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Dear Chicagoans: Don’t Ignore the North Burbs Brewing Scene

Northern Burbs

The breweries that lie north of Chicago’s Saison-Dixon line regularly play the role of the ugly red-headed stepchild. Granted, Mikerphone receives endless, well-deserved praise, but Mikerphone is a transplant that gained its fame prior to moving to Elk Grove Village. Meanwhile, breweries located in the North Burbs, such as Light the Lamp, Ten-NinetyZumBier, Chain O’Lakes, Side Lot, Tighthead, Only Child, Flesk — a brewery in the process of moving to Barrington, and countless others are oft-ignored among the pantheon of Chicago-area breweries.

Don’t do it. Don’t rob yourself of that joy. Refuse to ignore northern-suburban breweries. The brewing scene of the North Burbs is too good to miss!

In addition to Mikephone’s well-known music themed beer and taproom, Sketchbook has its quaint and cozy vibe. Light the Lamp is a hockey haven and Crystal Lake… well, you have to GO to that taproom one day. I promise you, it’s worth the trip.

Most recently, during #CCBW (Chicago Craft Beer Week), I took the trek northward to Lindenhurst and spent time with Only Child, Tighthead, and Crystal Lake at the exceptionally fun Chances Bar and Video Games.  (Sadly, I was unable to make it the following day to Smyle Brothers for beer and donuts, or make a second visit to Sketchbook, as planned. However, I did hang with Smylie during Beer Under Glass, and for that, I am grateful).

Having already spent time with Only Child and crossed paths with Crystal Lake, it was fun to chat with members of Tighthead for the first time. As expected, I came away impressed as I sipped on a beer full of New Zealand hops — yum. Did you know the Mundelein brewery arrived on the scene prior to about 90% of metro-Chicago’s breweries, putting it into the “pioneer” category? The beer is magnificent, and have you ever seen the label art?

The breweries of the North Burbs distribute, too

If you can’t head north, Tighthead, Ten-Ninety, and countless others breweries send its beer southward to countless bars and stores. In fact, the beers are easy to find, so give them a try.

For example, have you sampled beer from Wild Onion Brewery? The Misfit IPA not only boasts of some cool label art, the beer is solid. The misfit name is appropo, given the lack of love often thrown to the North Burbs (although at the The Barrel, located in the Pilsen Neighborhood, the crew not only embraces Chicago beers of all kinds, you’ll almost always find something from the north — kudos!).

Northern Burbs
Wild Onion Misfit IPA at The Barrel, Pilsen Neighborhood, Chicago (Photo: Mathew Powers)

And there’s Ten-Niney:

North Burbs
Photo Credit: Mathew Powers

And Scorched Earth:

And Only Child:

Many North Burb breweries take food seriously

Wild Onion’s food is locally sourced, and patrons can enjoy it while sitting in a pub adorned with ornate, recycled timber frame that pre-dates the American Revolution. Other examples include Half Day Brewery, which offers a huge patio, spacious dining area, plenty of its own beer and guest taps, as well as wonderful dining choices. Mickey Finn’s  — the oldest brewery in Lake County — provides an extensive selection of burgers, appetizers and salads. Side Lot sells small plates and sandwiches. I mean, who doesn’t love snacking on good food? (We are not talking about frozen food stuck in a microwave!)

And Smylie Brothers…well, this picture say it all.

To discuss every place found to Chicago’s north and northwest would be a daunting task because the story of the North Burbs brewing scene involves numerous chapters that provide insight into the area’s vibrant, diverse, beer culture. I wish I could name them all, but sadly, that would be impossible. However, a few chapters of this story has been written, and can be found on already:

Did I forget to mention your favorite place? Feel free to comment. The beauty of digital writing is that you, the reader, can add to the story!

Final thought on the North Burbs brewing scene

The breweries of Chicago’s northern and northwestern suburbs are brewing phenomenal beer, and are a tremendous asset to the Chicago Craft Beer Community. With 174 breweries now in operation (give or take) from the Wisconsin state line to Kane County to northwest Indiana, it’s impossible for anyone to experience all of them, but get to know them; follow them on social media; try them at fests; order them at a craft beer bar; take a trip for fun; and most importantly — don’t rob yourself the opportunity to make your life a little better with some good beer from good community-minded breweries!

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  1. Ken

    Bosackis home brewing Mundelein’s other brewpub.. specializing in wheat based beers.

    • Mathew Powers

      Awesome — thanks for the add!

  2. Fred Bledsoe

    You forgot probably the biggest brewery in Evanston – Temperance Brewing.

    • Mathew Powers

      Thanks for the read & comment!! I honestly didn’t try to included every single brewery in the northern suburban and northwestern suburban region. I know Temperance very well, and did a feature on them for Porch last year. I didn’t include the link as it included a lot of info on Claudia, who has since left for Pipeworks. But, of course they are a big part of that scene! 🙂 This was not a lystable, or not intended to be, it was an overview of the region and a plea for people to check any/all of them out when possible. 🙂 Cheers, and thanks again.

  3. Tim Anger

    Small town brewery in wauconda… Makers of Not Your Fathers Root Beer. 1000 rand road.

    • Mathew Powers

      Thanks for the add. What’s amazing about that area is that you have, if my mind is functioning correctly, about five breweries within 20 minutes of each other (give or take) – and all of them very different. ~Matt

  4. Hey man? Prairie Krafts in da BG (Buffalo Grove) ! Come over we will get a Flight Together!

    P.s. I am biased. I am the art director at PK. Proudly.

    • Mathew Powers

      Hi Jeremy — Thanks for the comment (even if you are biased, lol!) Trust me, as I mentioned with Temperance above, if I could have spent time discussing each and every brewery, I would have. The piece was intended to shine light on the entire scene and the breweries I included simply served the purpose of providing some examples and wet people’s appetite (pun intended). No slight intended! I actually cut about 20 breweries from the original rough draft as it was getting repetitive. But, that is SO cool that you are the art director there. I’d like to chat with you soon about what that all entails, if you are up for it? I can find you through PK — that would be cool to chat with you! And, of course, the flight — well, that’s a given! Cheers!!

  5. Thanks for doing this story.
    You are always welcome to stop at Zümbier. We’ll be happy to give you a little tour and put together the flight of your life.

  6. Kati

    I love Lake Bluff Brewery!

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