EDIT: I am blown away by all the brewers who have shown up in the comments section to answer questions and check in. Thanks so much to everyone who said hi!
Considering 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on this site was a breakdown of the Chicago brewery scene only 11 months ago or so, it’s downright embarrassing how outdated it now is.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 up–it’s bad; real bad.
The evolution of craft beer in the Windy City has just continued accelerating at what is now almost a frightening pace. It is getting to the point where I am straight-up unable to keep up with all the different breweries in their planning stages, or under construction, or seeking licenses, or simply shopping their wares around town at little tastings and festivals. Everywhere you look, there are people brewing beer and saying to each other “We should totally open a brewery, brah.”
The biggest reason I’m so out of the loop is that I don’t actually live in Chicago. I’m from the suburbs originally, but now work downstate, several hours away from the fertile beer garden that the city has become. It really has been killing me to be missing out on some of these places as they come closer to their openings, but I am at least comforted by the thought of visiting them all at some point in the misty, uncertain future.
Of huge assistance in actually keeping up with this sort of thing are Chicago-centric beer blogs–ESPECIALLY the phenomenal Chitown on Tap. Seriously, without these guys, I would be lost. In this post, I’m going to try to give a vauge roundup of all the craft breweries they listed in a recent “2012 Chicago Craft Beer Preview,” with a bit of my impressions on the new businesses and some perspective for those who, like me, are actually living outside the city. So without any further ado, let’s get to it.
To recap, Chicago is already home to Goose Island (if you count the independently operating brewpubs as “craft”), Half Acre, Revolution Brewing, Piece Brewery and Pizzeria, Haymarket Pub and Brewery, Metropolitan, Finch’s Beer Company and 5 Rabbit as its craft brewers. I’ve written about most of them at some point. There are also bars that occasionally brew their own, like Hamburger Mary’s, Local Option, and others I probably don’t know about. To those, consider the possibility of adding all of the following within the next few years, and your head will probably be spinning too:
Upcoming Chicago Breweries (Only within the city proper, because DAMN, there’s a lot of them)
This was Chitown on Tap’s pick for “most anticipated” upcoming brewery of 2012, although I’m not sure I share that opinion, at least yet. They may very well be a contender for “most interesting,” however, thanks to the totally unique building they’re operating out of, “The Plant.” It is what is referred to as a “vertical farm facility,” essentially incorporating all of the steps of the food and waste chain into a single building. Check out their description, because they can make you understand it better than I can. Imagine this, though: The beermaking wastes will be used as feed for farmed tilapia fish, microgreens and mushrooms. The carbon dioxide produced will be captured and used to nurture the local plantlife. Lost heat will be recaptured and used to create steam to heat boil kettles and whatnot. Everything is circular in this place, to the the extent you begin to wonder, “Why aren’t all businesses being run this way again?” In true hippie fashion, The Plant is apparently even a place that you can volunteer your free labor, should you choose to do so.
It all sounds really great, and I remember being excited when I initially read about it almost a year ago, but the thing that continuously throws me is how very little information there is about the actual beers that the company will be producing. Outside of a reference to “bold west coast ales,” it’s been very hush-hush, and I just wonder why that is. It was suggested at Chitown on Tap that this is simply a business strategy, to play things close to the vest for now. The curious part of me craves information, though.
According to recent Facebook posts, it appears that announcements about upcoming beers and labels are finally getting closer. Until then, I’ll be keeping New Chicago Beer Company in my “wait and see” pile and hoping for the best. Call me a killjoy if you will, but I prefer “beer utilitarian.” I just am unable to pretend that any single aspect of a brewery is as important to me as the beers they’re making, as wonderful and eco-friendly as the other aspects may be. It goes the other way—you can be operating out of the dingiest, ugliest place on earth, but if you make good beer, then all is going to be forgiven as far as I’m concerned.
Projected opening date: Progressing quickly now, mid-2012?
I’ve written about these guys before, and huge things have happened in their development since I first started actually working on this post a week or more ago (I am slow, sometimes). Most notably, they received their official brewer’s license from the state, and as of Monday, Jan. 30, Pipeworks is officially brewing beer in its new facility. According to the constantly updated Facebook, their utterly insane first brew day consisted of four separate batches. Because these dudes are hardcore. How hardcore? This hardcore.
Pipeworks is a brewery that I’ve been rooting for since the beginning, as they raised a goodly chunk of their funds via creative project energizer Kickstarter (I recommend you watch the video) and have enjoyed perhaps unprecedented support from the beer community in getting where they are now. They may actually have raised more money online than any other fledgling brewery ever has, which speaks to the strength of their fanbase and the confidence in those making the investment. I’ll try to find out more in the near future, in another interview with one or both of Pipeworks’ founders. They’re understandably quite busy now, I would imagine.
One thing has been clear since the beginning, and that’s the intent of Pipeworks to produce big, challenging, unique beers that other people haven’t made before. They may tread perilously close to Calagione country at some point, but if delicious beers like their Abduction Imperial Stout are any indication, they’re fully capable of knocking it out of the park. I even had a chance to taste a very nice English summer ale back at that Dark Lord Day interview, which shows the brewery should also know how to keep it simple on occasion. All in all, this is the upcoming Chicago brewery I’m most excited about.
Projected opening date: None announced yet, but probably within a month or so, or however long it takes for the first few batches of Pipeworks beer to be complete. In short: soon!
From here on out there will be much less information on these brewers. Arcade Brewery appears to be an “art/beer collaboration” project with a heavy focus on crowdsourcing. This is to say, fans and customers will have input on what beers the brewery makes, its packaging, etc. They haven’t written a ton in describing themselves, but the best information I’ve found is in this article, which reveals a few weird, neat tidbits.
– Currently, the “brewery” is a few homebrewing guys working out of an apartment.
– They plan to contract brew/gypsy brew on a regular basis through New Chicago Beer Company, which is news to me. It says they’ll be “renting New Chicago’s equipment between cycles to brew their first commercial batches.” So there ya go.
– There’s an educational element, as they intend to do regular brewing Q&A’s during “public brew sessions.” People would be able to come, observe, ask questions, and “submit, discuss and vote on recipes.” Presumably this would be taking place at New Chicago Beer Company’s facility at The Plant.
– My favorite bit by far: “They’re working with the writer Jason Aaron and the comic artist Tony Moore to create a six-pack design where each bottle will have on it a frame of an original comic that relates to the beer it holds.” Seriously, how cool is that? Bonus: The comic artist is one of the guys who worked on “The Walking Dead.” It’s like all the stuff I like has been condensed into one product.
Projected opening: Look for them to get going sometime after New Chicago Beer Company actually begins making beer.
Not a brewery, but folks in Chicago are still likely to be mighty curious about former Goose Island brewmaster Greg Hall’s hard cider venture. The “ciderist” (what a goofy title) has announced a single product thusfar that I’m aware of: “Redstreak,” an English draft cider. The stuff is being manufactured already, and they’re holding promotional dinners and whatnot, so an opening appears to be on the horizon. Those who are particularly interested would probably best be served by signing up for the email list or regularly checking the Facebook.
Projected opening: “Early 2012″ is what we’ve got to go on so far. Could be soon. Presumably, Greg will try not to urinate in public during the celebration of its opening.
You know, it’s amazing how much the websites and summaries of these places all differ from one another. Where one is deathly serious and bordering on pretentious in its FUSION OF MALT AND ART, MAN, you have others like this venture, which is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. You’re immediately greeted by a photo of a normal-looking dude, his wife and kid. The kids menu placemat color palette and design scheme all seem to convey a general tone of “Hey, guys! GUESS WHAT! I made some beer for you!” It’s like being hailed at a family get-together by your enthusiastic Uncle Phil, who surprises you by busting with pride over his first batch of homebrew that he wants you to sample.
I suppose that down-to-earth attitude is befitting of the brewery’s Motor Row location, though. The South Side of the city has been mostly shunned by breweries, so it will be excellent to see one open in the South Loop. The brewer is a guy who may be familiar to some of the more dedicated beer geeks around town: former Goose Island employee Frank Lassandrello, who also logged time as the Quality Control Manager at Lakefront Brewing in Milwaukee (a personal favorite).
Broad Shoulders is notable for its announced focus on session brews and lagers. In doing so, it will join contemporaries like Metropolitan Brewing in creating locally produced, more “simplistic” beer styles that should still be a welcome addition to the overall brewing scene. Currently scheduled beers include two year-rounders, a session lager and British pale ale, and seasonals that include a Continental pils, Munich helles and brown rye lager. I’ll certainly give them a try when I see them.
Projected opening: Summer at the earliest.
Now here’s a different business model entirely; beer on a subscription model. As the website describes it: “Argyle Brewing will be a Community Supported Brewery. Using a CSA (community supported agriculture) model, we will supply beer to our members via monthly subscriptions. We have lots of other things up our sleeves, too, like using spent grain for dog treats and sharing our space with local artists.”
Word on the street is that they’re also considering opening a “bottle shop” component to allow other people to purchase the beer, to which I say “thanks,” because I’m not currently a hippie living in an art collective in Ravenswood, and it appears doubtful that I will become one at any point in the near future.
All in all, the aesthetics of a place like this seem indicative of what we’re seeing in Chicago: A wave of new breweries that will make relatively small amounts of beer with a heavily community-oriented focus and hand-in-hand connections to local art and business. As others have suggested, as craft beer thrives, one would expect that these highly specialized niche brewers will be one of the fastest growing segments of the market.
Projected opening: “Spring/summer 2012,” although it is hard to know if this is up-to-date.
Another brewer that seemingly wants to experiment with crowdsourced elements in its beer lineup. Not much other information is known, though, at least to me. The owner and brewer seem quite enthusiastic and passionate about beer, and there’s plenty of information about them on the website’s “about” page, but neither come from a really professional brewing background. One is, however, a certified cicerone, a qualification that does lend a certain level of credibility.
The best information comes from this account of a tasting event from Chicago photoblog Good Beer Hunting, which reveals some crazy ambitions on part of brewery owner/founder, investment banker Bill Hurley. Apparently, not only is he planning on this brewery immediately supplying beer to the whole of Chicago upon opening, he’s thinking of it reaching around the country. Incredibly, the blog claims he was even talking about a 70,000 barrel-per-year system—roughly equal to what a brewery like Founders is currently producing. If that’s true, I sure hope he’s got the beer portfolio to back it up.
Projected opening: They’ve said “summer or fall” of 2012, but seeing as they’re still shopping for a building, it could be quite a bit longer than that.
I have no idea what a “proto brewery” is, exactly, but these guys claim to be one. They haven’t however, updated in months, which throws them squarely on the “Call me when you’ve got some news” pile. Spectacular brewery name, though.
Projected opening: I wouldn’t wait on it.
Another appealing name with pretty much no information. According to Chitown on Tap, they’ve been occasionally sighted at tasting events around town. No word on actual plans to put together a production facility, though. Still, cool logo.
Projected opening: 2012 might be pushing it, but expect further news in the future.
You know, it’s almost as if we’ve gotten to a point now where some people who want to brew beer are saying to themselves “I’d like to open a brewery, but buildings where you just make beer to sell to people are so blase’.” And so we end up with very complicated, very creative ideas like Last Bay Brewing—with “idea” being the operative word here, because as far as I can tell, not a lot of concrete steps have been taken. Still, it’s a concept that I have not heard before—the creation of a string of “the coolest, most convenient, growler-only nanopubs on Earth.” It all sounds fantastically expensive. To break it down into bullets:
– There would be a “main brewery” that would produce the brand’s flagship beers on a large scale. From here, these beers would be sent throughout the city to a chain of “growler-only nanopubs.”
– At each “nanopub,” there would be a tasting room with a brewery employee. These people would educate people about the beers and sell growlers and growler refills, available in different sizes.
– Each nanopub would also contain its own nanobrewery, where creative one-offs would be created. The brewers would juggle daily responsibilities in both the main facility and also in the nanobrewery locations.
– The main brewery, however, isn’t planned for some time. Until then, Last Bay would be gypsy brewing out of more established area breweries. No word on which local breweries that would entail, and seeing as they’re pretty much all working at capacity, I would be curious to find out where they think they’ll be brewing all these batches of beer to distribute to a network of growler-filling stations. Anybody want to answer that question?
– As before mentioned, this appears to be just a vague plan at the moment. Evidence? A jobs listing on the site for “head brewer.” Call me crazy, but that seems like the kind of thing I would want to resolve as a brewery-in-planning before creating my website and announcing myself.
Projected opening: Don’t hold your breath.
They have two certified cicerones, and that’s pretty much all I know. Apparently, they’ve been participating in the sort of hip, underground homebrew club tastings that make me wish I lived in Chicago.
Projected opening: Probably best not to speculate.
Another brewery on the south side! I’m liking this trend, even if it’s only as far south as the South Loop. Still, it’s nice to see things balancing out a bit. Very little information here, but at least the Facebook has a listing of some of the beer names. I’d like to know what “Bear’s Epic Walk” means.
Projected opening: Unknown.
The two founders of this brewery are currently on some sort of beer vision quest throughout Europe, a trip that I will not bother to pretend is not making me jealous right at this moment. They apparently then intend to return and start a brewery in 2012, which leads me to wonder (not for the first time) why so many of the prospective brewery owners seem to believe the process will be able to happen so quickly.
As ever, I have my doubts as a realist, but I will at least acknowledge that their site has some good info on it. There are profiles for some of the prospective beers, and you can also follow along on the founders beer-fueled expeditions across The Continent. I can’t help but wonder; how many other breweries will have opened in Chicago by the time they actually return and get their plans in motion?
Projected opening: Chicago On Tap says they want a 2012 opening; I say “prove it, by all means.”
Here is a brewery that is so small, it probably doesn’t even qualify as a “nano” brewery. Producing only 13 gallons in a batch (less than 3x what I made this past weekend while homebrewing), calling them a “picobrewery” might actually be more accurate. Their stated goal is just to provide “a few great bars in Chicago with kegs that we will hand deliver.” I can’t help but think of a few questions, when I hear that.
1. What kind of liquor license do you need to sell beer in such small quantities, and self-distributed? They’re aparently working on this now.
2. What kind of kegs are we talking about delivering here? A standard keg is 15.5 gallons. You have a 13 gallon system. Are these bars going to be serving from cornelius/homebrewer kegs?
3. The facebook says they have a commercial space. Why is that even necessary for this system? Something this small almost sounds like it could be done out of an apartment.
Can a business like this actually be profitable? I confess I have no idea whatsoever. Still, there is a certain aesthetic appeal to sidling up to a bar and ordering a beer you know is being made only 13 gallons at a time.
Projected opening: It sounds like they’re mostly ready to go as soon as they’re licensed, so mid-2012 seems like a good possibility.
A “homebrewer collective” of four guys who brew together and “want to start a brewery,” believe it or not. They are pouring their brews at gallery openings and beer events around town, and actively soliciting donations to build a brewery “at some point.” Personally, I always find these open-ended promises to do something in exchange for funding to be kind of troubling, in the sense that in giving them your money, you have no way of enforcing that the cash is used to actually do what they say they’re going to do. The eventual brewery would provide for area bars and special events, provided it ended up opening.
Projected opening: Impossible to say.
“A Belgian and French-inspired Chicago brewery opening in early 2013.” Motto: “Simply Complex Beer.”
Projected opening: “early 2013″
This is a business that may or may not be already operating (I can’t tell from the info they provide) that will apparently brew special batches of beer for an event you have. With that said, I’m not sure of how you’re supposed to contact them, seeing as no contact information is provided anywhere that I can find. It’s a little face-palmy. I mean, why would a potential customer want contact infofmation? The Facebook page even invites people to “send me a message,” without any explanation of who said message would be going to, or any address to send this message to. I guess they meant “Post something on our group wall, and we’ll get back to you,” but there’s GOT to be a better way than that, right? I am going to assume you’re not intended to just show up at the listed location of Milwaukee & Western and look for somebody with a beard who looks “brewmastery.”*
*On the plus side, at least you’d be close to The Map Room.
EDIT: Ask and ye shall receive–contact information has now been added to the Facebook profile.
Projected opening: ????
A Latin-themed group of homebrewers, in the same cultural wheelhouse as 5 Rabbit, looking to make brews “influenced by Latin cultures and flavors.” No real information currently, but I rather like the style of their website, and that logo in particular. They have some nice photos up and seem to be sharing their beer around town with regularity. The Facebook will likely keep you posted of future developments.
Projected opening: 2012 doesn’t seem likely to me, perhaps 2013.
At first glance, this just looks like the work of yet another couple of homebrewers who like making beers named after their loveable mutts, but there is a little bit more of interest here. There’s no real indication of any progress in opening an actual brewery on the site, but I am intrigued by the craft beer cycling program they intend to implement in the summer of 2012. Essentially, they will be conducting bike tours where they will ride to a certain neighborhood of Chicago and visit breweries and beer-related historical sights. This seems like a great way to me to build an identity as brewers, in the same way that a fledgling Half Acre did years back with their cycling club and wacky scavenger hunts. Keep an eye on these fellows.
Projected opening: 2013? Who knows?
The put dildos on their tap handles. They pour at tasting events around town. There is no other information.
Projected opening: I’m sure they’ll open just as soon as getting beer from a giant black dildo stops being disconcerting.
I was all ready to get excited over these guys’ nice website, solid-sounding (if predictable) list of beers with good information, and engaging Kickstarter campaign (love the music), but then they confirmed in their about section that they’re going to move their operations from Chicago to Columbus, Ohio. And so now I no longer care.
Projected opening: What, Chicago’s not good enough for you? Don’t want to open at the same time as the preceding 20 breweries? …Actually, maybe that makes sense. Enjoy Ohio.
To sum up: Jesus Christ, people. Might I remind you that this doesn’t even include the freaking suburbs? Think that’s enough potential craft breweries to keep up with the skyrocketing demand for beer in Chicago? Typically, it would be my natural reaction at this point to predict that so many breweries couldn’t possibly compete in the same environment, but in Chicago these days folks are simply dealing with a general lack of beer. When a place like Half Acre can barely make enough to keep up and tickets to an event like Goose Island’s Stout Fest sell out in less than one minute online, then that means there’s a market here waiting to be fully exploited. I am sure some of these above-listed breweries will not be successful–even most of them, perhaps–but some will undoubtedly find themselves overrun with demand in the next few years, just as a place like Half Acre is today.