Editor’s Note: As follow-up to our fun at Good Food Festival, we’re re-posting some of our favorite Beet reports. Nothing we’ve done on the site has been more popular, let alone more all encompassing than Tom Keith’s journey through Chicago area breweries. And he did not stop with this exhaustive bit of drinking. For additional breweries he found see here and here.
Bob Skilnik, in his authoritative book Beer, a History of Brewing in Chicago, reports that there were 43 breweries in Chicago prior to prohibition. By the 1980s, that number was zero. If the majority of new or planned breweries actually come online, the Chicago area will easily exceed the pre-prohibition number.
It’s not hard to see why. The craft brewing segment is growing at a rapid pace. In 2012 craft beers showed a 15% volume increase over the previous year, which saw a 13% increase over the year before that.
And the economics are there. Nano-brewhouses are typically available for less than $10,000. Big craft brewers, in part due to economies of scale, can profitably sell some of their 22 oz. “bomber” bottles for $5 or $6 each at retail, despite the costs of distributors and long distance transportation. By contrast, a small local brewery can self-distribute (meaning the only costs are loading the beers into a van and driving them over to the local accounts), and get $8 -$10 per bottle on retail shelves. The cost of ingredients between the two bottles usually is small, if not nonexistent. So the margins for small craft brewers can be pretty generous.
Here’s a probably incomplete list of new breweries, and breweries-in-planning, in the greater Chicagoland area.
New breweries for 2012
Without a doubt, the most important new guy on the block in 2012 was Pipeworks Brewing, which we previewed here. It’s near the corner of North and Western in Chicago. It was also was rated as the world’s best new brewery by Ratebeer, based on 3 million+ reviews of beers and breweries around the world. Anything from Pipeworks with Ninja or Unicorn on the label is worth seeking out. Look for the 22 oz. bombers. But you’ll have to look hard. While each of Pipeworks’ labels is individually distinctive, there’s no “family feel” to them. (I was buying several Pipeworks beers, and ended up coming home with one beer from Perennial, in St. Louis. Apparently the retailer was arranging beers alphabetically by brewery name, and I couldn’t easily tell where Pipeworks ended and the next guy started.)
On a larger scale, Revolution (whose brewpub we previewed here) opened its 45-barrel production brewery in 2012 at 3340 N. Kedzie Ave. in Chicago, including a tap room overlooking the fermenting tanks and canning lines.
More along the lines of the Pipeworks model, two breweries — Spiteful and Begyle — opened just before the end of 2012.
Spiteful, the brainchild of high school buddies Brad Shaffer and Jason Klein at 1815 W. Berteau Ave. Chicago is making exceptional ales on an extremely small system (which we imagine will be expanded soon). Several of their brews have bicycle-themed names (e.g. Ghost Bike, Bitter Biker) but the name that best demonstrates the attitude behind Spiteful is on its Stout: GFY. Being self-distributed, the beers aren’t in many stores. And even if you’re in a store that carries it, good luck finding it. For some reason, Brad and Jason like to make the logo on their labels surprisingly small.
Begyle, a 15-barrel brewery at 1800 W. Cuyler in Chicago, got its start with a Kickstarter campaign. It hopes to establish a community-supported beer program (similar to farmers’ CSA plans), and will be creating a retail space for bottles, growlers and kegs.
Due to a major brain malfunction on the part of the author, the original post of this article forgot to mention Atlas Brewing Company — a resurrection of an old Chicago brewing name, now a brewpub at 2747 N Lincoln Ave., which opened mid-2012. We wrote about it here. Atlas has been a significant factor in collaborating with other new breweries, helping them get off the ground.
And yet another brain malfunction … apologies to Randy Mosher, friend of The Local Beet, internationally recognized beer authority, and Creative Director at 5 Rabbit Cerveceria in Bedford Park (among many other hats he wears). 5 Rabbit beers have been on the shelves for almost two years now, and we described the brewery’s launch here, but those early beers were contract brewed at a succession of different Midwestern breweries. 5 Rabbit opened its own Bedford Park brewery last fall, with plans for a tap room in the works. Look for a new beer coming soon. According to Randy, “New beer coming very soon is Missionario, a 6.8% white wheat beer with muscat grapes and almonds. Nice winelike aroma, super-creamy almondy finish, with hints of marzipan.” Can you tell Randy’s the author of the book Radical Brewing?
Out in Naperville, Solemn Oath opened in late 2012, focusing on Belgian-style and Barrel-aged beers. Don’t look for it in bottles, though. For now, it’s only available in kegs (i.e. in glasses at select watering holes). There are rumors of a second tap room in Chicago, in West Town or Uptown.
Also, don’t look for bottles anytime soon from Church Street Brewing Company. Itasca’s source for “righteously good beer,” opened in April 2012, is only available on tap at select area taverns. And don’t go looking for Church Street on Church Street, It’s at 1480 Industrial Drive, where you can sample a pint or fill a growler. With a 30 bbl brewhouse, it’s likely to become a significant presence in the on-premise business.
Over in Yorkville, Three Angels opened in late 2012. It’s a nanobrewery, offering kegs only to select outlets, featuring locally grown ingredients whenever possible. Housed in a 1850s era barn, Three Angels plans to add a craft distillery sometime in the future.
Lombard also saw a new brewery opening. Flesk Brewing Company, named after an Irish Castle, is a small brewery producing both kegs and bombers. Brothers Will & James O’Brien, both of whom studied at the Siebel Institute of Technology, are in charge.
Another suburban locale is Nevin’s Brewing Company, a brewpub that opened in December 2012 in southwest suburban Plainfield, in the old Limestone brewery. It’s associated with the Tommy Nevin’s Pubs in Evanston, Frankfort, and Naperville, and presumably will be providing suds for those locations, too.
Also to the south, One Trick Pony is an unprepossessing place in an industrial park in Lansing. Opened Memorial Day 2012, it has a nanobrewery system, with beers named after horse breeds and other horsy accoutrements. The quaint, friendly tap room features Salvation Army and Goodwill-style furniture, and spins vinyl on a 1960’s-era hi-fi.
Even further out, Pig Minds Brewing Co. opened a brewpub at 4080 Steele Dr, in Machesney Park, IL (near Rockford) in mid-2012, featuring a wide variety of beer styles.
Not really a 2012-opened brewery (it opened in October 2011), but still new, is Mundelein’s Tighthead Brewing Company. The wide variety of beers can be sampled in the tap room, or at selected local beer bars.
Nearby, there’s another late-2011 brewery, Light The Lamp Brewery, at 10 N. Lake St. in downtown Grayslake. It’s a hockey-themed brewery, with a tap room that opened in December 2012. (“Light the Lamp” refers to what happens when a goal is scored.)
A mid-2012 opening welcomed Village Vintner Winery & Brewery to Algonquin, at 2380 Esplanade Drive. The restaurant makes its wines, as well as its beers, on the premises.
Also up north, Big Chicago opened late in 2012 in Zion. Russ Sher and Tom Inghram, formerly at the closed Flatlanders brewpub in Lincolnshire, are behind the operation.
Finally, Chicagoans may be surprised that Rolling Meadows Brewery – another that opened in 2012 – is not in Rolling Meadows. It’s a production brewery — no food, no tap room — in Cantrall, IL, near Springfield. Given the region, it’s not surprising that it describes itself as a “farm-based brewery.” Many of its beers are named after a former local resident, the country’s 16th president.
Coming in 2013
By far the biggest news of 2012 was the announcement that Lagunitas Brewing plans to open a massive new brewery in Chicago in late fall, 2013. The Petaluma, California 750 bbl brewery got tired of the cost of shipping its beers across the nation, so decided to open a second brewery, which could top out at 1.7 million barrels (contrast that to some of the other breweries discussed here, at 7 barrels or less.) The tap room, which will be a glassed-in, raised environment 30 feet above the brewery floor, may open as early as July. An interesting factoid — Lagunitas owner Tony Magee — a man of many tweets — famously pointed out that he did the deal for the Chicago brewery at 18th and Rockwell with no city or state incentives. At the time, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium were both pitting East Coast communities against each other to see how much public money and incentives they could get, if they located their (smaller) breweries there.
In my hometown of Evanston, we’ll be going from zero to three breweries in 2013. The largest and most ambitious is Temperance Beer Company (as with Evanston’s craft distiller, FEW Spirits, the name is a reference to Evanston’s historically dry nature, as championed by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and its long-time president, Frances E. Willard). Josh Gilbert, an architect by trade, is heading up the 20 bbl brewery, promising a stylish taproom later in 2013. And Temperance is already making headlines, by signing up the area’s first female brewmaster among the new breweries, Claudia Jendron (who also happens to be a marine biologist).
Two other breweries/brewpubs are also coming to my city. Peckish One (tentative name) is slated to open December 2013. It’s owned by Jamie and Debbie Evans, former owners of Evanston’s Celtic Knot Public House, an Irish Pub. At 623-627 1/2 Howard Street, it’s next door to the well-received craft cocktail bar Ward Eight, and both have been well-subsidized by the City of Evanston, presumably in an effort to gentrify that formerly gritty stretch of the street. A theater space is planned for right down the street, too.
Look for a fall opening for Smylie Bros. — an ambitious brewpub near the city center, in a classic building across Oak Street from the post office. Owner Michael Smylie cites Evanston as a perfect location to brew beer, since the City of Evanston has its own water supply from Lake Michigan — water well suited for brewing (probably to the horror of the city’s historical proponents of temperance and prohibition). (More on Smylie Bros. to come.)
John Laffler from Goose Island, and Dave Bleitner from Two Brothers are building the 20 bbl Off Color Brewing, near the corner of Pulaski and Armitage in Chicago. Given Laffer’s experience as Goose Island’s Director of Innovation, it’s not surprising that Off Color will focus on more obscure beer styles.
Panic Brewing (which we hope doesn’t get into a trademark dispute with Austin, TX’s Don’t Panic Brewing) is building a 30 bbl brewhouse, including a canning line, reportedly with funding from Vienna Beef, the hot dog people. (Although, given that the report was on April Fools’ Day, there may not be much ground meat money going into the operation.) Opening may not make it in 2013 — look to early 2014, instead.
Brothers Steve and Brian Miller are hoping for a summer 2013 opening of Slapshot Brewing Company, “because life would suck without awesome beer.” The 4 bbl brewhouse is under construction, and the announcement of their actual South Side location should be announced within a month.
New Oberpfalz Brewing Company is planning to open in Northwest Indiana in 2013 (no specific dates announced). The focus reportedly will be beers inspired by the Oberpfalz region in Northern Bavaria.
Also in Northwst Indiana, Hunter’s Brewing has just opened at 1535 S Calumet Rd., Chesterton, Indiana. So far, it’s drinks only in the small tap room. Justin Reisetter and Amy Gentry are the owner-brewers, working on a one-barrel system. They’re currently offering a nice variety of eight different beers.
Drew Fox, a brewer at Pipeworks, is planning yet another Northwest Indiana startup, 18th Street Brewery. Drew has been brewing beers in collaboration with friends at Pipeworks and Spiteful, so some of his beers are already showing up around town. In particular, the Sinister Double IPA, brewed at Spiteful, has been getting strong reviews on Ratebeer.com. The planned brick and mortar brewery (with tap room), to be located in Gary, has yet to materialize. However, given that 18th Street has already doubled its Kickstarter goal, we expect news about construction soon.
Empirical Brewery is currently rounding up investors for a late 2013 launch in Chicago. “The Science of Beer” is the rationale behind the name Empirical.
Chicago’s Motor Row — South Michigan Avenue — in the South Loop neighborhood is soon to be home of Broad Shoulders Brewing. A tap room and canned six-pack beer sales are planned. The last time the Broad Shoulders name was associated with beer, it was on several brews from the late Chicago Brewing Company, which ceased operations in the late 1990s.
Also in the planning stages in the South Loop is South Loop Brewing. Not many details are available yet, although they may want to consider the potential conflict with Argus’ brew named “Jimmy Green’s South Loop Lager”.
Bridgeport apparently will be home to Marz Community Brewing, an operation from brothers Ed and Mike Marszewski, co-owners of Maria’s Community Bar, 960 W. 31st St. They’re looking to involve talented homebrewers in their operation, offering “big, interesting beers.” A 2013 official opening sounds optimistic — look for 2014.
Moving much further south, Horse Thief Hollow, a brewpub in the Beverly neighborhood, opened to great crowds early in 2013. The name references the area’s historical role as a stop for thieves who stole horses in Missouri, and were on their way to sell them downtown.
A completely different concept is represented by Hofbräuhaus, in Rosemont, opened in January 2013. A franchised outpost of the original in Munich, it features traditional German beers. It’s likely to be popular with visiting conventioneers
Ale Syndicate Brewers, (formerly New Chicago Brewing) started distributing their beers in March 2013. Founded by brothers Samuel and Jesse Edwin Evans, who previously ran California’s Lucky Hand Brewery (and got tired of California and wanted to move back to family in Chicagoland), are planning “traditional styles with a twist.” Look for their Municipal IPA, made with 100% Cascade as the hop bill, and the Richie Imperial Porter (a vague reference to our former mayor, perhaps?) Their brewery isn’t finished yet, but it’s planned for The Green Exchange, an environmentally friendly complex in Logan Square (and formerly the home of the Frederick Cooper lamp company). A tap room will be included. In the meantime, their beers are being brewed primarily at Galena Brewing, in (obviously) Galena, IL.
Associated with Ale Syndicate, Arcade Brewery is planning a late spring/early summer launch. It bills itself as a community sourced brewery, initially brewing on Ale Syndicate’s 5 bbl system, and then moving to the 30 bbl system in 2014. They’re promising a Scotch Ale named for William Wallace as one of their first offerings, to be sold both in kegs and bottles.
Eric McNeil is another former homebrewer scaling up. His production brewery, named Strange Pelican, will be located at Fulton and Damen in Chicago.
According to Chicago Magazine’s e-mail blast named Dish, the people behind my favorite beer bar in Evanston, Prairie Moon, will be opening a nanobrewery called Mad Mouse Brewing, inside a restaurant, Moxee, at 724 W. Maxwell Street in the University Village neighborhood. Look for it late this summer. Also, quoting Dish, “if you’re keeping track of all the new brewing operations, you should really just stop before you make yourself crazy.” Sorry, Dish. You’re too late for me …
Lake Effect Brewing, with hops growing up the side of its building on West Montrose Ave., started selling beer out of its small 7 bbl brewhouse around the first of the year 2013. One of its more interesting brews is a collaboration with Dryhop Brewing, called “I Shot a Man in Simcoe.” It’s a Belgian IPA, using the currently hot hop variety referenced in its name.
Speaking of Dryhop Brewers, it will be a gastropub in the Lakeview neighborhood, opening June 13. In the meantime, Dryhop’s proprietor, Greg Shuff, has been collaborating on brews with several of the area’s newer, but already operational breweries. It will be a 70-seat operation, including a nanobrewery.
Another of those collaborating with Dryhop is Une Année Brewing. Hoping for a late 2013 opening, the 7.5 bbl brewery will focus on Belgian and French style beers, and will be located in Chicago at Hubbard and Ashland – not far from Goose Island’s production brewery. No restaurant or taproom is planned, at least initially.
Ten Ninety Brewing is also going the collaboration route, initially brewing its high-alcohol beers at Church Street in Itasca. The name Ten Ninety references the original gravity reading of its brews — 1.090. (A normal, sessionable beer would clock in closer to 1.040.) Higher original gravity almost always translates to high alcohol content. The beers are also brewed with a twist. For example, Ten Ninety’s Imperial Porter is brewed with cayenne pepper and pomegranate juice.
Inspired by a dog named Sadie, 4 Paws Brewery plans to open a 15 bbl brewery later this year on Wolcott Ave. in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to animal shelters or animal hospitals.
Coming in June 2013, Urban Legend Brewing Company, in Westmont is currently building a 7 bbl brewery and taproom. They promise an alternative to overly hoppy beers.
And over in Lemont, there’s talk of Brew Hounds Beer Company opening late this year in Old Town Square. They’re planning a brewery and tap room.
BuckleDown Brewing, in Lyons, has two beers out — Fiddlesticks, a Belgian IPA, and Belt & Suspenders, an American IPA. Look for a taproom to open this summer.
And, thanks to Only Child Brewery in Northbrook for letting us know about their forthcoming operation. They have a building, They’re promising “sessionable, drinkable beers that offer unique interpretations on popular styles. All beer will be bottle conditioned and available in large bottle format.” They should begin showing up on retail shelves this summer (guessing late summer, at the earliest).
Another west suburban brewery-in-planning we overlooked in the original post of this article is Penrose Brewing, of Geneva. Tom Korder and Eric Hobbs are planning a relatively large 40 bbl brewhouse, to open this fall, including a tasting room and growler sales (the latter pending the beneficence of the City of Geneva’s fine public servants). Belgian and barrel-aged beers will be the focus. They’ll start with kegs, then follow up with bottles.
Derailed Brewing is planning a mid-late 2013 commercial startup; in the meantime they’re still meeting with potential investors and scouting locations, mostly on Chicago’s Northwest side. We hope the fact that Flossmoor Station and Pennsylvania’s Erie Brewing Company, among others, already have beers named Derailed in their lineup won’t be a trademark problem for Derailed in Chicago. Update: Yes, there were trademark problems. Derailed is now called Low Rez Brewing.
Knight & Gunner Brewing Company is planning a mid 2013 opening date. However, as of recently, they had yet to locate a site for the brewery, making that timing rather aggressive. As a production brewery, they plan to make small batches of ales & lagers, in virtually every popular style.
Chain O’ Lakes Brewing is planning on opening as a brewpub soon in 2013, in the historic McHenry Brewery, dating from 1868, in the city of McHenry.
Nearby in McHenry is My Three Sons Brewing. They off unfiltered, unpasteurized, bottle-conditioned beers, but that’s about al we know about them for now.
Also up north, Waukegan will be getting its first brewery since prohibition. Beer-vangelist Larry Bloom is planning to open Zumbier this summer, including a small tap room, growler fills and tours. With a 4 bbl system, don’t expect the beers everywhere, but it’s a great excuse for a trip to Waukegan.
In Plainfield, homebrew shop Chicago Brew Werks has plans to use its equipment to establish a nanobrewery, self-distributing locally.
Aleman, a hopeful brewpub, won an Iron Brew homebrew competition, and got to collaborate with Two Brothers and Stone at the latter’s facility in Escondido California. The resulting brew, marketed by Stone, was Dayman Coffee IPA, which received good reviews. However, Aleman’s Kickstarter campaign failed. Still, as they’re reporting, “Aleman is conservatively six months away from opening a production brewery in the Portage Park area. The Brewpub will follow shortly thereafter.” In the meantime, look for their collaborations at various venues during Chicago Craft Beer Week (May 16 – 26).
Update: In Ravenswood , Band of Bohemia, will be a restaurant and bar, and also manufacture and sell beer on-site. Craig Sindelar, of the restaurant Alinea, and Mike Carroll from Half Acre, are still seeking zoning variances for their site near the intersection of Ravenswood and Leland avenues.
In Oswego, Misfit Craft Brewery is seeking financing and a site. The possibility of a 2013 opening is certainly not guaranteed.
Back in the Southwest suburbs, Blue Nose Brewery in Justice is hoping for a July 2013 opening with a 10 bbl system. However, their Kickstarter campaign fell far short of its goal, so we’ll see what its fate is as the year goes on.
We don’t know much about Nomad Brewing, although it’s apparently in the works. Reportedly, “Nomad Brewing” was trademarked by Lush Wine & Spirits.
Similarly, we don’t have many details about Middle Brow Beer Company. It wants to target homebrewers, giving them an opportunity to have their recipes brewed commercially. In their words, “we hope one day to open our own brewing space.” We’re guessing a 2013 commercial start is optimistic.
Low Dive is currently a home brewery, with commercial aspirations. While there’s been talk of a 2013 launch, we’re skeptical.
Other Beer Operations
Not quite breweries, but with products that may show up on retail shelves:
Berghoff Beers, a historic Chicago beer name formerly produced at Minhas Craft Brewers in Monroe, WI, is getting a makeover. Beginning in June, the reformulated beers will be made at Point Brewery in Stevens Point Wisconsin, based on new recipes developed by brewing experts Randy Mosher and John Hannfan.
Another name with historic Chicago connections, Baderbrau Brewing Company, has been resurrected, under the supervision of Rob Sama and Joe Berwanger. The Chicago Pilsener is available in all Binny’s Beverage Depot locations, and on tap at more than 20 destinations around Chicagoland. It’s also brewed at Point, but has plans to open its own brewery in 2014.
Chicago Beer Company supplies beers “brewed and bottled for you, Chicago.” They’re another brewed at Point Brewery. They’ve been especially successful at gaining broad distribution for their competent but unremarkable beers (in this author’s opinion).
Hopothesis Beer Company launched an IPA early this year, brewed at Minhas. I was unimpressed with it, due to its lack of balance between hops and malt. Ratebeer raters agreed, giving it 22 points out of a possible 100. But kudos to the Hopothesis team for avoiding trademark disputes with Freetail, in Austin, Texas, which has an established line of beers using the Hopothesis name.
Rich Szydlo is also going the contract brewing route for his Big Shoulders Beer Company. His first beer, Hopapalooza IPA, has been brewed at Church Street in Itasca; down the road he plans to have his beers brewed at Big Chicago in Zion. Look for Hopapalooza to begin appearing at the end of May.
There may be others. If you know of any, or if you can fill in any details on any of the breweries listed here, please leave a comment.
My baby brother sent me an email the other day. He was trying to entice me to visit him in Dallas, by citing an article from the Dallas Business Journal that three DFW breweries had won awards in the U.S. Open Beer Championship.
He was trying to make the case that Dallas has a better beer scene than Chicago and our surrounding region.
His arguments failed miserably. Chicagoland also had three breweries that won awards in that same competition — Lake Bluff Brewery won a Gold for its Kosmonaut Wood Barrel Imperial Stout, Finch’s won a Gold for its Secret Stache Stout, and Goose Island won a Gold for its India Pale Ale.
And looking larger, regionally, Capital Brewing in Middleton, Wisconsin (just outside Madison) was named as the best brewery, and just up I-39, Point Brewing in Stevens Point, Wisconsin was named #3.
But the bigger issue is — what do these competitions really mean?
(And yes, in journalistic terms, you should probably accuse me of burying the lead.)
As of March 2013, there were 2,416 breweries in the United States, according to the Brewers’ Association. The U.S. Open Beer Championship website says that over 2,500 beers were entered — not just from breweries in the United States, but also from more than 20 international breweries, and also from 30 selected award-winning homebrewers (unjustifiably, I wasn’t included). A number of breweries won multiple awards (Capital won five awards, Stevens Point won four.)
So let’s do the math. Over 2,500 beers were entered. Let’s say the number is 2,600. Since many breweries won multiple awards, let’s say that, on average, each brewery entered three or four beers, at least. We’ll use an average of 3.5 beers per brewery. So 2,600 beers from breweries entering 3.5 each on average means that 2,600/3.5 = approximately 743 breweries entering, out of the 2,416 in the country. Subtract out the 30 homebrewers and more than 20 (let’s say 22) international breweries, and you’re left with 691 US breweries who entered — and 1,725 who didn’t. So at a minimum, over 70% of U.S. breweries weren’t represented in the competition. Probably more.
Entering a competition isn’t exactly easy. Typically, you have to find out that the competition is taking place, find the entry forms, fill them out (for each beer), and send the forms along with beer samples to the judging site. Sending samples of alcoholic beverages isn’t particularly easy; the US Postal Service has an outright ban on shipping alcohol; private carriers like FedEx and UPS will sometimes allow it, especially if the contents of a sealed package are labeled as “glass bottles” or some other benign description.
And a more prestigious beer competition, The Great American Beer Festival, has experienced a kerfuffle of its own. (I’ve always wanted to find an excuse to use the word kerfuffle.)
The Great American Beer Festival has a limited number of slots for breweries to participate, so already it’s restricted to a small subset of existing domestic breweries. Last year, over the course of two days, 580 breweries were able to sign up for their competition. Last week, over 650 breweries tried to register within a period of two hours, creating “technical problems” with their servers. Some 300 breweries were put on a waitlist. Some will get in, but “not nearly all,” said Brewers Association Director, Paul Gatza, and Event Director, Nancy Johnson. The problem is the physical space the GABF has contracted for limits the number of participants.
Locally, Off Color and Pipeworks were among the breweries who tried to enter the GABF competition, but couldn’t due to technical problems.
So, while the craft beer scene is growing rapidly, the capacity for participants in beer competitions can’t keep up. As a result, most beer competitions don’t actually give out awards for the best beers available; they only give awards for the relatively small subset of breweries and beers that choose to go through the sometimes arduous process of registering and entering
If you really want to see a less limited rating of a beer or a brewery, take a look at Ratebeer.com or Beeradvocate.com. Their ratings are based on reviews from avid beer geeks. Neither is perfect. The avid beer geeks who submit their ratings (and anyone can sign up and submit ratings) tend to favor bigger, aggressive beers.
Ratebeer, in particular, tallies up all the reviews from its members in any given year, and publishes rankings of the world’s best breweries, beers, and so forth. But the important thing about these ratings is that the breweries don’t need to fill out any forms, don’t need to send samples … all they need to do is be in business, and be attractive enough on the shelf to get a reasonable number of beer geeks to take the time to evaluate and review their beers online. No brewery is eliminated because a server went down, or because the brewers would rather spend their time making beer than filling out forms.
Ratebeer considers four of the world’s top 100 breweries to be in the Chicago area — Pipeworks (also named best new brewery in the world for 2012), Goose Island, Half Acre, and Revolution. Actually, that’s five, if you add Three Floyds, just over the border in Indiana. Note to my brother — Texas has only one (Jester King, and that’s in Austin, not Dallas).
Maybe I should use that fact to entice my brother to visit Chicago.
Of course, the ultimate rating is how the beer appeals to your taste buds. But your chances of finding that great beer are probably better in Chicagoland, or in the greater Midwest region, than they are in Dallas.
Hunter’s Brewing has just opened at 1535 S Calumet Rd., Chesterton, Indiana. So far, it’s drinks only in the small tap room. Justin Reisetter and Amy Gentry are the owner-brewers, working on a one-barrel system. They’re currently offering a nice variety of eight different beers.
Thanks to Dan Lehnerer, who’s getting New Oberfalz Brewing going in nearby Griffith, Indiana, for the tip.
I’m not going to write much about Chicago Craft Beer Week this year (Thursday, May 16th – Sunday, May 26th … apparently the organizers don’t understand the concept that a week includes only seven days). I’m tired, and everybody else who writes about Chicago-area craft beer has already pimped it out enough.
There are literally hundreds of events, and you can get the schedule by following this link. http://chibeerweek.com/schedule/
For me, I’ll try to get to these events:
Monday, May 20 — Ale Syndicate’s Brew Night at The Beer Bistro, 1061 W. Madison, Chicago. Ale Syndicate comes to us from two brothers who sold off their California brewery. (They wanted to move back to Chicagoland for family reasons.) Ale Syndicate’s guys will be showcasing their stuff, which is currently tough to find anywhere else (they’re still building out their brewery). And their beers seem to make fun of city government, which is always a plus. Starts at 5 pm. No reservation required.
Tuesday, May 21 — Nanobrewers Meet & Greet at Binny’s South Loop (1132 S. Jefferson St. Chicago). Brewers from Pipeworks, Spiteful, and 18th Street will be there to answer questions, sample beers, and generally screw around with other beer drinkers. Starts at 5:30 pm. No reservation required.
Wednesday, May 22 — New Brewer Showcase at Hamburger Mary’s (5400 N. Clark St. Chicago). This one has brewers from Temperance, 4 Paws, Lake Effect, Spiteful, Flesk, Ale Syndicate, Begyle & DryHop, and quite possibly others. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild. 7 pm. Tickets ($20) are required (includes 20 tastings), book at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/379497
Thursday, May 23 — Real Women of Craft Beer at Riverview Tavern (1958 W Roscoe St. Chicago). Who says women don’t like beer? This event, organized by Kim Leshinski, will feature a special tapping of a collaborative beer, cheekily named “99 Problems.” The beer, a saison with ginger and chamomile, was brewed by Jennifer Piotter of Greenbush, Hayley Shine of Rock Bottom, Ashleigh Arnold, Maryhelen Harper, and Ashley Hunsader of Two Brothers, Tracy Hurst of Metropolitan, Claudia Jendron of Temperance Beer Company, and Jessica Murphy of Girls Like Beer Too $1 per pint will be donated to the Chicago Chapter of “Dress For Success” a charity that promotes economic independence by providing professional clothing and resources to disadvantaged women. Starts at 6:30 pm. No reservations required
Friday, May 24 — Atlas Barrel-Aged Night at Atlas Brewing Company (2747 N. Lincoln, Chicago). Atlas will be tapping three different barrel-aged beers: FEW Gin Barrel-Aged “Turn Around, Bright Eyes” Saison, Koval Rye Barrel-Aged “Old Disheveler” Barley Wine, and Koval Whiskey Barrel-Aged “Obfuscation” Imperial Stout. Starts at 7 pm, no reservations required.
Of course, there are many, many other events during the ten day week; these are only the ones that I’ll try to make (and I can’t be sure I’ll make all of them). I do, after all, have a small, pitiful life outside of beer. But if you happen to attend one of these events, and see an old creepy fat guy hanging around, come by and say hi.
More info on some of the newer breweries can be found in this earlier, but frequently updated, roundup of what’s new in the area.
Back then, 5 Rabbit was just starting to contract brew its distinctive beers and dribbling them into distribution. That distribution built rapidly.
They accomplished an almost-unheard-of feat for a brand new brewery — a gold medal at The Great American Beer Festival for its 5 Lizard Latin witbier.
They built a 30-barrel brewery of their own, in Bedford Park.
They hired John Hall, a renowned brewmaster from Goose Island, to brew their beer
But the relationship between Showaki and his partner, Andrés Araya, was deteriorating. Allegations of inappropriate affairs and improper money handling resulted in two defamation lawsuits being filed in January by Araya against Showaki. At the time, 5 Rabbit Creative Director Randy Mosher was quoted as saying that it was clear the partners’ relationship was deteriorating, but that “the intent was to carry on and focus on the cool stuff that was happening for us.”
“Now it’s up to those guys and the lawyers as to how this will work out,” he said.
And now it’s been partially worked out.
Showaki sold his stake in the company, and a friend of Araya’s, Cesar Garza, is coming in as an investor and heading sales and marketing. The lawsuits have yet to be resolved, though.
There are plans for more distinctive Latin-themed beers to come. Mosher, author of Radical Brewing, as well as other beer books, will ensure the new brews are unlike any you’ll see from other breweries.
We told you about Jared Rouben becoming brewmaster at Goose Island’s brewpubs in 2010. Now, Rouben has moved on, with plans to consult and eventually open a brewery of his own. His replacement is Flossmoor Station’s brewmaster, Nick Barron.
Rouben, with a culinary background, was known for his collaborations with local chefs on specialty beers. But Barron is no stranger to collaborations, even if the Flossmoor Station collaboration program wasn’t as extensive as Rouben’s at Goose Island.
Bjorn Johnson is taking over for Barron at Flossmoor Station.
We wish all the guys well.
(Note that Goose Island’s brewpubs on Clybourn and in Wrigleyville were not part of Goose Island’s sale to Anheuser Bush; the brewpubs are now owned by an independent company, Chicago Brewpubs, Inc.)
Upon the repeal of Prohibition, a unique system — called the three-tier system— was set up for distribution of alcoholic beverages. Under that system, manufacturers, distributors and retailers each had to be independent entities, preventing any one from having too much power over the distribution of alcohol.
Skip ahead to 2009. Anheuser Bush, through its WEDCO subsidiary, already owned 30% of City Beverage, which distributes AB products. AB was offered the opportunity to purchase the remaining 70%. The Illinois Liquor Control Commission blocked that purchase, on the basis that AB was an out-of-state company. AB sued, noting that Illinois breweries could own stakes in distributors, therefore claiming blocking the purchase was discriminatory. The courts agreed, and directed the state to pass legislation to resolve the issue and clarify distribution ownership.
That led to passage of the Craft Brewer Act, which reinforced the explicit ban on any brewer having any financial interest in a distributor. (Later, an exception was made for brewers producing 15,000 barrels or less – the small guys – which has contributed to the flourishing of small craft brewers like Pipeworks, Small Town and Begyle, among many others.)
The Craft Brewer Act should have required AB to relinquish its 30% stake in City Beverage. It’s not unreasonable to imagine that many of the legislators who voted for it thought that would be the outcome — a return to the ideals of the original three-tier-system.
However, the Illinois Liquor Control Commission ruled (interestingly enough, on Halloween Day, 2012) that the Craft Brewer Act lacked clarity, and on that basis allowed AB to maintain its City Beverage investment.
Many in the industry complained this would stifle competition and hurt smaller brewers who couldn’t self-distribute.
So, last week, a bi-partisan group of state senators introduced SB 1855, which is intended to clarify the Craft Brewer Act, and return to the basic concept behind the three-tier-system.
Should be interesting to follow, though it’ll probably be under the radar of the major media.
Another open letter to Nick Floyd:
Hey Nick. Yeah, it’s me again. And I owe you a beer.
In my letter last year, I pleaded with you to give up the spotlight, and end your four-year run as Ratebeer’s World’s Greatest Brewery. My letter ended with “So, please, give it a rest. I’ll make it worth your while. If you come in #2 next year, c’mon up here to Evanston and I’ll buy you a beer. Do you like PBR?”
Nick, or somebody else at Three Floyds, listened. (Reality check – they probably didn’t listen. They’re probably not even aware of this tiny little blog. But then, you know how those Northwest Indiana types can be…)
Nick, you and your guys at Three Floyds did come in at #2 out of over 13,000 breweries in this year’s ratings, based on over 4.5 million reviews by hard-core beer enthusiasts. Hill Farmstead Brewery, out of Greensboro, Vermont, received the top title. And I know you’ve welcomed them to have the title.
[As an aside, Hill Farmstead was awarded Best New Brewery in the World last year. So, Nick, watch your back. Pipeworks, in Chicago at North and Western, will be a challenge next year for World’s Best. This year, Pipeworks got the Best New Brewery in the World title. Although, among all breweries, Pipeworks came in at only #39 out of the 13,000+ breweries.]
Looking at the ratings, though, Nick, you located your brewery well. The Local Beet region seems to be the place to be for anyone who wants to explore the fine beer scene. Of the top five of Ratebeer’s Best Breweries in the World, three are relatively local. Founders, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, known especially for its Kentucky Breakfast Stout (Ratebeer’s #1 Imperial Stout) came in just behind you, at #3. Again, watch your back.
And Bell’s, nearby in Kalamazoo (actually, the production brewery is in Comstock), came in at #5 out of 13,000. I still have a few bottles of Bell’s limited-edition Hopslam (Ratebeer’s sixth best beer in the world) in the trunk of my car – if you happen to run into me this weekend, I might share one with you.
Others of your brethren also deserve a pat on the back. Warre, Michigan’s Kuhnhenn Brewing made #11, New Glarus ( a personal favorite) was rated #25, and Dark Horse, out of Marshall, Michigan came in at #29.
An unusual choice was Ferndale, Michigan’s B. Nektar Meadery, at #31. I suppose it could be considered among the best breweries that don’t brew beer.
Among the rest in the top 100, Goose Island came in only at #60, although Bourbon County Stout, which may be becoming its fine beer signature brew, was rated the world’s eight best brew. Jolly Pumpkin, from Dexter Michigan, rated #64, Chicago’s Half Acre (probably driven by its signature Daisy Cutter Pale Ale) made #66, Chicago’s Revolution was #90, and Central Waters, just outside of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, in Amherst, made it into the top 100 out of 13,000, at #95.
As you might expect, a few regional breweries dropped out of the top 100 this year. Nick, don’t let that happen to you. Please don’t repeat your Bully Guppy, Euro Trash, or Dolemite Malt Liquor. All of us beer lovers in the region want you to stay at the top of the ratings.
A series of articles on trends in the world of local fermentation
#1. Tap Rooms
The old view of tap rooms:
“Tap rooms are, almost by definition, the lowest of low on the drinking establishment food chain. One step below the dive bars young urban professionals love to slum in and two steps below the worn but friendly neighborhood tavern on the corner, they occupy a little-noticed segment of the liquor industry: that of the scruffy, leftover gin joint in a city that was once filled with them. As taverns attached to — or sometimes right inside — liquor stores, there’s little confusion about their purpose or pretense. Just as no one ever enters a liquor store with anything but a cold six-pack or a bottle of wine or something harder on their mind, no one picks a tap room for a first date, or to wish a departing office colleague farewell, or to scope out members of the opposite sex. Tap rooms, even the nicest ones, are about drinking and nothing but. Which makes them, in this day and age, something of an anomaly, if not an outright anachronism.”
- Mark W. Anderson, in Gapers Block, July 16, 2003
The new view of tap rooms:
“Tap rooms are now the ultimate destinations to sample a brewers’ best efforts – often limited releases – in an environment the brewers themselves have determined will most enhance the appreciation of their beverages.”
- Tom Keith, in The Local Beet, January 25, 2013
How things change in ten years.
These days, it seems like the taproom has evolved from a seedy afterthought in a down-and-dirty liquor store to a venue for local brewers to show off their best stuff.
In many ways, a taproom similar to a brewpub, except that brewpubs are usually food/restaurant oriented, primarily focused on serving their brews made on-premise only to patrons in-house. Taprooms, these days, may have a few munchies, but their mission is usually to show off the beers they make on-site, which they also distribute throughout the region. If anything, they have more in common with Napa Valley’s tasting rooms than they do with the corner bar.
And 2012/2013 could mark the beginning of the taproom era in Chicagoland.
Possibly the most influential taproom to open in 2012 was at Revolution Brewing, in their production facility, 3340 N. Kedzie Ave., Chicago. (Open Wed – Sat, 2 – 10pm).
It was followed shortly by a taproom added onto Half Acre’s store, at 4257 N.Lincoln Ave, Chicago (Open all days but Monday, from noon ± 1 hour ‘til 11pm [2am Friday and Saturday nights]).
The brand new Solemn Oath brewery in Naperville also includes a taproom (1661 Quincy Ave.) featuring their well-rated beers.
Pipeworks has even discussed adding a taproom, although apparently Beejay and Gerrit have so much on their plate simply keeping up with demand and expanding capacity, any taproom plans are on the back burner.
But surely the most anticipated taproom will come from Lagunitas. The iconoclastic California beermaker is already building a new brewery on Chicago’s West Side, which will instantly become the largest brewery between Milwaukee and St. Louis. The beers aren’t expected until fall 2013, but the tap room – elevated over the brewery’s main floor — should open in the spring, affording early visitors a view of what it takes to build a big brewery.
Of course, many other regionally distributed breweries have restaurants on premise — Goose Island (both of them), Two Brothers (also both of them), Three Floyds and Flossmoor Station are the first few that come to mind. They’re all worth a visit, but don’t hate them because they also have pretty good food.
Next up in the series: All the new breweries
Quick quiz question:
What is a Monadnock?
a) a Native American term for an isolated hill or a lone mountain that has risen above the surrounding area, typically by surviving erosion.
b) a well-known summit in southwestern New Hampshire
c) a mountain in Vermont
d) a twin-screw, wooden-hull, double-turreted, ironclad monitor-class ship that saw action for Union forces in the Civil War
e) the tallest commercial iron frame building with a load-bearing masonry exterior wall ever constructed, at 53 West Jackson, in Chicago
f) a damn fine dark rye beer, brewed on Lincoln Avenue, just south of Diversey
Of course, the answer is all of the above, but as this is a column about beer, let’s focus on f – Atlas Brewing’s Monadnock Unfiltered Rye Ale. It’s made with 22% rye, but with all the toastier grains that give it its brown color, the rye spiciness is rather muted. But for anyone who likes Newcastle Brown Ale, this is a similar but far more complex brew worth trying.
Especially when paired with FEW Spirits Rye Whiskey. In an updated nod to the old corner bar ethos of “a shot and a beer,” Atlas is offering a special pairing of a pint of Monadnock Unfiltered Rye Ale with a shot of FEW’s Rye Whiskey.
The rye isn’t the only thing worth getting yourself to Atlas, though.
The 1871 Smoked Porter (a reference to the smoke produced during the Great Chicago Fire) is a dark beer that uses a Wisconsin-sourced cherry wood-smoked malt, resulting in rich, almost chocolaty/caramely 7% ABVbrew that plays to its malt strengths. At the other end of the spectrum, Hyperion Double IPA (10% ABV) showcases all the citrusy, grapefruit aromas and flavors that typify so many American hops.
I found the Demeter Belgian Wheat to be easy drinking, but without the level of esters that might be expected in a Belgian Wheat beer. Speaking with one of the brewmasters, Ben Siller (his brother John is the other brewmaster), he admitted it was an early batch. “Yeah, maybe we were a little low, to be conservative, on that one” referring to its fermentation temperature.
Clearly the recipes and techniques are still being tweaked.
And the relatively small system should be easy to tweak. Unlike some brewpubs, that purchase their equipment used from other failed brewpubs, the Atlas system is brand new, with all the electronic controls consistent with a state of the art system.
Likely, they can afford it. Unlike many of Chicago’s brewpubs, Atlas is supported by a successful local restaurant group – Spare Time, which also owns bowling emporiums Southport Lanes, and two Seven Ten Lanes, as well as Daily Bar & Grill, Firehouse Grill, New Line Tavern, and Popkin Tavern. They even bought the Atlas name – it had been the name of a noted Chicago brewery from 1896 until prohibition.
Atlas Brewing opened in late June 2012, and it’s at 2747 N Lincoln Ave in Chicago.
Why I love Wisconsin
Yes, it’s got great cheese, brats, lakes, cows, ginseng, cranberries, and friendly people, but that’s not the main reason I love Wisconsin.
It’s the beer.
Yes, the beer. Many unique beers not available outside Wisconsin’s borders.
I’m on my annual retreat to a family place in Northern Wisconsin, and I have in front of me a panoply of local Wisconsin brews rarely available outside the state.
Wisconsin is a great state for beer. According to the Brewers’ Association, in 2010 Wisconsin had 72 breweries, or one for every 78,986 residents. Contrast that with Illinois, at 49 breweries (one for every 261,850 residents) or Michigan. Yes, Michigan had more breweries than Wisconsin, at 85, but that’s only one for every 116,278 residents. Clearly, Wisconsinites can get sated more easily than Michiganders.
As I’m writing this, I’m sipping on a Floppin’ Crappie, from Northwoods Brewing in Eau Claire. It’s in a 12 oz. can, which can be a good thing; cans are lighter in weight than bottles, they’re easy recyclable, and they totally protect the beer from light. It’s a wheat beer with rather light character, but very refreshing this hot afternoon.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll try another Big Bay Long Weekend IPA. It’s currently made at the production facility of Milwaukee Brewing (a relatively new venture for the brewpub by the same name in the historic Third Ward, on the river — slogan, “Ale’s what cures ya’.”) As an IPA, it has a nice caramel maltiness not overwhelmed by intense hops. It has a bit of sweetness upfront, with grainy overtones, yielding to a lasting, pleasant bitterness.
I also tried a Lupulin Maximus (2010 vintage) from Plover, Wisconsin’s O’So Brewing (which, among many other beers, makes “The Big O” – don’t ask me about the story I have that goes with that beer). It’s an Imperial IPA. Is it a gimmick to include parts of a hop cone in a beer? Maybe, but if you can sip around them, it’s one serious beer that hopheads should love. My tongue is still tingling. Maybe it’s the hop cone pieces in my mouth. (Lupulin refers to a resin in the hop flower, which contributes flavor and bitterness to beers … in ways that are over the top for Lupulin Maximus.)
Another hoppy discovery was called “Kiss the Lips,” from tiny Lake Louie Brewing (although it prides itself as being “the largest brewery in Arena, WI [OK, the only brewery ever in Arena]”). I’m told some have tried to visit the brewery, but drove right past, since it’s off the road, down a small side road, and doesn’t have the flashy signage of many other breweries. Kiss the Lips is another IPA, but this time with pine and citrus aromas, and a definite malt background. It’s worth seeking out, but the promise of the name may not deliver – at least if it’s being consumed in the presence of the opposite sex.
Ale Asylum has always been a personal favorite, so I was happy to learn that it will be expanding significantly this summer. Although it will still be close to the Madison WI airport, it will have its own building, and will increase its capacity from the current 17,000 barrels to about 50,000. I’m now sipping on an Ambergeddon, a copper-colored, malty brew offset with good citrusy hops. I might need to have another tomorrow.
Yesterday, I quaffed a beer from a grand old Wisconsin name – Potosi, from Potosi Wisconsin. Founded in 1852, Potosi was a mainstay drink in southwestern Wisconsin until it closed in 1972. Rebuilt beginning in 1995, it now houses the National Brewery Museum (it beat out Milwaukee and St. Louis for the honor), and all Potosi profits go to a foundation supporting the museum and the historic brewery, as well as other local causes. Potosi Snake Hollow India Pale Ale is another with a good malt background, and a good amount of hop flavor, without the intense bitterness of some other IPAs.
Another malty treat from just north of Milwaukee was Sprecher’s Special Amber Ale. It’s all about the rich, slightly sweet, caramel-ly flavors. Although started as a brewery, Sprecher now makes more craft soda than it does craft beer. (“There’s less paperwork to make a soda,” I remember one of their reps telling me.)
Ah, there were many other beers, too, like beers from Tyranena, Central Waters, Sand Creek … although those three are available outside of Wisconsin.
New Glarus, though, isn’t. Despite moving to a larger brewery several years ago, they’re still being challenged to meet the demand within the state of Wisconsin. One of their newer brews, Moon Man No Coast Pale Ale, has become a favorite. Made with five different hops, it’s an easy-drinking quaff with great hop aroma. And, as the name suggests, it eschews the clichés that define East Coast and West Coast Pale Ales. It’s its own beer. And anything from New Glarus’ Thumbprint series should be snapped up immediately.
The good news for those of us outside the Cheddar Curtain, though, is that all these beers can be found just over the border, at very good prices. From Chicago, the Woodman’s megamarket just off I-94 at Route 50 is an excellent choice. (From a little further west, the Beloit store might be a better option.)
For a map of many (but not all) of Wisconsin’s craft brewers, click the map link on the lower left of this page.
I believe in drinking locally. For the most part, that means locally-produced beers.
So, here I am, in front of a shelf at a local “bottle shop.” I’m admiring a nice, if relatively small, selection of Goose Island beers. Beers I love to drink when I’m drinking locally.
But I wont be getting any of them. I believe in drinking locally.
I’m in Dublin right now.
So, I’ll be drinking brands like O’Hara’s, Trouble, and Eight Degree. And even Porterhouse (the largest Irish-owned brewery).
Guinness? Yeah, it’s brewed here, but, like Smithwick’s and Harp, it’s owned by London-based Diageo. Nevertheless, I’ll be drinking a bit of those, too.
So drinking Goose while I’m here wouldn’t exactly be drinking locally. Just as drinking Guinness in Chicago isn’t drinking locally. Or even Porterhouse (which is distributed in the Chicago region by Glunz) still isn’t drinking locally, even if you do hale from the ol’ sod. (FYI, the Glunz selection and distribution of Porterhouse beers is extremely limited – maybe someone will pressure them to carry the Oyster Stout.)
But Goose and other American beers are having their own impact. “American beers have a great reputation here; they sell well” said Mr. Butler, manager of the Drink Store, in the Stoneybatter neighborhood of Dublin. “We’re probably about where you Americans were ten years ago with craft beers.”
We commented that many of the local beers were very malty. “Yes, we’re learning from you Americans, to not be so afraid of the hops.
As evidence of that, Smithwick’s just introduced its own Pale Ale, using, surprisingly, Amarillo hops – a typically American variety.
But am I contributing to my carbon footprint by traveling over here to Dublin to try the local Irish beers? Yes, of course I am – I took a big ol’ honkin’ jetliner to get here. (It’s very tough to walk, or canoe, even, from Chicago to Dublin, to minimize the carbon footprint. Rowboats don’t work particularly well, either.)
So what’s the drinking-locally lesson? Perhaps Irish brewers will realize the American, no-holds-barred, phooey-with-tradition, try-anything approach will click with craft beer drinkers, and bring more Irish drinkers into the craft beer pantheon.
And then Goose and the other American craft brewers can retreat to serving their local-region craft beer drinkers, and let the Irish brewers serve their own with locally-Irish-produced, quality stuff.
We taught ‘em, they got it, our job is done here.
It’s doubtful that’s their strategy, but we can always hope.
Hey, you. Yeah, it’s me again. I told you about a little visit me and my boys made to FEW spirits a little while ago.
We went back.
Paul Hletko was dere, wit his fancy schmancy “Distiller” shirt on. The big door, where dey used to roll in the cars to chop ‘em up, was open. Paul had his back turned. Made it easy to walk out wit a little sumpin’.
See, da place is full of oak barrels. Dey uses dese barrels to age some of dere whiskeys. Da big guys, dey use da big barrels – maybe 30 gallons or so. But dis guy Paul, he’s new; he wants to get his stuff to market sooner. He uses smaller barrels to get more of the wood stuff into his booze sooner. And it works.
So, dere was an empty barrel there. Already used for his Rye Whiskey. Spoken for by some guy named … huh, I dunno. A five gallon barrel. Poifect for some of the stuff our family’s been producing since the 1920’s. (See, in the 1920’s, if you wanted suds, you had to make the beer yourself. You could get cans of malt extract with instructions that said “Don’t do this, or you’ll be making alcoholic beer.” Not many guys dat we know didn’t do that.)
Dere’s a famous Three Stooges short (it’s wrong, but dey didn’t ask me for any advice … their mistake) with exploding bottles. Their excuse? “We all added the yeast.”
Hletko didn’t need the damn barrel anyways. He can only use dose barrels once, for his whiskeys. But it’ll be good for beers. Maybe a rye stout.
Y’know all those videos that Ken Burns made millions off of, of guys trashing barrels for his Prohibition show? Well, dis is one Ken Burns won’t be filming. We’ve stashed away the barrel where even Ken Burns can’t get to it.
But don’t tell anyone that we let dis Hletko guy swipe our credit card before we ran out wit the barrel. We guys have a reputation to uphold.
My recent story on “Local Beers as an Illiquid Investment” got a bit of reaction. That story commented on the practice of reselling rare beers. The intent of the story may have been misunderstood. Forgive the length of this treatise, but it’s a complicated issue.
First, the comments:
From Yep, on 2012/03/26 at 3:27pm
Tom, you are the scum of the industry. It’s the lowlife idiots like you who make rare beers the hyped frenzy-producing entities that they currently are.
You’re a dumbass to write an article about this practice, as it is universally shunned by the legitimate beer community. Not only do people like you drive up craft beer prices, they also reduce purchasing options for the consumer since breweries have stopped bottling and allowing growler fills of “rare” beers, to prevent the secondary market.
You should be ashamed of yourself.
From Jimmy on 2012/03/26 at 1:40pm
This is the most despicable piece of advice on investing I have ever heard. You are recommending that people invest in beer that they then need to send and ship ILLEGALLY. Also, your small animal big machine isn’t selling because you could have also bought it directly from De Struise. In order to prevent scumbags from reselling their beer on EBAY they have started their own webshop so I guess you might actually have to drink those beers you douche.
From Eric on 2012/03/26 at 1:32pm
Wow, please do not listen to this person. If you are purchasing rare / hard-to-find beers, solely for the purpose of re-selling?
1. You’re going against the wishes of the brewers who work hard for you to buy and enjoy this beer.
2. You will become reviled in the craft beer community, ensuring that if you’re seen at a beer release… well lets just say you won’t be very welcome.
I feel like I shouldn’t even have to explain this, but come on people. Don’t be a douche.
Obviously (or maybe it was not so obvious to some) the article was written, as many of my others are, with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. I have never re-sold a beer or a ticket to a beer event on eBay, or any other venue, and I have no intention of doing so. (In fact, the Dark Lord bottle on the right was shared with friends last Saturday.)
That said, if I have to get serious for a while, there are several points that warrant discussion.
1) eBay’s loophole regarding selling alcoholic beverages based on the value of the package, and not the contents, is clearly a ruse — it’s an excuse to allow eBay sellers to sell alcohol directly, circumventing licensing regulations for retail sales of alcohol. But, to my knowledge, no regulators or states’ attorneys general have chosen to pursue the issue of rare beer sales on eBay. The cost of pursuing it, for the tiny handful of bottles that go into any given jurisdiction, may not be worth their time and effort. They probably have more important issues to pursue.
2) The brewing community has mixed feelings about the practice. Some, like Natalie Cilurzo of California’s Russian River Brewing, disliked having an eBay listing of their well-regarded Pliny the Younger Imperial IPA, contacted eBay, and had the listing removed. Others, like David Walker, Co-Owner of Firestone Walker Brewing, compared the practice to reselling fine wines, saying “Who’d have thought a bottle of beer would be valued at $100 plus. It is an affirmation that there is real passion for beer out there.” Most brewery owners whose products have appeared in the secondary market haven’t commented publicly, but also haven’t taken the steps Cilurzo did to get the listings removed — which might be considered tacit approval of the practice.
3) Breweries have the right to set a price point for their products wherever they desire. Three Floyds (to use them as an example) could probably sell out Dark Lord at, say, $40 a bottle (although there would undoubtedly be some grumbling), instead of its current price of $15. That would reduce the incentive to resell the beer on eBay, because, based on online sales, its true market value is somewhere in the $50 to $100 range. If the true market value is, say $60, and if the original price per bottle was $40, that’s a much smaller profit potential than it is at the current sales price of $15. So why does Three Floyds choose to sell Dark Lord at less than its market value? I’m guessing it may involve a couple of reasons: a) Three Floyds feels they can make an adequate profit selling Dark Lord at $15; and b) the lower price helps keep customers happy — it’s a “thank you” for their loyalty. If someone buys a bottle of Dark Lord, it becomes that person’s property, and Three Floyds doesn’t suffer financially if that beer is subsequently sold at a higher price.
4) Three Floyds (and others) could make Dark Lord, and the others could make their rare beers, year-round. By making them available only briefly (and in the case of Dark Lord, only through a relatively onerous ticketing system) they control the scarcity of their beers, adding to their cachet, and upping demand (i.e. frenzy-producing). It’s different than the case of rare wines. Wines can be relatively variable based on the growing conditions of the grapes, which can be different every year, affecting the resulting product. Hops and barley aren’t subject to the same variables in terms of the quality of product they can produce; the scarcity of these rare beers is largely based only on the breweries’ marketing decisions.
5) Relatedly, many rare beers are distributed only in certain geographic areas. If you want a bottle of Bell’s Hopslam, but you live in Boston or San Francisco, and you don’t want to buy a plane ticket, acquiring it from someone online may be your only option.
6) eBay is not the only option for acquiring rare beers online. Ratebeer.com and Beeradvocate.com both have forums dedicated to trading rare beers with other craft beer aficionados. Most trade proposals involve individuals from disparate areas of the country trading for beers they can’t get locally, but in a few cases traders have admitted they purchased certain beers for the sole purpose of trading them for beers they really sought. There’s a fine line between paying for someone else’s beers with another beer that person never intended to consume, and paying with cash.
7) The breweries actually benefit in some ways by having their beers resold on eBay and other venues. It may not have been designed that way, but it’s turned out to be a brilliant marketing move. The word of mouth created by someone opening a Dark Lord for friends, and being able to tell them “this stuff sells for $100 bucks on eBay,” makes it seem even more special. It also creates a halo effect for Three Floyds’ other beers — it creates a buzz around everything Three Floyds does. That may be one reason why most breweries don’t contact eBay and ask them to take down the listings. In fact, there are unconfirmed rumors of breweries releasing limited edition beers, but holding back a few bottles to list on eBay. Are they just trying to create more buzz, or are they simply using eBay as a tool to determine the true market value of their beers, for the purpose of establishing pricing levels for future limited releases?
I had a brief conversation with Pete Crowley about some of these issues yesterday afternoon. He’s the owner/brewmaster at the highly acclaimed Haymarket Brewpub in Chicago’s West Loop, and President of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild. He compared reselling rare beers to scalping tickets for concerts and sporting events. Scalpers make it tougher for true fans to get opening day tickets at Wrigley Field, just as scalpers were a factor in the rapid sellout of Dark Lord Day tickets. “Craft beer is all about sharing, and celebrating the craft beer culture. If someone’s able to share by going online, that’s great [referring to trades on Ratebeer and Beeradvocate]. I just don’t like it when someone buys a craft beer for the wrong reason … solely to turn a profit.” But what about the guy who couldn’t get through to purchase Dark Lord Day tickets, but really wanted to go? Crowley doesn’t appreciate the sellers who purchase tickets only with the intent of reselling them at a profit, but for the guy who wants to get tickets, even at an inflated price, “Well, a guy’s got to do what a guy’s got to do.”
So, it’s a complex issue. People who purchase rare craft beers for the sole purpose of reselling them at a profit are generally, but not universally, reviled. But these people wouldn’t exist if breweries didn’t sell their rare beers at less than their true market value — which is, in part, impacted by their own limited-release policies. In general, there’s a more understanding view toward buyers — they’re just trying to get their hands on something they think has value to them at or above a stated price. Hardcore critics, though, condemn buyers for supporting the sellers.
And that’s a very long, laborious exposition of what was intended to be a light-hearted look at the practice of re-selling craft beers, in the previous article.
There’s a very interesting academic study of beer re-sales here: http://ratebeerians.hoppress.com/2011/04/18/market-behavior-for-rare-beer-ebay-auction-prices-in-review/
Finally, I’ve never been called the “scum of the industry” before. It’s an honor to know I touched a nerve.
I’m potentially set for life. Well, maybe not for life, but at least for a couple of days.
I’ve invested in local beers.
With friends, we had several computers going at the witching hour of noon on St. Patrick’s Day, for a chance at two of the available 6,000 tickets required to get you on the property; tickets that give you the right to purchase several bottles of the 2012 edition of Three Floyd’s legendary Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout. Tickets sold out within three minutes, but within an hour the $15 tickets alone — which only let you in, you still have to purchase the beer — were being auctioned on eBay for $495 a pair. Bids for the tickets were running over $800 per pair at last check. That’s a potential 2,666.7% return in one day. Even Bernie Madoff couldn’t pull off that kind of return.
But I’m not selling the tix. I want the beer.
Last year, after being lucky enough to acquire a couple of tickets, I spent several hours in line in Three Floyds’nondescript industrial park in Munster, Indiana. It was a fun time — some described it as a mini-Woodstock.
I left with four bottles of the precious Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout. $15 each. Similar bottles are listed on eBay now for between $50 and $100 per bottle. At the low end, that’s a 333% return. I consider myself very lucky if any of my accounts at Fidelity Investments do even one-fifth as well.
EBay’s policy on these sales is that the value of the item is in the collectible container and not its contents, the container has never been opened and any incidental contents are not intended for consumption, the item is not available at any retail outlet, and the container has a value that substantially exceeds the current retail price of the alcohol in the container.
In the words of Monty Python, “Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more.”
But it’s not limited to Three Floyds. My Goose Island Rare Bourbon County Stout (paid $42 for the bottle) is now listed for $78, an 85% return. A bottle of Bell’s Hopslam, for which I paid $18 for a six-pack two months ago, is now going for $34, an 89% return (or 1,133% on an annualized basis). And the Bell’s Batch 10,000, which was also $18 a six-pack, is now listed for $15 a bottle, a 500% return.
We’re fortunate in our region to have Ratebeer’s three best breweries in the world: Three Floyds, Founder’s and Bell’s. Because if you’re going to invest in beers, you need to get less-common releases from well-known breweries.
Which brings me to the basic principles of beer investing:
1) Buy beers from breweries that have good cachet. In addition to the three above, New Glarus and Goose Island (especially Bourbon County Stout releases) frequently get premiums for their limited releases.
2) Invest in only big, high-alcohol, age-worthy beers. No one wants a 1997 bottle of Old Style.
3) Buy limited releases. The harder they are to get, the better. Anyone who can get through during the three minute window to get Dark Lord Day tickets, and then wait in line for a couple of hours to buy the beer, deserves a significant return for the time and effort.
Other breweries have caught on to the Dark Lord Day model; it’ll be interesting to see if they can get as much traction out of the one-day-only style of selling their beers.
It doesn’t always work, though. I still have a couple of bottles of Small Animal Big Machine, a collaboration from Half Acre, Pipeworks, and DeStruisse. It’s a great beer — I had to wait in line to get it — but there’s no online market for it. I’m guessing that Half Acre, Pipeworks, and DeStruisse don’t have the name recognition of Three Floyds et al among beer collectors. I might actually have to drink it.
Hey, I might even give you a bottle or two … in return for a generous annuity.
It was a dark and stormy night, despite the bright mid-afternoon sun.
I wuz wit my dame, see, and we’d heard about this little place making some really cool hootch. That was hot.
She pointed me to this little alley off of Chicago Avenue, in Evanston. Hip little neighborhood. Half block north of Main Street. Nice. But not where you’d expect to find a joint making fresh booze.
I said naw, dammit, there couldn’t be anything down there, except maybe a car chop shop … or maybe a blackjack upside the head.
She was insistent. Wit a strong-willed dame like that, you don’t argue much, at least if you know what’s good for you.
There was a sign. It said: “FEW Spirits.”
We found a door. It creaked open. (Nah, it really didn’t creak; they must have gotten some WD-40 from somewhere. I didn’t ask where. In these situations, you don’t ask much.)
Inside wuz a guy wit a big smile on his face. I been around long enough to be suspicious of any guy with a big smile on his face. But maybe he’d just been sampling his hooch.
Dis guy, Paul, had “Master Distiller” on his shirt. I’d heard from some guy in the joint he wuz a lawyer. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate lawyers. Some of ‘em got me out of some, shall we say, incidents. But most of the lawyers I’ve known have only kept a flask or two in their desk. Dis has gotta be the only lawyer wit a high-falutin’ distillation still behind his desk.
But he used to work wit the Illinois Liquor Control Commission, so he knows his booze.
He got dis fancy schmancy still from the guys down at Koval Distillery, in Ravenswood, Chicago; they seems to know guys in Germany who make special stills. None of those Appalachian homemade still things going on here. Dis guy runs a quality operation. But he makes you pay for it. Even a coupla Jacksons won’t get you a bottle. At least, not legit.
I got a White Whiskey from the guy. Paid big. It’s smooth. He makes a gin, too, on the other side of the still. He claims it’s a genever-style gin, but since when does a gin include hops from Paul’s backyard? Dis guy’s over the top. We might need to deal with him. Especially when he puts out a brown whiskey (Evanston’s 400 miles from Bourbon County, KY, so it ain’t really bourbon) and maybe a “single malt” (it’s not Scotch, since even the Hebrides is almost 3,700 miles over dere).
He’s also put out a barrel-aged gin. Who ever heard of a brown gin? Yeah, we might need to give this guy a little visit, and “explain” what’s right.
Dere’s only a couple other guys making hootch legally in the state. One is those guys at Koval (dey include the guy named Lion — he helps distill, but dammit, I don’t think this guy is old enough to drink it yet. Maybe they put a bit of their stuff on his gums if he cries.) The other’s in Lake Bluff, North Shore.
Dis guy’s got a sense of humor, though. You think FEW stands for the FEW guys distilling in Illinois? Or the FEW guys who can afford his stuff? Take a hint from me, my friend. It’s a wink to Frances Elizabeth Willard, who ran the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in 1879 from her joint right up the street in Evanston. She hated booze. She and her girlfriends are prolly turning over in their graves. Hah!
Me and my boys still might pay a little visit to 918 Chicago Avenue in Evanston one of these Saturdays, maybe around 2 or 3 in the afternoon. We might need to get a little taste of what this guy Paul Hletko is doing, if you know what I mean.
An open letter to Nick Floyd:
C’mon, man. Share the stage a bit.
I know that Three Floyds’ recent ranking on Ratebeer as the number one best brewery in the world isn’t your fault — blame the average scores of the 3.5 million beer reviews by true beer aficionados on that site. But, world’s best for the fourth year in a row? And five out of the last six years? Give it a rest. Maybe you could turn out at least one crappy beer to drive your scores down just one notch.
How about a Miller Lite clone?
Certainly, there are other brewers in the region you could share that crown with. Hell, just one state north, in Michigan, Founders (Grand Rapids) and Bell’s (Kalamazoo) came in as the second and third best breweries in the world. Maybe you could give one of those guys a shot at #1.
Sure, your Dark Lord came in as the 13th best beer in the world. But you’ve gotta respect your fellow local brewers, like the guys at Goose Island. Yeah, they’re owned by Anheuser-Busch now, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that their Rare Bourbon County Stout came in 10 slots above your Dark Lord, as the third best beer in the world. (The best was from someplace named Westvleteren Abdij St. Sixtus … it barely counts, because the brewery name is too hard to spell.)
I do have bottles of Goose Island Rare Bourbon County Stout and the 2011 version of Dark Lord in my beer cellar. In a year or so, I might let you know how the two compare head to head.
And, Founders’ Kentucky Breakfast Stout (fourth best beer in the world), and Bell’s Hopslam (sixth best) also beat out your Dark Lord. Last spring, I had to jump on your website within the four minute window for the right to get tickets to purchase your Dark Lord, then wait in line a couple of hours at the brewery to get a measly four bottles. (It was a helluva party, though.) For the Hopslam, all I had to do was carefully time my appearance at the local liquor store and fork over $18 for a sixer.
Maybe you could let Pete Crowley have a shot at the limelight. His Haymarket Pub & Brewery (West Loop, Chicago) was rated #3 in the world among the 1,473 new breweries that opened in 2011. As far as brewpubs go, yours was beaten out by Pete’s Haymarket, and also by Revolution, in Chicago’s Logan Square. (Love the Scotch eggs at your place in Munster, though.) Look out, though, Villa Park’s Lunar Brewing is right on your heels.
So, please, give it a rest. I’ll make it worth your while. If you come in #2 next year, c’mon up here to Evanston and I’ll buy you a beer. Do you like PBR?