Since opening five years ago, Finch’s Beer Co. has struggled to find its place in Chicago. Its original lineup failed to impress the local beer-drinking community, the majority of its distribution was outside of Illinois, and plans to build a facility on the river (and then out in the suburbs) fell through. But following a February sale of the brewery—from the Finch family to several of the original investors—the company acquired Hopothesis Brewing and Breakroom Brewery. Shedding an “s” along the way, Finch’s Beer has become Finch Beer, emphasis on the bird rather than the founding family.
That bird logo figures prominently in the redecorated former Breakroom brewpub in Albany Park. A huge yellow finch adorns a tiled wall behind the bar, another above the windows that show off the brewing equipment, and neon versions perch on the back wall and in the front window. It’s a striking space, with dove-gray walls and a soaring ceiling that exposes wooden rafters studded with Edison bulbs. High-backed wood and metal stools look right at home in the space—though actually sitting on them becomes uncomfortable fairly quickly.
That’s a shame, because otherwise it’s a nice place to spend a few hours, especially on warm fall days when the garage-style doors are open, making the space seem even airier. Of the 14 beers on tap, eight are brewed on-site and available only at the brewpub; another four come from Finch or Hopothesis and are brewed at the Elston facility. A lonely Berliner weiss from Off Color and a blueberry cider from Vander Mill constitute the only outside offerings aside from spirits, soda, and a few wines.
Apparently eager to cast off the reputation for boring beer earned by its three original brews (all of which have been discontinued), Finch has branched out from the standard pale ales and IPAs. Some of the classic styles still seem designed to appeal to the type of people who always order chicken breast—the best thing I can say about the pilsner and witbier is that they’re both inoffensive—but there are also several I’d go back for.
The peppery Cave of Chauvet saison is simple but satisfying, and the Sungasm Belgian-style pale ale marries bright grapefruit with grassy hops. Inanimate Object, a Belgian-style dubbel brewed with rye, contrasts a creamy, chocolaty body with rye spice. Another favorite is Midgard, identified as a Gottslandrika, a style that I’m half convinced the brewery made up (if you google the name, the only results that come up are associated with Finch). Brewed with smoked malt and honey malt, it’s excellent—a bit like a smoky, spicy, complex amber ale.
The food menu, developed by Matthias Merges (Yusho and A10, among others), covers the usual brewpub stalwarts of snacks, sausages, and sandwiches, often with a slightly upscale twist: a grilled cheese sandwich with heirloom tomatoes; a charred beet salad with arugula and brown butter vinaigrette. The half dozen or so sausages—including Barese, Thuringer, curried chicken, and tofu—are made in-house; a mild boudin blanc served with roasted and pickled vegetables and a Dijon vinaigrette had a nicely snappy casing but seemed overpriced at $16.
We found better value in a huge pile of crunchy paprika-dusted fried chickpeas, which I’d like the kitchen to start packaging and selling through retail outlets so that I never have to drink beer without them again. Soft pretzels, on the other hand, were fairly mediocre—though not when used to sop up the nutty melted raclette and crispy sausage bits in the “sizzling cheese platter” served with tomatoes, pearl onions, cornichons, and potatoes (another perfect drinking food I’d be happy to see become a brewpub standard). A fried chicken sandwich with kimchi and fried shallots was sadly rubbery—though the top-notch fries that accompanied it were enhanced by an intensely flavored sesame aioli. The least typical bar food, an heirloom tomato salad, was also one of the best dishes; the peak-season tomatoes accented with salty blue cheese, basil, and balsamic vinegar took on a lovely savory quality.
We tried but couldn’t quite find room for the doughnuts made with Finch Secret Stache chocolate stout for dessert. Next time, I may order just the stout itself, which I know from experience makes a fine end to a meal.
Finch Beer Co. & Kitchen, 2925 W. Montrose, 773-942-7949, thefinchkitchen.com