Smilin’ with the Bros at Smylie Bros.

Posted: August 4, 2015 at 1:43 pm

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).

Brad Pulver likes looking at his beer brewing.

Brad Pulver likes looking at his beer brewing.


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).


As the building looked before renovations.

As the building looked before renovations.


Smylie Bros. today. Note the mezzanine areas added to with side of the pointed roof.

Smylie Bros. today. Note the mezzanine areas added to with side of the pointed roof.


Completely gutted interior

Completely gutted interior


View from the mezzanine today

View from the mezzanine today

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.

Want to read more of Tom’s stuff? Not sure why you would, but here’s a link anyway.

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The Bock Beer Article for Rob

Posted: March 27, 2015 at 3:56 am

Can You Find a Good One

Bock Beer

For several years now, Local Beet Editor-in-Chief Rob Gardner has been all over me to do an article about bock beers. Make no mistake about it – bock and its variants are nice, malty beers, but they’re not particularly popular these days. (IPA – India Pale Ale – and other hoppy ales are the most popular styles among American craft brewers these days, although sour and barrel-aged beers are coming on strong.)

When I was growing up, my Dad told me – and it’s an oft-repeated rumor – that bock beers were made by cleaning out the dregs from the fermenters at the end of the brewing season. He was great at fabricating and/or enhancing stories. On that particular point, though, he was dead wrong. It’s mainly the choice of malts (including  some malts with a higher toasting level), plus the yeast, that determine a bock beer.

He did occasionally drink Huber Bock. Huber Bock is now made by Minhas Craft Brewing in Monroe, Wisconsin. We reported on a trip to Minhas here. Suffice it to say that, although Minhas is the oldest brewery in Wisconsin (Pabst is older, but that company hasn’t operated a physical brewery of its own in many years), Minhas is rarely included in lists of Wisconsin’s best breweries.

First of all, bock is a style of lager. Despite the fact that most of the cheap megabrews qualify as lagers, lagers are actually tougher to brew than ales – lagers ferment at lower temperatures than ales, use a different yeast, and take longer to ferment and condition than ales. (Lager yeast is often referred to as a bottom-fermenting yeast, as opposed to top-fermenting ale yeasts, although that’s not strictly accurate.) Possibly the best advocate for lagers in the Midwest is Doug Hurst, whose Metropolitan Brewing in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood brews lagers almost exclusively. If you visit the brewery (tours are rare – check their Facebook page), you’ll notice the space is kept pretty cool, reflecting the requirements of lager brewing – bring a jacket. His beers are priced comparably to other craft (ale) beers, even though they’re more expensive to produce. Draw your own conclusions.

Most bock beers are on the dark side, but they can be as light as an amber beer. They tend to be slightly stronger than the megabrews, but there are exceptions. Also, bock beers have traditionally been associated with goats. There have been a number of explanations offered for that linkage, but none have been proven. Suffice it to say if you see a goat’s head on the beer label, it’s probably a bock.

And to this day, you can’t get a bock beer at Wrigley Field. In 1945, Billy Siannis (of Billy Goat Tavern fame) was forced to leave the stadium because he’d brought his pet goat with him. He wasn’t happy with that, so he put a curse on the Cubs, which some have posited has prevented the Cubs from ever since winning a World Series, now almost 70 years later. And, if you subscribe to that theory, you may be conveniently ignoring the fact that the Cubs also hadn’t won a World Series in the 36 previous years, either. Does that explain why goat-related beers aren’t sold at Wrigley Field? I don’t know for sure, but I’m sure the many people who are into conspiracy theories could have a field day (Wrigley Field day?) with that. I’ll look forward to Tom Ricketts’ thoughts on that in the comments section.

There are several different bock styles. An example of a basic bock beer, widely available, would be Shiner Bock from Texas – not one of my favorites. It gets a rating of 15 out of 100 on Huber Bock, mentioned above, doesn’t rate significantly better, at 37/100.

There seems to be more activity among craft brewers in the dopplebock category, possibly because craft brew drinkers seem to prefer stronger styles (although that may be changing). Dopplebocks are stronger than most beers (hence the “dopple” or “double” in the name.) At 7% – 10% ABV, they’re beers to be savored, not chugged. A good local example is Metropolitan’s seasonal beer, Generator, which gets a respectable 84 out of 100 points on Note that Metropolitan has made other versions of Generator, too, but, as variations of a beer that only appears seasonally, they can be difficult to find. Some of the usual quality brewery suspects in Wisconsin and Michigan also make good, and maybe great, bocks. If I get a chance to try them some day, I might form a slightly credible opinion on them.

Other styles are sometimes considered related to bocks – Helles bock, biéres de mars (Märzens or March [the month] beer) and bières de garde are among those that come to mind, although the latter examples are more commonly ales. Eisbock might be the most distinctive style – the brewers produce a basic bock, then freeze it and remove the frozen ice, concentrating the flavors and the alcohol (it can get pretty alcoholic). I’m not aware of any breweries in The Local Beet’s region producing an eisbock, but if there are examples, please let me know.

If you find a good one, maybe Rob will be satisfied.

More of Tom’s somewhat misguided musings on beer can be found here.

11 shocking things you didn’t know about beer! (It’s a parody, folks.)

Posted: December 14, 2014 at 7:08 pm


There are many sites on the interwebs that purport to tell you “shocking” things that “you didn’t know” about all sorts of things. They often start with semi-truths, and then extrapolate the hell out of them to get to silly, meaningless conclusions.

Here’s our version of one of those sites about my personal passion, beer.

Beer isn’t just a liquid. It’s also a gas. Most beer has carbon dioxide dissolved in it. Without the carbon dioxide, you couldn’t vigorously shake the beer bottle and then spray beer all over your unsuspecting friends. And by doing so, at the same time, you’ll be releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming, which, if it really works, is much appreciated here during winter months.

You may be drinking a fungus. Many beers are filled with fungi. Not so much the highly-filtered macro brews, but many craft beers are chock full of saprophytic fungi. Ewwww. (Some people may call these saprophytic fungi “yeast.”)

Beer is a significant source of silicon. Dietary silicon from beer can help increase bone density. And, for decades, many eyeglasses were made from glass — which is made from silicon. So splashing a little beer on your spectacles may actually make them a little stronger. It’s certainly easy to accomplish late at night at your favorite bar.

Beer depletes the world’s supply of fresh water. Most beers are between 90% and 95% water. Many areas of the country — and the world — are experiencing drought. Cute little kids are dying. By not drinking that beer, you might actually save someone from perishing of dehydration. Of course, guys can return that water — somewhat processed — into the nearest urinal. I have no idea what women do.

Beer makes members of the opposite sex appear much more attractive. This is totally true. Note that for members of the LGBT community, use of the word “opposite” is optional.

Cans used for beer almost always have their insides coated with Bisphenol A (BPA). A 2010 report on BPA from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) identified possible hazards to fetuses, infants, and young children from BPA. There’s absolutely no evidence that any more than negligible, harmless levels of BPA from cans actually get into your beer, but why risk it, especially when you’re serving beer to your fetuses, infants, and young children?

Beer is often sold in glass battles. Those bottles can occasionally shatter, especially if you hit them hard enough with a sledge hammer. Do you really want to risk dangerous, gut slitting glass shards in your belly by drinking beer?

The beer you drink today, you may not be able to drink tomorrow. That beer glass won’t refill itself. Especially with some of Chicagoland’s best craft breweries, you’ll find out they frequently make one-off versions of their excellent specialty beers. A few weeks later that special beer won’t ever be available again. We’re looking at you, Pipeworks.

Most heroin users tried beer before they tried heroin. Do you really want to become a heroin addict by consuming that next glass of beer?

You probably can’t drink as much beer as you’d like. When you go to your favorite taproom, you might walk out with a few growlers of beer. Most growlers contain approximately 1/2 gallon of beer. So, if it’s a Barley Wine or Imperial Stout, despite what you’d like, most doctors recommend you should limit yourself to less than four growlers per hour.

Beer may kill you. In one single undocumented study, men in their 80s and 90s who drank even a single glass of beer per day had a significantly higher 10-year mortality rate than children between 6 and 8 years of age, who didn’t drink any beer. So, if you value your life, don’t drink beer. (Note that coffee, milk, juices, water, and all other liquids also showed higher mortality rates among the 80 year old plus population who drank them, compared to 6 to 8 year olds. Thus, if you really want to live a long time, you should probably avoid consuming any liquids. And avoid solids, too.)


More of Tom’s musings on beer can be found here.

Temperance Beer in the city of temperance

Posted: November 25, 2014 at 7:16 am

photo 1

Okay, I’ll admit, I’ve been MIA on The Local Beet for a while (and I don’t mean I’ve been in Miami, although that would’ve been nice). Personal stuff. Get over it.

Helping me get over it was a trip (or several) down the street from my house to Temperance Brewing.

The Temperance Tap Room is not easy to find. It has a rather insignificant light blue sign on the south side of Dempster Street in Evanston, about a block west of Dodge, or a few blocks east of McCormick. (Or about three miles west of the Dempster East exit on the Edens Expressway, exit 37b). Make the turn at 2000 West Dempster Street in Evanston, and you’ll find yourself in a large, wide parking lot shared by many businesses. But the sharp-eyed among us might recognize the wooden deck and stairway, and the large garage doors with Temperance logos on them. Slightly to the south is Temperance’s Tap Room entrance, and an outdoor deck, which overlooks the awkwardly – designed parking lot, and beyond that, a beautiful view of the backside of a somewhat empty strip mall that virtually no one would describe as successful.

photo 1 copy

A rather small sign


The entrance

Temperance is worth searching out.

Why? Well … quick quiz … what do an architect and a marine biologist have in common?

Answer … they make beer … excellent beer … in a part of a large, semi-industrial, cream-colored brick building in West Evanston.

Owner Josh Gilbert was an architect (, and also a home brewer.

Claudia Jendron, the former marine biologist, was one of the first women to be a brewmaster in the Chicago area. (My research says she was the second, with her friend Hayley Shine at Rock Bottom Chicago as the first, but if anyone has additional perspective on this, well, that’s what the comments section is for.) But Claudia doesn’t go by the title brewmaster … her biz card says she’s the Brewster. After getting tired of seas and animals, she got a job at Goose Island, and she’s now the person who runs the beer operations at Temperance.

It’s only fair. After all, centuries ago, virtually all beer brewing was done by women.

Temperance, of course, is a wry reference to Evanston’s long history of being a dry town (the name of their rye beer, Restless Years, may also be a tenuous reference to Evanston’s dry history).

Evanston is still home to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which was one of the key forces in getting laws supporting prohibition passed in 1920. And flouting the principles of the WCTU isn’t a first for Temperance; Paul Hletko’s FEW distillery is named after the initials of the WCTU’s long-time president, Francis Elizabeth Willard. (Paul might dispute that, but we know better.)

Temperance beers are starting to show up in cans on retail shelves, as well as at on tap some of the better beer bars in the area. But the best place to enjoy their stuff is at the source. The interior of the taproom features walls made from strips of wood, along with multicolored cinder block walls, and a single shuffleboard table. But, obviously, the reason to visit the taproom is for the beers (I was wondering if I’d ever get around to their beers).

It’s almost a law these days that any brewery must put out an IPA. Temperance does it right. Their Gatecrashrer English IPA features Falconer’s flight blend of hops, both traditionally hopped and dry hopped. The dry hopping is what contributes such impressive citrus aromas, according to Claudia. And it’s also what led Gatecrasher to a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival in the English-style IPA category. It’s now available at select retail establishments in cans.


But Temperance also occasionally has another IPA, Threeway, only available in three places – the taproom, and at Evanston’s Union Pizza and SPACE music venue (both in the same building). Very citrus-y aroma, well worth seeking out.

Temperance also goes beyond the usual assortment of beer styles. For example, their Might Meets Right Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout won a bronze medal in last week’s FoBab (Festival of Barrel Aged Beer) in the experimental beer category.

Perhaps my favorite Temperance beer, though, is the Root Down Robust Porter. It’s not as popular a style as an IPA, and may be better suited for cooler temperatures, but dang it’s tasty, with roasted malt notes, a touch of smoke, and a slight bit of licorice flavor.

Temperance is also an important part of its Evanston neighborhood. Its beer is going into locally-produced brats from Homestead Meats (1305 Chicago, Evanston) and its spent grains are going into breads made down the street from Temperance at Hewn Bakery (810 Dempster, Evanston). (I’ll be having those brats for dinner tonight.)

Temperance Brats

Over a year ago, I tried to write an article highlighting all the new breweries in the Chicago area.  There are even more now. I couldn’t keep up. (I do have a real job.) But I will do my best to keep up with the breweries in my hometown, Evanston. Look for coming notes on Evanston brewpubs Smylie Bros. and Peckish Pig, and Evanston’s newest brewery, Sketchbook.

More junk about local beer can be found here.

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We gotcha new Chicago-area breweries … right here … updated, yet!

Posted: March 17, 2014 at 1:51 am

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


l to r: Spiteful Bitter Biker Double IPA, Spiteful Ghost Biker Pale Ale, Flesk Force of Nature Belgian-style IPA, Flesk Gnomon Saison Ale, One Trick Pony growler, Begyle Crash Landed American Wheat Ale, Pipeworks Galaxy Unicorn Imperial IPA, and Pipeworks Last Kiss Scottish Wee Heavy

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?

5 Rabbit's Bedford Park brewery looks like it has a little room for expansion.

5 Rabbit’s Bedford Park brewery looks like it has a little room for expansion.

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.

Three Angels brews out of a historic barn in Yorkville

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.

The entrance to One Trick Pony doesn’t look like much, but the beers and ambiance make it worth seeking out.

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.

Smylie Bros future home

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 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.

UPDATE! For additional breweries I found see here and here.


On Beer Competitions and such

Posted: July 13, 2013 at 7:53 am


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.

The full list of winners is here.

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 or 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.

The new brewery list continues to grow …

Posted: June 20, 2013 at 12:21 am


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.

Here’s the full article about new Chicago-area breweries.


A Lazy Writeup of Chicago Craft Beer Week

Posted: May 15, 2013 at 9:52 pm


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.

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

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.


Local Beer News — 5 Rabbit, Goose Island, and Distributors

Posted: February 23, 2013 at 4:23 am

Strife at 5 Rabbit Brewery

It was a happier time, when we spoke with Isaac Showaki about the opening of the country’s first Latin-themed brewery.

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.


Nick Barron to Goose Island brewpubs

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.)


Distributor Ownership and Control

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.

Three Floyds Brewery Listened. Thanks, Nick. I owe you a beer.

Posted: February 2, 2013 at 4:59 am

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.




Beery Best of 2012, & What to Watch for in 2013 — Tap Rooms

Posted: January 26, 2013 at 4:00 am

A series of articles on trends in the world of local fermentation

#1. Tap Rooms

Opening day at Revolution’s Kedzie St Taproom

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


Atlas – I didn’t shrug

Posted: September 19, 2012 at 3:19 am

courtesy Atlas Brewing

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 (hint: It’s the unique beers)

Posted: July 17, 2012 at 2:00 pm

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.

l to r: O’So Brewing’s The Big O, New Glarus’ Wisconsin Belgian Red (made with cherries), Ale Asylum’s Ambergeddon, Tyranena’s Headless Man, Big Bay’s Long Weekend, Tyranena’s Stone Tepee, O’So Brewing’s Lupulin Maximus, Sprecher’s Special Amber

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.


Letter from Dublin. (No, not the one in Ohio.)

Posted: May 2, 2012 at 3:28 pm

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.

Priced in Euros - More than I pay back home

Priced in Euros - More than I pay back home

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.”

The Drink Store

The Drink Store

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.

About takin’ a little sumpin’ from FEW Spirits

Posted: April 16, 2012 at 5:17 am


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.

On being named “scum of the [beer] industry,” and getting serious for a change Wednesday, March 28th, 2012
Local Beers as an Illiquid Investment Saturday, March 24th, 2012
Hey, you. Yeah, you. Dere’s a FEW things we gotta discuss. Friday, February 24th, 2012
An Open Letter to Nick Floyd Thursday, February 2nd, 2012
Another Local Beet Beer. Be very afraid. Tuesday, January 24th, 2012
’tis the Season for Local Beers (with an update) Monday, December 12th, 2011
Beer? For Thanksgiving? Thursday, November 17th, 2011
5 Rabbit beers are part of a changing beer world Friday, October 21st, 2011
Great American Beers in Chicagoland Thursday, October 6th, 2011
Local Beer Collaborations … try one at City Provisions. Saturday, August 27th, 2011
August 20. Oak Park will be full of bastards. Beer, that is. Tuesday, August 9th, 2011
Chicago breeds Cicerones Wednesday, July 13th, 2011
Standing in line for local beer Saturday, June 11th, 2011
Kick off Chicago’s Craft Beer Week May 19 Under Glass Thursday, May 12th, 2011
Dark Lord Day 2011 (the ultimate local beer event) Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011
Beer Rankings Can Be Boring Monday, March 28th, 2011
Esquire … really? Best beer city? Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011
French beer from Chicagoland? Mon dieu! Friday, February 18th, 2011
Help Me Age This Beer Friday, January 14th, 2011
Don’t Drink That Beer! Wednesday, December 29th, 2010
Is Chicago becoming a true beer mecca? Friday, December 3rd, 2010
Beer? At Thanksgiving? Friday, November 19th, 2010
Chicago’s Afterthought Brewpubs Saturday, August 28th, 2010
What happened to Flywheel at Fountainhead Tuesday, July 6th, 2010
Half Acre and Sam Adams – both “Small Brewers?” Thursday, June 24th, 2010
History of Beer, as explained in Rogers Park Monday, May 17th, 2010
Check out Lunar Brewing Wednesday, April 21st, 2010
The World Beer Cup is Somewhat Perplexing Monday, April 12th, 2010
The newest Chicago brewery in the Pipeline has Belgian roots. Wednesday, April 7th, 2010
The World Doesn’t Need “Fermentus Interruptus.” Thursday, March 18th, 2010
Great Beer Labels Come from Rogers Park Thursday, March 11th, 2010
Big Whup Monday, March 1st, 2010
World’s Best Brewery? It’s Local. Tuesday, February 9th, 2010
News from New Glarus Tuesday, January 26th, 2010
I Don’t Need no Stinkin’ Beer Year in Review Monday, December 28th, 2009
Beery Gifts Monday, December 14th, 2009
Witty Beers. And Bud Light??? Wednesday, December 9th, 2009
Going Soft from Local Drink Tuesday, November 24th, 2009
There’s More to Bourbannais than the Bears Friday, October 23rd, 2009
Bierbrand — What do you get when you boil your beer? Tuesday, October 13th, 2009
Local Beet Beer Finale Thursday, September 24th, 2009
You can’t have any of this beer … yet Thursday, September 17th, 2009
Bottling Beet Beer Friday, September 11th, 2009
Beet Beer Update: Gunk Thursday, August 27th, 2009
Local Beet Beer Update Monday, August 17th, 2009
Local Beet Beer Monday, August 10th, 2009
Tasting With The Master Monday, July 13th, 2009
Minocqua: Rice in Beer…That’s Wild! Tuesday, July 7th, 2009
Beery Respect for Benton Harbor, MI Saturday, June 27th, 2009
Beer Hunting in Greater Milwaukee Monday, June 22nd, 2009