WINDY CITY ALE-VOLUTION, PART II

Viva la revolucion!

In Part I of this series, I introduced at a trifecta of three Chicago ale (and lager) factories that are part of the Second City’s craft beer renaissance, much of which has occured in the last five years. Once known as something of a craft beer desert, the city has now become an oasis of luxurious options. This Part II will include not only the most recent breweries to open in this tsunami of suds, but also several that are on the horizon. Because the craft beer explosion in Chicago isn’t slowing down–it’s building to a crescendo.

In a perfect world, we’ll even be able to get through this entry without any references to “Slavic death camps”–a phrase, to be perfectly honest, that I did not really imagine coming up very often when I decided to do some beer blogging. But I’ve been wrong before.

Revolution Brewing: The inconoclastic tap handles you see above are the symbol of Chicago’s Revolution Brewing, which opened in 2010 and was until recently the newest ale factory in Chicago. Nestled in the city’s Logan Square neighborhood, the brewpub focuses dually on great craft beer and its own version of fine dining.

Don’t let the somewhat simplistic website fool you–Revolution rocks. (They do most of their best marketing through Facebook, anyway) I’ve only had the opportunity to visit once this past summer, but I left with considerable surprise at the new venture’s quality. Brews like the Anti-Hero IPA came at me completely out of left field, brushing aside my cautious expectations in an avalanche of tropical fruit hop flavors.

I am curious what effect this sort of imagery will have on the Czar.

To really appreciate the full extent of Revolution’s brews, though, one would probably have to make their home in Logan Square. The ale factory’s brewers are nothing if not itchy to MAKE BEER–in the one year that this place has been around, it’s released nearly 50 different beers. As seen on this incomplete list, that works out to a new beer once a week, every week, all year ’round. It’s easy to see why the space has become a trendy hotspot in Chicago’s night life, given its slightly more upscale menu, anchored by hype-magnet appetizers like the bacon-fat popcorn. (It’s just alright.) The sleeker, more professional presentation makes this place something of the spiritual opposite of the nearby, blue-collared Piece Brewery and Pizzeria.

Still, they fit in well with where the beer culture appears to be going. Like Half Acre Brewing, the guys at Revolution like to collaborate, such as their tandem of stouts with midwestern favorite Three Floyds Brewing, titled “Sodom” and “Gomorrah.” They’re also pretty personable, and seem happy to answer random beer questions posed via email. They even shot me a note with some information on the hop varities used in certain delicious IPAs, when I asked.

I look forward to returning to Revolution this spring, hoping to catch one of their more unusual offerings. And to reaffirm that the Anti-Hero IPA is as good as I’m pretty sure it is.

Haymarket Pub & Brewery: As of today’s writing, the Haymarket Brewpub is the newest brewery in Chicago, having opened back in January. It’s a combination brewpub/restaurant focused on big beers, barrel-aged offerings, and homemade sausage/charcuterie. In short, everything that we Aleheads love. The head brewer is Pete Crowley, formerly of the well-respected Chicago Rock Bottom location, now branching off on his own. He owns a chestful of medals from various competitions, and from what I’ve read, he’s known for a taste in American IPAs, Belgians, and his barrel-aged brews. Check out the current tap list–it pretty much confirms this reputation completely. As of this writing, it’s composed of:

  • 1 IPA
  • 2 DIPAs
  • 4 Belgians
  • …and one porter

"We like the image of a working-class brewpub, even though we're within spitting distance of The Loop."

And that’s it! To be honest, I’m not sure that offering no “accessible” craft beers is the most economically sound strategy, but I’m not complaining. As someone who loves IPAs and Belgians, this sounds pretty much right up my alley. I am definitely looking forward to visiting it next month when I’m in Chicago. I imagine myself settling down with a sampler (or two) and the pork patty/pulled pork sandwich that is the place’s signature item: “The Riot.”

The building itself also has a rather odd character and multiple features. It’s divided up into two separate spaces, separated by a hallway that allows viewing of the brewhouse. The secondary bar area is the new home to Chicago’s “Drinking and Writing” theatre company, which performs comedy shows about the link between drinking and creativity throughout history. I would really like to be able to catch one of these shows at some point, but that will likely be up to the whims of chance. Suffice to say, however, that the Drinking and Writing crew works closely with brewmaster Crowley in promoting both his beer and their shows, as they do in this video on how to taste. Fairly basic stuff, but that’s the audience it’s supposed to be for.

Finch’s Beer Company: And now we pass from “breweries in Chicago” into the realm of “breweries that will soon be in Chicago.” Even though most of these previously mentioned places have opened within the past few years, it certainly hasn’t put a dent in the desire of Chicago’s Aleheads to open still more breweries. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re all something special. Finch’s Beer Company hasn’t started distributing beer yet, but they’re not the easiest to get excited over.

Tweet.

Aside from the cool logo, the Finch doesn’t appear like it will be making a huge splash when its beers first start showing up in bars and restaurants in May. It’s announced only two offerings–a blonde ale and a pale ale, and apparently scrapped an amber from the launch lineup. They will be a production brewery without a tasting room, so the building itself won’t exactly be a visitor destination.

There are some things I like–the 16 oz cans, for one, in a move similar to the distribution put out by Half Acre Brewing. They also seem to do a great job of using their Facebook page to gain support, updating it constantly and posting “Daily Social Love” segments that highlight local bars, liquor stores and restaurants–presumably, locations that might one day carry Finch’s beer. They also have a head brewer, Richard Grant, with experience as the assitant brewer at Flossmoor Station, a south suburban brewpub with quite a bit of craft beer cred. So there’s reasons to be optimistic there. And I’m sure they intend to expand to additional beer styles down the line.

The problem, if there is one, appears to be simply one of timidity. In a sense, Finch’s launch with its blonde ale and pale ale will likely be the opposite of the earlier-discussed Haymarket–where Haymarket floods its taps with challenging offerings, Finch’s Beer Company seems more concerned with making “approachable” brews. Which of those approaches is more realistic in the increasingly geeky craft beer scene is up for debate–my gut tells me that Finch’s will find an audience and make money, but you won’t hear the native Aleheads talking about it much. But hey, maybe these can be the ales of choice for all those angry lager fans in the Part I comments?

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At this point in my blog post, I’d like to point out one thing that drives my thesis here home more than anything else thusfar–while surfing all these web pages for the cornucopia of hyperlinks provided above, I ran into yet another brewery that I had never even heard of before. That brewery is Pipeworks.

Pipeworks Brewing Company: Now here’s a prospective brewery to get excited about! Thrown together by two homebrewers who went and interned at breweries over in Belgium, Pipeworks promises to be a small-batch-only, largely experimental brewery/brewpub that pushes the boundaries of taste and focuses itself on the unique rather than the familiar. I could tell you the story behind the guys, but it would probably be more effective to just let them tell it themselves.

Equal parts geeky, funny, and a little bit arrogant, but I think that can be forgiven, considering what they’re trying to do. The two raised the money to buy their facility via donations on creative funding platform Kickstarter. Check out their page to see how they managed to raise over $40,000 from internet strangers, and the prizes and gifts one could earn by donating at different dollar levels. Some of these are rather amusing in what they imply–for example, four people gave donations of $2,500 or over, earning their own beer from the brewery, with their own label, own name, etc, etc. This brewery is going to have to make four different donator-themed beers. Somehow I don’t think they expected that would be the case. I hope for their sake all four people don’t come in asking for an IPA! Believe it or not, nobody took them up on the highest donation level, the $10,000 “We take you on a vacation to Belgium” incentive. Can you believe nobody wanted to pay five figures to go traveling cross-continent with a few weird, bearded young strangers?

Of course, there is a chance that these guys produce a bunch of terrible, weirdly spiced beers with esoteric ingrediants that make no sense, like a certain other brewery that’s on the tip of my tongue—I think they’re called the Sam Calagione Brewery. But I’ll give ‘em the benefit of the doubt for now–”imperial wee heavy with vanilla bean and fenugreek” is still more interesting-sounding in any state than “blonde ale.”

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Clearly, Chicago has become Beer: City On-The-Go! If you haven’t been through the Second City in a few years, I highly reccomend taking a few days to experience its bounty. Goose Island may get the the national recognition, but there’s never been more beer brewing taking place within city limits, and a gaggle of young brewers and young ale factories are leading the way. Don’t miss out! Stop by, have some deep dish pizza, Italian beef sandwiches and a Vienna Beef hot dog, and wash them all down with copious amounts of Chicago suds.

And pick me up some Half Acre while you’re up there.

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6 comments

  1. [...] Windy City Ale-volution, Part II, I’ll tackle four more ale factories–one I’ve visited, one that just opened, [...]

  2. Clearly Chicago has become one of the meccas of the US craft beer world. What are the key factors? My thoughts:

    1. It’s a big-ass city. Seems obvious, but the only two larger cities (NYC and LA) really haven’t become destination spots as far as craft beer goes. So while size clearly matters, it’s definitely not the only factor (see Asheville, NC for an obvious counter-example).

    2. Lack of pretension. I think this is kind of key. While Chi-town is as sophisticated as most of the major US urban areas, it still has a reputation and an attitude as a blue-collar, working-class town. And what’s the drink of choice for blue-collar, working-class folks? Beer, of course.

    3. A culture of innovation. Chicago prides itself on being on the forefront of industry. Chicagoans would never be “followers” when it comes to something like craft beer.

    4. Easy access to raw materials. Unlike NYC, LA, Boston, Philly, DC, or SF…if you drive an hour or two outside of Chicago, you’re in pure, unadulterated farmland. Quick access to the raw ingredients that make beer keeps costs lower for craft brewers.

    5. Cheap(er) real estate. Speaking of lower costs, while Chicago may not exactly be Youngstown, OH in terms of real estate, it’s generally cheaper to start a business there than in many other major metro areas.

    Add all that up, and you’ve got a city that basically functions like a 68-degree, sugar-laden wort just waiting for the yeast to be pitched. Thanks, Kid, for this rundown of new Chicago suds-slingers. First round is on me when next I sally forth to the City of Big Shoulders.

  3. 6. Plentiful nicknames for the city mean good brewing, somehow.

  4. [...] the envelope in the same way that Goose Island did 10 years ago. I just ran a two-part series a few weeks ago extolling the virtues of breweries like Half Acre, Metropolitan, Piece, Revolution Brewing, [...]

  5. [...] Brewery Krankshaft Kolsch:  I gave Metropolitan some shit a while back in my two-part brewery roundup of Chicago (already outdated), for making beers that are just not the most exciting. This kolsch [...]

  6. [...] that one of my first posts on this site was a breakdown of the Chicago brewery scene only 11 months ago or so, it’s downright embarrassing how outdated it now is. To sum [...]

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