Legislative changes have led to an explosion in craft breweries in the past six years, bringing the number in Illinois up to about 200. While eight years ago most breweries were in the city, now Chicago boasts 50 breweries while the surrounding suburbs have twice as many. That change led the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild to expand on its annual Chicago Craft Beer Week celebration, launching its first Illinois Craft Beer Week starting Friday, May 18.
"We wanted to make sure that we were representing and reflective of our membership," said Illinois Craft Brewers Guild executive director Danielle D'Alessandro. "It's going to be a fun week. We're having opportunities for everybody to participate in the industry and the movement around craft beer."
While suburban breweries have been part of Chicago Craft Beer Week's signature events for years, D'Alessandro said she's seeing more spots hosting their own activities during Illinois Craft Beer Week that show off not only their business but also their area.
"We're really excited to see these events throughout the state," she said.
Downers Grove's Alter Brewing Company has been participating in Chicago Craft Beer Week since they opened in 2015. Head brewer and co-founder Mark Hedrick said he thought changing the event's name to Illinois Craft Beer Week was necessary.
"There's so many great breweries, not only in the suburbs, but the entire state," he said. "The craft beer movement has been growing at a ridiculously fast pace."
Alter will be pouring beers at the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago on Friday, May 18, as part of Illinois Craft Beer Week's kickoff event, Beer Under Glass. The brewery is also hosting its own Backyard Brewfest from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 19, setting up tents where 15 breweries from the western suburbs will be serving beers and donating all of the proceeds to Little Friends. Hedrick said he hopes that the festival will become a new area tradition, moving venues every year and spurring collaboration between the breweries.
"I think it's a pretty strong community," he said. "We all want to see each other succeed. Craft is still only 15 percent to 16 percent of the beer that's consumed in the country. We feel there's room to keep chipping away at the market share of the macrobreweries without feeling like we're competing against our neighbors."
For a taste of what Illinois Craft Beer Week has to offer, check out some of these events running throughout the Chicago suburbs. A full list is available at illinoisbeer.org/icbw or through the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild app.
Church Street Brewing Company, 1480 Industrial Drive, Itasca, (630) 438-5725, churchstreetbrew.com: Make a terrarium version of a beer garden while enjoying beer and food truck fare at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 18. Tickets cost $64.
The Morton Arboretum, 4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle, (630) 968-0074, mortonarb.org/events/craft-beer-dinner: A five-course dinner at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, May 19, in the Arboretum's Ginkgo Restaurant includes pairings from Alter Brewing Company and a discussion of the brewing process. The menu consists of scallop ceviche paired with Center Line (Golden Ale); chilled Honeycrisp apple soup paired with Alterior Motive (Midwest IPA); a red endive salad paired with King Balaton (Cherry Wheat); crispy sockeye salmon paired with Dan's Brown (Brown Ale); and, for dessert, banana trifle paired with Alto Porto (Robust American Porter). A vegetarian menu is available. Tickets cost $95.
Old Town Pour House, 1703 Freedom Drive, Naperville, (630) 448-6020, oldtownpourhouse.com/naperville: Representatives from Two Brothers, Solemn Oath and Alter Brewing will be pouring samples at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 19, during the Naperville Backyard Bash. Order one of the featured beers and you'll get a souvenir glass. You can also pair your drinks with a $30 Backyard Barbecue platter, which includes four wings, a half slab of ribs, 6 ounces of pulled pork, two slider buns, potato salad, coleslaw and grilled corn.
Plank Road Tap Room, 39W149 Plank Road, Elgin, plankroadtaproom.com/: Learn about the early history of beer and its role in civilizations around the world at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 22, with a lecture from Elmhurst History Museum executive director Dave Oberg. Tickets are $10 and include one beer. The event kicks off at 6 p.m. with a reception.
Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery, 28256 Diehl Road, Warrenville, (630) 836-1380, rockbottom.com/locations/warrenville/: Get a first taste of Rock Force, a corn wine created through a collaboration with Plainfield's Werk Force Brewing, at a tapping at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 23.
WhirlyBall, 800 E. Roosevelt Road, Lombard, (630) 932-4800, whirlyball.com: Play free games of WhirlyBall against a team from Alter Brewing from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 22, for a shot at winning swag. Four of the brewery's beers will be available to try. RSVP to be entered into a raffle awarding a $100 WhirlyBall gift card.