Chicago Brewery Tour: Part 3, The Southside

Part 3 of 3, The Southside

A few years ago no one would believe the south side of Chicago would host this many microbreweries or taprooms. From the late 90s until 2010, most of the city’s best craft beer bars and the only breweries in town were located north of Roosevelt Road, my personal dividing line between the North and South sides of the city.

 

The very first southside craft brewery was Argus, opening in 2009. Then in 2012-2013 a new generation of breweries popped up all over Chicago including the second to be located in the southside: Horse Thief Hollow. In the following years many more incubated brewery projects came to life. Including one founded by myself, a few family members, and friends called Marz Community Brewing Co. Today there are sixty five breweries in Chicago proper and at least a dozen of them are located below the Eisenhower expressway.

 

This Southside tour might not be possible for most people to do in one day, but I think it is! Just don’t drink as much as you want to and eat lunch dinner and dessert when I suggest while on this tour. One other caveat: I didn’t include Argus because it doesn’t have regular hours and tours are by appointment. So take a train to that joint when ya have a minute.

So let’s get on with it!

– By EdMar

 

Horse Thief Hollow

 

Our first stop in our South Side brewery tour is a brewpub located in the neighborhood of Beverly and its where we suggest you have lunch at 11:30am.

When Illinois competes at the Great American Beer Festival in Colorado each year, Horse Thief always brings home a medal. Last year they won a Bronze for their Prunkle’s Dunkle, a European-Style Dark Lager that kicks ass. One of the first breweries to open in the very South Side of Chicago, Horse Thief Hollow defied expectations and has become a must visit brewpub for any visitor to the windy city.

 

They have earned this reputation by making tasty suds. Brewmaster, David Williams, was a graduate of the legendary C.H.A.O.S Homebrew club and is the definition of the weird turning pro. We expect him to keep making the award winning brews which complement his solid pale ales, kolschs and IPAs.

 

 

Whiner Brewing

 

Whiner Brewery opened up in the ecologically minded manufacturing complex called The Plant, located in The Back of The Yards, a hardscrabble working class neighborhood. A few years back I saw the area in which the new brewery would be situated and it was an abandoned shit hole of a space. Today, after the Whiner construction team of Heizler Group did their magic it’s an industrial palace. The completely utilized facility has equipment in places that you make wonder what engineering feat they used to install the system and tanks ( I think they blew a huge hole in the wall to get all the stuff in). The lighting is sexy and the overall concrete vibe delightfully urban decay chic. And the beer is fantastic too. Besides their solid saison and brettanomyces beers try some of the barrel aged experiments they have on draft.

 

Whiner is the anchor tenant for The Plant, a vertical farm and food business incubator. Try to visit them on a Saturday when their market is happening and enjoy some tasty bread and treats from Pleasant House Bakery, coffee from a Whiner brewery Sister project, Four Letter Word, and check out Bike A Bee honey.

 

 

Marz Community Brewing

 

The experience of writing for, editing, and publishing Mash Tun Journal is one of the reasons Marz Community Brewing Co came into existence. We were inspired by craft beer and the culture that surrounds it. And somehow our love of beer and the brewers we interviewed talked us into it!

 

So it’s been almost three years since we started our own contribution to brewing in Chicago and we are pleased to announce that our new facility will be open in late spring. The new brewery is located in the first organized manufacturing district in Chicago right off Bubbly Creek.

 

Marz will have a tasting room, a bottle/merch shop and more. Since our tap room most likely won’t be open soon due to licensing, permitting and construction delays (the uholy trinity of the brewing biz), we will be open for tours. If yer in the hood, just stop by and knock on the side door. If we hear it we will let ya in and show ya around. Or just email or call us and we will hook ya up.

 

 

Baderbräu

 

After contracting beer for a few years with the recipe from the original craft pilsner revered by old-timers in Chicagoland, Baderbrau has opened their new plant a stone’s throw from Mc Cormack Place. The spacious brewing floor is complemented by a second floor tap room featuring local street art. Their beers have massively improved since they opened up the new joint.

 

I love the Gunsmoke, a lightly smoked hefeweizen and their Pilsners and Lagers are top notch. Grab a taste of each of these and get ready to check out a few more nearby joints.

 

 

Motor Row Brewing

 

Motor Row is part of the burgeoning development of the South Loop and is also close to the Mc Cormack Convention Center Complex. If yer planing a trip to Millenial park or the Art Institute, this is a great place to get yourself sorted. Motor Row is in a landmark South Loop building and the warehouse-like space has a retail/tasting room and an upstairs taproom for enjoying a few. You can order food in our bring your own. We dig their seasonal IPAs and the Schwarzbier. If you are continuing on, don’t eat yet!

 

 

Vice District Brewing Company

 

Just a mile up the block from Motor Row is Vice District. This south loop brewery nods to the roaring gangster days of Chicago. This part of Chicago was the notorious hunting ground for Capone. And you can see the Ganster tour busses buzzing down the street often in the summer. The cozy tasting room has reclaimed wood tables and bartops, complementing the industrial interior of this former Buick Automobile showroom. Vice makes a wider range than most of the standard brewpub style beers. We especially like their IPAs, especially Habitual, their Cascading Dark Ale.

 

Vice is constantly fighting to keep up with production on their small brewpub system and sometimes they are out of their flagship beers. So partners Quintin Cole and Curtis Tarver II hope to begin brewing at a new 15-barrel brewhouse in Homewood this year. The new 15 BBL system will increase production, feature a 75 person tap room and allow more beer to be distributed throughout the state. We are looking forward to their cans!

 

 

Moxee Restaurant & Mad Mouse Brewery

 

Ok if you are still on the tour this is where you are going to get dinner.

Mad Mouse Brewery is the first Chicago brewery to open up in a restaurant. Situated in the historic zone that was once the Maxwell Street Market, the spot is close to the University of Illinois Chicago and is the gateway to the Southside. The petite 3BBL system makes super small batch brews that complement the wide range of southern style food offered on the menu. Since they are technically a brewpub, Mad Mouse also serves a range of local craft beers from breweries that don’t have tasting rooms as well as whiskey and cocktails. All of which makes it a nice place to chill before heading out. remember to not order dessert because it’s coming up next.

 
Moody Tongue Brewing Company

 

This is dessert.

 

For a brewery known for making culinary beers it’s odd that Moody Tongue only offers chocolate cake and oysters to pair with their beer in their tasting room. But somehow all makes sense. The non descript entrance to this former glass factory hides a meticulously designed tasting room which casts a mid-century vibe in contrast to the brewing facility beyond it’s confines. It’s a wonderful surprise to walk into the elegant tasting room while in this old industrial segment of the Pilsen neighborhood.

 

The menu choices seem weird but they work. I will suggest you order their lager and saison go with your dessert, the chocolate cake. And if yer like me you’ll also want to eat oysters while chilling in such sexy environs.

 

My guess is that the limited menu for both beer and food is designed to make sure you don’t miss out on anything Moody Tongue makes. And brewer, Jaroud Rouben, has made sure you won’t.

 

Lo-Rez Brewing

 

Lo-Rez just opened their tanks in late 2016 and are the newest members of the Chicago brewing scene. Veteran home brewers and partners Dave Dahl and Kevin Lilly took the leap and joined the craft beer movement after three years of research, brewing at local breweries, and securing this Pilsen spot. Their love of Belgian-style and malt-forward beers like saisons, golden ales, scotch ales, stouts is represented in their line up. However, since the brewery has just opened we haven’t figured out what our favorite beers are yet. You can’t go wrong with the Position Zero Pale Ale and we look forward to more of what they have to offer to Chicago.

 

Lo-Rez are are putting the finishing touches on their taproom in Pilsen and will be open for business in a couple months. Keeping our fingers crossed because they are dealing with the aforementioned Unholy Trinity. Drive by anyway and see if the lights are on. If so knock on the door and tell them we said hello.

 

 

Lagunitas Brewing Company

 

Perhaps best for your last stop, Lagunitas’s Chicago plant will astound you. First off it is the largest craft brewery in the city, and perhaps the midwest. When it opened in 2014, the 300,000 sq ft brewery cemented the city’s place as one of the worlds best craft beer destinations.

 

After a long walk to the tap room you will find yourself two floors above the brewing facility. The spacious room gives you great views of the plant and it’s thousands of tons of stainless steel. The food is top notch, there is live music on the weekends and the tours are free. What else do you want? Oh there will be more.

 

Lagunitas has been planning on building a concert venue and rooftop bar since the opened. We noticed they just got their permit for the rooftop patio. So keep your eyes peeled for the opening in the next few months.

 

 

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Chicago Brewery Tour: Part 2, The North Side

Part 2, The North Side – Read Part 1: The West Side here.
Chicago’s North Side is teeming with brewery taprooms. Thanks to a comprehensive public transit system and (mostly) bike-friendly roadways, drinkers can navigate North Side brewery taprooms with ease. Seriously, get a bike or a Ventra card. Cycling is ideal, but the CTA’s buses and trains (Blue, Brown, and Red lines) can take folks from one North Side brewery to another in a jiffy. – Calvin Fredrickson

 

Photo supplied by Half Acre

 

Half Acre

 

Start here. You’ll probably end here, too. If you didn’t already know, Half Acre is a Chicago beer institution. Their 16-ounce cans of Daisy Cutter Pale Ale, Pony Pils, and rotating seasonal IPAs are icons of Chicago’s obsession with hoppy beer. At Half Acre, aesthetic and concept can be as important as the liquid itself. Their social media and blog posts are a testament to the eccentricity that runs in the water over there. Rest assured, the beer’s as good as its story.

 

Finding a table or seat at Half Acre’s taproom is tough some evenings, so get there early and let the staff guide your choices. When in doubt, order a pint of Pony or freshly-released Tuna extra pale ale and coast into a reliably delicious experience.

 

Photo by Steph Byce

 

Dovetail

 

Ales – mainly IPAs and big stouts – have long dominated Chicago’s tap lines. That domination may be due to a lack of representation of lager, limited mainly to elder statesman Metropolitan and, more recently, Baderbrau. Add to the lager-brewing movement newcomer Dovetail, your continental European-inspired huckleberry. Take the Brown Line to Irving Park and stroll over to their brewery/taproom, where tradition, balance, and patience are sacrosanct brewing tenets. With crowds at Dovetail often reaching capacity on weekends, and seeing an increasing number of Dovetail tap handles at bars around town, Chicago may well be falling for lager.

 

An amicable mix of big 10 bros, regular Janes and Joes, and old money tickers will find themselves rubbing elbows at Dovetail’s relaxed taproom. Food trucks are usually parked nearby, but if you don’t feel like getting off your barstool, order a dried sausage and a pretzel. If you’re lucky, Jenny will have some stinky cheese on hand. Be nice and she’ll save you a wedge, on the house.

 

Saturday brewery tours at Dovetail allow guests to drink beer straight from the fermentation and brite tanks while listening to the story of liquid dreams turned reality from co-founders Hagen Dost and Bill Wesselink themselves, offering an up-close view and taste of Dovetail’s heart and soul, fermentation. Buy a ticket to their tour, ya’ Scrooge – if it isn’t already sold out. Photograph their brewhouse – a 106-year-old copper vessel formerly of Weihenstephaner may catch your eye – coolship room, open top fermenters, horizontal conditioning tanks, and barrel cellar, filled with barrels of spontaneously-fermented beer brewed in the tradition of lambic.

 

Photo by Tricia Scully

 

Old Irving Brewing Co.

 

At last, the Northwest Side finally gets a brewery/taproom. Take the Blue Line to Montrose. Excellent food and great beers are the game at Old Irving Brewing. Formed in the wake of the Crooked Fork concept – a project put forth by now-deceased Homaro Cantu – Old Irving feels like a vision carried out by Cantu’s friends. Highlights from our visit include a few hoppy numbers and the dessert-like Krampus Cookies, a double chocolate stout brewed with cacao nibs and Madagascar vanilla bean.

 

Looking to play some drinking games while you, err, drink? Hold my beer, Old Irving has cornhole boards for casual gameplay, and a bocce league for the serious player. They also rent out space for birthdays and other events. Parents without a sitter will be glad to find Old Irving offers several kid-friendly food options, along with an attentive waitstaff. Their elevated, wood-fired pub fare and sound contemporary American beers make Old Irving a fine addition to Chicago’s North Side brewing scene.

 

Photo by JJ Jetel

 

Hopewell

 

This clean, airy brewery/taproom is the 2017 zeitgeist of Logan Square. Spacious as it is, Hopewell’s taproom is packed most nights, due in part to their central location and selection of thoughtful, peppy beers, brewed with the consideration of seasonality. Take the Blue Line to Logan Square. Order a Squad – quad brewed for Hopewell’s one year anniversary – and scribble on a coaster while soaking in the bubbly atmosphere of Hopwell’s taproom, marked by well curated music and conversation of area socialites.

 

As a brewer at Brooklyn Brewery, Hopewell co-founder Stephen Bossu gained an appreciation for brewing lager – an appreciation that informs Hopewell’s lager-friendly portfolio, including year-round First Lager and several other rotating lagers. Their kettle-soured Clover Club – brewed in collaboration with The Whistler – is a gin botanical and raspberry puree-infused saison, and tastes like an invitation to spring. Lately, Hopewell has been hosting pop-ups with area restaurants like Parson’s, Green Street Smoked Meats, and Dimo’s Pizza. Indeed, the Hopewell folks have made fast friends with Logan Square/Avondale businesses and residents alike – stop in for a beer and count yourself among them.

 

Revolution

 

In 2010, Revolution’s brewpub invigorated the food and beverage scene in Logan Square, attracting droves of thirsty patrons to a once quiet strip of Milwaukee Ave.

Located steps from the California Blue Line, the brewpub sees a lot of foot traffic – it’s a packed house most nights after 5 p.m. If you’re solo, grab a seat at the bar, order a Workingman Mild, and thank your lucky stars the reuben sandwich is back on the menu. And by Jove, don’t forget to order it, either.

 

You won’t find a barrel aged beer as consistently good and affordable as theirs, made possible, in part, by the opening of their production facility in 2012, located near the Belmont Blue Line stop. Connected to Rev’s production facility is a sizeable taproom, where you can ogle their prodigious barrel aging program and take pictures in front of a gigantic American flag. Ask for a Straight Jacket Barleywine. It may 1. turn your ears red, or 2. make you feel photogenic. Probably both. The two-year-aged version, V.S.O.J. – Very Special Old Straight Jacket – is a drinking experience bordering the sublime.

 

Of all their beers, Revolution’s hoppy ones have won the hearts of drinkers. But if you’re jonesing for yeast-driven, lower-ABV beers, Rev’s brewpub is the ticket, which still champions English beers – draught and cask – in a way few others in the region have. The sustained success of their Logan Square Brewpub and growth of their Avondale production facility and taproom has made Revolution a role model to new school Chicago breweries. Pay your dues.

 

Begyle

 

Despite their penchant for dad jokes and pop punk, Begyle packs their North Center taproom on a nightly basis. Maybe it’s the green chairs. Accent chairs, so hot right now. Since opening their taproom, located off the Irving Park Brown Line, Begyle’s production has been focused on supplying kegs to the taproom’s insatiable appetite – a demand that limited the availability of six-packs in the off-premise market. That constraint was eased recently with the help of Midwest Mobile Canning and contract-brewing partner Great Central Brewing Co, allowing Begyle to launch four brands as year-round, six-pack 12-ounce cans: Begyle Blonde Ale, Crash Landed American Pale Wheat Ale, Free Bird APA, and Hophazardly IPA.

 

The Begyle crew is the sweetest you’ll come across. Co-founder Kevin Cary is no exception – he’s basically a young Santa in flannel. One of their most beloved beers, Imperial Flannel Pajamas Coffee Stout, drinks like a lazy Saturday afternoon. Begyle’s hop-heavy year-rounders will hit the mark for hopheads, but that’s not all Begyle’s known for – their malt-forward offerings like Tough Guy Brown Ale and Neighborly Stout make Begyle’s beer menu a well-rounded one. Ipsento’s cold brewed is served via nitro pour for those in need of caffeination. If you find yourself without socks, Begyle with happily sell you a pair of branded argyle ones. Wait a minute. Argyle… Begyle…

 

Dryhop

 

Though the space inside this Lakeview East gastropub/brewery is snug – the brewers and bartenders know that better than anyone – the cozy confines of Dryhop do not hinder the high quality experience of their beers and food. People in the area looking for a tropical IPA and delicious, juicy burger could do no better than Dryhop. Grab a seat at the bar and you might catch brewer Brant Dubovick drinking a shift beer (or two or three). Take the Brown Line to Belmont Ave.

 

Dryhop’s walls are adorned with artwork that is showcased on a rotating basis, and usually pertains to booze of some sort. Featured artists include locals Andrew Wright and Tara Zanzig, among others. In the warmer months, patio seating invites guests to pound a few Shark Meets Hipster IPA while watching the vibrant Broadway Ave traffic whizz by. Fans of dry, American-focused beer will hang their hat at Dryhop.

 

Corridor

 

As the sister restaurant to Dryhop, this West Lakeview brewery is decidedly more rustic, with an emphasis on farmhouse ales and “hop forward American trailblazers.” Lately, this Southport Corridor brewery, located near the Southport Brown Line stop, has been leaning toward beers in the latter category, American beer. With the return of brewer Roger Cuzelis, formerly of Forbidden Root, and Corridor before that, expect to see more hazy, hoppy goodness from Corridor.

 

Sitting on their sidewalk patio in warmer months, Cubs fans can be seen walking in packs to Wrigley Field. Southport Ave: where you can overpay for ice cream, be nearly run over by Land Rovers, and push a stroller with a 32-ounce crowler in the cupholder. Corridor is a source of joy on this bougie strip of Southport, offering fancy pizza and delicious beers to all comers.

 

Band of Bohemia

 

Refined food with tasty, culinary minded beers. As the first Michelin starred brewpub in the U.S., Band of Bohemia has proven that beer has asserted its role in the world of fine dining. If you’re traveling by train, take the Brown Line to Damen. Co-founder Michael Carrol’s history as a bread baker at Alinea and brewer at Half Acre lend a Chicago-heavy credibility to Band of Bohemia’s brewing side. Their food program is no slouch either, boasting staff with experience at numerous other Michelin-starred restaurants.

 

For an elegant evening of beer and food, book a reservation at Ravenswood’s Band of Bohemia. A glance at their menu reveals beers brewed with a sense of whimsy, like their Maitake Wheat – brewed with roasted maitake mushrooms – and Parsnip and White Pepper Rye ale. Heady stuff! Brewpubs like Band of Bohemia are moving the needle forward for imaginative brewers and drinkers.

 

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Chicago Brewery Tour: Part 1, The West Side

Part 1 of 3

Chicago’s reputation for making great beers is on the ascendancy. And this a reason you might be noticing why a lot of people visiting the windy city are here for the beer. There are sixty six breweries in Chicago and another hundred or so in the burbs. And whether you like it or not Chicago has become one of the top cities for craft beer in America. Not only do we have enough local breweries that would take you a year to try all of their beer, but Chicago has an incredibly diverse range of beers from around the country and the world making it one of the primary markets for the over hundreds of regional and national craft breweries to break into.

The explosion of breweries in Chicagoland is a relatively recent phenomena. In the past few years you can find a brewery in many of the high traffic hospitality and entertainment districts in the city. But there are also breweries opening up in out of the way industrial corridors and neighborhoods you have never visited before. This is great for Chicago and craft beer drinkers everywhere. You can drink hyper local and regional brews that are high quality, rad and fresh. Some of the first craft breweries started here in the city and a dozen or so advanced and innovative breweries are making beers sought after all over the world. We have some of the best bars in the world, and restaurants that make food to pair with beer that are internationally renowned.

For those of you with your favorite breweries and watering holes, you probably know where you like to go to have a cold one. But have you every considered doing a tour of some of the historic and brand new breweries that have popped up in the last few months and revisited ones you checked out a while ago? Where would you take out visitors from out of town? Well, let us help.

We created a few tours in which to investigate our city’s microbreweries and brewpubs that a reasonable person could finish in a day or two. And we picked breweries that have tap rooms or tasting rooms and have left out most production only facilities. You don’t like our picks? The Chicago Reader recently put out a guide to the best Brewery Tours in the city and The Hop Review has a comprehensive google map of all of our metropolitan breweries. We encourage you to design your own tours and guides to drinking beer and want you to share them with us. Enjoy the ride.

If you have one day to fill on a brewery tour of Chicago and are not going to Indiana to visit Three Floyd’s then this might be your best option. It’s close to the loop, the distances between them are not too far. It’s bike-able, walkable and taxi friendly. The tour includes a range of small brewpubs to the second largest craft brewing facility in Chicago. It also has a lot of food options. And if you want to eat your way through all this beer, this route maximizes your options. Enjoy.  – Edmar



Haymarket Pub & Brewery

 

Let’s start our West Side Tour with brunch or lunch in the heart of the Chicago Food Zone. Before the West Loop Randolph St corridor became the eating and drinking freak show that it is today, there was Haymarket Pub and Brewery. Opened by one of the OGs of the 90s brewing scene, Pete Crowley, Haymarket became one of the second wave of breweries in Chicago that helped push craft beer’s expansion into the mainstream.

 

Pete has one dozens of awards for his brews. I suggest you try a First Chance American IPA or their Mathis Imperial IPA and then get some classic pub grub. The Riot Sandwich is the jam. Housemade Italian sausage patties, mozzarella cheese, house made apple bacon BBQ sauce and giardinara all smoosh together onto a brioche bun. A hot mess. I would also recommend the smoked then fried wings, the sausage sampler, and do not miss out on the cheese curds with house made marinara.

 

Haymarket probably learned that opening a brewery in Chicago is a nightmare. After a few years of success on Randolph they embarked on opening a production facility in Western Michigan, a big suburb of Chicago. Look for their beer outside the tap room and on shelves everywhere in Chicagoland soon.

 

photo by Galdones Photography

 

Cruz Blanca

 

Rick Bayless has a nationally distributed line of beers called Tocayo. They are ok, but they’re nothing super special. Which surprised me because Rick should know better. But maybe he noticed he couldn’t control that aspect of his brand. So, being a Business Genius, Rick opened his own brewing joint in the middle of the Randolph Street food zone to make up for the contract brew. First thing I like most of all is the Cruz Blanca branding. It is some of the freshest and best stuff in town. I love the nod to the Mexico Olympics of 1968 because it reminds me of the Revolution, man, with fists help high in the air, the Paris revolt, etc. Second best thing I love about Rick is that he is a leader in sustainable business practices. His Frontera Farmer Foundation invested over $2 Million in local farms to help them scale up. What’s not to like about this guy? So it’s great that he has a brewpub, purchasing local farmers produce and making locally crafted liquid.

 

The brewpub crafts small batch European-style house beers imbued with what Rick’s best at: using Mexican flavors. My inside sources working for Rick tell me that the Marigold, a strong ale brewed with coffee and blackberry and the CDMX pilsner are the bomb. They also just perfected a brand new beer called If There Is Smoke, an amber, German-Style ratifier with cold smoked malt. Seems like smoked beers are having a moment this year.

 

If yer still hungry after eating at Haymarket there are delicious Oaxacan-style tacos here for you. The well designed tasting room with communal tables is right outside a visible production zone. It’s the standard for a sleek urban brewpub look, feel and taste, if ya ask me.

 

 

Goose Island

 

Goose Island is loved and hated. Beloved for being Chicago’s darling craft brewery that brought the world Bourbon County Stout, and the Sour Sisters line of beer. Others love Goose because they did most of the heavy lifting to bring craft beer to the masses with their 312 and Honkers Ale lines. And Goose is responsible for being the parents of so many brewers that went on to start their own breweries that its hard to even keep count. So this place is a sacred place. An important place to honor.

 

And then ABInBev, the Borg of Macro Beer, purchased them. Some say this was the beginning of the end of craft beer because it means Macro beer will now absorb the idea of Craft into their international marketing machinations and smash smaller craft breweries because of their unfair business advantages. This may or may not be true. One thing we know is that Bud Borg has infused a lot of money into their operations. The workers got paid better and the deal helped them grow massively. They have also mastered the art of marketing their liquid to the masses. No easy feat. Some beer nerds have forsaken the company and Goose is dead to them after selling out to the Man. But most Goose drinkers have no idea what happened or don’t even care. Goose is opening up tap rooms and tasting spots all over the world. Lets just hope they make good liquid which will proselytize the Chicago beer scene to the rest of the planet.

 

When you stop by the taproom on Fulton you will see what you might expect to see at a brewery operation as large as Goose. It has a classic tasting room vibe with barrels, reclaimed wood and faux old school paint on brick. There are windows that peak into the production zone, a look into the lab, the opportunity to get some good bar food grub, and tons of merch. There are special tap room only beers on draft every week and some rare bottles that you will be lucky to find anywhere. And if you are smart you will make every effort to check out the massive 100,000 sq ft barrel aging facility down the block. People would poke your eye out to have a chance to walk amidst that holy site of beer.

 

 

On Tour Brewing Company

 

After your visit to Goose Island walk north a few blocks to the next stop. On Tour Brewing just popped up out of nowhere it seems. The classic high roofed former boiler warehouse building has a 75 person seating area to sit at that looks upon the brewhouse as if it were a theater stage. You might not know this but most brewers don’t like being watched while they work, but its the curse of having a tap room. Just deal with it, brewers! It’s fun to watch you make our liquid.

 

I wish most brewery tap rooms didn’t have TVs but it seems like the thing to do lately, but whatever happened to good conversation? Everyone seems to dig the On Tour pilsner, but I dig the Paradise Waits IPA. It’s a solid Simcoe and Centennial hopped jam.

 

On Tour allows you to take some of their dozen or so draft beers to go as a 32oz crawler, my favorite container for imbibing beer from later. I haven’t seen it myself but food trucks are to make an appearance at the brewery to provide vittles to go with your beer. We look forward to seeing what these cats will offer to fresh beer fans from around Chicagoland.

 

Photo by BJ Pichman

 

Forbidden Root

 

Four or five years ago I was blown away by the fact owner and founder, Robert Finkel was fixated on making botanical brews. Back then my experience with this “style” of beer was related to Not Your Father’s Root Beer, weird alcoholic ginger beers, and Gruits. Little did I know that Robert’s obsession with botanical brewing would lead to a wide range of experimental and delicious concoctions made in collaboration with “Alchemist”, Randy Mosher, a well regarded author, brewer and apostle of the beer business.

 

Located in the West Town neighborhood, Forbidden Root opened up in the legendary Hub Theater, a site of many bacchanalian nights and alchemically dosed patrons back in the day. So it’s got good vibes built into it. It is almost a miracle they finally were able to open up their brewpub due to the crazy process it takes to navigate a ward’s politics, zoning, and moratoriums. So we are lucky. Today you can enjoy a pint of the botanical brews with some great food from their creative gastropub menu. We featured Forbidden Root in our last issue of Mash Tun ( issue 10) so check it out for a more in-depth history of the joint.

 

One more thing, brewer, BJ Pichman is also making some great IPAs, sour beers and pale ales to round out the botanical brewing side of things. We also expect him to host a Northeast Style IPA completion at the brewery some day soon.

 

 

Piece Brewery & Pizzeria
I know I said I hate TVs but this place is the blueprint for sports bar meets brewery and pizza joint.

And it wouldn’t be right to just end the West Side tour at Forbidden Root when ya know just up in Liquor Park is a brewpub that has been kicking ass since 2001. In fact they were one of the few brewpubs that opened after the 90s craft beer bubble. And boy did they win big. Head brewer, Jonathan Cutler, a Goose alum, has been squeezing out gems and winning major beer awards ever since they opened the place. This is extremely difficult to do nowadays since there are over 5,000 breweries in operation across the country. And ya wanna know why ya never see there beer on tap anywhere else? They can’t make enough to satisfy their customers’ demands in the tap room.

 

Their Kolsch, Golden Arm, is the best in the category. And most of the brews are spot on and great, as well. But the crazy thing about Piece is that the pizza is goddam delicious. It’s almost like the pizza outshines the beer sometimes, but that’s a good thing, right? World class beer meets world glass pizza. Jesus Christos, just let me die here.

 

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SBA Financing Options for Brewery Expansion

I have been in commercial lending since 2005 and have closely followed the expansion of the craft beer industry for many years. Over the past several years, I had the good fortune to work with several individuals involved in various capacities within the craft beer industry. Throughout my interactions with them, I regularly found myself as interested with the business side of the industry as I was with the beers being created.

Given my background as a lender, I thought about how the loan products commonly used by manufacturers could be used by breweries looking to expand. I believe expansion is the point at which a commercial bank is best positioned to work with a brewery. At expansion, the concept has been proven and implementation of a thoughtful capital structure can help fuel growth.

SBA Program Overview:
Many business owners are familiar with the Small Business Administration in some capacity. The larger question has to do with how the SBA and their loan programs can assist their company.

In short, the SBA partners with banks and other lenders through a series of programs to provide funds to privately held businesses operating in the United States. As part of that partnership, the SBA provides those lenders with a guaranty against a loss on the loan in exchange for a fee that is paid by the borrower. That fee can be rolled into the loan request to help reduce the out-of-pocket funds needed to secure the loan.

The overall underwriting process for an SBA loan is very similar to conventional commercial loans. The bank will underwrite the recent financial performance of the company in an effort to estimate their future performance. Through that review and consideration of projections, we can calculate the company’s cash flow in order to determine their ability to service both existing and new debt.

In order to qualify for an SBA loan, the business must pledge the assets of the company to the loan and all owners with at least 20% equity in the company must personally guaranty the debt. Given that lenders are required to check the personal credit scores of all owners, I am often asked about the role that personal credit scores play in a credit decision. The overall expectation is that the business owners need to be as credit worthy as the company itself and thus a good credit score is expected. As a result, a good credit score will not necessarily improve your chances to obtain a loan but a poor score could put that loan in jeopardy.

SBA loans can be used for a variety of reasons but are most commonly used to finance equipment purchases, real estate acquisitions or to provide working capital. Additional uses for the SBA’s programs include acquisition financing or buyout loans. There are a number of resources both locally and nationally for companies interested in obtaining an SBA loan for their business. As a lender, my recommendation is that you work with your existing advisors, area banks and the SBA itself before engaging anyone to help you secure an SBA loan for a fee. Fees to loan brokers can add up and are not eligible to be financed by the loan. If you choose to work with a loan broker, be sure to find out who is paying the fee as some lenders will pay finders fees in addition to ones paid by the business.

Should you decide to move forward with an SBA loan for your brewery, the next logical question is who to work with? Outside of finding a partner who you believe would be a good fit, the following are some questions to consider as part of the selection process:

•    To the extent you have existing loans, is your current bank an SBA lender?
•    This question is important as all SBA loans are required to be secured with a first lien on the business assets. If you have existing conventional loans that are secured with the company’s assets, your new lender may those loans to be retired or combined with the SBA loan request.
•     Does my SBA lender have delegated authority?
•    Delegated authority (also known as an SBA Preferred Lender or an SBA Express Lender) allows the lender to approve the SBA guaranteed loan programs in-house. While this does not change any of the SBA program requirements, it does give the bank the ability to streamline the process and reduce turnaround time since the SBA does not need to separately approve the loan request.
•    Does the lender intend to sell the loan guaranty or keep it within their portfolio?
•    There is a secondary market for the guaranteed portions of SBA loans that is similar to the one that exists for home mortgages. As such, some institutions decide to sell the guaranteed portion to investors on the secondary market for fee income. Whether or not the lender chooses to sell the guaranteed portion of the loan should not have an impact on your ability to obtain the loan. Rather, the sale of the guaranty can impose limitations on that lenders ability to amend the loan in the future. If your brewery is seeking a long-term partner for your business, you may want to consider a bank who plans to keep your loan in their portfolio rather than one looking to sell the guaranty.
•    Does the lender offer working capital lines of credit?
•    This can be important if you anticipate needing a loan to support working capital in the future. Not all SBA lenders offer working capital lines which will limit your business if you find yourself in need of one. Similar to the first point, if you work with a lender who does not support working capital lines, you may be forced to retire or refinance the term loan with another lender in order to obtain the line of credit.

SBA 7(a) Loan Scenario:
For the first scenario, let’s envision a brewery expanding into a larger leased space that will require a $75,000 build out and $200,000 in additional equipment. Having saved money, the company has $25,000 to put towards the project but that amount does not account for even 10% of the total project which can present a challenge when seeking financing for the project.

Out of the gate, the challenge of this loan will be the build out and improvements to the leased facility as they do not provide any collateral for the bank. As such, the SBA 7(a) program would be a good loan structure for the bank as it helps to shore up the collateral weakness.

Collateral can often be a challenge with an early business loan and it is for this reason that I believe banks are best suited to assist with an expansion. Assuming the brewery was started with savings and help from friends and family, the equipment on the balance sheet will help secure the loan request which can in turn lead to a greater likelihood to obtain the loan and potentially more favorable terms. This is especially helpful with the taproom buildout that often costs a considerable amount but brings little to no collateral value to the bank. One thing to consider when requesting financing on a leased facility is that the length of the loan cannot exceed the term of the lease.

The amount of equity the company needs to put into the project will depend on several factors including the strength of their current balance sheet, the distribution of costs between equipment and improvements and the credit policies of the bank. One of the major advantages of the SBA 7(a) program is that it can reduce the amount of equity needed on the project.

Given the pace at which many breweries are growing and thus outgrowing their facilities, my recommendation would be to split the loan request into two portions. By splitting the loan into two parts, the entire amount of equity ($25,000) can be used toward the build out, thus allowing that $50,000 loan to be amortized over 36 months. The remaining $200,000 that was used entirely for the equipment can then be financed over a traditional 60 month term.

By utilizing this structure, the bank is comforted by the quicker repayment for the build out loan, while recognizing the collateral provided by the new and existing equipment to secure the equipment loan. By accelerating the payoff on the buildout loan, the brewery will be in better position to accommodate a move to a new facility as they will not be weighed down by debt used on facility they wish to leave.

SBA 504 Program Overview:
The SBA 504 program is different in structure compared to the SBA guaranteed programs, such as the SBA 7(a) program, and is often used for larger projects. At the bank I work at, we tend to look at the SBA 504 program for projects in excess of $750,000. While the program can accommodate smaller projects, the fees on smaller projects can be limiting and thus the project may be better served by a guaranteed program such as 7(a).

Rather than providing the bank with a guaranty against loss, the SBA issues bonds to investors on a monthly basis and uses proceeds from those sales to provide direct loans to businesses. These loans have long-term fixed rates of 10 years for equipment and 20 years for real estate which are not otherwise available through conventional loans.

Depending on the scope of the project, the borrower will be required to put in 10% or 15% equity. The bank then funds a term loan equal to 50% of the project and issues a second short term loan equal to the balance of the project. Once the project has been completed and all funds disbursed, the SBA pools all of the 504 projects for the given month and issues a bond whose proceeds are used to pay off the short term loan and provide permanent financing.

The SBA 504 project has two main benefits to a company. The first is a reduction in the amount of equity required for the project. Conventional real estate transactions often require 20% equity. By utilizing an SBA 504 project, that amount can be reduced to 10% or 15%. The second benefit is the long term fixed interest rate on the bond portion of the loan. Most bank loans will reprice every five years through a balloon and subsequent renegotiation of terms or through an indexed repricing provision within the loan agreement. Under the SBA 504 program, the bond portion of the project will have a fixed interest rate for the life of the loan. That means that the company will not be subject to interest rate increases on that portion of the project. On a 20 year mortgage, the 20 year fixed interest rate significantly hedges your exposure and locks in a sizable portion of your variable financing costs.

One other way SBA 504 loans differ from the SBA 7(a) program is that a portion of the underwriting is performed in conjunction with a non-profit Certified Development Company (CDC). CDC’s vary by state and are another great resource for questions on the program and can also help you find a bank partner if you do not have one already.

SBA 504 Loan Scenario:
For the SBA 504 scenario, let’s envision a brewery that is looking to relocate production from a leased space to their own facility with a purchase price $2,400,000. Along with the purchase of the real estate, the project includes $100,000 for buildout costs and $500,000 for additional equipment resulting in a total project cost of $3,000,000.

Given that the company has been operating for several years and demonstrates strong cash flow to cover the project, the bank opts to require a 10% down payment of $300,000. From there, the bank will issue a first mortgage note for $1,500,000 equal to 50% of the project along with a short term note for $1,200,000 to cover the remaining 40% of the project.

As the project begins, the owners’ equity accounts for the first funds put into the project. Once the entire $300,000 has been spent, the bank will then fund the $1,500,000 loan followed by the $1,200,000 loan. Upon completion of the project, the bank will submit the required documentation to the CDC for placement on the next bond issuance. The interest rate on the financing provided by the bond will be set when the bond is issued. This is especially relevant in a rising interest rate environment such as the one we are in currently as the final interest rate will be subject to market fluctuations until the bond is issued.

Once funded, the $1,500,000 bank loan will convert to an end loan with a minimum ten year term. While a project is in process, it is common for a bank to require the borrower to only make interest payments on the loan during that period. This is done with the idea that the company is often incurring other expenses such as rent that will go away or be reduced once they take occupancy of the new building. The majority of lenders will reprice the loan after five years to an agreed upon indexed rate.

It is worth noting that the SBA 504 project can be used to fund large equipment purchases or a combination of 504 loans can be used when purchasing both equipment and real estate. The SBA has an overall limit of $5,000,000 that it can fund to any one company. Assuming that $5,000,000 represented 40% of a project that would mean the project would have a total cost of $12,500,000. It is also possible for the project to exceed $12,500,000 as the bank loan and equity components would need to increase accordingly.

In conclusion, I hope this piece grants insight into the SBA lending process. There are a variety of resources available both in your local community and nationally to help you through the process and I would encourage you to take advantage of them when considering how to finance the expansion of your brewery.

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Mash Tun Journal #11 Release: A Reuben Party

On Saturday, April 29 from 5-9pm, join the producers of Mash Tun Journal at Maria’s/Kimski as they celebrate the release of issue #11. Enjoy some brews by a sweet lineup of breweries featured in the issue and try one of our favorite sandwiches: the reuben.

Longtime Mash Tun contributors and sandwich enthusiasts Reuben Kincaid and Reuben Bratwurst Inc. will be on hand sampling out a few brews on the patio and celebrating the return of Chef Won Kim’s Reuben Sando.

Featuring special sections by: Forbidden Root, Cruz Blanca, Hopewell, Revolution, Half Acre, Baderbrau, Whiner, Dovetail, Begyle, Marz, Corridor, and Goose Island.

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Best Looking Brands in Beer Part 3: Grimm Artisanal Ales

 

A few years ago, we tried to hook up with some mysterious brewer-artists that were serving their beers at exhibitions at alternative galleries in Chicago. We were hosting a series of Art of Beer events and thought they were perfect for the shows—but we never managed to connect. Four years later, we find out that the cats we were looking for were Joe and Lauren Grimm, the owners of Grimm Artisanal Ales.

 

What inspired you to start making beer?

 

Twelve years ago, you’d find us fermenting ginger beer, mead, pickles, and kimchi in our apartment kitchen. It was simple: We were interested in the transformation of materials by bacteria, yeast, and time.

 

Once we were hooked on Orval, Fantôme, and Jolly Pumpkin, beers with significant yeast and bacteria profiles, that was all we wanted to make. We only started producing IPA when we figured out how to make yeast esters play with hop character in a meaningful way.

 

We’re motivated by the challenge—we’re discovering how deep the rabbit hole goes, and there seems to be no bottom. Joe and I are constantly in search of new techniques and flavors in the beers we make.  Being truly great will require a lifetime of dedicated research and experimentation.

 

 

I assume you guys started as gypsy brewers instead of diving into the shit of opening your own brewery because of the cost and risk. Would you recommend going this route to others?

 

It’s always hard. We initially wanted to open our own production brewery with our own brewing equipment, but it was impossible without a sales record. Gypsy brewing ended up being the right move for us, but that doesn’t mean that it’s right for everyone. Now, we’re moving toward opening our own facility, specifically designed around our idiosyncratic practices.

 

It’s true that we didn’t have to deal with the upfront financial investment, but it’s not necessarily easier to operate the way we do. Folks often think that it’s easier than brewery ownership, but it’s just different. The risks are there, but different. The biggest risk in gypsy brewing is the power differential between the gypsy brewer and the partner brewer. They have you by the short hairs. Are you going to be able to assert yourself to get YOUR ideas into the bottle?

 

That’s why we’re constantly working on our relationships with our partner breweries. We have to be able to trust the people we work with day in and day out, and, in turn, they need to trust us to allow us into their breweries and give us the opportunity to experiment the way we do. Some people seem to have a fantasy of running a gypsy brewing business as, like, a hobby. If you treat it as anything less that a full time rigorous commitment you will suck at it and probably fail.

 

Three to four years ago it was brutal looking for space and time at breweries to contract brew beer. Has it been easier to find tank space and brewing time due to the growth in the number of breweries that have started?

 

It’s definitely been easier for us to find capacity more recently, but I think that it’s actually due to the relationships and reputation that we’ve built. There are more breweries around these days, but capacity still seems pretty tight. If a brewery is sitting with empty fermenters, ask yourself why. Is that somebody you really want to work with?

How do you come up with concepts for your beers?

 

That’s a hard question to answer. It’s an ongoing process that began way back when we were first learning about fermentation 12 years ago. As we’ve developed identities as a brewers, we’ve developed a sense of style, a beer aesthetic. Each beer is a part of the Grimm project as a whole, and our ideas about our beer are constantly in flux. Every time we brew, we make small adjustments to our technique and ingredients, tweaks based on research and experimentation.

 

I see a Providence school of psychedelic hallucinogenic artwork in your beer labels. What is your process for naming, designing, and creating the artwork on your packaging?

 

You’re not wrong about the Providence connection; Joe and I both lived there in the aftermath of the Fort Thunder-era and that visual style was influential.

 

We always begin the process with a beer name. We’ll go back and forth playing off of one another’s ideas. For instance, the name Tesseract started out with a general idea of crystals, which led to tessera, the small pieces of tile that make up a mosaic, tessellations, and finally Tesseract, which came from A Wrinkle in Time.

 

Once we’ve decided on a name, the label design begins. One of our oldest friends, artist Gretta Johnson, is an integral part of our team.  The labels that originate in her drawings tend to have a hand drawn, gestural aesthetic (for example, Purple Prose and Future Perfect). The ones that I design from scratch tend to be more graphic and minimal (for example Magnetic Compass, Vacay). Because we’ve known each other for ten-plus years, our working process is pretty fluid. Most of the time, we just have a series of text messages to develop ideas for imagery.

 

Even though the final label is a computer file that I’ve worked through in Illustrator, the images usually begin as a drawing with pen and paper that Gretta or myself will draw. I think that’s one reason why our labels stand out so much. You can see the hand in each one, rather than just computer graphics.

Can you tell me more of about the community of artists, brewers, and distributors that helped form Grimm along with you guys?

 

Joe and I are the only employees of Grimm, but we depend on a lot of other people to get our beer out there. Lately, we’ve been brewing a lot of beer at Flagship, on Staten Island, and at Beltway, in Sterling, VA. There is a whole cast of talented characters at each brewery that help to make our beer possible.

 

We also depend on distributors throughout the U.S. to get our beers to retailers. We could have never done any of this without them. Their relationships with retailers as well as their logistical infrastructure has enabled us to focus on brewing and design.

 

As I mentioned before, Gretta Johnson is significant to our design, but we’re also starting to include some of our other friend’s artwork as well.  We have upcoming labels contributed by Sumi Ink Club (Lucky Dragons + Sarah Rara) and Bryan Alfred.

 

Why do you think there so many poorly designed brands and labels out there?

 

Breweries with bad branding probably also have bad beer. You can often judge a book by its cover.

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Know Thyself: An Essay on Lazy Beer Marketing.

 

Know Thyself: An Essay on Lazy Beer Marketing.

Matt Tanaka

 

There’s a lot of lazy marketing in the beer world, and it’s holding good breweries back. It’s not really anyone’s fault, it’s the result of a bad idea that’s been repeated for years: all a brewery needs to do to survive is make great beer, and that if the marketing is “good” and polished, then the beer must be bad. Unfortunately, in today’s new-brewery-every-day marketplace, that simply isn’t true.

 

That recurring notion stems from the misconception that marketing is just the act of making something shiny when it shouldn’t be. That it’s the swindler’s art of making stuff up to sell a product. That’s bad marketing. The truth is, real marketing — good marketing — is something much deeper than that. It’s the well-communicated story of the culture and identity of a brewery. And, whether it’s packaging design, social media content, the words on the website, or the way the reps present their story at an event, every part of what a brewery does should be focused on communicating that identity.

 

The following “case studies” feature breweries with marketing problems, all of which stem from the fact they aren’t doing a great job of communicating who they are to beer drinkers. Because I’m not a masochist, none of these breweries are real, but as the honorable Julia Louis-Dreyfus once said in an interview about her documentary series, Veep: “Everyone loves the show because they all think it’s about the other guy.” So, before you get mad at me: these are all about the other guy. You’re doing great.

 

Case Study #1: Super Brad Brewery

 

The Problem

Super Brad Brewery is a brewpub in a small southern town known for its constant experimentation. After a recent shift to a wider distribution, they’ve found themselves needing to act more like the packaging brewery they’ve become, without abandoning their tiny-batch, change-on-a-dime brewpub origins. While waiting for a solution to magically fall into place, their social media accounts continue to treat the brewery like a bar in a small town.

 

The Fix

A simple change in the way they approach social media would help to shift their image from being a bar that brews beer to that of an established brewery. To put it simply, these guys really suck at social media. If I see them post one more photo of the shitty band that’s playing at their taproom that week, or a poorly lit shot of a greasy looking burger on BOGO night, I’m going to lose my marbles. These things are uninspiring, unoriginal, and kind of miss the point of social media in the first place. It’s not about throwing tiny advertisements and announcements at people; it’s about providing a window into the culture of your brewery, then inviting people to join you in that culture. It’s a way for someone who has never visited your brewery to get a taste of the personality of the people that make that beer. It’s about extending the experience beyond your taproom.

 

The folks at Super Brad are super goofy, with a weird sense of humor and a penchant for pranks. This is reflected in the beer they brew — it’s weird and experimental and is really hard to pigeonhole into any one style, or region. Their social media should reflect this by documenting the actual scenes of life at the brewery. That time John bought a Nerf gun and that escalated into a weeklong, all-brewery dart war? Instagram that. That time Sarah wanted to see if she could brew a peanut butter porter using peanuts that she grew at home? Take some photos of the experiments and post them in an album on Facebook with a story about the process. Show off the culture of your brewery instead of trying to pull people into the brewpub.

 

 

Case Study #2: Heelflip Brewing Company

 

The Problem

Heelflip Brewing Company is a production brewery and taproom in San Diego with a strong skateboarding theme. They have beers with names like, Double Kickflip IIPA, Boardslide Bitter and Frontside Fakie Narflip 360 BaitHook to Fakie Benihana Stout. Whenever they talk about the brewery, this is what they focus on. So much so that the beer is always treated as secondary. As a result, they’re not known for the beer they brew, even though they keep winning awards for it. It’s all summed up in their tagline: “Heelflip Brewing: Beer For Skateboarders.”

 

The Fix 

“Beer For Skateboarders” is really only half of the story. They like skateboarding, yes, but what they’re really good at is making killer beer. There’s a much stronger tie to the theme that they’ve devoted themselves to under the surface, and it’s one that shifts the focus to what’s important: the beer. Most of what they brew is low in alcohol, a decision they made because they wanted to drink sessionable beers that let them extend their skate… sessions. To let that idea speak a little louder, they could use a tagline closer to this: “Heelflip Brewing: Session Beers For Longer Sessions.” The change is subtle but important. It shifts the focus of the brand from the skateboarding to the beer. Instead of saying “We started our brewery because we like skating,” the tagline could read: “We started our brewery to make great beer, and we like to make the kind of beer that we can drink while skateboarding.”

 

Case Study #3: Melange Brewing Company

 

The Problem

Their IPA, Shondorf’s Second Staff has phenomenal graphics — a bad ass illustration of a wizard hovering above a cave where a troll wearing a “Shondorf” name tag pours hops into a steamy cauldron. Awesome. But when it sits on a shelf next to their Space Dust Oyster Stout with its classic video game-inspired graphics, or their The DM Is Always Right DIPA with what appears to be the artwork of the brewmaster’s five-year-old scribbled on a bar napkin… I get confused. And then angry. And then I buy a different beer.

 

The Fix

Consistency. Is. Key. When consumers walk into any bottle shop or liquor store these days, they’re faced with a metric butt ton of beer options. As a brewery with beer on those shelves, you have two goals: convince a first-time consumer to try your beer or remind a repeat consumer that your beer is awesome. Without a consistent identity, it’s difficult to achieve either.

 

For the new consumer, you want the three packages you have sitting next to each other to be clearly from the same place. IPA? Check. Porter? Check. Habanero Goose Feather Dingle Berry Pale Ale? Check. “I think I’ll try the IPA!” Good choice, new consumer, that Dingle Berry beer sounds suspicious… For the repeat consumer, you want their Tinder- and Candy Crush-addled brains, with their goldfish attention spans, to recognize your beer instantly, even if only because it’s familiar to them. If you’ve done your job, the last beer of yours they drank was fantastic, and now that they remember that experience, they’ll hopefully pick up your next beer.

 

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Here’s the good news: when you strip away all the buzzwords and the consultants and the fancy packaging and the instapinfacetwittergrams, you’re left with the heart of good marketing, a really strong understanding of yourself. It’s the kind of thing that, given some time, intentional thinking, and a ton of elbow grease, anyone can do. All I’m saying is that you owe it to yourself and your fans to be the most thoughtful version of yourself that you can be. Or at least one that doesn’t tweet about BOGOs.

 

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Best Looking Brands in Beer – Part 2: Evil Twin and Half Acre

In  issue 10 of Mash Tun Journal, we celebrate one of the reasons we love craft beer so much: the art and design of beer. Whether you know it or not, your local bottle shop or liquor store is hosting an exhibition of contemporary art on its shelves and in its coolers right now. Beer packaging design and labels are canvases that express the essence of their contents. Like any group art show, some work is pedestrian; some work is extraordinary.

See Part 1 of the  Best Looking Brands in Beer for the full introduction.

eviltwin1

Evil Twin

If you don’t know Evil Twin Brewing by now, you have been living under a rock. Evil Twin is a Copenhagen-based gypsy brewery that was formed in 2010 by Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø. Jeppe’s foray into beer started in the mid 2000s with a beer club and beer store in Copenhagen. Jeppe also happens to be the twin brother of Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, who runs the Danish brewery Mikkeller, whose brand is also featured in our Best Looking Beers in the Business piece.

 

Evil Twin started a few years after Mikkel opened Mikkeller in Denmark. As the Danish beer scene blew up and went global, Jeppe made the move to Brooklyn in 2012 to direct his empire. After moving to Brooklyn, he opened an awesome beer bar, Tørst, which features Evil Twin beers alongside other weird and delicious beers from around the world.

 

eviltwin2

 

With beers being made on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, Evil Twin has grown into a global craft beer company. He is the living incarnation of the brewer-as-rockstar, jet-setting around the world collaborating, brewing, and innovating for the craft beer world in terms of formula, design, marketing, and distribution.

 

Evil Twin is known for their elegant label design and clever beer names, such as: Beer Geek Breakfast, Christmas Eve at a New York City Hotel Room, Imperial Biscotti Break, and Hipster Ale. Jeppe often collaborates with his wife, Maria, who has a hand in guiding the brand through the beer naming and label copy writing processes. Creative Director Martin Justesen initiated the Evil Twin graphic design style with a simple triangle. This triangle is the DNA Martin instilled in the Evil Twin brand, and is a point of reference in the art development for each beer. Martin’s process begins with a beer name. He then creates ideas and sketches from scratch. His work is eye-catching and detail-oriented.

www.martinjustesen.com

http://mikkeller.dk/

 

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halfacre1

Half Acre Beer Co

 

Here in Chicago, we love the design of the liquid and labels of Half Acre Brewing. They were part of the second wave of breweries in Chicago that started breaking the mold of what a brewery could be.

 

Half Acre began ten years ago as a contract brewer, and over the last decade they have grown into becoming a Chicago powerhouse. Their first brewery was built in 2008 at 4257 N. Lincoln Ave, which now houses a retail shop, a taproom and full-service kitchen, and a 25-barrel brewhouse.

 

Last year, they built their Balmoral Ave. brewery, and it’s about to be unleashed to the public. The larger brewing facility will be complemented by an awesome patio and tasting room—and more food, we hope.

 

Well crafted, creative, and classic, Half Acre’s beers are batting 1.000. You will taste magic in their iconic Daisy Cutter Pale Ale, seasonals Akari Shogun American Wheat Ale and GoneAway IPA, freak-out-and-line-up-for-it Big Hugs Imperial Stout with coffee, and other tasty taproom exclusives.
halfacre2

Half Acre embraces the creative process with the design of their labels. President Gabriel Magliaro works with artist and graphic designer, Phineas X. Jones, in marketing and branding their beers. At Half Acre, Magliaro can be considered the creative director, giving Phineas a wide range of material and inspiration to create a label. Sometimes, the idea is only a name; other times, the ideas are specific. But most times, the ideas percolate in the back in the brewery. By the time it reaches Phineas, Magliaro has a fully formed concept in his mind. Phineas filters and interprets these concepts and brings their art to life.

 

Phineas works from a blank canvas. That fact alone differentiates Half Acre from other breweries following templates and the usual boring conventions of beer labeling. This approach is what makes Half Acre’s marketing and branding refreshing and fun. And their wide range of artwork, styles, and concepts are what separate Half Acre from the pack.

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Best Looking Brands in Beer – Part 1

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by Ed Marszewski
For years, Mash Tun organized and produced “Art of Beer” events around Chicago, showcases for the work of the artists and designers who communicate a brand’s personality and vision through labels, posters, and other packaging. We hosted these events to help craft beer enthusiasts understand and enjoy the parallel activities that make bring a craft beer brewery to life. These parallel art forms of making beer and making a beer brand are an obsession of ours. They have made us pursue drinking the world’s best beer while investigating the work of some of the best illustrators, artists, and designers on the planet.

 

In this issue of Mash Tun Journal, we celebrate one of the reasons we love craft beer so much: the art and design of beer. Whether you know it or not, your local bottle shop or liquor store is hosting an exhibition of contemporary art on its shelves and in its coolers right now. Beer packaging design and labels are canvases that express the essence of their contents. Like any group art show, some work is pedestrian; some work is extraordinary.

 

Some craft beer labels can be shitty and poorly designed, featuring amateur illustrations with little attention to detail. At their worst, they be downright offensive. Other times, beer labels are works of art that can entice you to try the beer—and that’s the point.

 

In recent years, the growth of the craft beer segment has increased competition among breweries in a few ways: for shelf space at retail outlets, for beer drinkers’ attention, and, ultimately, for beer drinkers’ business. Given the decline of “brewery loyalty” among consumers, breweries must now differentiate themselves from their friends and competitors in the industry. Breweries looking to set themselves apart pour thought and money into producing the right look and feel for their packaging and marketing, instead of focusing on the liquid alone. We love it when a brewery makes the packaging and design as exciting and bespoke as the liquid in the bottle.

 

When we picked the candidates of the Best Looking Brands in the Beer Business, we turned to some of our longtime favorites and a few cult-status breweries whose work we find to be experimental and progressive.

 

Enjoy.

 

Our first featured brewery is Mikkeller:

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Mikkeller was started in 2006 by Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, a Danish physics teacher-turned-brewer, and friend Kristian Keller. After making kitchen experiments for two and a half years, Bjergsø and Keller started brewing beer at a larger scale at Danish microbrewery Ørbæk and just dropped the mike.

 

Mikkeller broke all the molds for what a craft brewery could be. Practically inventing the idea off gypsy brewing, which is essentially contract brewing, Mikkeller beers also ushered in the notion of making a bottle or can of beer a work of culinary and visual art. Since its auspicious homebrewing roots, Mikkeller has become the face for gypsy breweries globally—both in terms of brewing and branding.

 

For Mikkeller, gypsy brewing means bouncing around from brewery to brewery, using excess tank capacity to create many different beers each year. Because of that, they need a lot of artwork to communicate the stories of their beers. That job went to Keith Shore. He first started working freelance for Mikkel—for many years now, Shore has made the beautiful aesthetic of his Mikkeller characters and illustrations into ubiquitous works of art.

 

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The design process is pretty simple. Usually, Mikkel explains a beer’s ingredients and flavor profile and Shore is given complete freedom in developing the imagery, sometimes coming up with the crazy names as well. Shore is usually working on 10-20 designs at a time, using gouache and watercolors to flesh out what is in his sketchbook. His labels are usually color bombs with cartoonish figures that make a nod to the works of Henri Matisse and David Hockney.

 

To date, Mikkeller has made over 650 beers, distributed to over 40 countries. Mikkeller has opened bars in Copenhagen, San Francisco, and Bangkok. Shores’ work is featured in the design of those spaces as well.

 

If there is anyone that has ushered in a new age of branding a beer to help it stand out in a crowded marketplace, Mikkel and Shore could take the blame.

 

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Omnipollo

Karl Grandin is part of the dynamic duo that comprises Omnipollo, a Swedish-based gypsy beer brand that Grandin and pal Henok Fentie created in 2011. Karl directs the marketing and branding side while Henok leads on brewing side. Omnipollo beers are being made all over Europe and the U.S. Omnipollo beers are unique in their packaging, and the liquid tastes delicious.

 

Conceptually and aesthetically, the bottle labels leap from the shelves and beckon you to pick them up. Representing a mixture of psychedelic abstractions and pop religious culture icons, Omnipollo artwork is unique, almost mind-blowing, really.

 

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Karl says that the Omnipollo images are based on his own dreams, and that he tries to bring that psychedelic and enigmatic sort of logic into the artwork. In Karl’s words, the Omnipollo world is “an open-ended cosmos, and although the imagery is often allegorical,” Karl encourages people to explore their own interpretations rather than explaining his intentions.

 

Rather than trying to make artwork that would somehow describe or portray the style or taste of a beer, Karl looks for what is going on around Omnipollo to try to capture something less obvious. There is always a synergy between the beer, the artwork, and the name, sometimes straightforward and obvious. Sometimes it is more cryptic.

 

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Karl says, “We want Omnipollo to be about more than the beer and the artwork. Presentation and stories are important parts of what we create. The shape of Omnipollo will keep developing and shifting. We have made handmade glass cups, garments, jewelry, and a book on homebrewing, and through all the people we meet, the collaborations we do and the ideas we dream up, Omnipollo is becoming more than the sum of its parts.”

 

We love these guys.

 

www.omnipollo.com

www.karlgrandin.com

 

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Using Bankruptcy to Kill the Narrative of the “Craft Beer Bubble.”

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By Jack O’Connor

 

Last December, San Francisco-based Magnolia Brewing filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Being a corporate bankruptcy attorney (and an optimistic beer geek), I view this positively.

 

You should, too.
Why? Because it’s good evidence that the craft beer industry is ready to move past the tired narrative of the dreaded “Craft Beer Bubble.”

 

First, let’s talk about the bubble, and how it’s been speculatively applied to the current craft beer boom, for better or worse.

 

Then we can talk about why a bankruptcy filing in Northern California may be important to ending this narrative.

 

How the “Bubble” Concept is Applied to the Current Craft Beer Boom

 

What exactly does it mean when we talk about a “bubble,” in the craft beer industry? Why is it relevant? Should I be concerned about bubbles? What about bubbles in my bath? Are you going to keep asking rhetorical questions? BUBBLES!

 
The term “bubble,” seems ubiquitous these days when discussing the growth of the craft beer industry. But it’s rarely defined in a clear way. Most often, people seem to use the term “bubble,” to refer to the very broad economic concept of an economic cycle, characterized by rapid expansion in a market, which is followed by severe contraction.

 

The most commonly cited example of a past “bubble,” in the craft beer industry was the rise and fall of microbreweries in the late 90s and early 2000s. According to data from the Brewers Association, the total number of breweries in the U.S. grew by over 500% between 1990 and 2000, ultimately stalling out and slightly declining between 2001 and 2006. Since 2006, however, the total number of breweries in the U.S. has grown again by almost 300%, from 1,511 total breweries in 2007 to current estimates exceeding 4,300 total breweries; more than have ever existed in the country’s history.[1]

 

Along with the growth in number of breweries, the marketshare of craft beer has also grown significantly over this time, both in terms of total sales, and production volume relative to the overall beer market.

 

This rapid growth of craft beer in such a short time is constantly narrative fodder for journalists, bloggers, and forum commenters (Trolls!), speculating that we’re in the midst of another “bubble,” that’s ready to burst any day. The argument usually employs the following logic:

 

New breweries are opening, and current breweries are expanding, at an unsustainable rate. Since the rate of growth is unsustainable, the growth of the craft beer industry will suddenly halt, or reverse just like it did 20 years ago.

 

While we are certainly in the midst of a booming period of growth in craft beer, this argument ignores a number of factors in making the case that we’re in the midst of a bubble. Namely, it misses the idea that craft beer is in the midst of entering a maturity. Calling it a bubble is misleading and ultimately harmful for a couple of reasons.

 

First, the term “bubble,” itself is probably not the right term to describe what happened in the 90s and what people are speculating will happen now. When used by financial professionals, the concept of a bubble focuses on trade pricing for assets in a specific market that strongly deviates from the actual value of those assets (think stock prices, home values, etc.). For example, the dotcom bubble in the late 90s and early 2000s (which happens to coincide with craft beer’s last boom & bust period), was characterized by investors buying tech stocks at artificially high prices, in the belief that they could sell them at even higher prices in the future. This speculation proved untrue, causing the bubble to burst when the value of tech stocks took a nose dive.

 

What we saw in the 90s was probably better described as a boom-and-bust period within the craft beer industry. The number of breweries expanded rapidly, and very suddenly stopped, resulting in a shrinking of the industry generally. This distinction is important to note, because regardless of the rate of industry growth, the industry has never completely fallen off a cliff. The trend, over time has continued upward. Thus, the use of the term “bubble,” can be detrimental to the industry. It assumes a cataclysmic event in which the industry as a whole goes belly-up.

 

Rather than focusing on the bubble narrative, our attention should be focused on how the industry is maturing in the midst of a boom period. Expansion, financing, and acquisition rates are high right now, and likely to slow over time, meaning at the very least fewer new breweries will open on such a rapid basis. And when coupled with increased competition between existing breweries who’ve undergone significant expansions and need to sell more and more beer to stay in business, some breweries will inevitably be forced out of the marketplace.

 

Some won’t be able to compete on quality, others won’t be able to compete from an operational efficiency standpoint. More than a few experienced craft players have adopted this view, including Sam Calgione (Dogfish Head), Bill Covaleski (Victory), Greg Koch (Stone),[2] and Mike Stevens (Founders).[3] When recently asked, all four have indicated that they think that the industry is heading toward a “shakeout,” or “fallout,” where breweries will have to close, and the number of new brewery openings will inevitably slow. But none of them seem to think that the craft beer industry is about to experience a complete bust.

 

I think Van Havig of Gigantic said it best back in 2014, when interviewed for the Strange Brews podcast on NPR. “If you think that every brewery out there is going to make it . . . No,” because every industry has “bad operators,” who’ll go out of business.[4]

 

So even during a boom, industry turnover is natural and expected. It doesn’t mean that a magical pin is about to fall from the sky and pop an imaginary bubble, causing the industry as a whole to disappear overnight. More likely, it means that the market is maturing. And there’s at least one overlooked factor that points to its continuing maturity: Bankruptcy.

 


Bankruptcy as a Factor in Identifying the Craft Beer Industry’s Maturity

 

Bankruptcy filings—especially chapter 11 bankruptcy filings—do not signal the death of a company, much less an industry. They should be viewed as a sign of industry maturity. Businesses that have no intrinsic value do not file for bankruptcy. It can be an expensive process, that really only makes sense if there is an industry and marketplace capable of supporting that business’s continued operations. When a company files for bankruptcy, an “automatic stay,” is triggered which generally prevents creditors from taking action against the company to collect outstanding debts while the company reorganizes. In some cases, chapter 11 is used to sell a business as a going concern, or run an orderly liquidation of the business’s assets.

 
The Magnolia bankruptcy presents a good example of how an established brewery in a competitive market views the long-term viability of the craft beer industry. As a San Francisco based brewery and brewpub, Magnolia (like so many other breweries across the country) recently undertook a dramatic expansion plan, which likely cost more than it could return in the short term for the brewery.[5] As a result, Magnolia filed for chapter 11 in the Northern District of California. The filings in the Bankruptcy Court show that the brewery and its restaurants are profitable, but that the company needs an opportunity to work with its secured lenders and vendors on terms that will keep moving the business forward.

 
Magnolia didn’t have to try to reorganize. If no market existed for its beers, it could have shut its doors and allowed the bank to liquidate its assets piecemeal. But by filing chapter 11, the brewery gives itself time and breathing room to reorganize its debt, reach agreements with creditors, and develop a plan to profitably continue operations.

 

This is not a bad thing. Bankruptcy filings, especially chapter 11 reorganizations, should be viewed as a sign of industry maturity. Rather than simply closing its doors and allowing the bank to liquidate its assets piecemeal, Magnolia is seeking to work its way through a difficult time, in the anticipation that a market exists for its future success.

 


What to Expect in the Future

 
So now, let me make my own wild speculations about where the industry is headed: if I’m right, we shouldn’t be surprised to see more breweries file for bankruptcy in the future. Small and midsize breweries across the country have been rapidly expanding to meet consumer demand. When breweries expand to larger facilities and add capacity, they almost always have to finance that growth through debt or private equity. And with markets becoming increasingly crowded and competitive, breweries may face challenges servicing their debt or making distributions to investors. When this happens, bankruptcy is a likely consequence.

 
But should this mean we’re about to see a bubble burst? No. Simply put, fewer craft breweries does not equate to less good beer. We’re seeing signs every day that craft beer as an industry is becoming more sophisticated, and maturing as an industry. Bankruptcy filings, even if they’re rare, should be a factor considered when determining whether the industry is maturing, or preparing for a cataclysmic downturn.

 

[1]        https://www.brewersassociation.org/statistics/

[2]        All recently interviewed together by the Chicago Tribune. http://www.chicagotribune.com/dining/ct-talking-beer-with-stone-dogfish-and-victory-20160519-story.html

[3]        http://vinepair.com/wine-blog/craft-beer-bubble/

[4]        Strange Brews ep. 36, aired June 20, 2014.

[5]        http://www.sfgate.com/food/article/San-Francisco-s-popular-Magnolia-Brewing-Co-6681641.php

 

 

You can purchase the lastest issue of Mash Tun Journal at our shop: UndertheCounterCulture

 

 

 

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Chicago Brewery Tour: Part 3, The Southside

Part 3 of 3, The Southside A few years ago no one would believe the south side of Chicago would host this many microbreweries or taprooms. From the late 90s until 2010, most of the city’s best craft beer bars and the only breweries in town were located north of Roosevelt Road, my personal dividing line between the North and South sides of the city.   The very first southside craft brewery was Argus, opening in 2009. Then in 2012-2013 a new generation of breweries popped up all over Chicago including the second to be located in the southside: Horse Thief Hollow. In the following years many more incubated brewery projects came to life. Including one founded by myself, a few family members, and friends called Marz Community Brewing Co. Today there are sixty five breweries in Chicago proper and at least a dozen of them are located below the Eisenhower expressway.   This Southside tour might not be possible for most people to do in one day, but I think it is! Just don’t drink as much as you want to and eat lunch dinner and dessert when I suggest while on this tour. One other caveat: I didn’t include Argus because it doesn’t have regular hours and tours are by appointment. So take a train to that joint when ya have a minute. So let’s get on with it! – By EdMar   Horse Thief Hollow   Our first stop in our South Side brewery tour is a brewpub located in the neighborhood of Beverly and its where we suggest you have lunch at 11:30am. When Illinois competes at the Great American Beer Festival in Colorado each year, Horse Thief always brings home a medal. Last year they won a Bronze for their Prunkle’s Dunkle, a European-Style Dark Lager that kicks ass. One of the first breweries to open in the very South Side of Chicago, Horse Thief Hollow defied expectations and has become a must visit brewpub for any visitor to the windy city.   They have earned this reputation by making tasty suds. Brewmaster, David Williams, was a graduate of the legendary C.H.A.O.S Homebrew club and is the definition of the weird turning pro. We expect him to keep making the award winning brews which complement his solid pale ales, kolschs and IPAs.     Whiner Brewing   Whiner Brewery opened up in the ecologically minded manufacturing complex called The Plant, located in The Back of The Yards, a hardscrabble working class neighborhood. A few years back I saw the area in which the new brewery would be situated and it was an abandoned shit hole of a space. Today, after the Whiner construction team of Heizler Group did their magic it’s an industrial palace. The completely utilized facility has equipment in places that you make wonder what engineering feat they used to install the system and tanks ( I think they blew a huge hole in the wall to get all the stuff in). The lighting is sexy and the overall concrete vibe delightfully urban decay chic. And the beer is fantastic too. Besides their solid saison and brettanomyces beers try some of the barrel aged experiments they have on draft.   Whiner is the anchor tenant for The Plant, a vertical farm and food business incubator. Try to visit them on a Saturday when their market is happening and enjoy some tasty bread and treats from Pleasant House Bakery, coffee from a Whiner brewery Sister project, Four Letter Word, and check out Bike A Bee honey.     Marz Community Brewing   The experience of writing for, editing, and publishing Mash Tun Journal is one of the reasons Marz Community Brewing Co came into existence. We were inspired by craft beer and the culture that surrounds it. And somehow our love of beer and the brewers we interviewed talked us into it!   So it’s been almost three years since we started our own contribution to brewing in Chicago and we are pleased to announce that our new facility will be open in late spring. The new brewery is located in the first organized manufacturing district in Chicago right off Bubbly Creek.   Marz will have a tasting room, a bottle/merch shop and more. Since our tap room most likely won’t be open soon due to licensing, permitting and construction delays (the uholy trinity of the brewing biz), we will be open for tours. If yer in the hood, just stop by and knock on the side door. If we hear it we will let ya in and show ya around. Or just email or call us and we will hook ya up.     Baderbräu   After contracting beer for a few years with the recipe from the original craft pilsner revered by old-timers in Chicagoland, Baderbrau has opened their new plant a stone’s throw from Mc Cormack Place. The spacious brewing floor is complemented by a second floor tap room featuring local street art. Their beers have massively improved since they opened up the new joint.   I love the Gunsmoke, a lightly smoked hefeweizen and their Pilsners and Lagers are top notch. Grab a taste of each of these and get ready to check out a few more nearby joints.     Motor Row Brewing   Motor Row is part of the burgeoning development of the South Loop and is also close to the Mc Cormack Convention Center Complex. If yer planing a trip to Millenial park or the Art Institute, this is a great place to get yourself sorted. Motor Row is in a landmark South Loop building and the warehouse-like space has a retail/tasting room and an upstairs taproom for enjoying a few. You can order food in our bring your own. We dig their seasonal IPAs and the Schwarzbier. If you are continuing on, don’t eat yet!     Vice District Brewing Company   Just a mile up the block from Motor Row is Vice District. This south…

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Chicago Brewery Tour: Part 2, The North Side

Part 2, The North Side – Read Part 1: The West Side here. Chicago’s North Side is teeming with brewery taprooms. Thanks to a comprehensive public transit system and (mostly) bike-friendly roadways, drinkers can navigate North Side brewery taprooms with ease. Seriously, get a bike or a Ventra card. Cycling is ideal, but the CTA’s buses and trains (Blue, Brown, and Red lines) can take folks from one North Side brewery to another in a jiffy. – Calvin Fredrickson     Half Acre   Start here. You’ll probably end here, too. If you didn’t already know, Half Acre is a Chicago beer institution. Their 16-ounce cans of Daisy Cutter Pale Ale, Pony Pils, and rotating seasonal IPAs are icons of Chicago’s obsession with hoppy beer. At Half Acre, aesthetic and concept can be as important as the liquid itself. Their social media and blog posts are a testament to the eccentricity that runs in the water over there. Rest assured, the beer’s as good as its story.   Finding a table or seat at Half Acre’s taproom is tough some evenings, so get there early and let the staff guide your choices. When in doubt, order a pint of Pony or freshly-released Tuna extra pale ale and coast into a reliably delicious experience.     Dovetail   Ales – mainly IPAs and big stouts – have long dominated Chicago’s tap lines. That domination may be due to a lack of representation of lager, limited mainly to elder statesman Metropolitan and, more recently, Baderbrau. Add to the lager-brewing movement newcomer Dovetail, your continental European-inspired huckleberry. Take the Brown Line to Irving Park and stroll over to their brewery/taproom, where tradition, balance, and patience are sacrosanct brewing tenets. With crowds at Dovetail often reaching capacity on weekends, and seeing an increasing number of Dovetail tap handles at bars around town, Chicago may well be falling for lager.   An amicable mix of big 10 bros, regular Janes and Joes, and old money tickers will find themselves rubbing elbows at Dovetail’s relaxed taproom. Food trucks are usually parked nearby, but if you don’t feel like getting off your barstool, order a dried sausage and a pretzel. If you’re lucky, Jenny will have some stinky cheese on hand. Be nice and she’ll save you a wedge, on the house.   Saturday brewery tours at Dovetail allow guests to drink beer straight from the fermentation and brite tanks while listening to the story of liquid dreams turned reality from co-founders Hagen Dost and Bill Wesselink themselves, offering an up-close view and taste of Dovetail’s heart and soul, fermentation. Buy a ticket to their tour, ya’ Scrooge – if it isn’t already sold out. Photograph their brewhouse – a 106-year-old copper vessel formerly of Weihenstephaner may catch your eye – coolship room, open top fermenters, horizontal conditioning tanks, and barrel cellar, filled with barrels of spontaneously-fermented beer brewed in the tradition of lambic.     Old Irving Brewing Co.   At last, the Northwest Side finally gets a brewery/taproom. Take the Blue Line to Montrose. Excellent food and great beers are the game at Old Irving Brewing. Formed in the wake of the Crooked Fork concept – a project put forth by now-deceased Homaro Cantu – Old Irving feels like a vision carried out by Cantu’s friends. Highlights from our visit include a few hoppy numbers and the dessert-like Krampus Cookies, a double chocolate stout brewed with cacao nibs and Madagascar vanilla bean.   Looking to play some drinking games while you, err, drink? Hold my beer, Old Irving has cornhole boards for casual gameplay, and a bocce league for the serious player. They also rent out space for birthdays and other events. Parents without a sitter will be glad to find Old Irving offers several kid-friendly food options, along with an attentive waitstaff. Their elevated, wood-fired pub fare and sound contemporary American beers make Old Irving a fine addition to Chicago’s North Side brewing scene.     Hopewell   This clean, airy brewery/taproom is the 2017 zeitgeist of Logan Square. Spacious as it is, Hopewell’s taproom is packed most nights, due in part to their central location and selection of thoughtful, peppy beers, brewed with the consideration of seasonality. Take the Blue Line to Logan Square. Order a Squad – quad brewed for Hopewell’s one year anniversary – and scribble on a coaster while soaking in the bubbly atmosphere of Hopwell’s taproom, marked by well curated music and conversation of area socialites.   As a brewer at Brooklyn Brewery, Hopewell co-founder Stephen Bossu gained an appreciation for brewing lager – an appreciation that informs Hopewell’s lager-friendly portfolio, including year-round First Lager and several other rotating lagers. Their kettle-soured Clover Club – brewed in collaboration with The Whistler – is a gin botanical and raspberry puree-infused saison, and tastes like an invitation to spring. Lately, Hopewell has been hosting pop-ups with area restaurants like Parson’s, Green Street Smoked Meats, and Dimo’s Pizza. Indeed, the Hopewell folks have made fast friends with Logan Square/Avondale businesses and residents alike – stop in for a beer and count yourself among them.   Revolution   In 2010, Revolution’s brewpub invigorated the food and beverage scene in Logan Square, attracting droves of thirsty patrons to a once quiet strip of Milwaukee Ave. Located steps from the California Blue Line, the brewpub sees a lot of foot traffic – it’s a packed house most nights after 5 p.m. If you’re solo, grab a seat at the bar, order a Workingman Mild, and thank your lucky stars the reuben sandwich is back on the menu. And by Jove, don’t forget to order it, either.   You won’t find a barrel aged beer as consistently good and affordable as theirs, made possible, in part, by the opening of their production facility in 2012, located near the Belmont Blue Line stop. Connected to Rev’s production facility is a sizeable taproom, where you can ogle their prodigious barrel aging program and take pictures in front of a gigantic American flag. Ask for a…

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Chicago Brewery Tour: Part 1, The West Side

Part 1 of 3 Chicago’s reputation for making great beers is on the ascendancy. And this a reason you might be noticing why a lot of people visiting the windy city are here for the beer. There are sixty six breweries in Chicago and another hundred or so in the burbs. And whether you like it or not Chicago has become one of the top cities for craft beer in America. Not only do we have enough local breweries that would take you a year to try all of their beer, but Chicago has an incredibly diverse range of beers from around the country and the world making it one of the primary markets for the over hundreds of regional and national craft breweries to break into. The explosion of breweries in Chicagoland is a relatively recent phenomena. In the past few years you can find a brewery in many of the high traffic hospitality and entertainment districts in the city. But there are also breweries opening up in out of the way industrial corridors and neighborhoods you have never visited before. This is great for Chicago and craft beer drinkers everywhere. You can drink hyper local and regional brews that are high quality, rad and fresh. Some of the first craft breweries started here in the city and a dozen or so advanced and innovative breweries are making beers sought after all over the world. We have some of the best bars in the world, and restaurants that make food to pair with beer that are internationally renowned. For those of you with your favorite breweries and watering holes, you probably know where you like to go to have a cold one. But have you every considered doing a tour of some of the historic and brand new breweries that have popped up in the last few months and revisited ones you checked out a while ago? Where would you take out visitors from out of town? Well, let us help. We created a few tours in which to investigate our city’s microbreweries and brewpubs that a reasonable person could finish in a day or two. And we picked breweries that have tap rooms or tasting rooms and have left out most production only facilities. You don’t like our picks? The Chicago Reader recently put out a guide to the best Brewery Tours in the city and The Hop Review has a comprehensive google map of all of our metropolitan breweries. We encourage you to design your own tours and guides to drinking beer and want you to share them with us. Enjoy the ride. If you have one day to fill on a brewery tour of Chicago and are not going to Indiana to visit Three Floyd’s then this might be your best option. It’s close to the loop, the distances between them are not too far. It’s bike-able, walkable and taxi friendly. The tour includes a range of small brewpubs to the second largest craft brewing facility in Chicago. It also has a lot of food options. And if you want to eat your way through all this beer, this route maximizes your options. Enjoy.  – Edmar Haymarket Pub & Brewery   Let’s start our West Side Tour with brunch or lunch in the heart of the Chicago Food Zone. Before the West Loop Randolph St corridor became the eating and drinking freak show that it is today, there was Haymarket Pub and Brewery. Opened by one of the OGs of the 90s brewing scene, Pete Crowley, Haymarket became one of the second wave of breweries in Chicago that helped push craft beer’s expansion into the mainstream.   Pete has one dozens of awards for his brews. I suggest you try a First Chance American IPA or their Mathis Imperial IPA and then get some classic pub grub. The Riot Sandwich is the jam. Housemade Italian sausage patties, mozzarella cheese, house made apple bacon BBQ sauce and giardinara all smoosh together onto a brioche bun. A hot mess. I would also recommend the smoked then fried wings, the sausage sampler, and do not miss out on the cheese curds with house made marinara.   Haymarket probably learned that opening a brewery in Chicago is a nightmare. After a few years of success on Randolph they embarked on opening a production facility in Western Michigan, a big suburb of Chicago. Look for their beer outside the tap room and on shelves everywhere in Chicagoland soon.     Cruz Blanca   Rick Bayless has a nationally distributed line of beers called Tocayo. They are ok, but they’re nothing super special. Which surprised me because Rick should know better. But maybe he noticed he couldn’t control that aspect of his brand. So, being a Business Genius, Rick opened his own brewing joint in the middle of the Randolph Street food zone to make up for the contract brew. First thing I like most of all is the Cruz Blanca branding. It is some of the freshest and best stuff in town. I love the nod to the Mexico Olympics of 1968 because it reminds me of the Revolution, man, with fists help high in the air, the Paris revolt, etc. Second best thing I love about Rick is that he is a leader in sustainable business practices. His Frontera Farmer Foundation invested over $2 Million in local farms to help them scale up. What’s not to like about this guy? So it’s great that he has a brewpub, purchasing local farmers produce and making locally crafted liquid.   The brewpub crafts small batch European-style house beers imbued with what Rick’s best at: using Mexican flavors. My inside sources working for Rick tell me that the Marigold, a strong ale brewed with coffee and blackberry and the CDMX pilsner are the bomb. They also just perfected a brand new beer called If There Is Smoke, an amber, German-Style ratifier with cold smoked malt. Seems like smoked beers are having a moment…

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SBA Financing Options for Brewery Expansion

I have been in commercial lending since 2005 and have closely followed the expansion of the craft beer industry for many years. Over the past several years, I had the good fortune to work with several individuals involved in various capacities within the craft beer industry. Throughout my interactions with them, I regularly found myself as interested with the business side of the industry as I was with the beers being created. Given my background as a lender, I thought about how the loan products commonly used by manufacturers could be used by breweries looking to expand. I believe expansion is the point at which a commercial bank is best positioned to work with a brewery. At expansion, the concept has been proven and implementation of a thoughtful capital structure can help fuel growth. SBA Program Overview: Many business owners are familiar with the Small Business Administration in some capacity. The larger question has to do with how the SBA and their loan programs can assist their company. In short, the SBA partners with banks and other lenders through a series of programs to provide funds to privately held businesses operating in the United States. As part of that partnership, the SBA provides those lenders with a guaranty against a loss on the loan in exchange for a fee that is paid by the borrower. That fee can be rolled into the loan request to help reduce the out-of-pocket funds needed to secure the loan. The overall underwriting process for an SBA loan is very similar to conventional commercial loans. The bank will underwrite the recent financial performance of the company in an effort to estimate their future performance. Through that review and consideration of projections, we can calculate the company’s cash flow in order to determine their ability to service both existing and new debt. In order to qualify for an SBA loan, the business must pledge the assets of the company to the loan and all owners with at least 20% equity in the company must personally guaranty the debt. Given that lenders are required to check the personal credit scores of all owners, I am often asked about the role that personal credit scores play in a credit decision. The overall expectation is that the business owners need to be as credit worthy as the company itself and thus a good credit score is expected. As a result, a good credit score will not necessarily improve your chances to obtain a loan but a poor score could put that loan in jeopardy. SBA loans can be used for a variety of reasons but are most commonly used to finance equipment purchases, real estate acquisitions or to provide working capital. Additional uses for the SBA’s programs include acquisition financing or buyout loans. There are a number of resources both locally and nationally for companies interested in obtaining an SBA loan for their business. As a lender, my recommendation is that you work with your existing advisors, area banks and the SBA itself before engaging anyone to help you secure an SBA loan for a fee. Fees to loan brokers can add up and are not eligible to be financed by the loan. If you choose to work with a loan broker, be sure to find out who is paying the fee as some lenders will pay finders fees in addition to ones paid by the business. Should you decide to move forward with an SBA loan for your brewery, the next logical question is who to work with? Outside of finding a partner who you believe would be a good fit, the following are some questions to consider as part of the selection process: •    To the extent you have existing loans, is your current bank an SBA lender? •    This question is important as all SBA loans are required to be secured with a first lien on the business assets. If you have existing conventional loans that are secured with the company’s assets, your new lender may those loans to be retired or combined with the SBA loan request. •     Does my SBA lender have delegated authority? •    Delegated authority (also known as an SBA Preferred Lender or an SBA Express Lender) allows the lender to approve the SBA guaranteed loan programs in-house. While this does not change any of the SBA program requirements, it does give the bank the ability to streamline the process and reduce turnaround time since the SBA does not need to separately approve the loan request. •    Does the lender intend to sell the loan guaranty or keep it within their portfolio? •    There is a secondary market for the guaranteed portions of SBA loans that is similar to the one that exists for home mortgages. As such, some institutions decide to sell the guaranteed portion to investors on the secondary market for fee income. Whether or not the lender chooses to sell the guaranteed portion of the loan should not have an impact on your ability to obtain the loan. Rather, the sale of the guaranty can impose limitations on that lenders ability to amend the loan in the future. If your brewery is seeking a long-term partner for your business, you may want to consider a bank who plans to keep your loan in their portfolio rather than one looking to sell the guaranty. •    Does the lender offer working capital lines of credit? •    This can be important if you anticipate needing a loan to support working capital in the future. Not all SBA lenders offer working capital lines which will limit your business if you find yourself in need of one. Similar to the first point, if you work with a lender who does not support working capital lines, you may be forced to retire or refinance the term loan with another lender in order to obtain the line of credit. SBA 7(a) Loan Scenario: For the first scenario, let’s envision a brewery expanding into a larger…

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Mash Tun Journal #11 Release: A Reuben Party

On Saturday, April 29 from 5-9pm, join the producers of Mash Tun Journal at Maria’s/Kimski as they celebrate the release of issue #11. Enjoy some brews by a sweet lineup of breweries featured in the issue and try one of our favorite sandwiches: the reuben. Longtime Mash Tun contributors and sandwich enthusiasts Reuben Kincaid and Reuben Bratwurst Inc. will be on hand sampling out a few brews on the patio and celebrating the return of Chef Won Kim’s Reuben Sando. Featuring special sections by: Forbidden Root, Cruz Blanca, Hopewell, Revolution, Half Acre, Baderbrau, Whiner, Dovetail, Begyle, Marz, Corridor, and Goose Island.

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Best Looking Brands in Beer Part 3: Grimm Artisanal Ales

  A few years ago, we tried to hook up with some mysterious brewer-artists that were serving their beers at exhibitions at alternative galleries in Chicago. We were hosting a series of Art of Beer events and thought they were perfect for the shows—but we never managed to connect. Four years later, we find out that the cats we were looking for were Joe and Lauren Grimm, the owners of Grimm Artisanal Ales.   What inspired you to start making beer?   Twelve years ago, you’d find us fermenting ginger beer, mead, pickles, and kimchi in our apartment kitchen. It was simple: We were interested in the transformation of materials by bacteria, yeast, and time.   Once we were hooked on Orval, Fantôme, and Jolly Pumpkin, beers with significant yeast and bacteria profiles, that was all we wanted to make. We only started producing IPA when we figured out how to make yeast esters play with hop character in a meaningful way.   We’re motivated by the challenge—we’re discovering how deep the rabbit hole goes, and there seems to be no bottom. Joe and I are constantly in search of new techniques and flavors in the beers we make.  Being truly great will require a lifetime of dedicated research and experimentation.     I assume you guys started as gypsy brewers instead of diving into the shit of opening your own brewery because of the cost and risk. Would you recommend going this route to others?   It’s always hard. We initially wanted to open our own production brewery with our own brewing equipment, but it was impossible without a sales record. Gypsy brewing ended up being the right move for us, but that doesn’t mean that it’s right for everyone. Now, we’re moving toward opening our own facility, specifically designed around our idiosyncratic practices.   It’s true that we didn’t have to deal with the upfront financial investment, but it’s not necessarily easier to operate the way we do. Folks often think that it’s easier than brewery ownership, but it’s just different. The risks are there, but different. The biggest risk in gypsy brewing is the power differential between the gypsy brewer and the partner brewer. They have you by the short hairs. Are you going to be able to assert yourself to get YOUR ideas into the bottle?   That’s why we’re constantly working on our relationships with our partner breweries. We have to be able to trust the people we work with day in and day out, and, in turn, they need to trust us to allow us into their breweries and give us the opportunity to experiment the way we do. Some people seem to have a fantasy of running a gypsy brewing business as, like, a hobby. If you treat it as anything less that a full time rigorous commitment you will suck at it and probably fail.   Three to four years ago it was brutal looking for space and time at breweries to contract brew beer. Has it been easier to find tank space and brewing time due to the growth in the number of breweries that have started?   It’s definitely been easier for us to find capacity more recently, but I think that it’s actually due to the relationships and reputation that we’ve built. There are more breweries around these days, but capacity still seems pretty tight. If a brewery is sitting with empty fermenters, ask yourself why. Is that somebody you really want to work with? How do you come up with concepts for your beers?   That’s a hard question to answer. It’s an ongoing process that began way back when we were first learning about fermentation 12 years ago. As we’ve developed identities as a brewers, we’ve developed a sense of style, a beer aesthetic. Each beer is a part of the Grimm project as a whole, and our ideas about our beer are constantly in flux. Every time we brew, we make small adjustments to our technique and ingredients, tweaks based on research and experimentation.   I see a Providence school of psychedelic hallucinogenic artwork in your beer labels. What is your process for naming, designing, and creating the artwork on your packaging?   You’re not wrong about the Providence connection; Joe and I both lived there in the aftermath of the Fort Thunder-era and that visual style was influential.   We always begin the process with a beer name. We’ll go back and forth playing off of one another’s ideas. For instance, the name Tesseract started out with a general idea of crystals, which led to tessera, the small pieces of tile that make up a mosaic, tessellations, and finally Tesseract, which came from A Wrinkle in Time.   Once we’ve decided on a name, the label design begins. One of our oldest friends, artist Gretta Johnson, is an integral part of our team.  The labels that originate in her drawings tend to have a hand drawn, gestural aesthetic (for example, Purple Prose and Future Perfect). The ones that I design from scratch tend to be more graphic and minimal (for example Magnetic Compass, Vacay). Because we’ve known each other for ten-plus years, our working process is pretty fluid. Most of the time, we just have a series of text messages to develop ideas for imagery.   Even though the final label is a computer file that I’ve worked through in Illustrator, the images usually begin as a drawing with pen and paper that Gretta or myself will draw. I think that’s one reason why our labels stand out so much. You can see the hand in each one, rather than just computer graphics. Can you tell me more of about the community of artists, brewers, and distributors that helped form Grimm along with you guys?   Joe and I are the only employees of Grimm, but we depend on a lot of other people to get our beer out there. Lately, we’ve been brewing a lot of beer at Flagship, on…

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