Breweries in bunches: Nearby Evanston may be best known for Northwestern University, but it’s also home to five uniquely charming breweries
By Trent Modglin
Double Clutch Brewing Company
2121 N. Ashland
Details: Tucked away in a tree-lined neighborhood on the north side of Evanston, this is a huge, stylish space, offering three distinctly different rooms with vaulted ceilings, exposed ductwork and massive garage door-style windows that can be opened when the weather cooperates. Plus, 10 rare and vintage cars on display to go with weekly bingo, trivia, live music and karaoke.
What they’re known for: Open barely a year, this is the first foray into the craft-beer scene for Vandalay Brands, owners of 10 restaurant concepts throughout the city and north suburbs. The venue lends itself to lots of event opportunities for sure. Double Clutch focuses on the longstanding traditions of German brewing, and their smoked helles lager, pilsner using noble hops from Germany and the Czech Republic, and Little Juice Coupe hazy IPA tend to be most popular.
Double Clutch came home from the Great American Beer Festival this October with some serious hardware, winning silver medals for our Helles lager and Helles Rauchbier lager, and seeing their head brewer, Scott Frank, get awarded the 0-250 Barrels Brewery and Brewer of the Year.
The pristine classic cars on display at Double Clutch — part of a regular rotation from the CEO’s personal collection that includes 1960s Porsches, a 1930s Jaguar, a McClaren, race cars, etc. — caught our eye for sure.
What caught our eye: The pristine classic car display, for sure. It’s part of a regular rotation from the CEO’s personal collection and includes 1960s Porsches, a 1930s Jaguar, a McClaren, race cars, etc. Also, it doesn’t take long to realize Vandalay takes its food seriously. In particular, the pulled pork sandwich — smoked in house and topped with apple slaw and crispy fried onion strings — is dynamite. And plenty of vegan options like chili, brats and chorizo nachos, if you so desire.
Brewery thoughts: “People love our German-style beers and obviously, the cars. Our festbier and Marzen during the fall are particularly popular.“ — general manager Steve Milford
821 Chicago Avenue
Details: Sketchbook’s Evanston taproom isn’t nearly as big as their Skokie location (which lies just a few miles west), nor does it boast the giant beer garden its sister spot does, but that doesn’t mean this colorful destination isn’t equally as inviting. There’s lots of character here, perhaps described best by our friends sitting next to us as “hip, simple, chill and comfortable.” In other words, perfect.
What they’re known for: Their central location near everything in downtown Evanston. Also, their approach to celebrating diversity as a “community place that feels more like a coffee shop that serves beer.” Their Insufficient Clearance hazy IPA and Orange Door IPA, which is dry-hopped twice for bold grapefruit and other citrus flavors, are their flagship beers, but they have a plethora of delectable brews for any palate. Hurry in to sample their standout Oktoberfest while it lasts.
Sketchbook was perhaps described best by our friends sitting next to us as “hip, simple, chill and comfortable.” In other words, perfect.
What caught our eye: The bright colors, exposed pipes, hanging plants and the big garage door-style windows that open to Chicago Avenue. Also, the fact you’re just as likely to catch a group of eight friends laughing over beers as you are to see someone sipping a beer solo while working on their laptop. Kids can even use markers and crayons to design their own beer coasters. Ordering in? Try Yasotorn Thai Cuisine nearby. You won’t be disappointed.
Brewery thoughts: “We’re welcoming to all, with a great selection of beers and an easy-going vibe that’s great for conversations. Lots of kids’ hockey, soccer and basketball games are played at the new Robert Crown Recreation Center nearby, so come by for a beer after your games or tournaments. … Keep an eye out for our barrel-aged program this year. We’ll have lots of variants to keep people interested.” — Founder/brewer Cesar Marron
Smylie Brothers Brewing
1615 Oak Avenue
Details: Opened in June of 2014, this is a beautiful building inside and out, appearing more like a European restaurant with its spacious, flower-lined front patio. Located on a relatively quiet street off the beaten path makes it a great spot to enjoy dinner and beers outside while the sun is setting.
What they’re known for: Smylie Brothers is a craft brewery and smokehouse born out of years of the Smylie family’s dedication to the art of Texas BBQ and brewing. Owner Mike Smiley’s dad hails from Texas, and he grew up having family and neighbors over for backyard barbecues full of smoked meat, beers, socializing and good times. And that served as the foundation for what they have going on in Evanston. The brisket is award-winning, and they like to keep it simple and traditional with pepper, salt and a 14-hour visit to the smoker.
Most of the staff have families, and we wanted to make it the kind of place that we could bring our kids and hang out and have a couple beers and good food.
What caught our eye: The patio is alluring, and the spacious, wood-laden dining room — with the combined smell of that smoked brisket and wood-fired pizzas — is intoxicating. Lots of families, too. “Most of the staff have families, and we wanted to make it the kind of place that we could bring our kids and hang out and have a couple beers and good food,” says brewing director Brad Pulver.
Brewery thoughts: “One thing we’re particularly proud of on the beer side is our classic, traditional styles. We try putting some fun, more contemporary things on the brewing calendar at times, but because we’re so much of a restaurant, we like to have a lineup of food and beer that really complement one other. We’ve definitely got a beer for just about everybody.” — Brad Pulver
Temperance Beer Co.
2000 Dempster Street
Details: Open nine years this September, Temperance is the creation of Josh Gilbert, an architect in his previous life who grew up in Evanston and moved back to raise his family. The brewery is tucked back in the side of a large, multi-purpose building off Dempster.
What they’re known for: The Gategrasher IPA has always been their best seller, followed by the fall. Rapidly on the rise is Basement Party, their first lager, which has become a hit and is now available year round in 12 packs that are decorated to look like an old-school boombox. Temperance also does lots of work with local non-profits, including a monthly beer yoga event.
Rapidly on the rise from Temperance is Basement Party, their first lager, which is now available year round in 12 packs that are decorated to look like an old-school boombox.
What caught our eye: Temperance boasts a spacious outdoor deck — complete with string lights and barrels to put your beers — that’s popular for happy hour and gatherings. Plenty of communal tables too, as well as some creative paintings and brewery merchandise created by local artists.
Brewery thoughts: “We tend to keep things pretty seasonal, and for having 16 taps, I feel like we definitely offer something for everyone. What we found is, even for people who say they prefer wine over beer, we still find something they like. The Root Down porter wins them over every time.” — owner Josh Gilbert
623 W. Howard
Details: Located on the southern tip of Evanston, just across the street from Chicago’s Rogers Park, this English-owned establishment has a mellow gastropub feel, with low lighting and brick walls. It’s bigger than it looks on the inside, and the patio is definitely a sought-after destination on warmer evenings.
What they’re known for: Stellar English food that’s made in house with ingredients typically sourced from local purveyors, the ambiance (think lively but cozy), well-made cocktails and 10 of their own beers rotating on draft. The weekend brunch from 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. is pretty popular, and the lemon blueberry pancakes and crab cake Benedict come recommended.
What caught our eye: The lamb burger with goat cheese a lime-mayo mango, as well as bacon-wrapped dates for an appetizer. The Peckish Pig’s “Buried Alive” beer series features a watermelon and cucumber fruited gose (traditional German-style unfiltered sour wheat beer) and a blackberry gose that they label as “perfectly crushable.”