The Heritage Corridor Ale Trail, located 80 miles outside Chicago, is fast becoming a top Midwest beer destination amid Illinois’ historic I&M Canal National Heritage Corridor. A terrific place to spend a weekend, the trail encompasses more than a dozen breweries from Chicago Portage (connecting navigable areas of the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes) to Starved Rock State Park.
“You have breweries in the state producing beer you can’t get any place else,” says Scott Struchen, chief commercial officer of Tangled Roots Brewing Company, one of the few U.S. craft breweries that grows its own hops and barley. The Ale Trail brings you to these small breweries, where you can experience the culture of small towns and the flavors of that area—and none of this even existed only five years ago. “It’s almost a throwback to Prohibition, [with beers] reflecting who [brewers] were as a people,” shares Struchen.
The Trail Begins: From Chicago to the West
At BuckleDown Brewing in Lyons, Ike Orcutt and Sean Mahoney have created an old-school factory that produces a dozen beers. In Hodgkins, near I-55, Blue Nose Brewery features handcrafted unfiltered beers served in a taproom. Food trucks can frequently be found here for grabbing a bite, as well.
Southeast in Bedford Park, 5 Rabbit Cerveceria is the first U.S.-based, Latin American-inspired brewery. Taking its name from Aztec mythology, 5 Rabbit incorporates Central and South American flavors, aromas and textures into its eight smooth brews.
Gordon Biersch Brewery & Restaurant is located off I-55 at The Promenade Bolingbrook, an open-air retail destination. The restaurant serves a menu of German-style craft “biers” that complement dishes like shrimp and mango tacos or chicken schnitzel.
In historic Lemont near Interstate 355, Pollyanna Brewing Company produces four flagship beers, which you can sample in a light-drenched taproom or on its expansive patio. The German-trained brewmaster experiments with fermentation techniques, barrel aging and seasonal lagers. Also in Lemont, don’t miss the opportunity to indulge in a Big Burger at Nick’s Tavern.
Tribes Beer Co. operates alehouses in Mokena (south of I-80/I-94) and Tinley Park, plus an Irish Pub and the brewery. Opened in 2015, it creates hop-forward IPAs. Metal Monkey Brewing, the 2017 Romeoville Business of the Year, operates a taproom near the Des Plaines River. The brewery released its first bottled beer, Asmodeus, in 2016. Near I-80 in Joliet, Elder Brewing Company will soon open a second-floor microbrewery, with a tasting room and first-floor retail coming soon.
Close to Highway 59 in historic Plainfield, Nevin’s Brewing Company opened five years ago in a pedestrian-focused shopping, dining and entertainment district. A menu of hearty bar bites (think jumbo wings and half-pound burgers) complements a large beverage list featuring stouts, IPAs, Irish ales and even cider.
Also in Plainfield, Werk Force Brewing Co. uses experimental hops and yeast inside Chicago Brew Werks, a shop offering the Midwest’s largest selection of malted grains, equipment and public classes. Sample its beers in the on-site taproom and in Chicagoland restaurants.
South of I-80, Ottawa boasts Radium City Brewing. Its beers are available in Ottawa at Red Dog Grill (known for its burgers and seafood entrees), Herman’s Package Store and The Lone Buffalo Brewpub, as well as Utica and Morris.
Tangled Roots Brewing Company & The Lone Buffalo also opened in Ottawa in 2016. It’s newest beer, Forty One Forty Eight, is a farm-to-foam beer grown locally in the Starved Rock Country area.
Ale Trail Stays
After a day of drinking, you’ll need a place to crash for the night. Modern, amenity-rich national hotels as well as Harrah’s Joliet Casino and Hotel operate along and near the Heritage Corridor Ale Trail (see special packages). Enjoy the outdoors at Starved Rock Lodge and Conference Center, which has 69 rooms and 21 cabins, or experience the great outdoors at Kishauwau Country Cabins and several nearby campgrounds.
Among other accommodations are Brightwood Inn, where all rooms come with cozy fireplaces; Chestnut Street Inn, a bed-and-breakfast serving Mediterranean cuisine; Lord Stockings Bed and Breakfast, a three-story Victorian home; and Marcia’s Bed and Breakfast, where you can sleep inside a grain bin.