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Offline TheOldBuzzard

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Our Beer Glasses Runneth Over
« Reply #1 on: July 22, 2011, 02:44:40 AM »

Our beer glasses runneth over:
Chicago-area suds scene still riding a surging wave


By Josh Noel, Tribune reporter

July 21, 2011

A year ago, new and exciting things were happening in Chicago beer.

Revolution Brewing had recently opened its doors and Haymarket Pub & Brewery was on the horizon. Half Acre was finding its groove. Metropolitan Brewing was introducing the city to the joy of crisp craft lagers.

They're all old news.

The world of Chicago-made beer is expanding so quickly at a rate unseen in the lives of modern-day beer lovers that new entries arrive almost monthly. What follows is the latest crop of upstarts, which will no doubt remain upstarts only until the next round of breweries arrives.

Pouring now

Finch's Beer Co.: Brewery founders usually come in two shapes: the home brewer who wants to share his beer with the world and the savvy marketer who enjoys craft beer and sees a burgeoning market. Ben Finch is the latter.

Finch, 31, co-founded a marketing and design firm after graduate school at the School of the Art Institute, but wanted to move into a less client-based business. After reading an article on a craft brewery he can't quite recall he thinks it was Goose Island he was struck by craft brewing's independence, popularity and creativity. He started writing a business plan the next day.

His father, who still lives in Finch's hometown of Norfolk, Va., signed on as a co-owner; Finch hired Richard Grant from Flossmoor Station Restaurant & Brewery to be his head brewer; and he signed a lease on a former custom frame shop on the Northwest Side.

Finch plans to can two beers that already can be found around town on draft: Golden Wing blond ale and Cut Throat pale ale. Threadless India pale ale, made in collaboration with the T-shirt company of the same name, recently debuted on drafts around town and will be followed by other one-offs and specialties. Finch's beers so far are not particularly complex or demanding Half Acre's pale ale, for instance, seems to have twice the hop character of Finch's but Finch says that is the idea.

"We make beers that can convert gateway drinkers," he said. "We want to be in bars where someone can say, 'Instead of a Stella, why don't you try a Golden Wing?'"

It's a fair point: One taste of fresh Golden Wing and a Chicagoan will have little reason to drink Stella again.

Try it: Threadless IPA stands out for being a more accessible IPA than most.

How to find it: Finch's beers are available on draft at about 80 bars around town, and soon will be sold in 16-ounce cans. The brewery (4565 N. Elston Ave.) also hosts periodic tours, which include samples of the beer. The next tour is 3 p.m. Saturday; cost is $10. Reservations available at finchbeer.com

Lake Bluff Brewing Co.: Open since March, this tiny brewpub in an idyllic stretch of suburban brick storefronts grew out of a love of home brewing between friends Dave Burns, 38, and Rodd Specketer, 41.

"People were always asking, 'Where can we get more of this?'" Burns said. "There was so much interest that we thought it could be good for us and good for Lake Bluff. And it's a fun job."

Lake Bluff Brewing has been more than fun; it has been busy. Within months the friends ordered two more fermentation tanks to double capacity.

"We were almost out of beer a week after we opened," Burns said. "Our place was packed pretty much nonstop."

Both men still have other jobs as well Burns is at Abbott Laboratories in information technologies, and Specketer is a banker at JPMorgan. But with standing-room occupancy several days a week, there's no telling how long that will last. Burns was the sole brewer until May, when they hired Mike Dorneker, a recent graduate of the Siebel Institute brewing school.

Lake Bluff Brewing pours its beer only at its handsome, wood-heavy pub for now which includes growlers to go (glass jugs filled with draft beer) but eventually plans to keg its beer for distribution. Lake Bluff's eight draft beers are generally true to styles, albeit a bit bolder.

"We're not coming up with crazy ways to brew differently, but we are pushing the envelope," Burns said. "Like our blond: It's much bigger and hoppier than what you usually see."

It's also a good reason to drive north.

Try it: Lake Bluff's Bohemian Blonde is an aggressively hopped, lighter beer, which results in a fantastically bold, easy drinking ale. Not to be missed, especially during summer.

How to find it: Lake Bluff Brewing Co. (16 E. Scranton Ave., Lake Bluff.; 224-544-5179; lbbrew.com) is a brew pub with a small, local-centric menu of sandwiches and snacks. It plans to keg its beer for distribution in Lake County in the coming months and eventually in Chicago.

Chicago Beer Co.: This company's beer has been on store shelves and bar taps for close to a year, but you'd hardly be blamed for not knowing. The simply named company arrived with just one beer Windy City Wheat and in locations such as 7-Eleven, U.S. Cellular Field and Jewel-Osco. Not exactly craft beer hot spots.

Despite the lack of buzz, the brand could be poised to break out: Its second beer, Pier Pale Ale, hits taps and shelves this month, and a lager is scheduled to launch in September.

Co-owner Kevin Cohoon said his beers are intended to be a "classy, fun and luxurious brand that brags about Chicago."

"We want to develop products that Chicagoans will be excited about, yet invite those visiting this great city to share in the history and excitement," Cohoon said in an email.

The beer is contract-brewed at Stevens Point Brewery in Stevens Point, Wis., but Cohoon said he and his brother, a co-owner, are scouting land for a brewery of their own.

Try it: Windy City Wheat is a better, cleaner version of Goose Island's ubiquitous 312 wheat ale.

How to find it: Chicago Beer Co. (chicagobeerco.com) beers are available at Navy Pier, the Marriott on Michigan Avenue, Swissotel, 7-Eleven stores, U.S. Cellular Field, Jewel-Osco and some Dominick's, among others. It has no facility of its own, but plans to build one.

5 Rabbit Brewery: Unlike Chicago Beer Co., this brand has been blessed with massive buzz. That's what a distinction as "the nation's first Latin craft brewery" will do for you.

Isaac Showaki (who grew up in Mexico) and Andres Araya (Costa Rica), met as marketers in Mexico City, but moved to Chicago to launch their beer company. Though the recipes are their own (with minority owner Randy Mosher), the brew is made under contract by Argus Brewery on Chicago's South Side. If all goes well, 5 Rabbit will soon have its own brewery.

So far things have gone nothing but well. Its three beers 5 Rabbit (a bright golden ale), 5 Lizard (a tart, refreshing wit beer made with passion fruit) and 5 Vulture (a dark ale made with spices) have been roundly embraced by craft-beer bars and craft-beer fans. Its fourth beer will be a winter seasonal that will either be a Belgian Tripel or Oktoberfest (with Latin twists) that will be available beginning Nov. 2 for Day of the Dead.

"We never thought we were going to have such a great reception and enthusiasm from the Chicago craft beer and Hispanic communities," Showaki said.

Try it: It won't be around regularly again until mid or late August, but 5 Vulture is a delicious dark ale made with piloncillo sugar and chilies, lending complexity to a very drinkable despite its color beer.

How to find it: 5 Rabbit beer (5rabbitbrewery.com) is available in six packs and close to 20 bars, including Bad Apple (4300 N. Lincoln Ave.; badapplebar.com) and Map Room (1949 N. Hoyne Ave.; maproom.com). Showaki and Araya hope to build a production facility with a tasting room within two or so years.

Pouring soon

New Chicago Brewing Co.: Brothers Samuel and Jesse Edwin Evans were born in Champaign and moved to northern California in the early '00s, but Chicago has always been where they wanted to be. After selling their stake in Lucky Hand Brewing Co. in northern California, they knew they had found the time to move to their favorite city.

"It was great to leave California and go back to Chicago," Samuel said. "I wish I was born here. I wish I could add it to my resume."

Now Samuel, 27, and Jesse, 31, are trying to make their adopted hometown a better place to drink. The brothers spend their days bringing New Chicago Brewing to life in a sprawling, eco-friendly Back of the Yards facility they'll be sharing with other food providers. It's a visionary facility that will use organic material to generate both electricity and 850-degree steam that will heat the brew kettles.

"We could have had a brewery a while back if we went the traditional route, but we love this building and want to be a part of it," Samuel said.

New Chicago Brewing plans to bottle and eventually can its beer, as well as offer fresh growler pours from its 2,500-square-foot tasting room. The first pour is planned for March 4 the 175th anniversary of Chicago's incorporation.

What the Evans brothers won't reveal is the kind of beer they'll make, beyond basic styles: a porter; a pale ale and a stout, among others. But they will use "interesting ingredients that make big, bold, strong ales," Samuel said.

"There are a ton of collaborations we're working on right now with chefs and food companies," Samuel said. "We want our beers to be easily paired with food, and things chefs want to work with."

How to find it: New Chicago Brewing Co. (1400 W. 46th St.; chicagoales.com) will have a tasting room where its samples and beer will be available in bottles, cans and in growlers just as Half Acre is doing near Lincoln Square.

Pipeworks Brewing Co.: After more than two years of raising money and pouring beer at the occasional festival or small tasting, Pipeworks Brewing Co. is ready for the big time.

Gerrit Lewis and Beejay Oslon have signed a lease that will place their brewery in Bucktown, on the southeast corner of Western and Wabansia avenues.

For a brewery with no readily available beers, Pipeworks has built a legend many upstarts would envy, primarily with an online fundraising campaign that netted $40,000. But their finely crafted, memorable beers are the real reason for excitement.

The Pipeworks vision is novel: an always-rotating crop of beers, with no regular offerings (though they expect some sort of India pale ale, and Berliner weisse will always be available). They hope ultimately to have four beers on tap at a time and four to eight bottles available.

How to find it: Like New Chicago Brewing and Half Acre, Pipeworks Brewing (1675 N. Western Ave.; pipeworksbrewing.com) will be a brewery and bottle shop where samples, bottles and growlers will be available.

Tighthead Brewing Co.: When 20 years as a "corporate American guy" resulted in two layoffs in five years, Bruce Dir decided it was time to be his own boss. The home brewer of 17 years launched Tighthead Brewing, which will be ready to start making beer by the end of the month.

It will be a small operation and include brewery tours and beer tastings. Though he hopes his beer will be available in Chicago, his priority is being Mundelein's hometown brew.

Before Prohibition, "there was always a local brewery to get your beer," Dir said. "Things are going back to where they were."

He'll have three beers to begin: an India pale ale, a red ale and an easy-drinking blond ale. His own palate skews toward larger-flavored Belgian beers, but to appeal to his local audience, he is keeping recipes simple.

"For the locals, we thought the American blond might be a good gateway," he said. "We figure we can get the Miller Lite drinker to try that first and gradually get them into different craft beers."

Dir also plans to brew seasonal beers that will only be available in his taproom. After two layoffs, the time was right for a career corporate guy to turn his passion into a profession, he said.

"It was possible five years ago, but the landscape has shifted even more lately," Dir said. "It's definitely more mainstream now, and you're seeing more people drinking locally and wanting good beer. Lake County is definitely ready for it. It's untapped."

How to find it: Tighthead Brewing Co. (161 N. Archer Ave. Mundelein; 847-219-5470; tightheadbrewing.com), which plans to open in the coming weeks, will produce beer on site that will be available in local bars and restaurants, and will also have a tasting room for growler sales. Dir also plans to offer brewery tours.

Expanding endeavors

Two Brothers: After 15 years as one of the Chicago area's primary craft brewers, this Warrenville brewery is entering the brewpub market in the former Walter Payton's Roundhouse in Aurora.

Jason Ebel, brew master and co-owner, said the sprawling, 73,000-square-foot complex, which includes 13 separate bars, will eventually have several familiar Two Brothers beers on tap as well as special offerings made on premise unavailable elsewhere.

"When you're a production brewer, you have to make the same beer every day," Ebel said. "Now we'll be able to do a whole lot more experimenting. Creating a new beer is one of the most fun parts of what we do."

The brewpub restaurant will include a beer-friendly food menu, including charcuterie plate and house-smoked meats.

"It's gastro pub meets brewpub," Ebel said.

How to find it: Two Brothers Roundhouse (205 N. Broadway Ave., Aurora, http://www.twobrothers roundhouse.com) is a brewpub that also sells beer to go.

Revolution: The Logan Square brewpub is opening a 50,000-square-foot production facility near Belmont and Kedzie avenues in which it will can its flagships (a Belgian-style white ale, an IPA and a porter in 12-ounce cans) and package its reserve line including a milk stout, a barrel-aged milk stout and a saison in 22-ounce bottles. The beer will also be put into kegs, meaning it will finally be available in other bars and restaurants around town. Look for them in early 2012.

jbnoel@tribune.com

Winemaking & Brewing Resources at Back 40 Books
http://www.back40books.com/get_dept_1125.htm

Copyright 2011, Chicago Tribune