Behind The Scenes With Chicago Breweries During Craft Beer Week

The stars recent aligned and I happened to be in Chicago during Illinois Craft Beer Week.  What better opportunity to experience some of the best Chicago Breweries!

The event was expanded this year from “Chicago” Craft Beer Week to “Illinois” Craft Beer Week to include the growing population of Craft Breweries in and around the city.  A great problem to have.

I was invited to give you a behind-the-scenes look at one of the best events of the week (in my opinion): The NW Side Craft Beer Ride.

Why do I love this event?  Because you get to sample craft beer from 11 of the best Northwest Chicago Breweries at 11 unique local hot-spots … all while being driven around on one of 3 event buses, including this amazing creation:

The Barrel Bus!

The Chicago Barrel Bus is the creation of David Baker as a nod to the 1920’s prohibition era.  It’s a converted school bus that provides a very comfortable ride.  When it’s not being used for the annual NW Side Craft Beer Ride, the Beer Bus provides daily tours of local Chicago Breweries and Distilleries.


Event Details

2018 marked the 5th annual NW Side Craft Beer Ride, running from 6pm until midnight(ish).  You can join the tour at any of the stops along the route, and tickets are always available online or at each of the participating locations.

The event works much the same way as any Hop-On-Hop-Off city tour that we’re used to.  There are 3 buses along the route ensuring you’re never waiting very long, and providing ample opportunity to visit as many of the hot-spots and taste as many of the feature brews as you can handle.

Each destination comes complete with a feature brew on-tap from a local Chicago Craft Brewery, and even has a representative from that brewery on-hand to answer any of your questions.  Often that representative is the brew-master or owner of the brewery!!

NW Side Craft Beer Ride Stops

  • Lake Effect Brewery
  • Sidekicks serving Burnt City, and Old Irving Brewery
  • Eris Brewery and Cider House
  • Fischmans and Community, both serving Ale Man
  • Hops and Barley serving Twisted Hippo, and Babes serving Begyle Brewing
  • Tipsy Cow serving Illuminated Brew Works
  • The Garage serving Pipeworks
  • Rabbit’s serving Une Année and Bold Dog

Lake Effect Brewing Company

Clint Bautz is the owner and head brewer at Lake Effect Brewing Company, and he invited me behind-the-scenes for the evening.

Clint fell in love with beer while traveling through Germany and Belgium in his 20’s.  That love sparked a homebrewing hobby back home in Chicago, which eventually led to the launch of Lake Effect Brewing Company in 2011.  When they started there were only a handful of craft brewers in the area and 83 in the whole state of Illinois, but as of 2017 there were 202 in the Chicago area with more expected to open this year.

Lake Effect offers 3 year-round styles (Belgian Blonde, American IPA and Kölsch Ale), plus a rotating number of seasonal, collaboration and barrel-aged brews.  Everything I tasted from Lake Effect was unique and flavourful!  Definitely add a tour of this brewhouse to your list for your next trip to Chicago.

In 2014 Clint added the NW Side Craft Beer Ride event to Chicago Craft Beer Week with 2 goals:

  1. To introduce new craft brewers and owners of local establishments
  2. To showcase the best craft beers of the region

Every year the mix of brewers and tour stops changes, but the feeling is anyways one of excitement!  Most people tend to pick of few locations to enjoy, but a few do their best to complete the whole cycle. Clint took me around before the crowds to meet the all of the brewers and sample some of their feature brews.  It was great fun to watch the joint respect and comradery between the brewers.

Clint had me sample Lake Effect’s Joy Path Juniper Saison Ale, a new release that combines their traditional farmhouse ale with the spice of juniper berries from the local Morton Arboretum.  It was a great combination:  light, crisp, refreshing, with a very tasty and subtle juniper spice.

Tour Highlights

Brewmaster’s  Debate at Rabbits

While sampling some really great feature brews from Une Année and Bold Dog, I found myself in the middle of a 3-way brewers debate on the different types of yeast currently on the market, and whether they prefer a dry vs sweet finish to their beer.

There’s a trend where brewers have been switching from wet to dry yeast types, and the general feeling is that this is making the beer stronger if they’re not careful.  All 3 brewmasters agreed that this change is making them test every new batch they make to maintain the integrity of their beer, but also to ensure what is printed on the cans and bottles is really what’s ending up inside the container.

The dry vs sweet debate was nicely summed up by our Une Année brewers who said they prefer to have a dry finish to their beer so the drinker will want to take another sip rather than putting the glass down as tends to happen with sweeter beer.  I’d have to say that i agree with them!

Beautiful Spaces & Aleman Strongman

Community Tavern and Eris Brewery and Cider House were my 2 favourite stops on the Craft Beer Ride.  Both of them are beautifully converted spaces with great food and serve a nice selection of local craft beer.  Eris offers 6 ciders and 6 house beers all made on site.

During our visit to Community I was introduced to  Jim Moorehouse from Aleman Brewing. His excitement for this event was evident as we waited for the first revelers to arrive.

The Aleman feature brew was called Strongman and is a delicious mix of maple sugar with rye and caraway seeds.  If you enjoy dark beer with complex taste, this one is a must try!

1:1 With Twisted Hippo

At the Hops and Barley stop I had the chance to sit down with Karl Rutherford, brewer and founder of Twisted Hippo for a great chat about one of the great up-and-coming Chicago breweries.  Like Clint, Karl started out as a lover of beer and avid homebrewer.  He joined a home brewing group, and that’s when his brew-style really started to take off.

Twisted Hippo is currently sharing their brewing space, but has signed a new lease for their very own brewpub expected to open this summer.  His excitement about the opening (and the excitement back on the bus) just goes to show how much his unique brews are loved!

There were a couple of offerings on tap for the Craft Beer Ride, but there was one in particular that I HAD to try!  Called Beeting Heart, it’s a Kölsch-style beer made with beets.  A unique blend  of sweet and earthy flavours that works amazingly well together.

This is one brewery I can’t wait to visit on my next trip to Chicago!

What an amazing event!

If you’re in town for next year’s Illinois Craft Beer Week, be sure to stop by Lake Effect Brewing Company and hop on the NW Side Craft Beer Ride.  It’s simply one of the best ways to experience some amazing regional craft beer from Chicago breweries.

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Be sure to comment below and let me know some of your favourite craft beer (especially if they’re from a Chicago brewery)!

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Here is a list of the resources mentioned in this post:

Illinois Craft Beer Week – The most anticipated celebration of craft beer and craft breweries across Illinois. Featuring hundreds of events in breweries, bars, and restaurants from Chicago to Central and Downstate Illinois

The NW Side Craft Beer Ride – A tour of Northwest Chicago bars, each one featuring a local craft brewery.

Lake Effect Brewing Company – Established in 2011 by Clint Bautz, Lake Effect is the mastermind behind making the NW Side Craft Beer Ride happen … when they’re not creating amazing brews of their own

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