Chicago Craft Beer Week, organized by the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild and now in its fourth year, exists first and foremost to expose new people to the great beer made in Chicago—and even the hardest of hard-core beer nerds could probably use a refresher course. It's not just Goose Island, Two Brothers, Metropolitan, Half Acre, Revolution, Haymarket, and Rock Bottom anymore—just in the past year or so, a burgeoning crowd of new players has crashed the party, among them Pipeworks, Solemn Oath, 18th Street, Off Color, Virtue Cider, Spiteful, Begyle, Flesk, Atlas, DryHop, 4 Paws, Lake Effect, Tighthead, the Ale Syndicate, Temperance, and Tolchez.
The purpose of Craft Beer Week is also useful to keep in mind when navigating its intimidatingly full schedule. (The CCBW app might help too.) Between Thu 5/16 and Sun 5/26 ("Our week goes to Eleven!" says the CCBW website) more than 200 venues, mostly bars and brewpubs with a sprinkling of restaurants and shops, host more than 400 officially sanctioned events, including pairings, beer dinners, and even a Rock Bottom disc-golf outing on Sat 5/18. (Both those totals are doubtless low, since new events were still being added at press time.) Most of what count as "events" may look a bit lazy—many venues do nothing more than tweak their tap lists to favor locals—but given that the whole idea of CCBW is to put Chicago beers under the noses of folks who might not know they exist, the ten-day Revolution tap takeover at Nick's Fishmarket and the Solemn Oath party at Bangers & Lace (on Sat 5/18) are more "in the spirit" than, say, the Sam Adams takeover at Fatpour or the amazing Founders night at Northdown (both on Thu 5/16).
Some of CCBW's most exciting events, most notably Beer Under Glass at the Garfield Park Conservatory on Thu 5/16, sold out long ago; at press time, though, tickets could still be had for Goose Island's 25th anniversary party on Sun 5/19 and the sprawling West Loop Craft Beer Fest on Sat 5/25. And some of the beer dinners, as tempting as they look, will be outside most folks' price range: Little Goat's dinner on Wed 5/22 costs $175 plus tax and tip. But that still leaves hundreds of accessible events that are affordable or even free (though you'll probably have to pay for your beer, unless you're extremely charming). To pick just one example, Revolution's tap takeover at the Hideout on Sat 5/18, with music by Outer Minds and Sybris, has an entirely reasonable cover charge of $12.
The following list, assembled by my esteemed colleague Julia Thiel, can only scratch the surface of Chicago Craft Beer Week, but it ought to give you some idea what to expect. She's also posted more info on the listings above, as well as a larger roundup of events from the "week." Full disclosure: On Thu 5/23 the big Binny's on Marcey, I'm doing a beer-and-music pairing with the store's beer boss, Adam Vavrick. —Philip Montoro
Tap This! Drink Local III (Thu 5/16, 6 PM, Fischman Liquors & Tavern, 4780 N. Milwaukee): It doesn't have quite the lineup of Beer Under Glass, but with 16 local breweries, it's not bad—and there'll also be live music and food trucks.
Over the Influence: The Art of Beer (Sat 5/18, 5-9 PM, Co-Prosperity Sphere, 3219 S. Morgan, $30): Work by artists and designers "inspired by the aesthetics of craft beer and how it intersects with food, culture, and society." Beverages—from Half Acre, Solemn Oath, Spiteful, Journeyman, and others—are included; Flesh for Food will be selling eats.
South of 80 2.0 (Tue 5/21, 7 PM, the Green Lady, 3328 N. Lincoln): A follow-up to last year's South of 80, this meet-and-greet features representatives from five downstate or Saint Louis-area breweries, many of which have never been available in Chicago before: Scratch Brewing Company (Ava, IL), Rolling Meadows Brewery (Cantrall, IL), Destihl (Bloomington, IL), Six Row Brewing Company (Saint Louis, MO), Urban Chestnut (Saint Louis, MO).
Division Street IPA Crawl (Wed 5/22, 6-11:45 PM): Small Bar Division (2049 W. Division) offers west-coast IPAs, Jerry's Sandwiches (1938 W. Division) will have varieties from the midwest, and Bangers & Lace (1670 W. Division) will be tapping east-coast IPAs. So far only Small Bar has announced a partial lineup, which includes Green Flash Black IPA, Ballast Point Sculpin, and a cask of a yet-to-be-determined Stone beer.
Andersonville Homebrew Competition (Thu 5/23, 7-9:30 PM, Mary's Attic, 5200 N. Clark, $15 in advance, $20 at the door): There's no guarantee as far as quality goes, but this competition among nearly two dozen local homebrewers allows you to taste a lot of different beers for a pretty reasonable price (and vote on your favorites).
Boomtown (Fri 5/24, 7 PM, Jerry's, 1938 W. Division): Jerry's hosts several breweries that have opened their doors in the Chicago area in the past year: Begyle, Lake Effect, Spiteful, Ale Syndicate, Off Color, and Solemn Oath. Each will have at least one beer on tap, and many of the brewers will be on hand.