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Our leading brewmasters carve out their own styles

Goose Island, Three Floyds, Metropolitan, Piece and Two Brothers stand out from the crowd.

Photograph: Chris Strong
Brewers from left to right: Nick Floyd, Doug Hurst, Jared Rouben, Jonathan Cutler, Jim Ebel, and Jason Ebel at the Hopleaf

From left to right.

THE ODDBALL
Nick Floyd, brewmaster and owner of Three Floyds Brewing
(9750 Indiana Pkwy, Munster, IN, 219-922-3565)
When your beer labels look like heavy-metal album covers, your cult following has resulted in your limited-edition beers being hawked on eBay, and your annual bash, dubbed “Dark Lord Day,” draws thousands to a parking lot in Munster, Indiana, you’ve earned the right to the company tagline “not normal.” Since opening Three Floyds in 1996 with their dad, Mike, Floyd boys Nick and Simon have built up the Munster operation to include a brewpub and a 35-barrel brew house with state-of-the-art equipment. But Three Floyds’ popularity owes much to coloring outside the lines, redefining American wheat with the hoppy and citrusy Gumballhead, making the American pale ale bigger and brighter with Alpha King, creating Pride & Joy to give British milds a kick in the ass and, of course, concocting Dark Lord, a Russian Imperial coffee stout strong enough to take down the Iron Curtain.

THE LAGER MAN
Doug Hurst, brewmaster and co-owner of Metropolitan Brewing
(5121 N Ravenswood Ave)
When Hurst jumped into the local beer scene a couple of years ago, he looked at what was missing and smartly decided, with his wife, Tracy, to launch Chicago’s first all-lager brewery. “It might have been a foolish business decision given that lagers take twice as long to brew as ales, so we’re making about half the amount of beer we could be on the same equipment,” Hurst says. “But I love a good challenge.” The resulting styles, such as Vienna lager, kölsch and pilsner (which make up the core of Metropolitan’s lineup), are crisp, clean and smooth, the kind of beer Hurst loves to drink. He’s banking that Chicagoans do, too.

THE CULINARIAN
Jared Rouben, head pub brewer at Goose Island Brewpub
(1800 N Clybourn Ave, 312-915-0071)
The CIA grad’s kitchen résumé includes Thomas Keller’s famed Per Se, but it was his stint with the campus brew club during culinary school that eventually pushed him to Chicago’s Siebel Institute for brewing certification. Now a couple of years into his gig at Goose Island, Rouben is most at home concocting beers from spices, herbs and seasonal produce. “A lot of people make a brew and then think about what it pairs with,” he says. “I go the opposite, building from food flavors first.” Rouben hits Green City Market weekly, finds überseasonal ingredients like green strawberries, then concocts a limited-edition beer that goes on tap Sunday and is typically gone by Monday—keeping with the tradition of the chef’s special.

THE GERMANOPHILE
Jonathan Cutler, brewmaster of Piece Brewery
(1927 W North Ave, 773-772-4422)
In the late ’90s, Cutler arrived at his hotel in Cologne, Germany, jet-lagged, exhausted and pretty much over a vacation that had yet to begin. But at the hotel bar, a bartender poured him a Gaffel kölsch so delicious, he says he drank it in .5 seconds. “I knew then why the brewery I was working at back in Chicago [Cutler wouldn’t say which one] couldn’t win a medal for our kölsch. One sip of the real stuff and it was like, Oh, because this is a fucking kölsch.” Cutler returned to the States with a clear vision, taking the brewmaster position at Piece when it opened in 2001. A year later, his Golden Arm kölsch took the bronze at the World Beer Cup—coming in just behind Gaffel. Shortly after, he bolstered Piece’s lineup with a Bavarian-style hefeweizen, a dark and yeasty dunkelweizen, a crisp maibock and a malty Munich-style dunkel, called Dark Bier.

THE AMERICAN HOP HEADS
Jim, left, and Jason Ebel, brewers and co-owners of Two Brothers Brewing Company
(30w315 Calumet Ave, Warrenville, 630-393-2337)
After traveling through Germany and Belgium, and spending a year living in the French countryside where ale flows like water, Jason Ebel was confident of two things: (1) Europeans know how to make great beers; and (2) add American hops to them and they’d be even better. Two Brothers Brewing, which Ebel launched in 1996 with his brother Jim, was one of the first breweries in the country to use fresh, rather than dried, hops in an IPA they dubbed Heavy Handed. “We brought Heavy Handed to the Hop Harvest festival in Belgium, where using fresh hops is totally foreign, and they were like, ‘What is this? What did you do to it?’ ” Ebel says. “We made it American…we made it ours.”

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