4 Paws Brewing — Photo courtesy of 4 Paws BrewingChicago may be blessed with Michelin-starred restaurants and an enviable dining landscape but these days it’s the city’s burgeoning craft beer scene that is taking center stage.
For the longest time Goose Island Brewing Company held a monopoly when it came to Chicago homebrewed beer (notwithstanding suburban stalwarts Two Brothers Brewing Company in Warrenville or Flossmoor Station in Flossmoor, both of which started in 1996).
Two Brothers Brewing Company Craft Beer Handles — Photo courtesy of Two Brothers Brewing CompanyA decade later, Chicago’s beer culture was finally heating up thanks to a convergence of a relatively new liquor commissioner, entrepreneurs ready to make the leap and a tight-knit community that was willing to help one another. The latter, although more touchy-feely in tone, shouldn’t be discounted as to why the craft beer industry is taking off in Chicago. Every single person we spoke to, from the brewmasters, to the chefs to those who imbibe, credited the fact that someone was willing to help them become better along the way.
Haymarket Pub & Brewery Beer Casks — Photo courtesy of Haymarket Pub & BreweryPeter Crowley, co-founder of head brewmaster at Haymarket Pub & Brewery and president of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild, agrees that one of the main reasons the craft beer industry is being welcomed with such open arms in the city of big shoulders is because “we’re rooting for each other.” Crowley says no one is putting on airs when it comes to producing good beer and everyone genuinely wants the other to succeed.
When Temperance Beer Company opened its doors in Evanston, it didn’t have any hop contracts since it was too new. It just so happened that Crowley had about 110 extra pounds that he didn’t need so he sold them to Temperance.
Begyle Brewing Chef Collaboration — Photo courtesy of Begyle BrewingKevin Cary, owner of Begyle Brewing, found only open doors when he and his friends began research to open up their brewery. Since money was tight when they started, they purchased used equipment from Half Acre Beer Company. It’s paying it forward as Begyle is in the process of expanding to meet demand and sold some of their old equipment to another brewery.
That collaborative spirit extends beyond advice and equipment. Chef collaborations have become big attractions to the craft beer scene in Chicago and nationally as both chefs and brewmasters have realized their ability to meld their talents has created some unique beer combinations.
Lorna Juett travels daily as a sales representative with Windy City Distributing which represents over 40 suppliers of craft beer throughout the Chicagoland area and has noticed menus now include beer pairings with dishes where in the past that space was reserved for wines. “It’s a cultural expression of our city,” Juett says. “As the foodie culture has exploded in Chicago, it was a natural extension for beer to be part of that experience. There are just some dishes that are better paired with beer and it’s exciting to see more restaurants putting them on their menus.”
Chef Cleetus Friedman, currently executive chef at Fountainhead, created his first beer collaboration with Metropolitan Brewing after the idea popped up during a farm dinner he hosted with them in 2007 through his former company, City Provisions. Since then he’s done almost 30 beer collaborations with dozens of Chicago-based breweries and is always excited when he hears news of another one joining the beer community.
“We have 30 taps here at Fountainhead and if we wanted to, every one of them could be from a Chicago brewery,” says Friedman, noting that wasn’t the case just a few years ago.
Friedman isn’t the only chef putting his food buds to work in the beer space. Jared Rouben left as brewer of Goose Island to open Moody Tongue to introduce a new genre called “culinary brewing” which aims to forge a connection between brewing and cooking, according to its website. Rouben will be developing beers by cooking with grains, seasoning with hops and enhancing flavor profiles with fresh produce, herbs and spices.
DryHop Brewers Growlers — Photo courtesy of DryHop BrewersWhile it’s often the boys who get recognition when it comes to beer, the women aren’t left in the shadows. Jessica Murphy, a beer blogger and member of the Chicago chapter of Girls Pint Out, notes many women play important roles in the Chicago craft beer scene from brewmasters to running the business. “We have Haley Shine at Rock Bottom Chicago and Claudia Jendron at Temperance Brewing Company in Evanston; both are brewmasters at their respective breweries,” says Murphy. “Tracey Hurst [co-]owns Metropolitan Brewing. Janna Mestan runs the business side of things at Haymarket Pub and Brewery (and she has been known to brew a batch or two). Meghan Gebhardt is co-owner of 4 Paws Brewing.”
So what’s next? Juett predicts we’ll be seeing more sour beers in the market. She might be onto something. They are available in a handful of bars in Chicago right now but the list has been growing, just like the craft beer industry.