I love trains. I love beer. I don't love driving when I'm having beer. So how to reconcile all of those things, I wonder?
My solution: identify breweries in and around Chicago close to rail lines and visit them. Starting in February 2020, I identified 98 locations ranging from one as close as 400 m from a downtown Chicago train station to four that require a 100-minute train ride to a neighboring state.
Even better, the densest stop on any train line turned out to be the one closest to my house: there are were seven breweries and one distillery within 1.7 km of the Metra UP-N Ravenswood station; as of July 2023, we have six breweries, one distillery, one winery, and one brewery opening soon.
In July 2023, I officially codified a few things:
- Chicago-area breweries must be reachable by a single rail journey of 120 minutes or shorter from one of the downtown rail terminals (Ogilvie Transportation Center, Union Station, LaSalle Street Station, Millennium Station, or the Loop structure), and must be reachable by foot within 2 kilometers of the destination train station.
- Destinations outside Chicago must be reachable from the city center by a single rail journey of no more than an hour, and must be within 1 kilometer of the station.
- The facility must brew, ferment, or distill at least some of their products on site.
- The facility must have a dedicated tasting room or restaurant—not just a bottle shop.
This brings a few more breweries into the Chicago orbit, west to Princeton, Ill., east to Elkhart, Ind., and south to Rensselaer, Ind. and Kankakee, Ill. (Milwaukee, which is only 70 minutes from Chicago, has been on the list since its inception.)
Metra, the regional heavy-rail carrier, offers a $10 unlimited-ride weekend pass good from midnight Saturday to midnight Monday, making lazy Saturday brewery hopping that much more accessible. The CTA charges $2.75 between any two destinations, with re-entry into the system just 50c within two hours of starting your journey.
Another note: I'm not going crazy at these places. Typically I get a 3- or 4-beer flight, which means 450 to 600 mL, about one European pint. That, plus travel between stations and waiting for trains, works out to about 35 mL of alcohol per hour. Enjoyable, but not overboard.
If you want to visit any of these breweries and distilleries—and I encourage you to do so—check their website to make sure they're open before hauling out on an hour-long train ride. And check the train timetables carefully! The Heritage Corridor, South West Service, and North-Central Service have terrible schedules, with only a few trains Monday through Friday during rush hour. You could easily find yourself stuck in New Lenox with no way back to the city if you don't pay attention to the time.
You can see the list of breweries I plan to visit on Google Drive.
Visited so far
The following lists are organized by distance from Chicago, and then alphabetically at each station. (I've delayed-published some of the posts linked below with a new post about every other day. If a link appears dead, try back later.)
You can get to these breweries and distilleries via multiple train lines:
Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF)
Heritage Corridor (HC)
Metra Electric (ME)
Milwaukee District North (MD-N)
North Central Service (NCS)
Rock Island District (RI)
Union Pacific North (UP-N)
- Piece Brewery, Chicago–Clybourn (also UP-NW and CTA Blue–Damen)
- Begyle Brewing, Chicago–Ravenswood (also CTA Brown–Irving Park) Top 10!
- Dovetail Brewing, Chicago–Ravenswood (also CTA Brown–Irving Park)
- Koval, Chicago–Ravenswood (also CTA Brown–Irving Park)
- Cultivate by Forbidden Root, Chicago–Ravenswood (also CTA Brown–Montrose)
- Urban Brew Labs (closed), Chicago–Ravenswood (also CTA Brown–Damen)
- Empirical Brewing (closed), Chicago–Ravenswood (also CTA Brown–Damen)
- Spiteful Brewing, Chicago-Ravenswood (also CTA Brown-Damen) Top 10!
- Half Acre Balmoral Brewery, Chicago-Ravenswood (also CTA Brown-Damen)
- Sketchbook Brewing, Evanston–Main (also CTA Purple–Main) Top 10! – revisited
- FEW Spirits, Evanston–Main (also CTA Purple–Main)
- Smylie Bros. Brewing (closed), Evanston–Davis (also CTA Purple–Davis)
- Double Clutch Brewing, Evanston–Central (also CTA Purple–Foster)
- Ravinia Brewing, Highland Park–Ravinia
- 28 Mile Vodka, Highwood
- Broken Tee Brewing, Highwood
- Kings & Convicts Brewing, Highwood
- Lake Bluff Brewing, Lake Bluff Top 10!
- Nightshade & Dark's Pandemonium Brewing, Waukegan
- Oppidan Spirits, Waukegan
- Harbor Brewing, Winthrop Harbor
- Rustic Road Brewing, Kenosha
- Public Craft Brewing, Kenosha
Union Pacific Northwest (UP-NW)
Union Pacific West (UP-W)
- Oak Park Brewing (closed), Oak Park (also CTA Green Line–Oak Park)
- Exit Strategy Brewing, Forest Park (also CTA Blue Line–Forest Park)
- Elmhurst Brewing, Elmhurst
- Lunar Brewing, Villa Park
- More Brewing, Villa Park
- Afterthought Brewing, Lombard
- Two Hound Red, Glen Ellyn
- Dry City Brew Works, Wheaton Top 10!
- Art History Brewing, Geneva
- Penrose Brewing, Geneva
- Stockholm's, Geneva
- Obscurity Brewing, Elburn
CTA Blue Line
CTA Brown Line
- Goose Island Beer Co., Armitage (also Red Line–Clybourn)
- Corridor Brewery & Provisions, Southport
- Begyle Brewing, Irving Park (also UP-N Ravenswood)
- Dovetail Brewing, Irving Park (also UP-N Ravenswood)
- Koval, Irving Park (also UP-N Ravenswood)
- Cultivate by Forbidden Root, Montrose (also UP-N Ravenswood)
- Urban Brew Labs (closed), Damen (also UP-N Ravenswood)
- Empirical Brewing (closed), Damen (also UP-N Ravenswood)
- Spiteful Brewing, Damen (also UP-N Ravenswood) Top 10!
- Half Acre Balmoral Brewery, Damen (also UP-N Ravenswood)
- Burning Bush Brewery, Rockwell Top 10!
- Twisted Hippo, Francisco (destroyed by fire 21 February 2022)
CTA Green Line
- CH Distillery, Clinton (also CTA Pink–Clinton, Union Station, and OTC)
- Haymarket Pub & Brewery, Clinton (also CTA Pink–Clinton, Union Station, and OTC)
- All Rise Brewing, Ashland (also CTA Pink–Ashland)
- District Brew Yard, Ashland (also CTA Pink–Ashland)
- Midwest Coast Brewing, Ashland (also MD-W and MD-N Western Ave)
- Rhine Hall Distillery, Ashland (also MD-W and MD-N Western Ave)
- Moody Tongue Brewing, Cermak–McCormick Place (also CTA Red–Cermak/Chinatown)
- One Lake Brewing, Austin
- Oak Park Brewing (closed), Oak Park (also UP-W Oak Park)
CTA Purple Line
CTA Red Line
CTA Yellow Line