“Like Déjà Vu All Over Again”, Something’s Brewing In Chicago
There’s a lot to be excited about these days for Chicago craft beer fans. With new breweries, brewpubs, and beer centric bars popping up all over the place, it’s a fertile time for beer-o-files. Why even my corner convenience store stocks Bell’s Hop Slam. Good times indeed. But despite the openings, consumer enthusiasm, and momentum the craft beer scene has in Chicago right now, there’s a certain déjà vu to it all.
The craft beer movement in the late 80’s was an exciting time for fans of “real” beer. Upstarts like Chicago Brewing Company, Golden Prairie, and Goose Island served a small but passionate market. There were many fine local choices, Big Shoulders Porter from CBC, Maple Stout from GP, and the now nearly pedestrian Honkers Ale from Goose Island. The market was also seeing quality craft beers from the west coast. They were heady times. Previously an import drinker as well as a home brewer, I was enamored by the burgeoning scene. I still remember my first Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and the fun my friends and I had bringing it to parties. To see the expression on people’s faces when we dropped the hop grenade was priceless. Mountain biking trips to Colorado brought back treats like Fat Tire Ale. A new era in beer appreciation had begun and it seemed Chicago was right there at the front.
But less than ten years later only Goose Island would remain.
Chicago craft beer drinkers bided their time drinking great beers from regional breweries such as Bell’s, New Glarus, 3 Floyds, and Two Brothers. Still we wondered, how can a city of millions have only one brewery? It would be eleven years before another brewery would operate inside Chicago.
Enter craft beer’s second wave in the windy city. Last year two breweries opened on the city’s north side. Half Acre and Metropolitan have taken different approaches to their beers that share an independent local focus.
Half Acre’s brewery is situated in the bustling neighborhood of North Center. With brewery construction often viewable to those passing by, it was an immediate destination for craft beer drinkers. It features a small retail store and tap room that sells their bottled products as well as growlers. The taps change often and many offerings are draft only. They also stock selections from other regionally brewed beers. In less than a year they have introduced an impressive line of beers. For hop heads, the Daisy Cutter Pale Ale is a taste sensation. It has a citrus bouquet that leaps from the pint to greet the drinker. For those who prefer the dark side, Big Hugs Imperial Stout pleases the palate. Smooth and rich with lovely chocolate notes, it’s an assertive beer at 10% abv. Variety and experimentation have defined Half Acre choosing to release both lagers and ales. They have more than piqued the interest of the local beer drinking public.
Metropolitan is located in the more subdued Ravenswood Industrial Corridor a few miles from Half Acre. Subdued would be another way to describe the lagers brewed by Siebel graduate Doug Hurst. Metropolitan has chosen to focus on lager beers only. With three beers released to date Metropolitan strives for balance and consistency. Their Flywheel Lager speaks to this balance. It has a restrained but strong German backbone with the right mix of malt sweetness and German hop flavor. Moving to the more malty side of things there is Dynamo Copper Lager. Balance again is the mantra as this beer is “gently spinning in the sweet spot” between malt and hops. Their newest addition Krankshaft Kolsch aims to be your summer bbq companion.
So here we are in the midst of a craft brewing renaissance, again. I must admit, that despite the similarities with past efforts, it seems the stage is set for a more successful run this time. More collaboration and support between Chicago’s breweries and within the craft scene speaks to an understanding of who the real competition is. This, paired with more shelf space in the liquor stores and more bars striving to serve a rabid craft beer public, suggests that this second wave is here to stay. Time will tell but I am fully prepared to live in the moment. Rejoice! Good things are brewing in Chicago, again!
Rich Forsythe, 2010