Before you go marching into any old bar and ordering one of your tired drink order stand-bys (“A rum and coke, please”), why not think about drinking local? Chicago is home to some great local breweries and distilleries concocting world-class products that are served up at some of the hottest restaurants and bars around.
Here are our favorite places keeping it both creative and local in the liquor category.
Up in Evanston is a small team of brewers that make a few types of spirits, hence their name: FEW Spirits. Maybe best of all is their American Gin, which has a citrus note on top of its juniper base. The Belgian-inspired Leopold keeps this gin on hand, perfect for gin and tonics or FEW Spirits own American Trade Winds recipe (FEW American Gin, orange Curacao, and lemon juice).
North Shore Distillery, a small boutique operation about 35 miles outside of the city, creates a very special aquavit. One of the rarer artisan spirits in the city, aquavit has a spicy flavor (its dominant ingredient is caraway seed) and tastes wonderful in The Drawing Room’s Cranberries in Your Pants cocktail (North Shore Aquavit, autumn cranberry shrub, soda, and thyme).
Hum Botanical Spirit
In a class all of its own is Chicago mixologist Adam Seger’s creation: Hum Botanical Spirit. Notably enjoyed by Oprah Winfrey at her show’s final taping, this liqueur blends North Shore Distillery pot-still rum with a hibiscus, cardamom, and ginger syrup. It’s great in Table Fifty-Two’s Humdinger (Hum, fresh lime, fresh ginger, and club soda).
What would Chicago be without her beer? North Center brewery, Half Acre Beer Company, brews several different kinds that you can buy in-house by the jug. Or stop by either Wicker Park’s The Bedford or Andersonville’s Hopleaf Bar—popular spots boasting awesome beer lists—to try Half Acre’s Daisy Cutter Pale Ale, a hoppy American brew with a mild, flowery finish.
Another great place for locally-crafted brewskies is Haymarket Pub & Brewery. Visitors to the pub can check out the brew house and fermentation room on the way to the bar where 10+ house-brewed varieties are available on tap. One particular standout is The Defender Double American Stout, a dark ale that tastes like coffee and citrus and pine (trust me, it works).
Believe it or not, Illinois does produce its own wines. And they’re quite good. Lynfred Winery in Roselle, Illinois, makes just about every variety under the sun: reds, whites, fruit and dessert wines. You can do a tasting at the winery itself or a try a bottle in the city. Geja’s Café proudly serves Lynfred Winery’s 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Illinois Sparkling Co. is an independent craft winery about 1.5 hours outside of Chicago that uses Illinois-grown grapes and the traditional bottle fermentation process to create its signature sparkling wines. For something fruity, try a glass of their Franken’s Hybrid Brut (it’s got a hint of raspberry) at the Watershed, a bar that celebrates all things regional on its drink menu.
Koval Distillery is the first and only craft distillery to grace the Chicago city limits since Prohibition times. This small outfit creates organic and kosher spirits from locally sourced ingredients and pure Lake Michigan water. To sample their truly smooth vodka, head to either Frontera Grill or Topolobampo and ask for the Flor (Koval Vodka, St. Germain, and fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice).
For hardcore cider lovers, let me suggest the cider from family-owned and family-run Prima Cider. They make two kinds—a brut cider and a traditional American cider—and both can be had at Owen & Engine. In fact for the time being, Owen & Engine is the only place where you can sample this exclusive cider and when the keg’s gone, it’s gone.