[This piece also appears in Newcity magazine.]
“What advice would you give someone who wants to open a brewpub?” asks David Michael earnestly, wielding a video camera, with a bike helmet hanging off his backpack. “Don’t do it,” answers Revolution Brewing’s mutton-chopped owner Josh Deth with a grin. “It’s a whole lot of work.”
Michael and his buddy Chip Snyders are currently pedaling from New York to San Francisco, stopping at as many breweries as possible. They’re filming a documentary about the trip and blogging at bikebrewamerica.com, and Michael is contemplating a move into the beer business. “We’re talking with brewers and employees who work intimately with craft beer and the people who consume it,” says Snyders. “We want to dig deep into the culture.”
I’ve offered to take them on a two-wheeled tour of local brewpubs and taprooms, starting with Revolution in Logan Square, where Deth has a right to grumble about his workload. He’s almost finished building out the tavern’s second floor as a special events space with a stage for live music, dark wood accents and muscular arches that make the room look like a medieval feast hall. Meanwhile he’s planning a 50,000 square foot production brewery at 3340 N. Kedzie, slated to open in early 2012.
Yesterday Michael and Snyders rolled into Chicago from Indiana in sheets of rain, but today they see the good side of the city as we spin north under azure skies to Lincoln Square’s Half Acre Beer Company. In the taproom Sam McClain gives us one-ounce samples of tangy Daisy Cutter Pale Ale and biscuity Half Acre Over Ale. “When it comes to really hoppy beers and microbrews freshness makes all the difference, so it’s great to drink local beer,” he says.
We go backstage to the brewery, where a new sixty-barrel tank was installed this morning. A brawny guy with a red beard and sweatband labors over the canning machine, which hisses ominously as empty tallboys roll down a chute to be rinsed out with water, dried with CO2, filled with brew and sealed with lids. He refills the sealing apparatus, dropping a long, cylindrical stack of lids into a tube-shaped opening. “It’s a very erotic feeling,” he quips.
Next we pedal south on quiet, leafy Walcott Avenue towards Goose Island’s tavern on Clybourn. In business since 1988, it’s the city’s oldest brewpub. I ask the bartender for a good beer to go with today’s hot weather and he pours us pints of crisp, sour Summer Spice Witbier. Head brewer Jared Rouben comes over to chat, telling us he first got into craft beer in culinary school in New York. “I tried to join the wine club and they said you had to have a minimum GPA, so I started a beer club.” He attended Siebel Institute of Technology, one of the nation’s top brewing academies, which happens to be located across the street from this brewpub.
His brewing philosophy? “I think of food first,” he says. “Food and beer are made for each other and you don’t have to drain your wallet for incredible pairings.” Lately he’s been producing beers using produce from the Green City Market – he’s planning an I.P.A. brewed with green strawberries.
Michael departs for a dinner party, but I take Snyders for a tour of new Dutch-style bike lanes on Kinzie Avenue en route to Haymarket Pub & Brewery in the West Loop. We snag a table outside in the sunshine and savor pints of A Mash Made in Heaven, Belgian Wit brewed with peach juice.
We’re soon joined by Steve Mosqueda, assistant brewer and director of the Drinking and Writing Brewery, which stages shows in the bar’s back room exploring the relationship between alcohol and creativity. Mosqueda’s latest production “The City that Drinks” focuses on Nelson Algren, Studs Terkel and Mike Royko, three iconic, hard-drinking Chicago authors.
When Snyders asks for beer career advice, Mosqueda recommends sampling as many varieties as possible and being a good listener and observer, but not boring experienced brewers with shoptalk. “Brewmasters are like rock stars,” he says. “Beer geeks might be like, ‘Oh my God, that’s [Dogfish Head founder] Sam Calagione.’ But brewers would rather talk about life than just beer all the time. Tell them about your favorite hangover cure.”
2323 N. Milwaukee Ave. (773) 227-BREW
Haymarket Pub & Brewery
737 W. Randolph St. (312) 638-0700