Spotlight on Illuminated Brew Works: “Producing quality beer for interesting times” with a funky, neighborhood bar kind of vibe on Chicago’s far NW side
Illuminated Brew Works
6186 N. Northwest Hwy
Chicago, IL 60631
Sunday: 2-8 p.m.
Monday: 6-10 p.m.
Tuesday-Thursday: 4-11 p.m.
Friday: 4 p.m.-midnight
History in short: Home brewing many years ago admittedly, “was a way to keep sane and a break from doing computer crap all the time,” co-owner and head brewer Brian Buckman says with a laugh. His friend and co-owner, Matt Shirley, has run Northern Fork, a large catering company, since 2003, and as far back as 2008, they would use his industrial kitchen for their brewing hobby. The third longstanding member of the team is facilities manager/assistant brewer Jason Monk, who they brought aboard in 2011.
By then, the trio was busy picking the brains of other breweries (and even brewing at some of them) to get a better understanding of what they were getting into, and from 2015-2021 they brewed out of an old Nabisco factory in the West Loop, as well as batches at Great Central Brewing Company, Burnt City and Motor Row Brewing.
Looking for a functional space to call their own eventually led them to Norwood Park, on Chicago’s far NW side, where they signed a lease in 2019, started brewing in March of 2021 and opened the taproom in August of that year.
A lot of people swing in to check us off the Chicago brewery list, but they come back because they like the way it feels… almost like a friendly refuge.” — Facilities manager/assistant brewer Jason Monk
The space: Buckman and Monk were never interested in a bright, sterile taproom. That didn’t fit their style. Instead, they sought to create a throwback, homey, neighborhood bar kind of vibe with dark lighting, funky decor (hanging skateboards, animal skulls and a psychedelic mural or two).
“A lot of people swing in to check us off the Chicago brewery list, but they come back because they like the way it feels, almost like a friendly refuge,” Monk says. “We definitely don’t have a cookie cutter taproom. It feels a little bit better than a dive bar though… mainly because it’s not sticky.”
The bow-truss ceiling is a big draw, as is the garage door in the back that opens to a small patio. They host a popular trivia night on Tuesdays, a themed trivia once a month on Sundays, Murder Bingo every Wednesday — even regular art shows that showcase “a lot of cool things the city hasn’t seen before.”
Illuminated has a membership program they proudly call The Cult, which offers a variety of deals, exclusive events, a “cult initiation” they can’t talk about in public, even a monthly book club.
Interesting note: Illuminated has a membership program they proudly call The Cult, which offers a variety of deals, exclusive events, a “cult initiation” they can’t talk about in public, even a monthly book club. … In 2019, they were listed as one of the 20 fastest growing breweries in the country by the Brewers Association.
What we’re drinking: Their motto is “Producing beer for interesting times,” and they certainly have a lot going on — from hazy IPAs, to yeast-driven urban farmhouse ales, flavored stouts and experimentally-driven sours and fruit beers. The DDH New England IPA called Fruit Creep was the one that put them on the map, and on a recent visit we enjoyed Astronaut Juice, a popular imperial hazy, and Clurichaun Trap, a toasty session stout. They’re also very excited to have added Orange Sunshine, a deliciously dry citrus saison, to their year-round lineup.
On the horizon: Illuminated throws a large Father’s Day pig roast every year, and they’ll be trotting out their annual Gay Agenda, a peach-flavored IPA, for Pride month. They also are anxiously awaiting their barrel-aged barleywine Solstice Sacrifice, which should be ready in April or May.
From the brewery: “None of our decisions have been made as a business, but more about what we love, what brings us together and what excites us. And that has translated into a very unique experience.” — Co-owner and head brewer Brian Buckman