Chicago Craft Beer History

Some cool beer festivals are coming up this winter. So before we talk about the party, let’s talk about the brew. There are over 60 microbreweries, nanobreweries, and brewpubs around town. Considering that, its hard to believe that less than a decade ago Chicago had only a handful of local breweries. For one, Chicago has a long love for booze. But it’s also the home to the Siebel Institute of Technology, a world-renowned brewing academy founded in 1868. We even discuss Chicago’s brewing past on the Historic Chicago Walking Bar Tour! So why wasn’t there a Chicago craft beer industry until the last few years?

Chicago’s history in craft beer goes back to 1833. Chicago was then a small frontier village with two small batch taverns. As the city grew, so did the number of breweries, peaking in the 1880s and 1890s before the larger breweries swallowed the smaller ones. But the real hit came with prohibition. The local breweries that still operated during those dark years made cereal beer, an essentially non-alcoholic beer. However those breweries did not create a strong enough industry to survive when prohibition was repealed.

Chicago beer peter hand poster

Then with growth of big business in the ’50s and ’60s, Chicago’s small craft breweries could not compete with the large corporations. In 1978 Hand Brewing Company, which was the last remaining brewery in Chicago, closed its doors. For 10 years Chicago was devoid of breweries.

Contemporary Chicago Craft Beer Revival

In 1988, Goose Island Brewing Company opened to the start of a slow-moving new era in Chicago craft brewing. After a period of nominal numbers of brewery openings and then six years of nothing, Metropolitan Brewing opened in 2009, and a real surge began happening in the Chicago craft beer scene. To further promote the craft brewery business, the Illinois Senate passed legislation (SB 754) in 2011 that allowed microbreweries to sell and distribute their own beer versus having to go through an official distributor.

Revolution Brewing craft beer Chicago local
Photo courtesy of Revolution Brewing

Now in 2014, Chicago is finally home to a wide variety of local breweries like Revolution Brewing and Half Acre, and the city could be said to rival some of the big name craft beer towns like Portland and San Francisco.

Though it’s not a book about brewery history in Chicago, I got some of this background from the introduction of author Denese Neu’s, Chicago by the Pint: A Craft Beer History of the Windy Cityin case you’re curious.


— Amanda Scotese and Tour Guide Jenn Harrman


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Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

“Our guide Ellen was exceptional and gifted with a great personal touch.”


Tour Guide

Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

“Jen was a perfect storyteller and kept us spellbound for hours.”


Tour Guide

With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.


Tour Guide

Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.


Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

“Marie was a bubbling fountain of information and contagious enthusiasm.”


Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
“Sonny was extremely knowledgeable about all things Chi-town.”
Wade K


Content Manager and Tour Guide

Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

“Alex was fascinating to listen to. He clearly knows his history and it shows.”
Katie K

Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
“You can TELL Amanda is hyper-passionate about doing the research and getting the story that nobody’s heard before.”
Shelby F

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