5 best suburban Chicago breweries


Chicago has been a hotbed of craft brewing for more than a decade, but a funny thing has happened along the way: the suburbs.

The city remains full of memorable breweries, but many of the most exciting Chicagoland upstarts in recent years have sprouted beyond the city lines — in some cases well beyond.

Here are five favorites, in alphabetical order, well worth the drive. All sell beer to go. None sell food, though showing up with food is never a bad idea. And don’t forget your designated driver!

20 miles west of downtown Chicago

Visit if: You like saison, are curious about saison, or want an experience unlike any other in Chicago beer.

Mike Thorpe was a garden-variety home brewer before a trip to Belgium in 2011. During that week abroad, he became a full-time devotee of saison, a nuanced, elegant beer style popular in Belgium that most American breweries rarely dabble in.

For Afterthought, it’s the entire ethos.

“As you can tell from the menu, we do one thing,” Thorpe said. “I figured I would do what I like to drink.”

Afterthought Brewing Co. owner Mike Thorpe inside the tap room in Lombard on Jan. 5, 2023.

Though it’s how many European breweries operate, focusing on a single style is an outlier approach in the United States. As a result, Afterthought is one of the smallest breweries in the Chicago area, making about 100 barrels of beer per year available at only a handful of spots, including The Beer Cellar, The Beer Temple and The Green Lady. About 10% to 20% of production is exported to Europe.

Thorpe, an antitrust attorney by day, launched a production brewery in 2016 in an 800-square-foot industrial garage about a mile from the taproom he opened in 2021. It is housed in a standalone building surrounded by parking lot, a stark image betraying its previous incarnations as a used car dealership and a KFC. Inside, where jazz plays and beer is sipped from stemmed glassware, it feels as if you could be in a cottage in the Belgian countryside.

A fruited barrel-aged Saison beer called Circle Tour: Black Raspberry at Afterthought Brewing Company.

Afterthought’s 16 taps usually include eight to 10 saisons of its own, though with wrinkles: made with different fruits, different hops and one aged in barrels that previously aged the legendary Jeppson’s Malort. (It’s layered, refreshing, herbal, tart, fruity and delicious.)

The rest of the taps are a combination of saisons from other breweries, other Belgian styles and a couple left turns to appease the beer drinkers who need a lager or an India pale ale.

Education is key in such a taproom.

“A lot of people come in and maybe don’t even know what a saison is,” Thorpe said.

Bartenders are happy to pour samples to help customers find what they like. Thorpe said they mostly succeed thanks to saison’s flavor profiles, which he described as echoing “carbonated white wine — think of crossing white wine with old-school pale ale and that’s where you end up.”

It’s a singular Chicago beer drinking experience and was well worth the drive for one family who had traveled nearly an hour to be there on a recent Friday afternoon.

“We live in Crystal Lake, but this is a destination,” a man told Thorpe as he prepared to leave.

“A little slice of Belgian heaven,” said one of his companions.

“We’ll be back,” said another.

218 E. St. Charles Road, Lombard; 630-849-7872; afterthoughtbrewing.com

36 miles west of downtown Chicago

Visit if: You want a broad array of beers done well (especially lagers).

Like with many breweries, the husband-wife ownership team of Tom and Cindy Rau envisioned IPA as their flagship when launching Art History Brewing in May 2020. Customers wound up sending them in a different direction: lagers.

Tucked in the back corner of a Geneva shopping center, sandwiched between an Ace Hardware and a Chinese restaurant, Art History has become one of the Chicago’s go-to breweries for lagers in its short existence.

Art History makes a point of having three Czech-style lagers on tap at a time, plus plenty of others. At a recent visit, Art History’s 17 taps featured Italian-style pilsner, German-style pilsner, Vienna-style lager, a boozy bock and a Baltic porter. But Art History doesn’t restrict itself: the draft list also included two IPAs, two saisons, two stouts and an English-style bitter on cask.

Art History is the quintessential “something for everyone” kind of brewery — and the beers are roundly well made.

“We like to play in a lot of spaces,” Cindy Rau said. “We enjoy a lot of styles.”

Art History has a secret weapon that isn’t so secret to longtime observers of the Chicago beer scene: Brewer Greg Browne has brewed beer in the area since the 1990s, when he was one of the early production brewers for Goose Island Beer Co.

“He’s a big part of our success,” Tom Rau said. “He’s been introducing us to key accounts and, of course, there’s the quality of the beer.”

The Art History taproom looks like hundreds of small breweries — an intimate space packed with brewing equipment and customers happily sipping away as they chat or play cards. The Raus said they were after a “light and colorful and cheery” taproom with plenty of windows.

They’ve recently launched a production brewery, Geneva Lager Works, that will produce Art History lagers for distribution in cans and beer under contract for other breweries. The Raus plan to make a sizable push into the market with those cans in 2023, though for the most thorough Art History experience, the taproom remains the place to be.

649 W. State St., Geneva; 630-345-6274; arthistorybrewing.com

31 miles south of downtown Chicago

Visit if: You like hazy IPA.

Like many college students, Kyle Obright and Ryne Willig drank plenty of Keystone at Northern Illinois University. Then they discovered craft beer.

In addition to Chicago’s robust brewing landscape, they soon became fascinated with the beers they couldn’t get here, and started trading local beers, especially Three Floyds, for hazy IPAs made on the East Coast.

That segued into home brewing and winning competitions under their home-brew moniker, Brothership. They would brew 5 gallons at a time, sharing most of it with friends or in lines awaiting beer releases.

Brothership Brewing founders and partners Kyle Obright, left, and Ryne Willig at their Mokena establishment on Jan. 11, 2023.

After a few years, and spurred on with the addition of three more partners, Obright and Willig decided to take Brothership professional.

Or as Obright put it: “A big ol’ hobby turned way out of control.”

Brothership finally launched in the south suburbs in February 2020, then pivoted within weeks with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic by selling growlers to go and slowly building a following for a deft touch with hazy IPA and barrel-aged stout. They’ve branched out into other approaches, such as clear IPA and various lagers, but hazy IPA reigns supreme in the Brothership taproom — “a driving force,” Obright said.

The plaudits have come often, including stellar reviews from the legendarily persnickety online beer review community. Brothership even earned the top new beer on the Untappd beer review site in November 2021.

“Seeing it at No. 1 was kind of crazy,” Obright said. “It just reaffirmed we were on the right track.”

A flight of beer from Brothership Brewing in Mokena. From left, Neutron (American Pale Ale), Power Cosmic (Double IPA), Teleporter (American Porter), and Plasma Wave (Fruited Sour Ale).

Obright said Brothership is only motivated to improve, continuing to tweak practices and recipes.

“We’re never just re-brewing a beer,” he said. “We’re always changing something.”

It’s a small brewery distributing small amounts of beer, which means the IPAs, in particular, are snapped up with remarkable speed once reaching the few dozen stores where Brothership is sold.

A visit to the taproom is the surest way to delve into the Brothership world. Obright said the taproom attracts mostly locals, but he has been surprised to find visitors showing up from Iowa and Wisconsin.

“We just try to be pretty family oriented and community based,” he said. “A lot of times we’re hanging out at the bar ourselves, just trying to be welcoming to everyone.”

18781 S. 90th Ave., Mokena; 708-995-7014; brothershipbrewing.com

20 miles southwest of downtown Chicago

Visit if: Lagers are your thing.

There are plenty of excellent breweries in the Chicago area. Not many leave as strong and lasting of an impression as Goldfinger, its Downers Grove taproom and its Helles lager.

The beer is magnificent — a rich, grassy, earthy aroma followed by grainy sweetness on the palate chased with a drying finish. But brewery owner and head brewer Tom Beckmann also credits his Czech side pour faucets, which allow for a creamier head, impacting the flavor and texture of every sip.

Tom Beckmann, owner and brewer of Goldfinger Brewing in Downers Grove, with an original lager in hand on Sept. 2, 2021.

Goldfinger specializes in lagers. You will find no IPAs here. No ales at all. But if lagers are your thing, you won’t find them made with any more reverence and care than Beckmann imbues at the brewery he launched in July 2020.

Beckmann keeps things blessedly simple. There are six taps, and really, what more do you need? Four of the beers are always there, and they’re all worth having on repeat: that Helles lager (dubbed the Original on the beer menu), a muscular pilsner, a malty Vienna-style lager and the lightest beer, a Mexican-style lager.

The other two taps vary with the season; when I visited they were a dark Mexican lager and a silky Baltic porter (which, yes, is a lager). The menu is tweaked every couple months — the opposite of how many breweries operate with constant streams of new beer. Goldfinger sticks to familiar styles and patient process, all the way down to creamy carbonation from bubbles produced during fermentation, as opposed to the carbon dioxide injected into most beers.

“We want to be simple for customers, while also pointing out lagers can be super complex and diverse,” Beckmann said.

The menu also makes clear Beckmann’s devotion to craft. Beyond describing each beer’s alcohol content and bitterness — standard at many breweries — Beckmann names the mash process used to brew each beer: step mash, single decoction or double decoction. The hope was that customers would ask for details, and they do.

“For an all-lager brewery, we wanted to make clear what makes us special, and that starts with our process,” he said.

The original lager at Goldfinger Brewing Co. in Downers Grove.

Goldfinger is an homage to his great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather, who owned a brewery in Krakow, Poland. Their last name translated to Goldfinger.

The taproom reflects the inspiration, including ads and newspaper clippings from that brewery on the wall inside the front door.

Just beyond is a space that’s spare and simple, meant to be “a modern take on what you would have found back in the day,” Beckmann said. Nothing makes the point better than the beer on tap.

513 Rogers St., Downers Grove; 630-541-9728; goldfingerbrewing.com

33 miles northwest of downtown Chicago

Visit if: You want a broad beer experience in a taproom more elegant than most.

For a couple years after opening Roaring Table in 2017, husband-and-wife owners Lane Fearing and Beth May weren’t quite sure what they’d done.

After nearly nine years brewing at the legendary Mickey Finn’s brewpub in Libertyville, Fearing had struck out on his own to share his love of hospitality and varied beer drinking.

Instead, customers only seemed to want the trendy beers of the day, namely hazy IPA and fruited sours. He made a dry Irish stout for Roaring Table’s first St. Patrick’s Day, assuming customers would order it without a second thought. Instead, it just sat there.

Roaring Table Brewery and Taproom owners Lane Fearing, left and Beth May show a flight of beers at their establishment on Jan. 12, 2023 in Lake Zurich.

May, with an eye on the bottom line, urged her husband to give people what they wanted. That included a few milkshake IPA with lactose and fruit that Fearing had no interest in making and even less interest in drinking.

“I forced Lane to make a lot of stuff early on to keep our customers’ attention,” May said.

“I’m very excited to think I’ll never have to make some of that stuff again,” Fearing said.

Fortunately for Roaring Table — and beer drinkers near and far — consumers have become more open-minded in recent years, freeing Fearing to pursue his whims. The result is one of the Chicago area’s most interesting and eclectic beer menus, though without gratuitous stunts or ingredients.

Roaring Table is largely beholden to tradition, whether it’s Fearing’s take on low-alcohol English cask beer, Czech-style lager or saison (which won a bronze at the 2022 World Cup competition). Roaring Table also dabbles at the edges of classic styles not often seen on American beer menus, such as rye pale ale aged on oak, and tart, funky wild ale from a hulking oak foeder.

Roaring Table Brewery and Taproom samples of Accordance, a dark Czech lager, Engine, an oak conditioned rye, and Funkberry, a Foederbier fermented with fruit.

But it’s also a place for everyone, with plenty of lagers, a finely balanced hazy IPA and barrel-aged stouts. Most important, they pull off the all-important trick of doing an array of styles well.

“We just kept plugging away and things seem to be turning,” May said. “Beer is diversifying.”

Fearing and May weren’t eager to open a brewery in a strip mall, but they had few other choices. They did their best to obscure that fact by building an unusually elegant taproom that includes wallpaper, curtains, leather couches, a fireplace and frosted windows to obscure the Taco Bell drive-thru outside their front door. The goal, May said, was “if you squinted, you could feel you’re in the city or on the North Shore in a cooler, older space.”

“I really didn’t want our brewery to be in a strip mall,” May said. “But I think it’s pretty cool for being in a strip mall.”

739 State Highway 22, Lake Zurich; 224-662-4562; roaringtable.com

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