by Kevin Sterne
Young drinkers love novelty: hibiscus brews, off-the-wall coffee collaborations—literally whatever is the newest brand or flavor. In the age of up-to-the-second Facebook feeds, if it seems new it will trend. But nothing is more novel than something that peaked in popularity and convention decades earlier. Think cassette tapes in music. If there’s something millennials are good at, it’s pining for nostalgia they never actually experienced. Now aluminum cans are all the rage in the craft beer world, and many Chicago breweries are rolling out some of their best Pale Ales in 16oz varieties or “Tall Boys”.
In general, canning is as practical as it is trendy. It’s cheaper for breweries compared to bottling. Canned beers are also the preference at concert venues, campgrounds and beaches—places where glass is mostly taboo. Aluminum cans also offer more space for intricate designs and graphics. And that’s one thing to keep in mind, because not only do these juicy Chicagoland ales taste great, they also look good.
This is purely anecdotal, but I feel like I’ve been seeing Tall Boys more than regular 12-oncers. Obviously, covering Chicago beer, I’m zeroing in on the local section when I walk into any liquor store. With no empirical evidence to support, 16oz. cans seem most prevalent in Chicago, and specifically in the New England or East Coast Style IPA. Ostensibly because cult-status beers like Heady Topper come exclusively in tall cans. And thus we have many Chicagoland beers on this list replicating what’s popular on the East Coast. Coincidence? You decide.
Here is the list of Chicago’s—and bordering Chicago suburbs’—top 10 best in big cans:
10) Spiteful Working for the Weekend
A pine-driven, highly resinous IPA, in the Pacific Northwest style. We’ll start out with this one for its thematic value, but also because many of these beers are fruit first and pine second beers. Spiteful gets the nod for this every-man, drippy-ghoul IPA. Cheers!
9) Lagunitas 12th of Never
I’ve frequented the south side Willy Wonka taproom more than any other, and—admittedly—many of their flight ales have the same “Lagunitas Sheen” to them. Maybe I dig this one most because it’s dolled up in a sleek purple artifice. A the end of the day, this one won’t blow anyone away, but has become an honest, go-to beer for me.
7) Half Acre Deep Space
An interstellar flavor odyssey for your mouth. Half Acre has stepped up their game of late, releasing a horde of beers that rival the hop heavy brews of another Chicago favorite, Pipeworks.
7) Pipeworks Ninja V Unicorn
Hard to believe this one is an elder on this list, and possibly the first to appear in 16oz of aluminum. Plenty has been written about this balanced double IPA, but how about that damn battle artwork by Jason Burke?
6) Forbidden Root Snoochie Boochies
Forbidden Root’s draft stuff has always been pretty mehh for me, this beer especially. But rumor has it FR lines their cans with some magic “plant dust.”
5) Noon Whistle Gummy Series
A lot of hype about this one on the internet, and frankly, the hype train is real. This is a batshit crazy brew with all the fructose sweetness your mouth could desire, minus the cavities.
4) Hopbutcher Telehopic
Everything you need to know about this brew has been written here.
3) Maplewood Son of Juice Pants
Juice Pants the Younger comes fruity, juicy and unfiltered. Something I love about Maplewood is their listing of grains, hops and pertinents on their labels. It helps me sound cool with my friends who can’t read.
2) Hailstorm Stratus
Possibly my favorite New England Style IPA in Chicagoland. This is a big, bold arrogant stormy bastard of juicy fruity flavor. This is like a beer mixed with juice, but it’s not Leinenkugel’s, so it’s super cool. Also, Tinley Park is a stone’s throw from my old stomping grounds of New Lenox. So, I practically work there, if anyone asks.
Quite frankly, this is the best beer you’ll ever try.
Kevin Sterne is a writer and journalist based in Chicago. He writes about music, craft beer and culture here and for Substream Magazine, ANCHR Magazine and other places. His super weird and highly offensive fiction has appeared in Drunk Monkeys, Praxis Magazine, Potluck Mag, Word Eater, Defenestration and many other places you’ve never heard of. Kevin is the creator of a really terrible magazine called LeFawn which you can buy at Shuga Records for pennies on the dollar.