Smilin’ with the Bros at Smylie Bros.
It was last fall, a mid-afternoon on a Thursday. There were two guys from Cahill Plumbing at the bar. They were getting it on with their “hot rocks.”
Hot Rocks is not the name of a beer made at Smylie Bros. It is, though, a nickname for their steinbier. Steinbier is an unusual style of beer, not seen often outside of Germany. But it is a seasonal style that was brewed at Smylie Bros. in Evanston. (Sadly, not currently on tap — it may or may not come back this fall.) It involves heating large stones in the brewpub’s wood-fired oven — more frequently used for their (excellent) pizzas. Those stones go into the wort to commence boiling, creating a rich, caramelly flavor. But it can splash, making it a somewhat hazardous beer style to brew.
It demonstrates that Smylie Bros. isn’t your run-of-the-mill brewpub. Head Brewer Brad Pulver, a veteran of several well-regarded Michigan breweries, likes to push the envelope (and when I’m writing, I like to avoid clichés like the plague).
Pulver has lately been into creating infusions in his beers. Most recently, he made a Kölsch (a refreshing, light-bodied style originally brewed in Cologne, Germany) infused with peaches grown on Smylie Bros. street-side patio.
Not long ago, I tried Smylie Bros. Purple Line – a wheat beer infused with hibiscus, blueberry and blackberry. It’s an interesting, unusual combination. It doesn’t look particularly purple (which is probably a good thing), but if flavors can be described as colors, “purple” probably fits this beer. (Of course, the “purple” theme is a reference to the school colors of nearby Northwestern University.)
Among the regular beers, I’m a fan of the Cali Common … shorthand for California Common, a style of ale made with lager yeast. It’s also shorthand for a well-known beer out of San Francisco, from a litigious but pioneering brewery that uses “steam” in the name of one of its most popular beers. The brewery name suggests a device commonly used to hold boats in place.
But Pulver insists it’s named after his daughter, Cali. Right. I’m hoping he doesn’t think of his daughter as “common.”
The place is really run by brothers – Mike, Bart, Jim, Matt and John. With no experience together in the restaurant industry, they took what was originally a gas station, then, at various times, among other things, a natural foods market and an unemployment office and (after significant investment) turned it into one of the better, most well-rounded brewpubs around. At 1615 Oak Street, it’s easy to get to — just a couple of blocks from the Davis Street station on the El’s Purple Line (note another purple reference).
Reviewing another brewpub, The Reader’s James Beard Award-winning Mike Sula wrote “But for the most part brewery food usually exists as an afterthought to the suds.” No so at Smylie Bros. Both the barbeque and wood-fired pizzas are among the best you’ll find at any brewpub in the metro area.
As they say in late night infomercials — “But wait, there’s more!” Smylie Bros. is currently in negotiations with the City of Evanston to acquire the city’s old Recycling Center on Oakton Street, which has been vacant for 15 years, as a result of the city’s decision to outsource its recycling. They plan to turn the 13,500 sq. ft. space into a second brewery, replete with indoor and outdoor beer gardens.
The brewpub is only a four block walk from my house. Lots to smile about.