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Photograph: Martha WilliamsChristopher Tourre with his brewing equipment

Public Brewery: Artist Christopher Tourre's residency at Spoke gallery

For one artist, beer is the medium—but not the whole message.


“Come to my house Saturday, and bring a ladder.”

It was an offer from a stranger, but Christopher Tourre didn’t hesitate to accept. The man saw Tourre—an artist, high-school graphic-design teacher and passionate home brewer—passing out beer samples at the Guerrilla Truck Show (a night when industrial designers sell their wares to the public) in the West Loop last year. After Tourre accepted the offer, the stranger explained he had a cherry tree in his West Side yard. Soon, Tourre found himself climbing up the man’s tree and collecting a stash of cherries that would later go into his Humboldt Park Cherry Pale Ale.

“Within each beer,” Tourre explains, “there’s a story.” In Public Brewery, a monthlong residency at Spoke gallery in the West Loop, Tourre plans to engage the public with those stories through a series of collaborative-brewing events. Now that people have moved beyond the question of whether beer or food can be considered art, Tourre, who raised chickens in a Pilsen yard and delivered the eggs to nearby families for his M.F.A. thesis project at UIC, hopes this project will tap into something else: “People are getting more educated about where their food is coming from, and there’s an interesting dialogue there that can happen beyond just saying, ‘Let’s come here and drink a beer together.’ ”

Still, Tourre concedes that beer is an exceptionally good locus for community engagement, since “that primal sensation of that ‘communal drink’ is still there.” So at Spoke, Tourre makes himself available to chat about beer (or whatever else). Visitors can even bring ingredients for Tourre to potentially incorporate into beers, a type of community engagement Tourre says will be at the heart of another project he has in the works, Arcade Brewery. “We want to turn the idea of the brewmaster on its head,” Tourre says, by operating a brewery that invites customers into the beer-making process, whether through ingredients or label design.

Tourre’s aware of how ambitious his plans are, but he’s also frequently surprised at how well his beers have been received. At a film screening at his project space, he served a Kölsch he brewed using only water he collected from the Kickapoo River Valley, setting the beer out next to a big bucket of PBRs. “Nobody touched the PBRs the whole night; they were totally intrigued by the story and the fact that I could tell them a little bit about how the beer was made,” Tourre remembers. “I thought, This is gonna go somewhere.”   

Drop in during Tourre’s open-studio brewing hours at Spoke (119 N Peoria, unit 3D) Friday 6 from 6–10pm, or brew with Tourre at a workshop on Saturday 7 from 3–8pm (21+, $5 entry fee, bring something to drink and a snack to share).

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