Robert Birnecker and Sonat Birnecker-Hart are devoted to the art of distilling. For Robert, it’s a family tradition: he still treasures memories of his grandparents’ award-winning Austrian distillery, where he often helped out as a child. A graduate of Oxford and the University of London, Robert's wife, Sonat, gave up a tenured academic position to pursue the couple’s dream of making their own spirits from scratch. Today, Robert and Sonat’s award-winning Koval Distillery is the first to open in Chicago’s city limits since Prohibition. There, they blend classic, mainstream techniques with contemporary, indie methods, ensuring quality by using only certified organic and kosher ingredients grown in the Midwest.
Using a Kothe potstill custom-made and hand-built in Germany, the husband-and-wife team produces small-batch spirits, including five original white whiskeys made from rye, oat, wheat, millet, and spelt mash. They also distill Lion’s Pride aged whiskeys, plus a selection of liqueurs and brandies, such as bierbrand made with Dynamo Copper Lager from neighbor Metropolitan Brewing. These spirits have won multiple local and national awards, from Whisky Magazine’s 100 Greatest Distilleries to Visit to the Chicago Reader’s Best Local Distillery.
Pizza and beer are ubiquitous in Chicago, but Piece does both a little differently. Rather than deep dish, they specialize in a New Haven–style pie with toppings such as mashed potatoes and clams. The beer is also a standout, thanks to brewmaster Jonathan Culter. He crafts rye ales and hefeweizens in the pizzeria’s own seven–barrel brewhouse.
Bev Art Brewer & Winemaker Supply helps brewmasters and vintners around Chicago take their concoctions from plan to reality with wine- and-beer-making gear. Industrious hobbyists can grab their own malt extracts and carboys here, and beginners can get started with wine and beer kits. The shop also stocks brains with the skills to needed to bottle new masterpieces, hosting classes taught by brewers, winemakers, cheese-crafters, and mead-makers. The experts also contribute to some of the shop's own potions; their Wild Blossom Meadery & Winery produces barrels of honey wine made by bees who spend years squashing grapes with their tiny feet.
Celebrating their 25th anniversary in the end of October, the hop gurus at Brew and Grow educate burgeoning beer makers on the art of crafting cold ones via hands-on introductory courses. During 2.5-hour classes, duos learn the ins and outs of the brewing process, including basic terminology, equipment, and the differences between ales, lagers, and root beer. Pupils will sip various suds while learning about ideal ingredient combinations, then concoct customized barley pops. Though they can't immediately take class creations home, participants will be able to return to the brewery in approximately one month or after malted barley has passed its fermentation exam to tap and taste their personalized potables. At the end of the session, students will be able take home a choice of two comprehensive home brewing guides, either How To Brew by John Palmer or Radical Brewing by Chicago author Randy Mosher.
If you've ever raised a glass of Belgian-style Sofie or gotten lost in the oaky, chocolatey flavors of Bourbon County Stout, you may think that you know Goose Island's beers. But you haven't tasted the whole story unless you've visited one of Goose Island's two Chicago brewpubs.
That's because the brewpubs—both of which are independently owned by Goose Island founder John Hall, despite Anheuser-Busch's 2011 acquisition of the larger company—specialize in small-batch beers that showcase the creativity and prowess of its brewers. Most of these beers are produced only once and can't be found in any beer store, corner shop, or on your roommate's side of the refrigerator. When guests visit the pubs, they have the chance to sip artful ales, imperial stouts, and IPAs that might never again be tasted once the keg runs dry.
Brewmaster Nicholas Barron talked to us about the creative brews he's currently working on and what to expect during a tour of the brewpub.
On the Exclusive Brews You'll Taste:
"We’re able to create new batches very frequently—we have at least one new beer a week, if not two. We do a lot of small batches, one-off beers, exploring different flavors—99% of everything we make here is just for the pub [not the mass market]."
On His Summery Farmers' Market Beers:
"Once a week, we go to Green City Market, buy fresh local produce, and incorporate that into our new beers. . . you can follow how things ripen as the season goes on. We just did a strawberry imperial wheatwine. Next week, a hopfenweizen with sweet basil, mint and lemon balm."
On the Double Life of the Brewpub's Tour Guides
Typically, tour groups stand on the brewery platform so they can get a view of the brewpub's inner workings. The tour guides also provide a glimpse behind-the-scenes. "A lot of our tour guides are brewers and are excited about sharing. Bring questions.”
Scroll through the slideshow at the top of the page to watch a video interview with one of Goose Island's passionate tour guides.
Haymarket Pub & Brewery houses two prominent culinary figures. Chef Christopher McCoy ensures everything on the menu is prepared in-house, whether the four rotating seasonal sausages, the Amish-style rotisserie chicken, or the sustainable seafood; and brewer Peter Crowley ensures the same home-made mentality applies to the beer program. Peter makes more than 100 batches of fresh craft beer each year, focusing on classic Belgian and contemporary American styles. He was won medals at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival, the 2012 World Beer Cup, and the 2011 and 2012 Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer.
These creators merge their passions in the kitchen and brewery of their 100-year-old building, which was named as one of Zagat's 24 Must-Visit Craft Beer Destinations Around the U.S. A corridor connects the two main bars and dining rooms, which both feature exposed-brick walls and mosaic-tiled floors. Visitors traveling between the rooms are treated to views of the brewhouse, fermentation tanks, and serving vessels, where the brewing team creates fresh hand-crafted beers. Servers navigate between tables clutching locally-sourced pork ribs, vegan soups and sandwiches, and half-pound burgers dressed with chile-infused chocolate sauce, olive mayo, or house-cured bacon. At the bar, staff pours current house brews alongside guest craft beers from 32 taps. On special nights, this space also hosts international beer dinners, live music, and the Drinking and Writing Theater—a showcase of original works inspired by Oscar Wilde’s tendency to chug juice boxes while he wrote.