Beer and wine

Ranking the Summer’s Craft Beer Cruises

Photo credit: Chicago Craft Beer Cruises

Throughout the summer, Entertainment Cruises/Brewfest Partners will host geographically themed craft beer and cider cruises on Lake Michigan. In addition to the chance to sample across three levels of tasting space, the cruises will include a live DJ and two outdoor decks. The $54 price tag is less than many mainland beer tastings (non-drinkers can tag along for $30), and includes a souvenir pint glass. Since the cruises each focus on a specific locale, you may be wondering which offers the most bang for your buck. Don’t fret, because Third Coast Review is here to rank them so you know when to embark.

5. West Coast Brews

Date: Sunday May 20th

Participating Breweries & Cider Makers:

  • 2 Towns Ciderhouse – Corvallis, OR
  • Anchor Brewing Co. – San Francisco, CA
  • Anderson Valley Brewing Co. – Boonville, CA
  • Ballast Point Brewing Company – Sand Diego, CA
  • Deschutes Brewery – Bend, OR
  • Pacific Coast Cider – Lodi, CA
  • North Coast Brewing Co. – Fort. Bragg, CA

The West Coast bring in some heavy hitters, including nationally-distributed breweries whose offerings you can find at Chicagoland bars and liquor stores. West Coast beer is oftentimes associated with IPAs. While this generalization has some truth to it (Deschutes’ Fresh Squeezed is my favorite citrus-infused IPA), these breweries are certainly capable of appeasing diverse palates. Anderson Valley’s Boont, for example, is a well-balanced, middle of the road amber ale. Point being: expect a broad, tasty selection with these breweries coming to town.

So why the low ranking? I’m concerned that if these breweries bring in under the radar selections, then they may be difficult to find after the fact. While you may be able to track them down in stores, you won’t be able to drop by the breweries if you’re not planning an upcoming trip west. On the other end of the spectrum, their widely-distributed (and therefore easy to find) flagship beers are so well-known that there won’t be the chance to discover something new. Finally, this being the only cruise in May, I’m not convinced that our recent run of good weather will last, so a later cruise may be the safer bet if you’re hoping for ideal boating conditions.

4. Brews of Colorado

Date: Sunday June 3rd

Participating Breweries & Cider Makers:

  • 10 Barrel Brewing – Denver, CO
  • Avery Brewing Co. – Denver, CO
  • Breckenridge Brewery – Denver, CO
  • Flying Dog Brewery – Denver, CO
  • Great Divide Brewing Co. – Denver, CO
  • Left Hand Brewing Co. – Longmont, CO
  • New Belgium Brewing Co. – Fort Collins, CO
  • New Planet Beer – Coulder, CO
  • Odell Brewing Co. – Fort Collins, CO
  • Oskar Blues Brewery – Longmont, CO
  • SKA Brewing Co – Durango, CO
  • Stem Cider – Denver, CO

I put Colorado and West Coast in the same bucket; you’ll see some awesome breweries. New Belgium (one of the country’s largest independent craft breweries) and Breckenridge Brewery (owned by AB/InBev) have wide national distribution, so you won’t have a hard time finding their beers at a later date. Most of these breweries are, by and large, established, reputable beer makers who know what they’re doing. That said, the same drawbacks exist as with California – you’re either trying a flagship beer, or one that’s hard to get your hands on. The advantage, however, is the early June date, which hopefully means good weather.

3. Toast to Belgian Independence

Date: Sunday July 22nd

Participating Breweries & Cider Makers: TBD

Proost! Here’s your chance to try beers from one of the world’s great beer countries. For those of us who are immersed in America’s craft beer culture, this event offers an exciting change of pace. The only cause for tentativeness is that European beers can sometimes be less approachable than their American counterparts; they have different styles with names in other languages. That being said, if you come in with an open mind, this should be a great learning opportunity.

2. Chicago Small Batch Brewers

Date: Sunday September 9th

Participating Breweries & Cider Makers: TBD

In an interesting change of pace from the large breweries on other cruises, the Chicago brewery cruise will focus on small batch breweries. While we don’t know which breweries will be in attendance, we know that their small size offers an excellent opportunity to learn about local breweries you may not be familiar with. The best part: given that they’re local, it will be easy to visit any breweries whose beers your particularly enjoy.

1. Wisconsin Beer, Cheese & Sausage

Date: August 5th, 2018

Participating Breweries & Cider Makers:

  • 3 Sheeps – Sheboygan, WI
  • Ale Asylum – Madison, WI
  • Central Waters Brewing Co. – Amherst, WI
  • Ciderboys – Stevens point, WI
  • Hinterland Brewery – Green Bay, WI
  • Sprecher Brewing Co. – Glendale, WI
  • Tyranena Brewing Co. – Lake Mills, WI

Start August right with beer, brats, & boating. You read that correctly – they’ll be serving cheese and sausage, making it the most unique (and probably tastiest) of the food spreads. I also find it to be a useful learning experience. Despite Wisconsin’s proximity to Chicago and rich beer history, these are not breweries with a large Chicago footprint. Take this opportunity to learn a bit more about regional breweries, and perhaps note a few places to stop by during your next trip north.

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