Now that I’m through amassing a whole ton of info about the immediate brewery future for Time Out Chicago and all of Chicagoland — for the moment, at least — I’ve had a couple of days to sort out some overarching thoughts on what it all means, man.
For starters, let me say that the best way to find out what breweries and organizations you missed/overlooked/ misremembered is to put out a list of a whole bunch of things and say “here it is!” People will let you know what you screwed up, and to those of you who would like to talk brewing: I’ve got plenty of followup to do, and plenty of breweries to visit yet.
(For the record, I did build in a small safety net at the front where we stated “it’s damn near impossible to keep track of them all.” I stand by that statement.)
Aside from missing out newer brewers who have been brewing for a few months now (Urban Legend), to folks taking a longer view of things (South Loop Brewing, Band of Bohemia) to people who I just couldn’t get enough info on (many others) to those who weren’t ready to talk yet (others still), I do want to take a sec to throw together a few thoughts I just couldn’t squeeze in sideways despite being allowed an extremely generous shitload of space to work with – if you read the whole thing, you just devoured a good 3,000+ words on the state of Chicago beer.
So, here we go:
For every shitty thing you’ve said about Goose Island post-buyout, you owe it to the organization to at least acknowledge how many damn brewers came out of Goose to start their own thing. On the TOC list alone, I count four out of the dozen-plus, and that’s not even counting the folks who have departed prior to start/join their own orgs (Off Color, Virtue, 5 Rabbit, etc).
Not a single brewer I talked to seemed interested at all in doing this primarily for the money – this is (almost) entirely an industry driven by passionate people who just want to make good stuff. Words I kept hearing: “Freshness.” “Quality.” “Do it myself.” “Community.” Yes, it’s obviously a growing market and the fact that it’s never been a better time to start a brewery probably factors into the big rush of these projects that are incoming, but it was nice that I never once heard the word “competition” or “competitor”.
The state of Chicago beer is: blessedly varied. For everyone that was excited about making a damn good IPA, another person was excited about NOT making an IPA. For those who love brewing the Belgian styles, others were looking forward to American hop-forward beers, and others wanted session beers while others want to make some heartier beers. All in all, if you want variety in your locally crafted alcoholic beverages, it’s hard to better than Chicago right now.
Self-distribution is super-freaking important, you guys. I know a lot of people still consider SB 754 to be a bummer based on licensing rules about brewpubs and production facilities and distribution cutoff points but without at least the freedom to consider DIY distro from the get-go, I don’t think a lot of these breweries would get past the dreaming stage. For the new guys who are already aligned with a distributor, more power to you guys too – more freedom to make beer without worrying how to get it to bars and restaurants.
There is no one-size-fits-all way to open a place that makes beer, other than the requisite paperwork. Kickstarters. Small business loans. Pro brewers set out on their own, or homebrewers growing up and starting fresh. Taprooms. Production facilities. Bottling lines. Canning lines. Alternating proprietorships. Contracting to start. 1 bbl systems. 40 bbls systems. Distro. Self-distro. There are so many ways to get beer into this market today and none of them is right or wrong – it’s just how you want to get it done. It’s fascinating, really.
I mentioned this at the end of the piece (if you made it that far) but I don’t think we’re near anything resembling a bubble. There’s so much room around here and the population can support and incubate these smaller startups on a neighborhood level. Look, Portland has a shitload of local breweries and a way lower population density and they do okay. If you’re thinking of starting up, keep working at it. We’ve got room.
Moral of the story:
2013 has been the best year in history for Chicago beer. 2014 should be better.