The Year in Beer: The 2015 Chicago Craft Beer Almanac

In Beer News, Chicago Craft Beer Almanac by Karl

2015 seemed like the year where things started to settle down in Chicagoland. Sure, you had big-name events like the opening of the Goose Island taproom along with news about places like Like Minds moving into Chicago. But on the whole, compared to the mad rush of high-profile brewery openings over the last three years or so, 2015 seemed a bit calmer overall.

On a larger scale, it was the year of the acquisition. Starting with Elysian in January, we also saw Lagunitas, Ballast Point, Firestone Walker, Golden Road and St. Archer get picked up by massive global brewing and beverage companies. Even smaller breweries got into the acquisition game, with Oskar Blues buying Michigan’s Perrin Brewing.

On a smaller scale, it was sort of the beginning of a new phase of brewpubs along with the birth of the bottleshop/taproom combo around here. Between Corridor, BreakRoom and Band of Bohemia opening and the progress towards Forbidden Root, Like Minds, Cruz Blanca and Bixi on the horizon, I think we’re seeing a move towards more business owning their own handles and not getting into the battle for shelf space and draft lines. Tinley’s Open Bottle and Oak Park’s Beer Shop both also opened their doors, and while two spots don’t quite make a trend it’s a start towards the retail/draft pour combo that I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of in the coming months.

You can find all of our almanacs from 2012-2014 here, if you care to recap the last three years as well. We culled all this news from our weekly GDB emails, so if you want all this info (and much more!) every single week, you should probably consider signing up to receive them every Monday.

Here we go: Behold, a full twelve months of beer news madness. This is your 2015 Chicago Craft Beer Almanac.

January

Half Acre Senita IPA Label

January 5: Half Acre announces it’s changing the name of its award-winning Heyoka IPA to Senita.

January 6: Draft Magazine’s 100 Best Beer Bars are released, which includes Bangers & Lace, Fountainhead, Hopleaf, Local Option and Map Room.

January 12: Tony Magee announces he’s suing Sierra Nevada over their new Hop Hunter IPA labeling.

January 13: Tony Magee announces he’s dropping the lawsuit, having lost in the court of public opinion.

January 15: Motor Row finally opens their taproom to the public; a second-floor bar will open later in the year.

January 20: In what will become fairly regular coverage around Chicago, DNAInfo publishes a piece about a new trend: alcoholic root beers. This piece included Sprecher, Forbidden Root, and a little place called Small Town Brewery.

January 23: Two Brothers opens their Scottsdale brewpub on this date, though beer won’t be brewed onsite til later in the year. Also open on this date: Old Bakery Beer Company in downstate Alton.

January 24: Lombard’s Noon Whistle Brewing opens on this date.

January 27: The Open Bottle, a new bottle shop and taproom in Tinley Park, opens on this date.

January 28: Alarmist Brewing’s first brew day is today.

February

February 1: Starting the month off with a bang, Budweiser aired their “Brewed The Hard Way” ad during the Superbowl on this date. Pumpkin peach beers immediately followed nationwide. Paste Magazine nicely dissected the ad in the hours that followed here.

February 2: St. Louis’ Urban Chestnut announces that their beers will enter Chicago. Some Chicagoans may have gotten their first UC taste at our 2014 South of 80 event.

February 4: We break the news that 21st Amendment Brewing is finally coming to Chicago. Watermelons everywhere cower in fear, knowing full well they’ll be wedged into beers all summer.

February 9: We give Chicago the first look inside the Eris Brewery and Cider House, planned for the Old Irving Neighborhood.

February 10: Revolution reveals plans for a huge expansion, including a new 120bbl brewhouse to (eventually) increase their capacity to an estimated 300k bbl per year. Also on this date: The Owen & Engine team announce a brewpub concept called Bixi.

February 16: Remember when we linked you to Alarmist’s first brew day? It was on this date that owner/brewer Gary Gulley posted this video to Facebook of him dumping the whole damn thing. Stating he wasn’t happy with the flavor or the aroma he said: “In a crowded marketplace, and with all the fucking work I’ve put into the brewery to get it up and running, this is not the way I’m going to introduce my beers to the world. And trust me there are a lot of breweries that should be doing this very same thing but do not and that is a shame.” Hear hear.

February 19: Mark Konkol brings us the tale of Argus’ Monumental Lager, brewed to commemorate the announcement of the Pullman neighborhood as a National Monument.

February 20: Konkol also brings us a followup about a request from the Secret Service for a few cases of Argus’ lager for Air Force One.

February 25: The Coloradoan tells us about Two Brothers filing a C&D against Zwei Bruder Brewing in Fort Collins. Even in German, it was too close a name for comfort, apparently.

February 27: We travel to Tokyo (figuratively and not literally, unfortunately) and bring you news of Revolution Brewery’s beer hitting taplines across the planet. Also on this date, news breaks about the newest Lake Effect / Superdawg collab.

March

Goose Taproom Preview 1

March 2: Coronado Brewing enters Chicago for the first time. Also, we bring you news about Lakeshore Beverage taking over Central Beverage Company and their portfolio of beers.

March 4: Empirical Brewing begins making beer for the first time on this date; a 100+IBU beast called Infinity IPA.

March 7: Forest Park’s Exit Strategy Brewing hosts an open house for an early preview of their forthcoming beers.

March 9: We post our early look at the Goose Island taproom at the Fulton & Wood brewery. Also on this date: Haymarket Pub & Brewery announces they’ve purchased property in SW Michigan for a new production facility.

March 10: Draft Magazine brings us new details on the Three Floyds/Mikkeller brewpub combo in Denmark called WarPigs.

March 11: Half Acre announces that due to the legal intricacies of running two breweries, canned beers will temporarily be unavailable at their Lincoln Avenue store.

March 13: We kinda stepped away from reviewing beers this year, but the Reign In Blood Orange pale ale from Dark Horse bummed us out enough to write it up.

March 18: The vertical-farming, sustainable-living operation known as The Plant in Back Of The Yards has been the proposed site for a number of breweries in the last few years. First it was supposed to be the home of New Chicago (now Ale Syndicate) then for a brief moment Rude Hippo. On this date, DNAInfo brings us news of Whiner Brewery, which will eventually open near the end of the year.

March 20: We break the news that Goose Island Wrigleyville is returning for one final season in the sun.

March 26: The Chicago Tribune asks: Does craft beer have a sexism problem? This story came out of the rejection of some Sweetwater “Happy Ending” beers from Binny’s Lincoln Park location.

March 30: We round out the month with a preview of some forthcoming craft beer legislation which would continue to shape the way craft beer operates in the state of Illinois.

March 31: Breakroom Brewery opens on this date. News also breaks that the Half Day Brewing Company will be moving into the old Flatlanders space in Lincolnshire.

April

April 1: Nice new truck, Solemn Oath.

April 3: We reiterate our belief that Lincoln Avenue is Chicago’s best drinking street. Two Brothers gives us a first look at their forthcoming tallboy cans, too.

April 6: Some dude named Karl wrote about some of the stranger places to find a great selection of craft beer around Chicagoland for Time Out, including Whirlyball and a casino.

April 8: Paste Magazine blind tasted over 100 different IPAs and found a few good ones from IL: Spiteful’s clocked in at #34, Revolution’s Anti-Hero was #28, Two Brothers Wobble ranked #14 with Half Acre’s Senita at #13.

April 9: Only Child announces that they’ve found a new space for their brewery and taproom in Gurnee. Also on this date: Atlas announces that cans have arrived to be filled at their new production facility. ALSO on this date: Mikerphone releases its beers for the first time at a launch party at Mash in Lincoln Square. ALSO ALSO on this date: Moody Tongue debuts its beers in 12oz. bottles. Busy day.

April 13: Per this Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel piece, Metropolitan announces they’ll be sending beers to Wisconsin.

April 14: Sadly, this was the day chef Homaro Cantu was found dead at the space he was working to convert to a brewery called Crooked Fork.

April 16: After a dispute with Colorado’s Odell Brewing over the name, Mercenary announced they’d be known as Maplewood Brewery & Distillery on this date.

April 23: DNAInfo brings us this tale of Three Floyds DLD “protest” of Indiana’s Freedom of Religion Restoration Act with the inclusion of Big Freedia in this year’s lineup. (There was also a pink-hued Big Freedia Ale available as well.)

April 27: We post our following-day recap of what this year’s Dark Lord Day looked like through social media, and we also brought you a look at some of the reselling going on on Craigslist.

April 28: Our update on the new rules moving through the Illinois Legislature posts on this date, including some of the arcane specifics about what a distributor can and cannot discuss on social media.

April 29: Crains reports that Oak Park’s Beer Shop is open.

May

May 1: The Grand Rapids Business Journal reports that Virtue Cider was sanctioned by the Department of Agriculture “for failure to pay reparation awards under the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act.”

May 4: The Chicago Business Journal reports that MillerCoors is being sued over “deceptive advertising” regarding the background of Blue Moon.

May 11: The winners of the AmeriCAN Canned Beer Awards are announced; Goose took Gold in the IPA category while Revolution’s new Fist City takes Gold in the American Pale Ale category.

May 13: Begyle’s taproom opens on this date. Also today, the Trib has a sitdown with some beer folks for this State of Chicago Craft Beer piece in advance of CCBW.

May 14: Beer Under Glass kicks off Chicago Craft Beer Week. It’s a little dryer than 2014’s event. Our recap for TOC is here.

May 16: Blue Island Beer Company opens their doors. The Daily Southtown has more here.

May 17: SlapShot beer gets entered in a bet between Chicago and Tampa over some hockey games or something.

May 19: Our annual South of 80 event takes place at the Green Lady. It was a pretty good time.

May 22: We get word that the ICBG and the ABDI have agreed on sweeping changes to the Craft Brewers License structure. Also on this date: Villains finally opens in the South Loop. Why this place isn’t more heralded by beer folks is still beyond me.

May 29: News breaks on Crain’s that Illinois may finally get to enjoy happy hours like the rest of the civilized world. Also, DNAInfo reports on some cool stats about Chicago beer pricing and consumption.

June

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June 1: We report that the efforts to change the Craft Brewers License hit a snag, as they passed the Senate but not the House. All is not lost, though — the bill can still get approved in the forthcoming summer session.

June 4: Thrillist pisses off the whole town by daring to ask people to actually objectively rank the Chicago area’s breweries, rather than randomly praise or talk shit about them individually like most beer dorks do. (Note: Karl was among the “experts” of the panel.)

June 9: We post about our visit to the Lagunitas Beer Circus.

June 15: The Reader checks out the new Pipeworks facility, set to open the following week, including news on their forthcoming selection of canned offerings.

June 16: Remember earlier in the year when Half Acre changed its IPA name from Heyoka to Senita? Well, on this date, they announced they’re changing it again after another brewery disputed the name. Now it’s GoneAway.  Also on this date: Atlas starts filling cans.

June 17: DNAInfo reports on the closing of a longtime craft refuge from the dark times before fancy beer was cool: the Edgewater Lounge. (Remember when finding a place that served Rogue was like discovering the Ark of the Covenant?)

June 23: Beers from downstate Excel enter the Chicago market on this date.

June 24: The Reader’s Best of Chicago list posts on this date with praise for Revolution, Half Acre and the “Best new brewery to launch with only one beer”, Alarmist Brewing.

June 27: Questions had been swirling for a while about the rapid ascent of Not Your Father’s Root Beer from Small Town Brewery, but it was this Boston Globe story that finally asks and answers a lot of the questions about the NYFRB explosion.

June 29: 5 Rabbit pulls their house beer from Trump Tower’s ReBAR, renaming it Chinga Tu Pelo and distributing it to other beer bars and restaurants not associated with The Donald.

June 30: Revolution posts this photo of their new 800bbl fermenters inbound to the Kedzie plant, capable of making enough beer for someone to have one Anti-Hero every day for over 700 years.

July

Lagunitas Chicago First Look

July 2: Shortly after the announcement of a third brewery being built in Southern California, Shanken News Daily tells us that Lagunitas is looking at 50% growth this year, helped hugely by the Chicago superbrewery.

July 3: Don “Joe Sixpack” Russel reports even more for a Philly paper about the background of NYFRB, including that his conversation with Small Town’s Tim Kovak was monitored by “his public-relations agency, Sard Verbinnen & Co., a high-priced New York City firm known mainly for representing Wall Street scoundrels, including the Madoff family and Lehman Brothers’ Dick Fuld.”

July 4: As part of the new Pipeworks brewery opening, the Trib has this story about the growth of Pipeworks paired with info about the overall growth of craft brewing.

July 6: Citing many of the same issues we’ve covered around Chicago, this Slate piece tells us “craft brewing has a sexism problem.” Also on this date: this report about the Smylie Bros. team looking to expand to a production facility.

July 7: While the rest of the state awaits the legality of happy hours, Bill Jacobs of Piece comes out against them.

July 9: BuckleDown announces that cans are inbound soon. Also on this date: Tony Magee starts a Tumblr page.

July 10: We preview the beer event at the Windy City Smokeout as one of the most weirdly organized events we’ve seen in a long time.

July 14: The summer of NYFRB coverage continues, this time from the Phoenix New Times, saying “this is only beer in the loosest of terms, and Small Town, in reality, isn’t small at all. The brewery’s concealment of its non-craft connections likely has much to do with attempts to capitalize on the growing beer market. If that irks you, stay away.” Also on this date: Transient announces they’ve found a space in SW Michigan for a new production facility.

July 15: Governor Rauner okays the return of Happy Hours. Since bars and restaurants have to advertise what they’re offering a week in advance, the first actual happy hours begin a week later.

July 16: Not specifically Chicago related, but it was damn big news: Duvel Moortgat announces they’ve acquired Firestone Walker.

July 24: We got tired of the same-old-same-old blonde girls on blonde labels and amassed a wide selection of offenders in a post here.

July 27: DNAInfo goes inside the new Atlas Brewing production facility, located in an old Jay’s Potato Chip factory.

August

pumkingout2015

Yes — this photo was taken in August.

August 5: Our field guide on how to best attack the Great Taste of the Midwest goes live.

August 11: We set Tuesday, September 8th as the date for this year’s Fall Beer Freedom Day.

August 12: News breaks about the new Like Minds brewery coming to the West Loop, and makes waves for essentially getting kicked out of Wisconsin due to their licensing laws. Thanks, Scott Walker!

August 14: We break out our civic-professor-caps for this post on what happens if Governor Rauner doesn’t sign the Craft Brewer License changes into law.

August 17: AdvertisingAge publishes this story about MillerCoors’ plans to get into the hard soda business.

August 19: Beers from America’s first Trappist brewery, Spencer, arrive on Chicagoland shelves. Also on this date, Headquarters announces plans to open up a space in downtown Nashville.

August 20: Crain’s brings us news that Ten Ninety was approved to move their brewery from Zion down to Glenview, which would also allow them the opportunity to open a taproom.

August 24: Governor Rauner signs the changes to the Craft Brewer License into law. We also bring you a story of our road trip to Griffith, Indiana — an unknown craft beer hub of sorts.  Also on this date: Only Child announces their taproom is open.

August 26: Flesk tells us that cans are coming.

August 31: Alesmith announces that they’re expanding distribution into Chicago.

September

September 4: Goose Island announces they’ve taken an ownership stake in Virtue Cider.

September 8: Lagunitas and Heineken break the news that Heineken has acquiring a 50% stake of the craft brewery in a deal worth $500 Million. Tony Magee’s Tumblr post about finding ‘the sixth way’ is here.

September 11: DNAInfo brings us news of another Ravenswood Avenue brewery: Dovetail.

September 16: Motor Row introduces cans to the world.

September 17: 18th Street Brewery announces they’re moving to a new Miller Ave. location and working towards opening a larger production facility in nearby Hammond.

September 18: At the Elmhurst Historical Museum, an exhibit called “Beer Chicago: The Refreshing History” opens.

September 22: Marz announces that they’ve found a space for a newer (bigger) production facility and taproom. Also on this date, Patch reports that Metal Monkey Brewing in Romeoville is also moving forward.

September 23: As the year of acquisitions continues, A-B picks up another one: LA’s Golden Road.

September 28: We recap the GABF medal results for Midwestern breweries. No golds in IL this year. Also on this date: the Strange Brews Podcast is named the best beer podcast by the North American Guild of Beer Writers.

October

Half Acre Sticky Fat Dark Ale Label

October 6: Half Acre announces that cans have returned to the Lincoln Ave. store.

October 9: The annual Beer Hoptacular announces it’s “going on hiatus.” Also on this date, the drumbeat towards Black Friday and Rare Day begins with this Trib post about the year’s BCBS variants. Posts from Chicago Beer Geeks and Boozist follow quickly after.

October 10: Completing a long string of NYFRB investigatory pieces, the Trib’s Josh Noel does a deep dive on Small Town Brewery here.

October 11: After many requests, we finally break out our Craft Beer Map into a new category: showcasing which breweries also have taprooms onsite.

October 15: Corridor Brewery & Provisions officially opens their doors on this date. Also on this date, Eater brings us some new details about Lo Rez Brewing working to move into Pilsen.

October 20: Wirtz Beverage announces a massive merger with a NY company to create one of the nation’s biggest distributors.

October 22: It’s been open for a few months at this point, but the Two Brothers brewpub in Scottsdale finally started serving beers brewed onsite on this date.

October 27: Crain’s brings us news of the forthcoming Whiner Brewery, working out of The Plant.

October 29: South Loop Brewing Company reveals their first canned release, called Satan’s Mile. (Just in time for Halloween.)

October 30: Empirical Brewing’s taproom opens.

November

goose-island-new-bourbon-county-stout

November 2: Revolution heads east to officially debut in Massachusetts on this date.

November 7: Down in Homewood, the Chronicle brings us a story about the forthcoming Rabid Brewing

November 12: Indiana’s Central State Brewing opens up distribution in Chicago with an event at Northdown on this date.

November 13: Goose Island’s Rare Day takes place, with hundreds lining up for the chance to buy three bottles of the vaunted brew for $60 a pop. The Trib covered it here, and CBG posted here.

November 16: News breaks of another acquisition: Constellation picks up Ballast Point for a cool $1 Billion. Also on this date: News breaks that Begyle is looking for a second brewery space, this time outside the city in Lincolnwood.

November 17: Per this DNAInfo piece, it’s on this date that brewing equipment was removed from Goose Island Wrigleyville as it closed for good after the Cubs season.

November 19: The ambitious Band of Bohemia brewpub finally opens on this date. Eater previewed the place here with further coverage here, we had a Q&A with brewer Michael Carroll here. (They finally are allowed to sell their beer a few days later.)

November 20-21: FoBAB takes place. Many beers were drank. Our coverage is here.

November 22: Metropolitan announces they’re leaving Ravenswood for a space along the Chicago River which will allow them much more space to brew…and open a taproom.

November 24: Hot on the heels of that Metro news, they announce that Magnetron is now year-round.

November 26: News breaks that Finch’s is moving their warehouse operations to suburban Long Grove, with the intent to move brewing operations there in 2016 and also open a taproom soon. More emerges here a few days later.

November 27: Goose Island’s annual Black Friday. Our preview is here including pricing, variant info, and a quick chat with former Binny’s go-to guy Adam Vavrick, now at Octopi Brewing in Madison.

November 30: Small Town Brewery sues Sprecher for use of some phrases starting with “Not Your…” on their packaging.

December

December 2: Draft Magazine announces their top beers of 2015 and Moody Tongue and Transient are on the list. Also on this date: The Brewers Association announces that the number of American breweries hit an all-time peak, with over 4100 in business.

December 3: Crains posts this piece about the forthcoming Kinslahger Brewery coming to Oak Park in 2016.

December 7: We missed the first announcement, but this tweet from Vice District gave us the first idea that they were opening a production facility and second taproom in Homewood.

December 17: Great Central Brewing Company breaks ground on their new facility, scheduled to open in mid-2016.

December 18: Out in Downers Grove, Alter Brewing opens its doors for the first time.

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About the Author

Karl

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Karl has written about food, travel and beer for Chicago Magazine, Thrillist, Time Out Chicago, AskMen and more. His book, Beer Lovers Chicago, is now available via Amazon and other booksellers.If you're buying, he's likely having a porter or a pale ale.

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