Chicago’s brew future: new breweries on the horizon
From food-inspired beer by a former Goose Island brewer to an in-house birreria at Eataly, more than 14 new breweries are opening in Chicago this fall and winter.
By Karl Klockars|
With so many new breweries popping up all over the Chicagoland area in every size and shape, it’s damn near impossible to keep track of them all. In Chicago, brewers are moving into neighborhoods like Little Village and the South Loop, while the suburbs aren’t slacking in growth—Geneva, Tinley Park, Lyons and Northbrook all have brewery projects rolling out or in the process of starting up. Lots of them are tweeting their progress, so we've included links to their Twitter feeds to follow along.
Here’s a look at some of the breweries we’re excited to see pouring soon.
Initial offerings: Upwards of a dozen rotating handles at the taproom; brewer Erik Pizer’s tastes lean toward “malty sessionables” with a current favorite being their 3.5% English Mild—“nice and roasty, but light enough so you can drink a bunch of ‘em.”
The impetus for 350 Brewing Company started where so much beer appreciation begins: college.
“The 350 name comes from the address of the house in college where we discovered beer,” Pizer told us. "We’re trying to keep that going.”
Working from a 3.5bbl Psycho Brew system—the same make and size that Chicago stalwarts Pipeworks started from—the self-taught Pizer and co-founder Todd Randall aim to brew a bunch of different styles and let the customers tell them what they like.
“Our small size makes us flexible enough to not have to have a flagship at the beginning,” he says.
The undergrad-esque outlook is expected to carry through to the taproom experience—“The idea is ‘a day after a party at the 350 House,’” per Pizer.
Where: An “alternating proprietorship” with Ale Syndicate, currently building a brewery at 2601 W. Diversey
When: Aiming for the end of 2013 or early 2014
Initial offerings: A grapefruit IPA, a Megamilk Stout and crowdsourced seasonals
Production focus: Heavy on 6-packs of bottles, some kegs for one-offs and special beers
Owner and co-founder Chris Tourre wants to let art drive Arcade's beers—they’ve established connections with comic artists who will be creating six-panel comics to tell a story in a six-pack.
“First we ask for a story and the artwork,” he says. “When we get that back we’ll try to create a beer that pairs with that. We think we’re up to the challenge, and that’s what I was doing when I was homebrewing and working with artists in the city—[I’d] look at the artwork first and create a beer that’s paired with the experience.”
Rather than contract or build out their own space, they’ve entered into a unique arrangement with Ale Syndicate.
“We operate as a brewery but it’s out of their space,” Tourre says. “It lets us own control of our own product. We’re renting space and time, [but] we’ve purchased fermentation tanks to set up inside the brewhouse.”
Where: The license is prepped and a 5 barrel (bbl) system awaits—they just need to find the right space.
When: A gradual rollout in the beginning of 2014
Initial Offerings: Planning on four year-round offerings with a focus on beers using American yeast strains and “American renditions of styles with a twist.”
Out of all the breweries not yet opened in Chicago, Aleman might have the largest national level of awareness—their Dayman coffee IPA, brewed as a collaboration with Aleman and Two Brothers and made by California superbrewers Stone, was released in March and currently earns a ranking of “Outstanding” by the BeerAdvocate users.
Operating owner Brad Zeller doesn’t want to hang his hat on that exposure, however. “A lot of places just didn’t get [that beer]," he says. "It’s another credential that’ll hold some weight, but we’re not going to lean on it too heavily.” Rather than start too large, Zeller envisions a more modest initial output, aiming for around 750bbl in their first year. “We don’t want to be the next Goose Island or Half Acre—we just want to be a part of the community.”
A collaboration of another style is already in the works, though—Alzheimer’s charity MaeBell Ward Foundation has authorized funds for Aleman to purchase a fermenter. Profits from those beers will be directed back to the charity.
Where: An in-house microbrewery at Eataly Chicago, creating beers for the many onsite restaurants
When: Scheduled to be open before end of year—possibly before Thanksgiving
Initial Offerings: Like the New York version, expect two year-round brews and a seasonal on cask.
From the size of the space (60,000 square feet) to the location (smack dab in River North) to the people behind it (Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich), Eataly does things, shall we say, molto. So rather than just buy a bunch of beer to serve alongside the available offerings, why not brew their own right there?
That’s the plan that’s worked thus far for the New York Eataly, and Chicago brings brewer Tyler Prokop to town to helm Chicago’s Birreria. He’ll lead the program set in place by Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head along with Italian brewing luminaries Teo Musso and Leonardo DiVicenzo.
Those in-house beers will be available alongside other Italian and American craft beers, paired with a beer-friendly menu of cheeses, cured meats and rotisserie items.
When: Any day now—Blue Nose is licensed and brewing
Initial Offerings: The XXX Honey Tripel and the True Justice pale ale
After cutting his teeth working for homebrew outfitters like Northern Brewer and as a consultant for a number of Wisconsin breweries, head brewer and owner David Kelley came home to open his own shop with friend Jordan Isenberg. They’ll be self-distributing around Chicago, as well as some specifically selected bars north of the city. The pair want a bar in each of their towns, so they can "walk down the street and have a Blue Nose,” Kelley says.
Rather than just try to appeal to the true beer geeks, Kelley is aiming for beers that everyone can enjoy—but that doesn’t mean dumbing it down. His pale ale recipe has been in the works for a decade, and features an “intense fruity characteristic that the hopheads go after, but we dial down the bitterness significantly… so the first-timers won’t think it’s too bitter.”
“We aim for really, really good beer that whether you are a huge beer connoisseur or someone drinking for the first time, you can enjoy,” says Kelley.
His favorite beer, however, may be one that puts off those diametrically opposed to adjuncts. Their World War American Lager is made with corn (yes, adjunct beers can be made well), and it’s Kelley’s favorite beer to make.
“It’s the hardest beer to convince all of us to brew—I hope it becomes a staple,” he says. “ I love brewing that beer. It’s very complicated... but when it’s finished, it’s just glorious.”
Where: Building out a space on South Michigan Avenue for a taproom and production facility; it’ll be one of only a handful of LEED certified breweries in the country.
When: February for the 10bbl brewhouse taproom starting with collaboration beers, and pouring the facility’s in-house creations shortly thereafter in March
Initial offerings: Two flagships to start with bi-weekly special releases along with collaboration beers
After starting at Goose Island’s brewpub and Fulton Avenue production facility and then moving to Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewing as their quality control manager, head brewer Frank Lassandrello saw the quality assurance issues that can occur when you fight for shelf space, which is why freshness is paramount to him.
“A lot of beer sits for a very long time,” he says, which is why he was planning on Broad Shoulders being a production facility for distribution of Lake Shore Drive Lager and Blue Eyed Blonde kegs only—until the neighborhood told him they wanted a taproom as well.
After adjusting his plans accordingly, he’ll have a space for growler fills and special-release 22-ounce bombers. The taproom features tables made from reclaimed ceiling joists pulled from his historic Motor Row building.
Starting with collaboration beers and two main flagships, Lassandrello’s brews might be the first local craft beer many non-Chicagoans ever taste—his space is located just steps from McCormick Place West and its many thirsty conventioneers.
Where: A taproom and production facility in Lyons, IL
When: Beer should be available before Thanksgiving with a canning line in 2014
You might have seen a couple of BuckleDown’s beers around town already—they poured at Beer Under Glass in May. Plus their Belt & Suspenders and Fiddlesticks beers (an American IPA and a Belgian IPA, respectively) have appeared on tap at Haymarket Pub & Brewery, where they were brewed by brewers/owners Ike Orcutt and Sean Mahoney. Orcutt describes Haymarket’s Pete Crowley as “my beer mentor, godfather, guardian angel.”
Another Haymarket/Buckledown collaboration is in the works, and another collaboration with DryHop Brewers is expected before buckling down (we had to) at their own space and beginning to brew on their own gear, which will arrive from China in mid-October.
In addition to Belt & Suspenders and Fiddlesticks, Buckledown will roll out a Belgian single called Mirth and a robust porter called Shady Aftermath.
“We like to brew what we like to drink,” explains Orcutt. “We’ll skew hoppy and toward the Belgian side, but variety is the fun of being a small craft brewer.”
Those beers, plus special one-off brews, collaborations and a handful of local guest handles will be available by the pour at their taproom, but Wirtz will earmark most of the beer for distribution. They’re set to start brewing officially at their location in Lyons shortly—just an inspection from the state and the delivery of their 15bbl brewhouse is in the way.
Initial offerings: Food-inspired brews flavored with ingredients like gingerbread and nectarines on draft. A taproom and packaging will come shortly after.
Perhaps the most accomplished culinary brewer out there, Jared Rouben started in restaurants as a Culinary Institute of America grad, with stints at the Michelin-starred Martini House and Thomas Keller’s famed Per Se in New York. Not content with just making food, Rouben came to Chicago to brew. He spent time at Rock Bottom and quickly moved to Goose Island where he crafted his “culinary brewing” style with chefs like Rick Bayless, Rick Gresh and Kevin Hickey.
Working on a 20bbl system designed for Rouben’s “culinary brewing,” the brewery will have a taproom. Rouben expects to produce upwards of 2,000 barrels in his first year.
What: A new collaborative beer brand from Cliff & Mitch Einhorn, the brain trust behind the Twisted Spoke and Lush Wine & Spirits operations
Where: They’re nomads, so everywhere... and nowhere
Initial offerings: Small batches, available by the bottle at Lush and on draft at Twisted Spoke.
“I don’t claim to be a brewer— I never have,” Mitch Einhorn says. “But I know how I want [a beer] to taste, and I know how I want it to feel and I know how I want it to pair with food.”
A brewing collaboration with New Belgium for Twisted Spoke’s 15th anniversary started the ball rolling on the Nomad brand, after it allowed Einhorn to get in on the brewing process.
Years later, they’ve released their first offering under their own label, an imperial brown ale barrel-aged for two years in Stitzel-Weller barrels.
Not confined to a production space—even if their beers take off, that’s still a long way down the road—the Nomad name “expresses the true nature of what we’re doing... we’re willing to travel wherever it go to find collaborative partners.” Future brews will likely feature Belgian styles, gueze and lambics that pair well with food.
But why create their own in-house brand, when they already have a successful restaurant and retail space? For the joy of hospitality education, naturally.
“I like to be hands on and be involved,” says Einhorn. “After 20 years in the restaurant and bar business, I like to learn new stuff all the time. If you’re not intrigued by how things are developing in the hospitality industry… this could get really dull and monotonous.”
What: Perhaps the tiniest brewery in the area—this 1bbl system only produces 22-ounce bottles at the moment
When: Just started making deliveries to craft beer stores last week
Initial offerings: The Attention Hog pale rye ale, the Imaginary Friend dark wheat beer and the Le Perfectionniste, a French farmhouse saison with Nelson-Sauvin hops
It’s possible Only Child’s Ben Rossi wouldn’t have kicked his brewing dreams into high gear if the avid homebrewer could have fermented his beer anywhere other than his and his wife’s bedroom.
“The most stable temperature in my house was in our bedroom, and so we’d fall asleep listening to the airlock bubbling,” he says.
As the beer purchaser for Lincoln Square’s Grafton Pub, Rossi knew he had enough experience in the industry and with brewing to give it a go professionally—and getting his brew gear out of the bedroom was a motivating factor as well.
Rossi grew up in Grayslake and wanted to bring his love of craft beer north of the city.
“Being so passionate about the craft beer movement, there’s nothing cool like this up here,” he says. And Northbrook was the right place at the right time. “We wanted to bring a small place, like a mom and pop joint, that type of feel, out to a local suburb and keep our beer around where the brewery is.””
Bottles can be found at Binny’s around the north ‘burbs and at Capone’s in Chicago; his space is too small for a taproom, but Rossi hopes to have space for a bottle shop to feature his beers alongside bottles from other Chicago-area brewers.
What: A 40bbl production facility with taproom in Geneva, IL
When: Kegs should hit the market in early November and the taproom should open shortly thereafter
Initial offerings: The P2 Belgian pale ale and the Belgian single Proto Gradus
The brewers at Geneva’s Penrose aren’t afraid to think big—they’re starting their brewery with a big ol’ 40bbl brewhouse along with a 1bbl pilot system for experimentation. Tom Korder, formerly at Goose Island, and beer industry veteran Eric Hobbs are ready to roll out up to a half-dozen styles on draft. They’re planning to begin packaging a few months later.
A slightly tart, strong golden ale called Hereafter, a collaboration with St. Louis’ Perennial Ales, is in the hopper, and a collaboration with Off Color was poured at West Lakeview Liquors’ Zwanze Day. In addition to their Belgian-inspired ales, they’ll also focus feature barrel aging and—heads up, sour fans—wild and spontaneous fermentation.
It’s not just the brewers’ experience that’s ensuring quality from day one. Penrose will have a quality assurance lab on site from the get-go and they’re testing every batch to make sure the 2,000 barrels they aim to produce in their first year taste exactly as they’re supposed to.
What: A 3.5bbl production facility in Little Village after contracting with Westmont’s Urban Legend
When: SlapShot released their Honey, You’re Blonde ale at Beer Bistro on September 7; a hoppy hefeweizen and a peanut butter nut brown are expected to follow
Like many other brewers, SlapShot came about due to “homebrewing run amok,” as Steve Miller put it. After brewing at home for 6–7 years, Miller started contract brewing on the system owned by Westmont’s Urban Legend. SlapShot (the name is inspired by Miller’s lifelong love of hockey), expects to be brewing on their own 3.5bbl system in about two months, as soon as licensing is complete with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and the state.
Bringing a taproom to the Little Village community was part of the plan. Alderman Munoz, who told Miller he hadn’t approved a new liquor license for the neighborhood in more than two decades, could have stopped it in its tracks. Luckily some homebrewers on the Alderman’s staff stepped in and helped clarify the differences between a brewery taproom and a straight-up bar. It did the trick—some zoning issues stand in the way, but the Alderman’s office is on board.
SlapShot’s main focus will be sessionable beers.
“I like going to a bar and having six beers without falling on my ass,” Miller explains. “In that segment of beers, it’s kinda neglected because a lot of people think of it as boring. We like taking classic styles and doing goofy stuff with ‘em.”
What: A taproom and production facility in Evanston
When: Beers are rolling out now, with an initial release at Evanston’s Prairie Moon on September 18
A brewery seemingly a century in the making (if you consider Evanston’s Women’s Christian Temperance Movement a starting point for a brewery in the same town), the impetus to make beer in Evanston was “kinda selfish,” as Josh Gilbert describes it. As someone who grew up there, his motivation was to bring a brewery back to his town, and he wasn’t worried about what the ghosts of those teetotalers might say. “This city is a lot different now than when the WCTU was around,” he says.
Gilbert lent a hand on Hamburger Mary’s craft beers, plus he’s been homebrewing, tending bar and working as an architect. Temperance’s head of brewing operations, Claudia Jenron, comes from Goose Island. The 20bbl system produces beers like the National Anthem, made with red and white wheat along with blueberries (get it?). Other beers to look forward to include the licorice and chicory Root Down porter, a classic Extra Special Bitter and a rye pale ale. Find it on kegs to start, with a taproom to open later this year.
What: Pronounced Oon Ann-AY, this production-only facility in the West Loop is distributing kegs only, with bottles on the horizon
When: The brewery had its official launch party at Fountainhead on September 3 and is rolling out to craft beer bars across the city
Brewer Jerry Nelson started making his own beer while stationed as a Marine in 1995, but let the hobby go dormant while working as an architect. After a request for some homemade beer at a backyard party, the impetus to brew his Belgian inspired offerings came back.
With a focus on seasonally varied offerings (Une Année translates to “one year” in French), Nelson’s Belgian-inspired beers include the Maya Belgian IPA and the Less is More session saison. A collaboration with DryHop Brewers called Devil’s Reign is also available and the brand new 8.7 percent Trappist-style with American hops called Masquerade will be released soon.
The West Loop space is in a part of the neighborhood currently under a liquor moratorium, so don’t expect a taproom any time soon, but Nelson expects bottles to follow shortly, possibly by the end of October.
But That’s Not All:
Here’s a handful of the other breweries that we’ve found who at least have a digital presence, if not some solid movement towards existence. Is this an exhaustive list of what’s coming to the city? Of course not.
And besides, if the many homebrewers in the Chicago area take their cues from every brewer in this roundup who described their efforts as an overgrown hobby writ large, we’re nowhere near through.
And as for the words “bubble” and “burst” and “when will the” being thrown around? Good news—the Brewer’s Association says we’re not even close.