If you visit cocktail bars in the United States, you have likely had a spirit from Chicago. However, because Chicago is known as the food and drink capital of the world, the spirits produced there may be less top of mind. People know about deep dish pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs, but are typically less versed on the craft gin scene. This summer, I visited the Chicago distilleries to try some of the liquors of the Windy City. I also enjoyed a few cocktails featuring local spirits. One really fascinating thing I found was the variety of spirits these distilleries produce. With something for everyone, here’s my virtual and in-person tour of the nine distilleries in Chicago.
Original post from September 2020. Updated in April 2021.
Address: 564 West Randolph Street
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday: 4-10pm | Closed Sunday, Monday
Distills: Vodka, Peppercorn Vodka, London Dry Gin, Key Gin (Lime), Rum, Aquavit, Amaro, Fernet-Dogma, Dogma Amargo de Chile, Dogma Bitter-Dog, Dogma-Rubin, Bourbon, Jeppson’s Malört
Separate Bar: Yes
Tours: Saturdays, 5:30pm-6:15pm
The visit to ch was a lot of fun. One of my favorite things about it was the complete access to the full line of the ch Distillery products. They have so many amazing things going on from their core offerings to their specialty line of spirits. In 2018, they purchased the company that makes Jeppson’s Malört, which is a local spirit made from wormwood. They also make the only organic vodka made from Illinois grains. I enjoyed the Butterfly Effect made with CH Key Gin, lavender, lime, mint, butterfly pea water extract, and egg.
Address: 5121 North Ravenswood Avenue
Hours: currently closed (check the website for updates)
Distills: Single Barrel Whiskey (Millet, Oat, and Rye), White Rye Whiskey, Bourbon, Four Grain Whiskey, Barreled Gin, Dry Gin, Cranberry Gin, Peach Brandy, Prune Brandy, Vodka, Rose Hip Liqueur, Chrysanthemum Honey Liqueur, Coffee Liqueur, Ginger Liqueur
Separate Bar: Not yet, but one is planned
Tours: Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday (tours currently not being offered)
While Koval isn’t currently open to the public, I am very familiar with their products. As the first distillery to open in Chicago since the mid-1800’s, Koval has made quite a name for itself. From their absolutely gorgeous label designs to the wide range of spirit offerings, it’s easy to see why. Among my personal favorites are their trio of gins and bourbon. I would love to get my hands on a bottle of Chrysanthemum Honey Liqueur! They have really led the way for the rest of the distillers in the city. You can read more about their story here.
Address: 2717 North Maplewood Avenue
Hours: Monday-Thursday: 2-9pm | Friday: 1-11pm | Saturday: noon-11pm | Sunday: noon-9pm
Distills: Spruce Gin, Hellish (Rye Malt Whiskey), Sour Mash Pils (American Malt Whiskey), Rye to Perdition (Rye Malt Whiskey), Oaty Otter (American Malt Whiskey), Fat Pug (American Malt Whiskey)
Separate Bar: Yes
What’s not to love about a brewery that is also a distillery and a cocktail bar? Maplewood brings all three together under one roof, and a patio. Located in Logan Square, the patio is currently open for reservations and is hopping. The laid-back vibe is perfect for a sunny afternoon. If you aren’t quick enough to grab a table, they have plenty of items to go including a cocktail kit, food, bottles of creatively-named spirits, and cold beers. Fun fact, Maplewood is currently the only place of its kind offering brews and spirits in Illinois.
Address: 4200 West Diversey Avenue
Hours: not open to the public
Distills: Original Label Gin, Barrel-Aged Absinthe, Autumnal & Vernal Gins, Bësk, and Fernet
Separate Bar: No
While you won’t be able to see inside the distillery, you can imagine the craftsmanship going on behind brick walls. With a unique line-up of spirits, Letherbee is growing in popularity. The company started from Founder Brent Engel’s hobby as a moonshiner and is now distributing to Europe. I love the creativity around their two seasonal gins that come out annually. They also have some uncommon spirits on offer. Letherbee’s Bësk, a Swedish liquor dominated by wormwood flavors, is bitter and perfect in the right craft cocktail. (There’s a great bar in Kansas City that uses it well.)
Address: 2010 West Fulton Street
Hours: Wednesday-Friday: 4-9pm | Saturday: 2-9pm | Sunday-Tuesday: Closed
Distills: Apple Brandy (and Reserve), Plum Brandy (and Reserve), Pear Brandy (and Reserve), Cherry Brandy, Apricot Brandy, Peach Brandy, Grappa (and Reserve), Bierschnaps, Mango Brandy, Pineapple Brandy (and Reserve), Banana Brandy, Coffee Liqueur, La Normande, Fernet Lola
Separate Bar: Yes
Food: Snack boxes
I think it’s fair to say that all of the Chicago distilleries are pretty unique. Rhine Hall Distillery is certainly no exception to this rule. With a focus on fruit brandies, you’ll find a lot of fruit-based items here that you won’t find anywhere else. Their cocktail menu features classic cocktails with their brandies as the base liquor. I had the Mango Daiquiri made with their Mango Brandy, jalapeño, lime, and tajin. The flavor was light and bright. They offer flights of their spirits as well, which is probably the easiest way to experience their offerings.
Address/Hours: not listed or open to the public
Distills: Aronia (berry), Persimmon, Celery Root, and Saffron Liqueurs
Separate Bar: No
The flavors of Apologue’s liqueurs remind me of SOM, non-alcoholic sipping vinegars made in Portland, OR. Apologue is working to bring more natural flavors and ingredients to liqueurs, which are traditionally high in artificial colors and flavors. With a delicious line-up of four flavors, the offerings are all non-GMO and unique. Using all locally sourced and produced ingredients, if you see Apologue on a menu or in a liquor store, grab some!
Chicago Distilleries Outside City Limits
If you’re visiting the city to tour the distilleries, there are three other distilleries just outside the proper city limits. But, if it’s anything like Kansas City, we claim the suburbs and their attractions as our own as well.
FEW Spirits Distillery is located in Evanston, Illinois, just north of the city. With a line-up of three products, I have definitely started to notice their distribution growing across the United States. They produce six whiskies and three gins. My favorite thing about their square bottles are the labels. Each of the bottles include iconography from the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. They are not currently open to the public, but normally have a tasting room where they also offer cocktails. FEW does offer tours normally as well. Visit their website for updates and more info.
Quincy Street Distillery is situated slightly southwest of the city in Riverside, IL. They have a speakeasy (currently closed) as well as a retail shop, which is open Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Check their website for hours and updates. Quincy Street distills 16 different spirits ranging from bourbon to genever to moonshine. They offer tours and focus on historically inspired spirits based on classic and original recipes. I definitely look forward to learning a lot on a tour here in the future.
Skeptic Distillery is located in Melrose Park, IL, which is about 12 miles from Chicago’s city center. They make three spirits (shown above) and will have a whiskey on the market soon. Their unique cold vacuum distillation process is used for their vodka and gin and a unique product called GinQuila. Karl, the founder of Skeptic, told me that the latter product is definitely more complex than just mixing gin and tequila together. They describe their distillery as the intersection between craft and science. I am definitely looking forward to checking this Chicago distillery out during my next visit.