Unique beer gardens and patios: We went on a quest to find some of Illinois’ most intriguing outdoor spaces to have a beer and soak up the last of summer
By Trent Modglin
Harbor Brewing Company’s lakefront biergarten
Location: 701 N. Point Dr. in Winthrop Harbor. HarborBeer.com
The details: As unique a spot to grab a beer as they come in Illinois, Harbor Brewing’s lakefront biergarten (their main brewery is located in nearby Lake Villa) is open May-October within the picturesque North Point Marina and Spring Bluff Forest Preserve overlooking Lake Michigan. It offers regular live music, plenty of picnic tables and a walkway to check out the boats in the harbor.
Beer of choice: HBC brings over a select assortment to supply the lakefront taproom, but it’s easily enough to satisfy any palate. We enjoyed the Speed Czech pale lager, Camp Lights brown ale and Harbor Lights blonde ale on a visit in June, and grilled-to-order food options are available on the weekends.
Family day: With Six Flags and the Illinois State Beach close by, this biergarten makes for a relaxing destination to end a fun-filled day with the family. Go ahead, treat yourself.
Hairy Cow Brewing Company
Location: 450 E. Blackhawk Drive, Byron, IL 61010. HairyCowBrewing.com
The details: Situated on the site of an old city park on the banks of the Rock River, the warm and inviting Hairy Cow Brewing has quickly become a destination brewery and taproom in rural Byron. Not only does Hairy Cow offer a large, covered deck with great views of the river, but also a grassy side yard with additional seating, games and plenty of room for the kids to stretch their legs. Keep an eye out for the turkey vultures sunning themselves on the old railroad bridge that crosses the river.
Not only does Hairy Cow offer a large, covered deck with great views of the Rock River, but also a grassy side yard with additional seating, games and plenty of room for the kids to stretch their legs.
Beer and food of choice: Expect more than a dozen signature and seasonal hand-crafted beers and hard seltzers made from locally produced ingredients. The flagship beers are the American Hairy IPA, chock full of citrus, pine, fruit and resiny hop flavor, and the Dos Cookies double chocolate milk stout, which is rich but light-bodied and not difficult to handle at just 5% ABV. Come hungry for one of their creative wood-fired pizzas or hearty sandwiches. The wings, too. Don’t forget the wings.
Interesting note: “The brewery property, formerly known as Sunshine Park, was once part of the Underground Railroad. Fleeing slaves would be secretly moved from an adjacent farm, through the property, to a ferry docked a couple hundred yards down the riverbank.” — Hairy Cow owner Todd McClester
Double Clutch Plaza at Millennium Hall
The details: Working downtown or headed to Millennium Park, Michigan Avenue or Grant Park this summer and in need of an award-winning beer or two? Well, you’re in luck, as Double Clutch Brewing Company out of Evanston has set up shop at Millennium Hall at the base of The Bean and directly on top of Chicago’s iconic winter ice rink on Michigan Avenue. This plaza serves as a sun-soaked beer garden and event space from May-October.
Beer and food of choice: A traditional Bavarian brewing process and some award-winning beers rule the menu here. Try their staple helles lager or crisp kolsch, or perhaps the perfect-for-summer Shandy Pants or a frozen margarita. Brick-oven pizzas, appetizers (try the crispy wings or firecracker shrimp), salads, loaded bowls and classic sandwiches will cure your hunger.
Easy access: Driving downtown? Park at the Grant Park North Garage on Michigan Avenue between Monroe and Randolph and gain easy patio access via the purple section. They offer validated parking for $13 for 12 hours as well.
Want to feel like you just stepped foot into a Bavarian beer garden in the woods? Head up to historic Long Grove in the northwest suburbs for just such an experience at Buffalo Creek.
Buffalo Creek Brewing
Location: 360 Historical Lane in Long Grove. BuffaloCreekBrewing.com
The details: Want to feel like you just stepped foot into a Bavarian beer garden in the woods? Head up to historic Long Grove in the northwest suburbs for just such an experience that includes a rustic lodge-style taproom, massive beer garden lined by pine trees, and plenty of live music and events to fill up your summer schedule. But let’s get back to that gorgeous beer garden because even when it’s full, it feels secluded, and oh so European. Planning to make a day of it? Feel free to bring your own camping/lawn chairs — and stay for a bonfire.
Festivals galore: Buffalo Creek hosts plenty of festivals to pay homage to Long Grove’s German settlers, such as their daring yet popular Alpine Fest in January, Maifest in May, Bier Rock Fest Aug. 4-5 and Oktoberfest running Sept. 29-Oct. 1 this year.
Food and beer of choice: The focus here is German and Belgian beers, and the Long Grove Lager, a malt-forward Vienna lager, is one of our faves. Also worth checking out are the Bus Wedgie (Munich dunkel), the Half Nelson DDH American wheat ale and the Redheaded Stepchild strawberry blonde ale. Food trucks are the norm here on the weekends, or you can order from one of the several Long Grove restaurants that are within walking distance.