Regulars at the Local Option know that Tony Russomanno, the bar’s owner, and Noah Hopkins, the general manager, are experienced brewers. That’s because they make home brews they have friends try occasionally, but which they’re not allowed to sell legally. “I made my first beer when I was 15,” Russomanno says, and he gets plenty of inspiration from his bar: The Local Option has tapped 500 different beers so far this year, rotating 10 to 12 beers a week. And, through attending craft-beer conferences, Russomanno and Hopkins came to know quite a few breweries and have brewed out of licensed facilities from Goose Island to Bluegrass Brewing in Louisville, Kentucky. Their latest project, however, is not one of the bar-brewery or restaurant-brewery collaborations that have become common in Chicago; it’s a contract-brewing relationship between the Local Option and Dog Brewery in Westminster, Maryland.
“In the past, contract brewing has had a negative vibe to it,” Russomanno says. But for him, it’s the limitations of running a brewery that carry the actual drawbacks. “We don’t care how much it costs to produce,” Russomanno explains. “We have no production schedule. That allows us to do exactly what we want, exactly how we want to do it.” (The way Russomanno wants to do it is very slowly, using a brewing method that takes “two to three times longer than anybody else. A two-month fermentation on a beer isn’t attractive to any brewer,” he says.)
Out of Dog Brewery, they brewed Dampf Loc—warning: beer-geek description ahead—an all-barley warm-fermented ale with a mild hop profile. It’s a modern interpretation of a medieval peasant beer from southeast Bavaria that the guys discovered three years ago and have been testing batches of ever since. “The [beer] market in Chicago is starting to become saturated,” Hopkins says. “You have to ask yourself: Why are you doing what you’re doing?” “It’s never just to try something,” Russomanno interjects. “In the case of the Dampf beer, it was to resurrect a lost style.”
The Chicago market has made room for Dampf Loc: Half of the 30 barrels produced came to Chicago, and it’s on draft not only at the Local Option (which quickly burned through its first shipment and expects more soon) but around the city, at the Map Room, Bar on Buena, Lillie's Q and other bars. Dog Brewery also bottled 120 cases of Dampf Loc, 40 of which are slated to arrive in Chicago this week, “20 of which,” Russomanno says, “I’m probably gonna buy.”
Dampf Loc is available in very limited quantity at the Local Option ($6 per pint at 1102 W Webster Ave, 773-348-2008, localoptionchicago.com).