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Big city, small beer: Chicago

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Let the Windy City blow you to these community-minded beer joints.

By Christina Couch

Arcade Brewery

Amidst the explosion of Chicago craft breweries, a newcomer is carving its niche… and it needs your help. Opening early next year, video-game-themed Arcade Brewery will be the world’s first crowd-sourced brewery. A project between visual artist Chris Tourre and warehouse director Lance Curran, the brewery will take a page from Threadless’ highly successful business model and rely on fans to design labels and choose seasonal beer ingredients. “You may not have a chance to get this beer for a while, but you’re still able to be involved in the creation of it,” says Curran.

Curran and Tourre are selling more than beer—they’re selling a broader artistic community, which is partly why the pair was able to raise nearly $33,000 in start-up funds through Kickstarter last May. In addition to recruiting fans, the pair has also enlisted graphic artists including “The Walking Dead” co-creator Tony Moore to write comics available in Arcade six-packs, partnered with independent game developers to create “traveling arcades” that feature yet-to-be-released games and teamed up with designers like SEIBEI to produce limited-edition prints. ”People are really attached to it because it’s something they haven’t seen before,” says Tourre.


Fountainhead’s sleek mahogany bar is the stage for the mega-popular “It Might Get…” beer education series, where tasters sip a smattering of beers presented under a theme. It Might Get Dark, for example, incorporated “anything that’s black,” says Beer Director Phil Kuhl, including black pilsners, barleywines, stouts and Belgian Wit Noirs. The pub’s annual Day of the Dead party features all death-themed brews.

Revolution Brewing

“If you want to get something that you don’t have, you have to organize a big group of people to fight for it,” says Revolution’s “Chairman of the Party,” Josh Deth. A haven for social activists and gastropub diners alike, this Logan Square beer spot offers event space to local causes three nights per week at cost. Symbolized by raised-fist tap handles, Revolution also sticks it to The Man by putting out about 50 rebelliously named brews (Coup d’Etat saison, the World Beer Cup medalist Rise stout) each year.

5 Rabbit Brewery

The first Latin-inspired microbrewery in the country, 5 Rabbit creates brews based on Latin places and flavors, such as the brewery’s 5 Vulture Oaxacan-style Dark Ale, which incorporates ancho chile and piloncillo sugar—two prominent ingredients in mole. The now one-year-old Southside brewery also gains fans by providing community support for local Hispanic arts and food organizations.

Au Cheval

This of-the-moment twist on the classic American diner is a landing spot for beer newbies learning the craft scene. Designed to educate and not overwhelm, Au Cheval focuses on fewer choices—there are only 36 drafts—and more staff education. Servers are Cicerone-certified, attend weekly beer classes and required to know beer features and pairings fluently.


The oldest gastropub in Chicago, neighborhood fave Hopleaf draws a tight group of local brewers and beer fanatics thanks to its 65 drafts, approximately 400 bottled beers, and one of the most well-procured collections of lambics in the city. Those in-the-know visit frequently, as this spot’s the city’s sole purveyor of certain beers, like one-offs from local Half Acre and the rare Honsebrouck gueuze from Belgium.

Pipeworks Brewing

Pipeworks’ owners Gerrit Lewis and Beejay Oslon had fans before they had beer: The pair apprenticed under Urbain Coutteau, owner of De Struise Brouwers in Belgium, and blogged about their experience to an eager audience. Once ready to open their own shop, the blog fan momentum helped the pair raise $40,000 through Kickstarter in 2010 and $35,000 through PayPal donations in 2011. Since then, Pipeworks’ 7,400-plus Facebook fans have helped name beers and suggest stores for distribution.


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