Chicago Craft Beer: North Center Brew Loop

With 65 breweries operating or about to open in the city (as of January 30, 2017, according to The Hop Review), Chicago is a craft beer enthusiast’s dream… or nightmare. How are you ever going to get that list?! :-O My approach is to break that monster down into manageable little Chicago craft beer tours you can do in a day. We’ll call them “brew loops.” Conveniently, this also advances my agenda of getting people to explore the neighborhoods.

GETTING OUT OF THE LOOP

I wasn’t born in Chicago, but I chose to live here. I get really frustrated when people overlook it in favor of the coasts or dismiss it due to unfair generalizations about crime. Rather than rant about these injustices, however, I’m just going to make my case for Chicago by telling you what is so freaking awesome about it, one post at a time.

My goal is to get visitors “out of The Loop” and into the neighborhoods. I want them to see the (many) real Chicago(s), the reasons people choose to live in this fantastic city. And if you’ve been reading the Global at Heart blog, or know me even a little, you will not be surprised that my first Chicago post is about beer… in a neighborhood not too far from where I live. 

THE NORTH CENTER BREW LOOP

On Chicago’s North Side, North Center is primarily known as a “good place to live,” especially for families who don’t want to move to the suburbs. It’s relatively quiet, has good schools, nice parks, lots of shops and restaurants, and hosts Ribfest every year. Excited yet? Wait for it.

Historically, North Center was a highly industrialized area, settled by a variety of European immigrants, who worked in the nearby plants. Those old warehouses and factories house many different types of businesses today, including (but not limited to) art spaces, gyms, design firms, and (best of all?) breweries (!).

With so many breweries in Chicago, it might actually be hard to find a neighborhood without one at this point. North Center, however, has four, three of which have taprooms (as I’m writing this). And you can visit them all by walking a mere 1.2 miles between the Irving Park and Montrose Brown Line stops. Now are you excited?

GETTING STARTED

First, get yourself to the Brown Line train. Why drive or take a cab when you can ride Chicago’s iconic L? Plus, you’ll be drinking, so… public transit.

The Brown Line runs between Albany Park and the downtown Loop, clacking and weaving its way through lots of nice North Side neighborhoods. Some other day you should get out and visit those neighborhoods. However, today is about beer, so stay on the train and enjoy the ride. Since the train runs above street level, you’ll have a great opportunity to peep into upper-storey windows and check out people’s roof decks. You might even catch a glimpse of Wrigley Field between the Belmont and Southport stops.

If you’re downtown, you can get on the Brown Line directly in the Loop or transfer to it from the Red Line at Fullerton or Belmont. Just make sure you’re headed toward Kimball. Depending on where you start, this trip will take you 20-30 minutes from downtown. Full fare is $2.25 one way. Check out the CTA website for more info.

If you’ve already had brunch or lunch, I’d recommend doing this brew loop south-to-north (get off at Irving Park). If you need to eat first, do the opposite (get off at Montrose and check out the Where to Eat section at the end). The instructions below are for south-to-north.

Walking map for the North Center brew loop, Chicago, IL
Walking map for the North Center brew loop

FIRST STOP: BEGYLE BREWING

Begyle is literally a 2-minute walk from the Irving Park stop. Just follow the Metra train tracks north along Ravenswood Avenue to the corner of Cuyler Ave (left out of the station, left on Ravenswood).

Begyle Brewing, Chicago IL
Begyle Brewing Co: Samples & Skeeball!

Buddy up and share a tray of samplers so you can try the entire range of beers on tap. Their IPAs are always a good bet, and in the past I’ve also really enjoyed the barrel-aged Imperial Pajamas stout. They also have fun merch, board games, and skee ball (!). You could easily spend all day at Begyle, playing games, petting the dogs, making funny faces at babies, and remarking how cute the little sampler glasses are. However, this is a marathon, not a sprint, so drink up and move on.

Note: If you’re starving, there might be a food truck around or you can bring / order in your own food (BYOF). However, I’d wait it out in favor of Dovetail’s snacks or some of the awesome restaurants at the north end of this trek.

SECOND STOP: DOVETAIL BREWERY

Just one block north of Begyle, at the corner of Belle Plaine and Ravenswood, is Dovetail Brewery. Buddy up for some more sampling fun because their range of drinks is completely different from what you’ll find at Begyle. Dovetail focuses on traditional, continental European beer styles (think German, Polish, Czech lagers, hefeweizen, etc.). They also mix their own radlers (beer + soda). IMHO, the most interesting beer is the pleasantly smoky rauchbier (“rauch” = “smoke” in German). Unlike other smoked beers I’ve had, it’s really smooth and doesn’t taste like you’re drinking an ashtray. Seriously, give it a chance!

Dovetail Brewery, Chicago IL
Dovetail Brewery: Radlers, Rauchbeer, & …. R…eally Good Snacks!

If you’re starting to feel a little hungry, this is the place to grab a snack. Some evenings a food truck might be available, and like Begyle, you can BYOF. However, I’d recommend sticking with the local treats readily available at the bar: Bavarian-style pretzels from Dinkel’s bakery, landjäger sausage sticks from Paulina Market, and Lucila’s Alfajores – dulce de leche sandwich cookies (Y U M). All pair quite nicely with the beer.   

THIRD STOP: BOTTLES & CANS

After two brewery stops and a snack, it’s time for a little walk. Take Belle Plaine Ave. due west (that’s a right turn out of the brewery) for about 5 minutes, until you reach Lincoln Ave. Take another right, and you’ll be pretty much on the doorstep of one of my favorite craft beer stores in the city, Bottles & Cans.

Walking around Chicago's North Center Neighborhood in search of craft beer!
Walking around Chicago’s North Center Neighborhood in search of craft beer!

If you’re lucky, a brewery or two might be pouring samples. Worst case, you’ll be able to buy some awesome Chicago or Midwestern beers to take home or to a BYOB restaurant for dinner. Just don’t overdo it as you still have a bit of walking to do and beer gets heavy.

Be sure to ask the staff for recommendations. To get you started, some beers you might want to check out:

  • Spiteful – the only North Center brewery that doesn’t have a taproom (yet); I like their Alley Time pale ale.
  • Pipeworks – another Chicago North Side brewery without a taproom (but they do have a bottle shop); Ninja vs Unicorn is a great IPA, but try some of their other variations as well.
  • Marz – a South Side community brewing project that grew out of a robust homebrewing scene; grab whatever is available.

FOURTH STOP: HALF ACRE BEER CO.

After you’ve loaded up at Bottles & Cans, turn right out of the door and walk another 5 minutes up Lincoln Ave. to the final brew stop on this tour, Half Acre Brewing Co. It’s been around the longest, since 2008, and has really expanded its operations since, which serves as a testament to the quality of its beers. Love them so much… 

Half Acre Brewing Company: North Center craft beer's elder statesman
Half Acre Brewing Company: North Center craft beer’s elder statesman

The main production brewery is now a couple miles north on Balmoral Ave, but all the publicly available fun still happens at the Lincoln Ave site. The tap room offers a full kitchen, but you can go next door and to get merch, cans, bottles, and growlers to go.

If you just want to get beer to go, skip the tap room as the retail shop will let you sample before you commit to a growler-ful. (Honestly, by this point on the brew loop, that’s often what I want to do.) Gone Away and Space are great IPAs, but my favorite Half Acre beer is the classic Daisy Cutter pale ale. If they have it, grab a rare Double Daisy Cutter or Antoine’s Baume Stout (good luck).

WHAT NOW? EAT SOMETHING! 

So, by now, you’re full of beer and should probably – definitely – seek out some dinner. The Half Acre tap room is great, but there are some other tasty options to consider nearby before you head to the Montrose Brown Line stop. Most are also open for brunch or lunch if you want to do this trek from north-to-south instead.

  • Cho Sun Ok – If you’re feeling global, check out this Korean BYOB restaurant just a little south at the corner of Lincoln and Berteau Ave. Take the long line as a sign of quality.
  • The Bad Apple – Most convenient, this burger bar is just across the street from Half Acre. The burgers are great and the bar offers a great beer selection, especially from Chicago and the Midwest.
  • Fountainhead – If you want something a little more upscale, but not super fancy, try this gastro pub with thoughtfully sourced food (I dunno, read their website), a great beer list, and a roof deck.
  • Spacca Napoli – There’s a Lou Malnati’s just up the street from Half Acre, and if you haven’t had your Chicago deep dish yet, this might be a good time. HOWEVER, as far as pizza goes, I much prefer Spacca Napoli. It’s just a few blocks north of the Montrose Brown Line station (Ravenswood and Sunnyside, east side of the tracks) and serves amazing Neapolitan-style pizza baked in a wood oven straight outta Napoli. Just sayin’…

GOING JUST A LITTLE FARTHER

If you want additional food options (perhaps a BYOB place?), feel like grabbing a coffee, or want to do a bit of shopping, head to nearby Lincoln Square. This a cute, family-friendly area is just a 10-minute walk north on Lincoln Ave (near the Western Brown Line stop). This little neighborhood really deserves its own post, but some of my favorites are

  • The Book Cellar – independent bookstore that also sells wine and beer 
  • Sacred Art – great for Chicago-centric artistic gifts 
  • Merz Apothecary – European-inspired shop with lots of great soaps, shaving products, natural / homeopathic remedies, and such
  • The Grind – unpretentious coffee shop with a nice patio in the back; they make an awesome short latte
  • Cafe Selmarie – great for brunch or take home some sweets 
  • Gene’s Sausage Shop – European market with a rooftop beer garden open in the summer 
  • Luella’s Southern Kitchen – BYOB Southern comfort food with a BYOB policy 
  • Opart Thai (Western Ave) – great Thai food and this location is BYOB; I love the curry noodle soup (d51. Khao Soy!)

AND IN CONCLUSION…

Really, this is just the beginning of all the great stuff you can find “out of the Loop” in Chicago, whether you’re a visitor or a local. I just picked a place close to my heart and my home to start with. This is a tour I’ve made many times with my friends and family who visit from out of town. I want them to see there is more to this city than the Sears – er, Willis – Tower, Navy Pier, and Mag Mile. And I have plenty more ideas up my sleeve, so stay up-to-date via the Global at Heart newsletter or follow this blog on Bloglovin‘.

I also want to share posts like this because while I love international exploration, Global at Heart also has a local side to it. It’s about getting out into the world but also exploring the world closer to home. As I share my adventures around Chicago and the Midwest, I encourage you to do the same, wherever you live.

Ready to take a trip – to Chicago or … anywhere? Check out my travel planning services.

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