March 2, 2012

Experiencing Cities Through Beer: Chicago

Beer is to travel as peanut better is to jelly: an experience of one creates a desire for the other.  Just as no two beers are the same, so are no two cities the same.  Thus, a love for craft beer and a love for travel share a common impulse to explore.

In fact, beer tourism is a growing industry.  Here in Milwaukee, Lakefront Brewery’s legendary tour is considered a top tourist attraction.  Asheville is currently celebrating the anticipated impact Sierra Nevada will have on area tourism.  Beer is great for cities and city tourism officials would be well served to market and improve their respective craft beer scenes.

Indeed, beer is a great medium around which to structure an experience of a particular city.  This is exactly how my friend and I approached our recent visit to Chicago, a city that has a growing craft beer scene.  Here’s a recap:

Half Acre Beer Co.  We kicked off our visit with Half Acre’s popular brewery tour.  Half Acre is located in the middle of an urban district near Lincoln Square.  The brewery is well positioned to capitalize on significant foot traffic.  There was a continual stream of people entering the tasting room and purchasing beer to go.  The brewery has the feel of being deeply connected with the immediate surrounding community.

Metropolitan Brewing.  After Half Acre we drove to the nearby Metropolitan Brewing Co., which focuses on lagers.  Located in a more industrial setting, Metropolitan does not do tours, operate a store or otherwise draw attention to its physical location.  It was pretty easy to miss.

Binny’s.  Binny’s is a cathedral to beer.  The massive liquor store has an impressive selection and we were sure to stock up on some quality brews that we do not get in Milwaukee, including Stone Ruination, Wild Onion Hopslayer, and Boulevard Double IPA (hops anyone?).

Goose Island.  Directly across the street from Binny’s sits the original Goose Island Clybourn brewpub.  We had missed the tour but were able to score a couple seats at the bar and enjoy a few drinks.  In-Bev’s purchase of Goose Island has not affected the quality of the beer. Flight Delay Imperial IPA was especially delicious.

We stayed at a hotel near Magnificent Mile largely because it was the best deal on such short notice.  After checking in we ditched the car and headed back out for Round 2.

Revolution Brewing Co.  Revolution is a brewpub known for high quality beers.  The place was absolutely packed and we had to work hard to find a place near the bar.  Revolution did not disappoint and it is no wonder that they are opening a production facility.

Piece Brewery and Pizza.  We next walked to another quality brewpub–Piece– for dinner.  Good beer, great pizza.  My friend decided it would be a good idea to top it all off with a chocolate cake.  I hate him.

Bangers & Lace.  The final stop of the evening was a relatively new craft beer bar called Bangers & Lace.  The selection is impressive and the atmosphere buzzing.  Great way to end the evening.

Each city is unique.  Our Chicago trip demonstrated to me that one great way to explore the character of a particular city is through its local beer scene.  Structuring a visit around local beer enables one to experience different parts of the city as well as engage its people.   This was best evidenced in our interaction with a couple at Revolution. What started out as a conversation about the different beers on tap turned into a robust discussion about craft beer, Chicago, our hometowns, places we love to visit, and public education.  If traveling is about connecting with and understanding different places and people then craft beer is the perfect travel guide.

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