Part of the joy of cycling comes from exploring new places. And certainly part of the growing appeal of microbrews is the enjoyment that comes from trying something unique. So it’s no surprise that the combination of bike rides and craft beers is appealing to cyclists who have been known to tip back a pint or two. After all, some of the long ride’s appeal is in relaxing with a good recovery drink after the workout.
The Chicago area certainly has its share of great locally brewed beer. But let’s face it—we often tend to go to the same neighborhood establishments, just like we tend to ride the same trails out of convenience. Why not go off the beaten path a bit when it comes to both your cycling and post-ride refreshments?
We’ve created five trips that feature a great riding destination followed by a place to stop for unique, locally brewed beer. Take a ride out of the neighborhood and explore some of the trails (and beer) the Chicago area has to offer.
1. Fox River Trail and Stockholm’s Brew Pub
The Ride: Drive about an hour west of Chicago to the fringes of the western suburbs and you’ll find the Fox River Trail , a true jewel for runners and cyclists, offering more than 40 miles of mostly traffic-free transit from Algonquin in the north to Oswego in the south. There are stretches that veer away from the river or use an occasional city street, but particularly in the northern part of the trail you’re never very far from the Fox. In some sections, the trail even goes on both sides of the river, connected by six pedestrian bridges along the way.
Much of the path is rail-to-trail, which takes advantage of the defunct railroad lines out west. But particularly in the Fox River Valley between North Aurora and St. Charles, IL, the trail is incorporated into riverside parks with beautiful tree-lined sections and some fairly challenging hills (at least by Illinois standards).
Much of the trail is asphalt, but there are some sections of crushed limestone. It’s suitable for a road or mountain bike. Geneva is the middle of the Tri Cities that make up the most scenic section of the trail—St. Charles is to the north and Batavia to the south. It also has the most active downtown, with plenty of options for cyclists, including Stockholm’s, just a few blocks west of the river.
The Beer: Stockholm’s offers several house-made beers made in the “Old World Tradition, cask-conditioned and un-filtered, for full balance flavor.” You’ll find about a dozen beers on the menu, usually including the Viking Red Ale, the Downtown Honey Brown, and the Older But Weisser, a Belgian White that’s certainly refreshing after some time on the trail.
In addition to the beer selection, Stockholm’s offers an excellent menu, with tasty pub-fare including sandwiches, burgers, seafood, and steaks. And, of course, you can order the Swedish meatballs to complete the cultural immersion.
2. Evanston Lakefront Path and Temperance Beer Company
The Ride: This is more of an urban ride, taking advantage of Evanston’s location on Lake Michigan. You can park at Northwestern University on the weekend and ride around the campus, including its paved bike path that runs along the lake. Continue south until Lee Street Beach. Or better yet, explore the city. Evanston offers a bike map with routes and bike lanes to help you plan the trip.
The Beer: A brewery in Evanston? Old timers may get a kick out of the thought, since the city was dry from 1858 to 1972. Since 1910 it has been home to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. But that heritage is celebrated by the Temperance Beer Company , which is the first craft brewery in Evanston history. Opened in 2013, Temperance now has more than a dozen offerings available, including its Gatecrasher English Style IPA, which you can also find at Whole Foods. The brewery’s taproom at 2000 Dempster Street is open on the weekends starting at noon and features a beautiful outdoor beer garden where you can enjoy their flights of 4-ounce tasters and pastries and snacks to nosh on.
3. Fermilab and Two Brothers Brewery
The Ride: In west suburban Batavia, Fermilab is one of those places that most Chicagoans have heard of, but don’t know much about. Founded in 1967, it describes itself as “America’s particle physics and accelerator laboratory,” and is home to the Tevatron, a particle accelerator that once shot atoms at each other so scientists could see what happens. (They have a more technical way of saying that, I’m sure). It’s big, measuring 3.9 miles in circumference.
The road over the accelerator gets little use on weekends, and has become a popular spot for road cyclists. There’s also a bike trail inside the facility, where recreational cyclists can ride and enjoy the views of the prairie and buffalo herd that roams the grounds. Really. From Fermilab, you can exit to the north and ride through downtown Batavia to some good roads to the west of town. Or hop on the Fox River Trail in Batavia if you’re interested in a more recreational ride.
The Beer: Two Brothers , founded in 1996, has become one of the better known local breweries in the Chicago area. Just to the east of the Fermilab property, Two Brothers offers both free brewery tours (1 p.m, 2 p.m., and 3 p.m. on Saturdays; 1:30 p.m. on Sundays) and the Tap House, a very good restaurant that pairs great food with Two Brothers beers. The Domaine DuPage, a French Country Ale, is probably their best known selection, but cyclists will certainly want to sample the Prairie Path Golden Ale.
4. Western DuPage River Trail and Solemn Oath Brewery
The Ride: The Western DuPage River Trail is still a work in progress. When finished, it will stretch 23 miles from the West Branch Forest Preserve near Carol Stream to the Greene Valley Forest Preserve in south Naperville. But don’t let the occasional gaps keep you from enjoying this trail. Starting at Blackwell Forest Preserve in Wheaton, the trail offers a nice ride south along the western branch of the DuPage River all the way to downtown Naperville. There you’ll have to take a slight detour to avoid the Riverwalk (no bikes allowed), but the bike lanes and good signage make it easy to pick the trail up again south of downtown. It’s mostly flat, scenic, and surprisingly not very crowded, at least compared to some of the other trail systems in the area.
The Beer: You can hop off the trail at Ogden Avenue in Naperville and head west just under a mile to the Solemn Oath Brewery at 1661 Quincy Ave. There you’ll find an impressive list of Belgium-inspired, barrel-aged beers that changes quite often. Experiment with different selections at the taproom on the premises, which at least for now includes the Skinny Jeans R Ridiculous, a single-hop American Pale Ale. Of course, you may well be wearing bike shorts, so enjoy the irony.
5. Palos Trail System and Granite City Brewery
The Ride: The Palos Trail System in the Cook County Forest Preserves surrounding Palos Heights offers quite simply the best mountain biking experience in the Chicago area. And it’s not even close. Near the intersection of I-55 and I-294, Palos features nine significant trails with a mix of singletrack and multiuse roads that offer something for every level of rider.
For newcomers to the system, the yellow trail is the longest at 8.3 miles, which offers a big loop in the middle of the preserve and is about a 50/50 mix of singletrack and multi-use road. You can start at the mountain bike staging area at Grove 2 in Pulaski Woods. (Use the map produced by Chicago Area Mountain Bikers here, it’s much better than the one produced by the forest preserve).
If you’ve never taken that mountain bike off-road, you’re in for a treat.
The Beer: Granite City Brewery in Orland Park, just south of the trail system on LaGrange Road and opposite the Orland Grove Forest Preserve, isn’t locally owned. The restaurant group got its start in St. Cloud, MN, in 1999 and has expanded to 30 restaurants in 13 states. But they do brew their own beer on the premises, and they certainly do a good job with the four hand-crafted beers on the menu, including The Bennie, a German-style bock that will hit the spot after any ride.