There are two ways to quickly understand a new city; Take a walking tour, or sample some local craft beer.
In 2017, the Greater Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce realized that their Northern Chicago Neighborhood was home to the largest concentration of micro-breweries in Illinois and decided to capitalize on this.
The Malt Row is a series of breweries all with a different approach to creating craft beer on a stretch that spans just over one mile.
With a Michelin-Starred brewpub, a restaurant that specializes in gourmet hot dogs, an award-winning Neapolitan Pizzeria and more; the Chicago Malt Row comes across almost like a posh pub crawl.
Starting at the most Southern point and easily accessed via the nearby Irving Park Station is Begyle Brewing.
They’re Chicago’s first Community Supported Brewery; an initiative inspired by farms that provide organic, often Heirloom produce to a committed base of customers at less than market price.
This means that while enjoying some of their standard taproom fare like Free Bird American Pale Ale, it’s not uncommon to see members coming in for a quick growler refill and maybe a conversation about an upcoming release.
Flannel Pajamas Oatmeal Stout is a good choice before heading to the next brewery since it’s possible to sample both the standard variation followed by Imperial Pajamas where they add double the grain as well as Ipsento Wildfire Espresso is used.
Just a block to the north is Dovetail Brewery, something of an antithesis to the ethos of the American craft beer movement.
Across the country, it’s not uncommon to see regional ingredients being used to give beer some local character.
Angel City Brewing in Los Angeles uses green tea and grape must in ales that reflect California. Concrete Beach Brewery reinforces their tropical identity by choosing ingredients like mangoes and toasted coconut. This uniquely American approach goes back to the first brewers who used pumpkins in their ales and corn in their lagers to make up for the lack of European ingredients.
Dovetail instead follows traditional German, Belgian, and Czech methods used to make styles typical of Continental Europe. Other than the rare exception, most Dovetail beer is simply yeast, water, grain, and a single variety of hops.
Smoked grain gives complexity and color to the Grodziskie and Rauchbier while spontaneous fermentation drives the character of the Petit Gueuze.
Their limited editions X01 Flanders Rauch, and X02 Wild Table Beer captures the pinnacle of their brewing abilities in annually released bottles.
A few blocks west is the Lincoln Avenue location for the Half Acre Beer Company; one of the first breweries in this area and a popular spot for locals to grab some grub and a beer.
Truck stop fries is standard French fries, tossed in Old Bay seasoning then slathered in beef chili, jalapenos, cheese, avocado crème and a fried egg.
It’s ideal as a shared snack while enjoying some of their core offerings like the bright and botanical Pony Pilsner, or the floral and lightly fruity Daisy Cutter Pale Ale.
Daisy Cutter seasonally brewed with different types of hops is among their Special Release Beers. There’s also the Brewed with Friends releases that include collaborations with companies like the Maine Beer Co. and Tired Hands Brewing Company.
Available solely at their Lincoln Avenue location are the Adventure Cans. Both the art on the can and the contents represent the aesthetic approach of the brewery as well as what currently inspires the brewing team.
Continuing North is Band of Bohemia, possibly the most spoken about spot on the Malt Row. It’s the first brewpub to earn to most coveted culinary award in the world; a Michelin Star.
Like any other Michelin Star restaurant, their service, setting and attention to detail is impeccable, but the biggest drawing point is a seasonal tasting menu with an optional house made beer pairing.
Their IPA pays homage to the Bohemian love of India and is brewed with a gruit of oriental spices. Jasmine Rice continues the eastern flavor experience; it’s brewed with the eponymous ingredient as well as Vienna Malt and is minimally hopped.
Designed to be a simple session beer is their flagship The Noble Raven Ale, a well-crafted combination of German and Belgian Malt, and Hallertauer hops. It’s ideal as refreshment before exploring a flight of their more unique creations.
Named not for a sovereign state governed by a monarch, but rather for the scientific study of repeated observations, the next step on this beer journey is Empirical Brewery.
A single barrel pilot system allows their brewers to experiment with new styles or refine current recipes. Customer feedback determines what stays and what goes.
This process leads to beer brewed for the people and determined by science.
Proton No Coast IPA combines elements of both the West Coast and East Coast IPA brewing traditions and it’s also a tongue in cheek reference to Chicago’s Midwest location.
Their flagship beer for good reason is Cold Fusion Cream Ale. It’s slightly sweet with an almost cider-like crisp finish. Lumen Unfiltered Lager is also popular; Brewed as a response to the growing popularity of craft lagers, it’s similar to quality light lagers like Havana Lager from Miami or 10 Saints Beer in Barbados.
The final stop on Malt Row is Spiteful Brewery, also home to a light, crisp easy drinking lager. Their beer Menu is a welcome sight to anyone who has ever felt that full-bodied dark beer has been too much of an afterthought in the American Craft Beer scene.
There are more stouts than lagers and ales combined, and unsurprisingly the first beer that they ever sold was a stout.
Mrs O Leary’s Milk Stout is reminiscent of chocolate cake, and there’s a version on tap that introduces tart raspberries that add some complexities to the creaminess.
Their Russian Imperial Stout is also given on tap flavor upgrades with the addition of locally toasted coffee, cinnamon, and vanilla in one version, and cacao nibs and chili flakes in another.
Malt Row might seem like a marketing gimmick created out of convenience; but the reality is that every brewery included has a unique approach to doing the same thing; creating delicious craft beer.
Begyle and Empirical are both focused on deep relationships with the community but they do it in different ways.
At Half Acre and Band of Bohemia it’s possible to enjoy beer and food that’s almost art.
Spiteful and Dovetail are both the stories of two friends brewing beer that enjoyed elsewhere in Ravenswood, Chicago.
These breweries are all great, but collectively they become a craft beer experience worthy of any Chicago Bucket List.
Another thing that needs to be on your Chicago Bucket List are the delicious Chicago-style hot dogs, the ideal food after sampling over twenty beers!