2016 Chicagoland Craft Beer Almanac

The Year in Beer: The 2016 Chicagoland Craft Beer Almanac

In Chicago Craft Beer Almanac by Karl

A whole hell of a lot happened in the world of Chicagoland beer this year.

2016 Chicagoland Craft Beer Almanac

2016 was a year of…well, fallout, for lack of a better word. The acquisitions slowed, the big openings were fewer and further between, the major moves weren’t so major, and it was mostly about seeing where the cards were going to fall.

When you look back over the whole year, the headlines about craft slowing down…sorta make a certain amount of sense. You can’t sprint at full speed forever. At some point you gotta drop the pace before the engine explodes.

Rather than slowing down, though, I like to think of it more as settling in. Craft beer stopped being the new, crazy, supercool thing in 2015 — we started to view it as the fully formed economic juggernaut that it had become, able to kick pretty serious dents in the side of behemoth beer battleships.

For once, when we look back at a year of craft beer history, we’ll be asking who had the worst year in 2016. Revolution had to pull more barrels of beer than most breweries make in a year (or two!), and Finch rode a real roller coaster, going from kicking out the founder to floundering its way to a contract-only operation in just about six months.

But in spite of the near-monthly announcements of new branded pubs, brewpubs, Block Parties, Migration Weeks and everything else Goose had going on this year, when they look back on 2016 as a whole, it’s hard to not chalk the whole year up to one big story running through everything: infected Bourbon County.

That was the throughline literally from day one of 2016: dirty beer. Bummer.

On a grander scale, it’s nice to think of 2016 as the year where the world — not just the serious enthusiasts like you and me, Constant Reader — really started to have it sink in that this weird bitter beer with crazy labels made by dudes with big beards wasn’t going to go away. In fact, even as we stand at over 5,000 breweries to end out the year, this world of independent beer is only going to keep getting bigger …even if that doesn’t mean 75% year-over-year growth any more.


Much, if not all, of this info was culled from our weekly Chicagoland Craft Beer News email. If you are interested in any of this stuff, you should probably consider signing up here. Otherwise, you can review our previous entries and relive four more years of craft beer coverage thusly:

Once more unto the breach, my friends. It was another pretty busy year — and the one of the year’s biggest stories kicked off early, so let’s go right back to…


January

January 1, minus a few hours: Beer quality was a major concern in 2016, and one of the biggest stories of the year in that regard actually started in the final hours of 2015, when Josh Noel at the Trib confirmed that there were off flavors in certain Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout batches.

January 4: Goodbye, Wirtz Beverage. Hello, Breakthru.

January 7: Slapshot announces that they’ve shuttered their Little Village facility and moving their production to the Atlas Brewing canning facility on the South Side.

January 8: The official story re: those Goose Island recalls is published and Crain’s goes live with a similar piece the same day.

January 11: DNAInfo gives us the first look at Logan Square’s Hopewell Brewing.

January 13: The city’s tiniest brewery announces a big move. Spiteful Brewing announces they’ll be opening a new, much bigger production facility right next door to the new Half Acre brewery on Balmoral.

January 14: The Half Acre team opens their restaurant at the Lincoln Avenue taproom. Burritos are consumed.

January 25: Michigan’s Short’s Brewing amends their ‘Michigan First, Michigan Forever’ stance by announcing that they’d be expanding distribution into states like Indiana, Pennsylvania and Illinois. Joe Short’s original letter to their customers/fans is here, and our post on the incoming beers is here.

Band of Bohemia Bar

A quieter moment behind the bar at Band of Bohemia. Photo from the forthcoming “Beer Lovers Chicago,” photo by Krysta Williams.

February

February 1: We publish our annual recap of the Ratebeer Best awards, which saw Mikerphone named Best New Brewery in Illinois, along with a number of other awards for breweries like Goose Island, Three Floyds and Flossmoor Station.

February 4: We break the news that 312 Urban Pale is being discontinued, and in its place Goose Island will rollout the Green Line Pale Ale nationwide.

February 10: We break the news that hot on the heels of Short’s coming to Chicago, beers from Grand Haven’s Odd Side Ales will be joining them soon.

February 13: Off Color’s bottle shop opens for the first time for the release of their Whiskers beer.

February 15: Beers from Half Acre hit downstate Illinois for the first time.

February 17: The Sun-Times reports that BMI and Sony are suing Piece Pizzeria & Brewery for not having the right license to play their music at the bar.

February 18: The Forbidden Root brewpub opens on this date, after years of meetings, planning and building. DNAInfo went inside for a first look here, Eater got a sneak peek here, Chicagoist here and the Trib went inside here.

February 19: The Tribune breaks the news that the original Goose Island Clybourn brewpub would be sold to Anheuser-Busch and converted into a taproom. Our post on the legality of such a move, and what it might mean for future Goose Island taprooms or pubs, is here.

February 29: Someone thought it would be a good idea to reach out to the Hopleaf to see if they wanted to be on Bar Rescue. You can imagine how that went over.

The Hopleaf Chicago

Photo from the forthcoming “Beer Lovers Chicago.” Photographer: Krysta Williams

March

March 3: Off Color got a ton of press for their Wari ale, brewed in collaboration with Field Museum scientists from a 1,000-year-old recipe. The Reader has a pretty good recap of everything that went into making Wari, including purple corn and molle berries.

March 4: If you thought the plans for Crooked Fork Brewing were done for with the suicide of chef Homaro Cantu (and who could blame you), you were wrong…sorta. The team behind the brewery announced that they are moving forward, but as Old Irving Brewing Company instead.

March 11: Oak Park’s Kinslahger opens their doors on this date.

March 14: Not a Chicago-specific story, but still pretty big — news breaks that Cigar City is being purchased by Fireman Capital, owners of Oskar Blues and Perrin Brewing.

March 18: The long-awaited cider-focused bar, The Northman, opens in Lincoln Square. Also on this date: Oak Park Brewing Company opens its doors for the first time, and we get the first notice that HopCat is finally eyeing a Chicago location. More on this later.

March 28. Today is the fifth anniversary of the sale of Goose Island to Anheuser-Busch.

April

April 3: The South Loop Brewing Company announces that they’re changing their name to Hop Butcher (For the World).

April 5: The Brewers Association announced their list of the Top 50 Craft Breweries of 2015. New to the list? Revolution Brewing.

April 7: Torontoist breaks the news that Goose Island is going international, with plans to open a brewpub in Toronto.

April 15: April became growler-argument-month with this back-and-forth Mashtun piece about whether or not bars and restaurants should be allowed to fill growlers. (Our followup, along with our Growler Buyers Pledge, followed shortly thereafter.)

Also, the Sketchbook taproom opens on this date, as does the Prarie Krafts Brewing Company taproom in Buffalo Grove, as does Lakeview craft beer store/tasting room Bitter Pops. 

April 19: A story surfaces on the Cook County Record website about the dispute over the Atlas Brewing trademark. Shortly thereafter, it’s announced that Atlas will rebrand as Burnt City Brewing Company, with this Trib piece here. (We also covered the trademark change.)

April 22: The new Ten Ninety facility in Glenview opens on this date. Also, after years of brewing around various Chicago locations, Transient Brewing sets down roots and opens their taproom on this date.

April 23: Greg Underhill, Director of Retail Operations for Revolution Brewing, sadly passed away on this date.

April 25: TTB approval comes through for the location of Haymarket’s Michigan production brewery in Bridgeman.

April 30: Of course, it’s not April unless it closes out with some Three Floyds Dark Lord Day coverage. Here’s our Storify coverage of the social media at the event.

May

May 4: An altercation on Twitter about 18th Street’s “Sex and Candy” label, and more specifically, the brewery’s response, ends up rubbing a lot of people the wrong way — and resulting in this Social Media 101 roundup of the situation from Chicagoist.

May 5: Rick Bayless opens the doors to his two new Randolph Street restaurants — Lena Brava, and his new brewpub, Cruz Blanca.

May 6: Chicago did quite well at this year’s World Beer Cup awards as announced on this day. Metropolitan, Argus, All Rise, Haymarket, Rock Bottom Chicago, Crystal Lake, Revolution, Three Floyds, Two Brothers, Excel and Triptych all walked away with hardware.

May 9: After months of rumors and speculation, we confirmed it: Finch’s Beer Company was to take over the troubled BreakRoom Brewpub and rebrand it as the Finch Kitchen. After that, Crain’s follows up shortly thereafter to add that chef Matthias Merges (Yusho, Billy Sunday) was part of the new team and would be redoing the menu, and following up further on that, the Trib adds the news that not only was Finch’s taking over BreakRoom, but they’d also purchased the Hopothesis brand as well.

May 12: A long Facebook post about price gouging gets Mikerphone some Fox Chicago news coverage.

May 13: News about the proposed Chicago Brewseum emerges.

May 17: DNAInfo reports that a combo of an Aquanaut brewpub and a Budlong hot chicken may be coming to Edgewater. (This story gets walked back a few weeks later.)

May 25: DNAInfo also reports on the ongoing plans for Metropolitan’s new facility along the Chicago river.

June

June 1: We cap off Chicago Craft Beer Week with a few suggestions on how to make it a bit better. We’ll see if we can stick to ’em in 2017. Josh Noel rounded out his CCBW favorites for the Trib here.

June 3: Celebrity chef Tom Collichio (of Top Chef fame) tweets that his new favorite beer is Off Color’s Troublesome.

June 11: After sending some kegs into the world in May for CCBW, Dovetail officially opens to the world on this date. Our post on our first visit is here, and we went on to recommend the hefeweizen to pretty much anyone who would listen for the next few months.

June 13: Spiteful announces the release of their new DIPA named “Dumb Donald,” with a … familiar looking gent on the label. The ensuing Trump-related fallout coverage ranges from Chicagoist to FOX News and all points in between.

June 18: Baderbrau opens its retail space and taproom for the first time on this date.

June 22: News begins to roll out about the forthcoming Great Central Brewing Company, Chicago’s first all-contract brewery.

June 23: The Chicago Reader’s Best of Chicago roundup comes out today, including Half Acre as Best Local Brewery, Band of Bohemia as Best Brewpub and Pipeworks‘ Ninja Vs. Unicorn as best local brew.

June 28: Whiner launches their first beers into the market on this date.

June 29th: News breaks today about Lagunitas buying stakes in three small breweries — one in Charleston, one in Austin and one in Santa Rosa, CA — as well as plans to open non-profit focused taprooms in Portland and San Diego.

Also on this date, Brew Camp announces shortened hours in an online video. Why? Because owner Jared Saunders was donating most of his liver to his ailing mother, that’s why. Pretty rad.

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July

July 6: The annual Best Beer Bars piece from Draft Magazine posts on this date, and six Chicago spots are on it: Hopleaf, Map Room, Fountainhead, Local Option, Maria’s and Sheffield’s. 

July 15: After discovering that the off flavors were more widespread than initially suspected, Goose Island announces additional Bourbon County recalls on this date. Select bottlings of BCS Original and all the Proprietor’s was pulled back.

July 20: On this date, the DOJ approved the merger between AB-InBev and SABMiller, “after the brewer agreed to divest SABMiller’s entire U.S. business, including its ownership interest in MillerCoors.”

July 27: The Moody Tongue brewery taproom is officially announced on this date, including the news that they’d only be serving two things to pair with their beers: Oysters and chocolate cake.

July 29: The growing trend of New England IPAs gets a spotlight as Maplewood plans to release their hazy, fruity Juice Pants, and the Trib also talks to Mikerphone and Piece about their beers in the style.

Also on this date: MillerCoors announces that it’s taken an ownership share in Hop Valley Brewing Co.

Sheffield's Chicago

Credit: Lynn Millspaugh

August

August 1: News comes out that one of the breweries planning to come to Chicago and open a small brewery is Detroit’s Atwater.

August 18: Due to a trademark dispute (of course), Urban Legend officially changes their name to Myths and Legends Brewing Company on this date.

August 22: After leaving Penrose in early July, Eric Hobbs is announced as a new Vice President of Solemn Oath Brewery.

August 26: Eater reports that the Beer Bistro North has closed.

September

September 3: The Chicago outpost of the HopCat beer bar chain opens in Lincoln Park, ending the Great Chicago Crack-Fries Drought.

September 20: A Travel Channel UK team was apparently making the rounds, shooting some footage at a few area breweries including Metropolitan and Band of Bohemia.

September 22: The long-gestating, former Crooked Fork, now Old Irving Brewing Company opens on this date with coverage from Food & Wine, among others.

September 24: The Wicker Park location of Jerry’s Sandwiches closes on this date, leaving the Andersonville and new Lincoln Square locations.

September 28: Today, the ABInbevSABMiller merger clears its last final major hurdle with a shareholder vote. Also on this date: The new Two Brothers restaurant (sans brewery), The Craftsman, opens in Naperville.

September 29: Goose Island announces that this year’s Bourbon County Stout series will be pasteurized for the first time.

Bourbon County Stout 2016 Original

PASTEURIZED.

October

October 3: Revolution Brewing enters the New York City market.

October 8: The annual GABF awards ceremony is held on this date, and man, did Illinois kill it this year with 13 medals coming home. Our recap post including all the Midwestern winners is here.

October 13: News breaks that Goose Island is planning to open another brewpub, this time in Philadelphia.

October 17: The team at Revolution announces that they’ve recalled a bunch of their beer in the wake of an issue with their house yeast strain that caused beers to ferment in a way “that do not meet our brand specifications for taste and flavor.” Crains followed up with a story that specified the amount of beer — a freaking huge 10,000 bbls worth — and the Trib had another followup story here where Party Chairman / Rev founder Josh Deth called the recall “like a death in the family.”

While most of the beer had already made it out the door, they had to pull 2,000bbls back from distributors and dump another 800bbl batch of Anti-Hero. Shortly thereafter, the Trib’s editorial board gave Rev a high five for doing the right thing in pulling their beer.

October 25: The folks behind the Jolly Pumpkin breweries and taprooms announce that they’re opening their first non-Michigan location — in Hyde Park. They’ll have a small brewpub there for some JP beers, and will also be bringing beers from other brands including North Peak.

October 28: The Moody Tongue tasting room finally opens on this date, serving chocolate cake and oysters alongside their many culinary beers. Food & Wine has a story here, and Eater and Zagat both file stories also.

October 31: News breaks (on Halloween!) that Surly’s Todd Haug has left the brewery he helped build, in order to take a position with Three Floyds. Also on this date: The Trib posts this story stating that Bourbon County Stout isn’t as old as Goose seems to think it is.

November

November 2: The Michelin stars are announced on this date, and Band of Bohemia becomes the nation’s first starred brewpub.

November 4: The taproom for Whiner Beer, located at The Plant in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, opens on this date.

November 11-12: #FoBAB. Our coverage, along with medal winners, is here.

November 17: Chicago’s first all-contract brewery, Great Central, officially announces their first round of clients on this date. We follow up to learn more about what they’ll be making for breweries like Like Minds and Begyle.

November 20: The very first Proprietor’s Day is held by Goose Island.

November 29: Crains breaks the happy news that Off Color will be opening a Lincoln Park taproom and second brewery sometime in 2017.

November 30: News breaks that Lagunitas’ Chicago plant is planning to add a rooftop bar, a music theater and to go from huge to f’cking gargantuan, more than doubling from their current output of about 405K bbl annually.

Lagunitas chicago

A mere fraction of the beer produced by Lagunitas at the Chicago facility this year.

December

December 1: After learning of a Donald Trump fundraiser held by MillerCoors vice-chairman Pete Coors, Lakeview’s The Green Lady announces they will stop carrying Miller beers.

December 8: Revolution held a release party for their Deth’s Tar Imperial Stout, as they move to position that beer as one of the many limited-release hype-building events held by breweries for their various big barrel-aged beers.

December 9: Things went from mediocre to worse for Finch Beer on this date. The Trib reports they’re planning to sell their production facility, walk away from the Montrose brewpub they just took over in May, and move the whole shebang to an all-contract plan in the name of “growth.”

December 16: Goose Island’s first “Vintage Ale House” opens in the UK.

December 19: News breaks on a few fronts. First, Goose announces even more international brewpubs and Vintage Ale houses (including one in Shanghai; hm, where did we hear about that one). Later that day, news comes out that Ale Syndicate is out of their facility, Arcade is shutting down in its wake and Around the Bend is moving its production to Burnt City. And in somewhat happier news, the Lake Effect bottle shop opens on this date.

December 29: The year closes out with the opening of the long-awaited Pipeworks bottle shop.


See you next year, everyone. If you’ve enjoyed this recap of the year’s events, please do sign up for our weekly email…and perhaps considering telling a beer-loving friend about the bounty of knowledge you’ve stumbled across here.

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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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