If you want to know about beer, ask a chef
In celebration of Octoberfest--and my latest beer-themed episode of Chicago's Best--I wanted to do a round-up of the best local, craft beers to check out. Since chefs are known for having discerning palates and also consuming a decent amount of alcohol, it made perfect sense for me to check in with my chef friends and other food and beverage experts around the city. Below, I've assembled their recommendations to give you guys a good starter list to help you know which beers to try when the bartender gives you that daunting list of 100.
While certainly not a "health" food, craft beer is a big player in the movement for towards demanding more out of the quality of food that we consume: better ingredients, smaller production and distribution, and attention and care for the people who make it. It's a fun, affordable, and often really accessible way for Chicagoans to gain access to the local food movement.
Let's check out the craft beer recommendations from those who know best.
Josh Kulp, co-chef and co-owner of Honey Butter Fried Chicken:
My favorite beer is Space IPA from Half Acre. It’s citrusy and hoppy but not overwhelming and simply delicious, especially on tap at their awesome tap room!
Abra Berens, chef at Stock Cafe at Local Foods:
My favorite beer this time of year is the sour beer from Penrose and basically anything coming from Hopewell or Moody Tongue. I loved Hopewell's black lager because it is dark and rich but with a wonderfully light mouthfeel. And I love, love the lemon saison from Moody Tongue because it is bright and plays well against fall flavors like squash/ apple/ pecan.
Jon McDaniel, sommelier at Acanto:
My favorite beer right now is definitely the Cherrytree Amaro Ale from Forbidden Root Brewery in West Town. If you know me, my palate is that of an 85 year old Italian grandfather and this local brew hits the spot for me. It has these cool bitter cherry notes, orange peel and like every Santa Claus spice you have ever seen. Perfect for the upcoming winter wonderland.
Tom Van Lente, chef formerly at White Oak Tavern and Big Star:
My favorite beer right now is Rocky's Revenge from Tyranena in Lake Mills, WI. It's super crisp and mild for a porter but is packed with great, aged flavor. If you prefer more local, I'd have to go with Pipeworks Warbird. It's got those familiar Belgium flavors but easy to drink (a lot of) because it's a session beer. Super tasty and really approachable.
Chris White, founder of Chicago Beer Experience Beer Tours:
Off Color Brewing's Apex Predator. This farmhouse ale, at 6.8% abv, is a big, complex beer, but it is not hoppy and bitter - instead is showcases the typical funky fruity sweetness that you would find in a Belgian saison style. This one is great to pair with food, and it will not shy away from most meals...nor should it, based on its name.
What about Gluten-free recommendations?
Fear not! Chris also had these two picks for anyone on the gluten-free spectrum who wants to get in on the local, craft brew scene.
For gluten free, Prairie Path from Two Brothers Brewing is a good local option. As is typical with gluten-free beers that I've tried, this is quite light in terms of abv and flavor. I still think brewers have a way to go in this category.
For ciders, I am not a huge consumer. I was blown away, however, by my friends at the new cider pub The Northman in North Center, and they would steer any gluten free/cider folks in the right direction.
My favorite local beer pick?
While I typically tend to get a tart cocktail or a glass of wine when I'm out for dinner (and honestly, just plain water when I'm at home!), I almost always make an exception when I see a beer from Moody Tongue brewery on the menu. Started by a chef-turned-brewer, this Pilsen-based brewery just opened a tap room too. My favorite is their classic Sliced Nectarine IPA.