These are heady times for Chicago’s craft beer scene.
So heady, in fact, that a small-production brewery has probably opened since your correspondent began typing this sentence.
How does a discerning drinker separate the good from the great?
The food, of course.
Once a mere gimmick to lure drinkers into ordering another around, next-level pub grub is now just as important to the brewery experience as the handcrafted ale in your hand. Which is why we hunted down 10 can’t-miss dishes from nine of the city’s finest beer purveyors, complete with the perfect pint to match.
Band of Bohemia
The lowdown: The nation’s first brewpub to attain a Michelin star, this imaginative establishment elevates craft beer to the pairing status of wine, with rotating fine-dining dishes and culinary brews to match.
The can’t-miss dish: Grilled breast of duck. Flame-kissed rare duck is paired with sweet potato, orange-duck caramel, hazelnut, cocoa nib soil and zingy pickled cilantro.
The pairing: Parsnip and White Pepper Rye (6% ABV). Roasted parsnips intertwine with floral white pepper and rye for a stunning seasonal winter offering.
The lowdown: This rustic, European-leaning gastropub offers up hearty yet elevated dishes prepared with its hop-centric lineup of brews in mind.
The can’t-miss dish: The Carbonara. You might be tempted to order DryHop’s famous burger, but let us nudge you to this creamy stunner, where al dente pasta is served up with egg yolk, Grana Padano, peas, bacon and sundried tomatoes. You’re welcome.
The pairing: Shark Meets Hipster (6.5% ABV). A perennial favorite, this light-bodied American wheat ale features truckloads of Galaxy hops and strong notes of passion fruit.
Half Acre Taproom
The lowdown: Head chef Nick Lacasse plies drinkers with comforting, mostly handheld fare that matches Half Acre’s elevated yet unfussy beer lineup.
The can’t-miss dish: The BBQ brisket burrito. Packed with smoked beef brisket, buttermilk biscuit, arugula, cheddar and jack cheeses and fried onions, this hefty burrito was made to enjoy with pale ales.
The pairing: Tuna Extra Pale Ale (4.7% ABV). Just say “I’ll take a tuna.” This sessionable pale ale joined the year-round canned lineup on March 1st and it's got the whole brewery buzzing. It manages to be full-bodied despite its low ABV and oozes with notes of peach and guava.
Moody Tongue Brewery
The lowdown: The tasting room of Jared Rouben’s chef-driven brewery is refined (think marble bar and wine glasses) yet warm and welcoming (especially if you score a spot by the fireplace).
The can’t-miss dish: Fresh daily oysters or German chocolate cake. These are literally the only options. Both recommended, just never in the same bite.
The pairing: Shaved Black Truffle Pilsner (5% ABV) is a pretty penny above the other offerings, but a delicacy to match the oysters with its use of Australian black truffles hand-shaved by Rouben himself. To balance out the cake’s decadence, go for the Steeped Emperor’s Lemon Saison (6.3% ABV).
The lowdown: This beautiful, always bustling year-old brewery pairs botanical beers with Dan Weiland’s spot-on gastropub fare.
The can’t-miss dish: The burger. Great burgers are a dime-a-goddamn-dozen around these parts, but this 8-oz. beaut, with giardiniera mayo, aged cheddar, onions and bread-and-butter pickles on soft brioche holds its own.
The pairing: Purple Pils (5.1% ABV). This pilsner goes down easy, but not before giving your palate whispers of lavender and violet.
The Craftsman by Two Brothers
The lowdown: The newest venture from the award-winning 20-year-old brewery, The Craftsman is a multi-level farm-to-table tavern and cocktail bar well worth the 33-mile trek from the city.
The can’t-miss dish: Pork belly at the Modern Tavern, located on the second floor. Crispy heritage pork belly with microgreens and a lingonberry-and-cherry sauce sit atop a savory pancake in this delightful shareable.
The pairing: Pinball Pale Ale (5.4% ABV). Five different hop varieties bounce around in this pale ale, which rides the rail between hoppy and sweet.
The lowdown: This seven-year-old brewpub — the largest independent brewery in the state — needs little introduction. But we’ll say this: before there was everything else in Logan Square, there was Revolution.
The can’t-miss dish: The chicken and dumplings. This churched-up soul warmer combines pillowy kale and ricotta dumplings, heirloom chicken breast, braised chicken, gremolata and pecan dust in a satisfying broth.
The pairing: A Little Crazy (6.8% ABV). A Belgian-style pale ale with a pilsner malt base that provides a nice toasty flavor with hints of caramel and enough fermentable sugar to make this a rather substantial beer, while Magnum, Cascade and Citra hops drive home fresh citrus rind aromas.
The lowdown: Crispy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside New Haven-style red and white pies are the main grab at this relentlessly popular pizzeria, but you’d be remiss to skip the award-winning brews flowing from the seven-barrel brewhouse on site.
The can’t-miss dish: White pizza made with clam and bacon — a salty, comforting New England classic. Nothing wrong with going simple, either. For a red pizza: sausage.
The Pairing: The Weight (6% ABV). This classic American pale ale strikes a nice balance between bitterness and bright citrus aromas.
Cruz Blanca Brewery & Taquería
The lowdown: Rick Bayless’s industrial-chic brewery/taquería churns out European-style house beers imbued with Mexican flavors and a simple lineup of stellar tacos and sides. Note: the second-floor brewery is great for lounging.
The can’t-miss dish: Tlayuda. This giant Oaxacan tostada topped with a smoky black bean spread, three-chile salsa, green chiles, colby-jack and añejo cheese was basically made for cerveza.
The pairing: El Train IPA (7% ABV). A contemporary interpretation of the classic American IPA, this brew is hopped with Mosaic, Citra and Simcoe.
904 W. Randolph St. (map)