Argus Brewery, its South Side location and historic building make for a tour like no other
“This is a mash tun…”
“Then it goes into the fermenter…”
“And here’s our bottling line…”
Sure, a brewery tour can provide a neat, behind-the-scenes look at the place where your favorite beer comes to life. But, let’s be honest – if you’ve done one…
And then there’s Argus Brewery.
“How many of you have done a brewery tour before?” Argus beer historian Nick Lubovich begins before a crowd of hands go in the air. “Well, if this tour anything like those other ones, then we’re doing it wrong.”
Argus is not doing it wrong. Not even close.
What they’re doing twice every Saturday is so much more than just a brewery tour. It’s a Chicago history lesson, with a brewery tour tucked neatly inside. And it’s worth the trek down I-94 to 111th Street – or even spending $8 for a round-trip Metra Electric ride from Michigan & Randolph to the brewery’s front door.
Pullman workers would walk through alleys to get over here, because they didn’t want their neighbors to know they were coming here. It was the original walk of shame.
First, you get to know the artsy, eclectic neighborhood that is Pullman, as well as its rich history. Then there’s the street that Argus calls home – once dubbed “Schlitz Row.” Then there’s the century-old building itself – former stables from which horse-drawn carriages once hauled cases of Schlitz throughout the South Side. There’s even a Schlitz “tied house” a few doors down, complete with its Schlitz globe still intact above the front door.
Finally, and likely best of all, you get the Argus crew – artsy and eclectic, just like the neighborhood they call home. The neighborhood’s founder, George Pullman, was legendary for his prohibition on alcohol sales in his “model town” on the east side of what are now the Metra Electric tracks. But Argus sits on the west side of those tracks, in what is technically part of Roseland.
“When Joseph Schlitz purchased these two square blocks, they became home to bars, brothels, gambling – everything that was good (or bad, depending on what you like),” Lubovich explains. “Pullman workers would walk through alleys to get over here, because they didn’t want their neighbors to know they were coming here. It was the original walk of shame.”
I won’t ruin all of Lubovich’s enjoyable yarns – they, too, are worth the trip – but he knows his neighborhood history and has fun with it.
But this isn’t a history tour, it’s a brewery tour and it begins in the tasting room upstairs. And much like the tour itself, the tasting room isn’t like one you’ve visited before.
“We want it to feel like you’re hanging out with friends, having a beer in the basement bar,” Lubovich proudly proclaims. “But I promise you, we’re not gonna run out of dad’s beer.”
Sadly, with the needed license not yet available in the neighborhood, that tasting room isn’t open outside of tour schedules, nor can they sell beer to-go.
It’s more like it massages you – and who doesn’t like a good massage?Still, we learn a bit about the father-son team of Bob and Patrick Jensen, who started this brewery together in 2009, thinking that with its sliding wooden doors, industrial-grade flooring and brick façade, perhaps it was once a firehouse. Those second-story floors were built sturdy enough to hold horses, they later learned, so what’s a few fermenting tanks? All of the brewing takes place on that second floor. You get an idea of what the building is made of as you ride up the original elevator that once hoisted horses and kegs.
The Jensen family’s efforts to advance from home brewers to production brewers is noticeable in the investments they’ve made in the building, as well as the quality of the beer they’re producing. Among other honors, Argus earned a World Beer Cup bronze medal last year for its Holsteiner Lager, the easy-drinking marzen that started our recent tour. Their Pegasus IPA is one that Lubovich described best: “in a world of extreme beers, it’s not gonna punch you in the mouth with its hops. It’s more like it massages you – and who doesn’t like a good massage?”
Likewise, he described Leopold, their barrel-aged scotch ale, as “a sessionable barrel-aged scotch ale, if such a thing can exist.” It does and it is.
After a good 30 minutes of generous sampling, we did eventually get to that brewery tour. There, we learned…. well, you know…
Argus Brewery is located at 11314 S. Front St., just steps from the Metra Electric’s 111th St./Kensington stop. Tours are available at 12:30pm and 2pm every Saturday and can be booked atargusbrewery.com. (Insider’s note: check Groupon for an even better deal)
Since this is apparently a thing that happens on other beer sites, we received no compensation for this admittedly glowing coverage of a local brewery. We just liked our experience and wanted to tell you about it. Isn’t that the way this is supposed to work?