We are proud to introduce our latest Chicago Metro intern Rich. Rich shares his experience with Gary, IN Brewery, 18th Street Brewery.
Gary, Indiana, once the ideal Norman Rockwell painting of a bustling industrial city has since depreciated to post-apocalyptic movie sets for features like Transformers: Dark of the Moon. This is something Gary resident and now founder and brewer of 18th Street Brewery, Drew Fox, is all too familiar with. With a mass population exodus (178,000 residents in 1960 down to just 80,000 in 2010), collapsing infrastructure, and a notorious reputation for violence (according to FBI statistics Gary was the murder capital of the country for a number of years in the 1990’s) the city’s image certainly has taken a hit. Gary has been aching for a resurgence, and its been tried before. Numerous government projects have been laid on the table through the years, from the Gary International Airport, a recently built minor league baseball stadium, and, of course, the proposal of a $300 million museum complex honoring the late Michael Jackson. Hell, even Donald Trump threw his hat in the ring, hosting the 2001 and 2002 Miss USA pageants at his Gary casino. The result: an under-used airport, a baseball stadium that has resulted in minimal economic development for the surrounding area, and a boatload of debt. Its bad, and it’s been bad, but there’s hope.
Nestled upstairs in the corner of Revolution Brewing’s dimly lit brewpub in Chicago’s Logan square neighborhood the 18th Street Brewery team talks about their vision of Gary’s renaissance, and it starts with craft beer. “We want to make Gary, Indiana a destination again,” says Drew Fox. Set to start contract brewing at Pipeworks Brewing Company in April with the goal of securing a place by August, the crew inches closer by the day. Fox, a homebrewer turned professional, has always had Gary in mind when choosing the location of the brewery. “All people hear about Gary is all negative, but there’s so much positive and so much potential for this city,” explains Fox. Not only does 18th Street plan on uniting the community through craft beer, but they also intend to give back to the community philanthropically. “We want to be involved as much as we can in giving back to the community,” says Fox.
While there is plenty of support from Chicago brewers and many Northwest Indiana natives, there are still significant doubts about whether Gary will rally around a brewery, to which Fox responds, “craft beer knows no race, religion, creed, or color. It’s a unifying medium.” Calvin Fredrickson, head of PR and media for the brewery adds, “We want the community to be proud of the product we’re putting out, and we want them to feel a part of the brewery.” Perhaps the most inspiring support came from Nick Floyd, founder of Three Floyds, what many consider to be one of the best breweries in the nation. Floyd himself described to Fox the resistance he once confronted when opening his brewery in then Hammond, Indiana.
At first met with a bureaucratic disinterest, the city has since had an about-face and reached out to 18th Street Brewery, promising support in a variety of ways. This presumably has a direct correlation to the new sheriff in town. Karen Freeman-Wilson, Gary’s newly elected Mayor, a native herself who has drawn comparisons for a multitude of reasons to Newark’s Corey Booker, broke through the “good-ole-boy” political foundation to become the city’s first female mayor. “A lot of credit is due to Karen Freeman-Wilson,” pronounces Fox, “she’s made a big difference.”
So, what can we expect from 18th Street Brewery? Lots actually. The brewery recently released a collaboration beer with Pipeworks called Brotherhood, a Patersbier that comes in at 5.5% a.b.v. with a Belgian yeast character and delightful citrus notes. Sessionable beers are going to be a focus for 18th Street. There will be big beers no doubt, but drinkable beers with big flavor should be a staple with Fox and company. Expect a lot of “one-off” beers at the taproom with a few possible flagships. Seasonals will also be available in the proposed bottle shop and throughout the region. Also, expect a barrel-aging component right from the get go, with eyes being in the 2013 Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer (FOBAB for short), most likely the premier barrel aged beer festival in the nation.
The wheels are turning over at 18th Street, with political backing and an increasingly larger grassroots movement, the initial goal of opening is within sight. 18th Street currently has a Kickstarter project open with more information about what types of beers are in the works. I highly advise donating to this good group of guys and their great project. Gary has struggled for sometime and it deserves something that the people can be proud to call their own. It won’t always be easy, something Fox openly acknowledges, but the crew and increasingly more of the community are behind them, and as Fox closes, “Hey, why not Gary?”