THE CHICAGO DISTILLERY GUIDE Chi-Town Ain't Just Beer Anymore
Craft beer is now ubiquitous in Chicago, but don’t go to sleep on the newest craft boom - distilleries. Sometimes craft breweries are the ones doing the distillation, which is something practiced nationally by Anchor, New Holland, and Rogue. But, more commonly, spirit-focused distilleries are opening their doors, and they are just as fresh and innovative as their craft-brewing brethren.
Maplewood Brewing and Distillation, Logan Square/Avondale
Maplewood always had a plan to distil, but Maplewood spent its first few years brewing some of Chicago’s best beer. As of January 2017, Maplewood began unleashing its distilled creations on the city. In addition to producing stand-alone spirits, such as its single malt rye whiskey, Maplewood demonstrates its dual purpose with items such as Pug Stout Whiskey, “The same grain bill for this wash is inspired by our Fat Pug Oatmeal Milk Stout." Or, if you prefer, Brewers Gin, “A smooth 2-row base distilled with botanicals commonly used in craft brewing.” With so many barrels on-hand, one can only imagine what’s next for Maplewood.
Located in a neighborhood deemed “Malt Row,” KOVAL emerged in 2008 as Chicago’s first distillery since the mid-1800s. Boasting of many international awards, KOVAL embraces a farm-to-bottle philosophy and creates organic spirits from scratch. Using only the ”heart” cut of the distillate, KOVAL places its product in single, 30-gallon charred barrels -- no blending here! Thus, KOVAL whiskey is exceptionally bright and clean.
Chicago Distilling, Logan Square
This family-owned distillery opened in 2014, but it owes inspiration to early 20th-century Northwoods Wisconsin family moonshining. Even today, unlike homebrewing, home distilling remains (curiously) illegal. However, Chicago Distilling has nothing to hide. Anyone can watch the workers distil and package its products. And, you might witness them creating white rye whiskey, which George Washington used to produce in his home distillery. You know, when Americans were free to do so.
Rhine Hall, Industrial District
The community-focused, father and daughter owned craft distillery specializes in something referred to as Eau De Vie, or fruit brandy. A plethora of fruit arrives at Rhine Hall and subsequently gets chopped, fermented, distilled, and then bottled. Many of the profits from this distillery go towards the Alliance for the Great Lakes, an organization intent on keeping the Great Lakes water clean. One taste of Rhine Hall brandy and you’ll know it’s something special.
Quincy Street Distillery, Riverside
Quincy Street pays homage to its Riverside home, which materialized at a time when Chicago’s congestion inspired those with means to create suburban communities. Riverside owes its unusual design to Frederick Law Olmstead, who also designed New York’s Central Park Meanwhile, several of the homes built in Riverside were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan. The distillery uses regional ingredients and engages in artisanal collaborations to create spirits that honor the town's creators, resulting in balance between creativity and classic approaches consisting of Pear Brandy, Rye Whiskey, Gin, Vodka, and numerous other selections.
Fox River Distillery, Geneva
Opened in October 2014, Geneva’s Fox River Distilling Company employs traditional, handcrafted methods to make artisanal Vodka, Gina, Bourbon, and seasonal offerings. Fox River also tries to use local grains whenever possible. St. Charles and Geneva played home to many distilleries in the 1800s, including the original Fox River Distillery. Unfortunately, a fraudulent company President committed suicide in 1915, which came only a few years before Prohibition. Today, things are much different, but the history is not lost on the new Fox River Distillery. For instance, Old Malt House Whiskey™ speaks to a historical Malt House and Distillery built in 1839 and located near the Fox River.