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Quintin Cole
Photograph: Carolina Mariana Rodriguez

Make Chicago a craft beer tourism destination

Vice District Brewing cofounder Quintin Cole told us what it will take for Chicago to become a craft beer tourism mecca

Zach Long
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Zach Long
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Anyone who has knocked back Anti-Hero IPAs in the Revolution Brewing taproom or sampled sour suds at Whiner Beer in Back of the Yards knows that our city is amazing for beer lovers. But even though Chicago is the U.S. city with the fifth-largest concentration of breweries, the thriving craft scene here seems to be flying under the radar. “As many brewers as we have here, Chicago is still not known as a beer destination,” says Quintin Cole, cofounder of the South Loop’s Vice District Brewing. “People talk about Asheville, North Carolina, and the San Diego beer scene—Chicago beer stacks up to [both] of those cities.”

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Unsurprisingly, people love to drink while on vacation. In a 2016 Travelocity survey of tourists, more than 75 percent of participants indicated interest in traveling expressly to visit craft breweries. Chicago makes perfect sense as a beer-tourism destination, thanks to its robust public transportation system (just don’t puke on it) and various award-winning breweries (including the recent Great American Beer Festival medal winner On Tour Brewing). There’s also a year-round lineup of festivals to attend, such as the city-sponsored tasting series Friday Night Flights, the Festival of Barrel Aged Beers and Beer Under Glass.

If Chicago wants to get serious about marketing itself as a beer mecca, it needs even more locales that cater to adventurous drinkers. “You can count the serious craft beer bars [in Chicago] on two hands,” says Cole. “In a city of 3 million people, why aren’t there more craft-centric places?” More drinking destinations comparable to bars like Hopleaf, Villains and the Beer Temple would give local brewers more accounts to sell to, boosting production and spurring economic growth within the city. Ideally, it would also result in more homegrown options for tourists and residents. “I’d like to see Chicago mimic Portland, where local breweries make up 35 to 40 percent of the tap handles,” says Cole. Hey, you won’t see us complaining about more drafts to choose from.

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