up on a Saturday, vie for a spot on the 11am tour, where you’ll enjoy three samples of your choosing (tip: eat breakfast first) while getting an in-depth and laid-back look at Half Acre.
Must-Try Brew Freedom of ’78, a collaboration with Short’s Brewing, is a must for those who love Citra hop IPAs.
Insider Tip Be in line by 10am if you want to make the tour. Seriously. Tour $10, 4257 N. Lincoln Ave., 773.248.4038