The Case for Beer: Local breweries finding success with popular summer beers
By Mike Danahey, Steve Lord, Emily McFarlan and Stephanie Lulay July 21, 2012 2:30PM
Bob Keck, of St. Charles, holds up a hefeweizen beer during a Silverado Homebrew Club meet-up at Tap House Grill in St. Charles, Ill., on Thursday, June 21, 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~For Sun-Times Media |
If you want to know what killed small, regional breweries in America, blame Prohibition. It caused many smaller breweries to close or merge into what became the large, mega-breweries.
But it was the similarity of the product those mega-breweries produce that spawned the craft brewing industry, so, in a weird way, you can thank Prohibition for that, too.
America now boasts, at last count — and the list is fluid — 1,759 breweries, of which only 43 are not defined as craft brewers, and only 100 are not defined as either a microbrewery or brewpub.
So, just how are those defined?
The American Brewers Association defines a craft brewery as “small, independent and traditional.” It lists production size as less than 6 million beer barrels a year (a barrel is 31 gallons). Also, a craft brewery must be 76 percent owned by one company. A craft brewery can be considered regional, micro or nano, also depending on how much beer it makes.
Generally speaking, a microbrewery makes less than 15,000 barrels a year, and a regional brewery makes between 15,000 and 2 million barrels a year. Also, to be considered a regional craft brewery, it must have an all-malt flagship brewer, or have at least 50 percent of its beer volume in all-malt beers, according to the American Brewers Association.
To be a brewpub, the brewer’s association says it must brew and sell beer on the premises, so a brewpub can also be a microbrewery.
So what is a nano?
The definition out there is that a nanobrewery produces less than four barrels a year. And the federal government does acknowledge the existence of nanobreweries, which are licensed. But according to a blog by Michael Hess, owner of Hess Brewing Co., a nanobrewery in San Diego, Calif., “I don’t even think there is a true definition for a nanobrewery.”
Hess keeps a list of nanobreweries on his blog, considered the most official such listing in the country, and it claims 84 nanobreweries in operation, and 51 in the planning.
It’s unclear where Three Angels Brewing in Kendall County, brewed on a 40-acre parcel at Ashley and Caton Farm roads, fits in. When the brewery got its special use last fall from the Kendall County Board, it was limited to 1,000 barrels of beer.
Just how much beer the brewery has brewed is hard to say, but it is planning on enough to quench the thirst of people attending a music festival in downtown Yorkville in late September.
It is not on Hess’ list, but as was said before, these kinds of lists are fluid. You can see the nanobrewery list at http://hessbrewing.blogspot.com/2009/11/nanobreweries-in-usa.html
Updated: August 23, 2012 10:41AM
According to the Washington-based Beer Institute, annual beer consumption in Illinois dropped from 53 to 50 six packs per person between 2007 and 2011.
While that may be the case, here and elsewhere there remains a growing number of places offering smaller batches of quality product — and are taking a larger portion of the market share.
According to the Brewers Association, in 2011 there were 1,063 brew pubs (places that make their own beer that is sold on site in their eateries), 789 micro breweries (places that make their own beer for distribution to retailers), and 88 regional craft breweries (larger than micros but not nearly as big as the name brands) operating in the United States. The sales share from such places was 5.7 percent by volume and 9.1 percent by dollars of the nation’s beer market.
The group notes that last year, Illinois had 49 breweries compared to 245 in California, 85 in Michigan, 72 in Wisconsin, 35 in Indiana and 24 in Iowa.
Founded in 1888, family-owned-and operated Louis Glunz Beer, Inc. in Lincolnwood is among the oldest beer distributors in the United States.
“We are seeing a huge increase this year in almost all of our craft brands. The regional brands and local are seeing the biggest increases as people are supporting the local breweries,” Glunz CFO Janet Bischoff said.
That means there’s lots of products out there to try beyond what is made or owned by mega-brewing companies such as Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors. And that’s why, as we hit the half-way point in a nice hot summer, we decided to ask local brew experts to state their case for local beer.
Nestled in a former body shop in an industrial park on the western edge of Naperville is one of the area’s newest micro breweries.
Solemn Oath, 1661 Quincy Ave., brews up 30 to 35 different styles of beer in a 7,000-square-foot production facility with about a 1,200-square-foot taproom out front that is open Thursday through Sunday.
John Barley, president and CEO, says the brewery is big enough to be considered a micro brewery, but is “small enough to take a few risks.”
For that reason, the company focuses on the malts and yeasts of Belgian-style beer — a nod to the time he spent in Belgium living with his parents during college — with hops, American style, making for a more aggressive flavor.
The experimentation even goes to the brew names, such as Kidnapped by Vikings and Snaggletooth Bandana, several of the brewery’s newest and more exotic beers.
Then there is Barley’s choice for these hot summers, Khlöros Witbier, a Belgian white ale that includes orange peel, lemon peel and Indian green coriander.
“It’s designed specifically for these hot summer days, very refreshing,” Barley says.
Solemn Oath located in Naperville because of its nightlife reputation, but also is available in 92 locations throughout the Chicago area, as varied as Bangers & Lace in Chicago, Front Street Cantina, Heaven on Seven and the new Jackson Avenue Pub in Naperville, and the Geneva Ale House in downtown Geneva.
The company is a family affair. Barley’s brother Joe is also part of the endeavor. And they are joined by Tim Marshall, who honed his skill at Rock Bottom locations, most recently in Lombard.
The name of the micro brewery even harkens to John’s name, taken from the Robert Burns poem in which three kings swear a “solemn oath” that John Barleycorn must die.
- Steve Lord
Silverado Homebrew Club,
The third Thursday evening of every month, about 15 to 20 members of the Silverado Homebrew Club can be found discussing and sampling their homemade beers at Tap House Grill in St. Charles, where it has been holding court for three years.
The group has 60 members and is named after a defunct St. Charles establishment where it got its start.
With summer in full swing, member Dave Witt of Streamwood said his seasonal brew suggestion is a “pseudo pilsner,” a lager style beer made with ale yeast, which has a nice, light , thirst-quenching flavor. Such beers pair well with seafood and salads.
Making beer in the summer can be tricky, since fermentation temperatures are hard to control without a place that stays cool or a refrigerator devoted to the process. Still, while this year’s scorching weather might not qualify, compared to other seasons, typically summer provides local home brewers the ability to brew outside and the ability to use fresh fruit and other ingredients, Silverado member Richard Placko of Elgin said Placko’s summer beers are a Czech pilsener (cq) made using Saaz hops and a fruit wheat beer.
“I am going to add strawberries or cherries to my beer. Maybe both,” Placko said. “They are good summer beers because they are both very refreshing. They’re refreshing because they’re lower in alcohol, are not overly sweet, are not overly bitter, and they do a good job quenching your thirst.”
Placko suggests combing a pilsener with burgers and hot dogs; for fruit or wheat beers, pasta and/or cheese; for pale ales or IPA’s, spicy food like Thai or Mexican to counter the high level of bitterness.
Members will provide more tips at the Wheaton Ale Fest August 4 at Memorial Park in Wheaton. Go to www.silveradohomebrew.com.
- Mike Danahey
Emmett’s Brewing Co.,
Sure, it’s an exaggeration to say Emmett’s Brewing Co. (www.emmettstavern.com) brewmaster Ryan Clooney has won as many medals for his beers as Michael Phelps has for swimming. Still, Clooney’s awards shelf is a full one, holding honors that include four medals from the World Beer Cup, two accolades from the North American Brewing Awards, two awards from the Festival of Barrel Aged Beers and four medals from the Great American Beer Festival, where in 2011 Clooney came home with a silver for his “Where in the Helles Gunner,” which Emmett’s offers as Munich Light.
In addition to West Dundee, Emmett’s Brewing Co. is also in Downers Grove and Palatine.
For this season, he said, “We brew a German-style Hefe Weizen all summer long in all three of our breweries. I also try to sneak in a hoppy Belgian Blonde, Belgian Saison, and some bright mega hoppy American IPA’s.”
Clooney defines a good summer beer as “one that is highly quaffable while still having some flavor and bitterness. He makes all Saison-style beers and adds different ingredients in them, depending on what is coming into season.
The brewer says making summer beers is a fun job. Certain styles, Saison, or Wit for example, can be made with what he called “secret ingredients” — allowing them to “get creative.”
Clooney said in warm weather, he gravitates toward the lighter bodied, lighter colored beers.
He pairs lighter colored Belgian beers, like the Saison, with everything from steamed mussels to fresh salad with apples and strawberries to earthy soft cheese on good bread. Shellfish tends to work well with the Belgian beers, but also with a German Kolsch or crisp Pils. Clooney also noted Hefe Weizens are full of banana and clove characteristics along with hints of vanilla and bubble gum. And one of his favorite summertime meals is fresh Weisswurst sausage and a Bavarian pretzel with a half liter of Hefe.
- Mike Danahey
Winery & Brewery,
The appeal of a beer in the summer is obvious to Steve and Bob Boyer, the brothers behind Village Vintner Winery & Brewery in Algonquin (thevillagevintner.com). It’s cold and refreshing.
Village Vintner added craft brews to its repertoire in late May when it expanded from a winery in Carpentersville to a winery, brewery and restaurant just up Randall Road at 2380 Esplanade Drive, near Algonquin Commons. That makes it just the third combination winery/ brewery in Illinois and the only one in the Chicago area, Steve Boyer said.
The brewmaster went from brewing 10 gallons of beer at a time, just for fun, to two 100-gallon batches a day, filling the brewery’s three 200-gallon fermenters, so “there will be some adjusting.” But, he said, “So far, so good.”
First up at Village Vintner were No Doubt Stout, English Red Ale and Vanilla Cream Ale. Recently joining them were IPA-, Hefeweizen- and Belgian Wit-style beers.
Steve Boyer recommended the Hefeweizen or Belgian Wit, both light, wheat beers, as perfect summer brews. The Hefeweizen in particular is “light and citrusy and lower in alcohol,” he said. Compared to other Hefeweizens, Village Vintner’s is “a little bit more of the clove than the banana, but a nice balance.”
But Boyers, who oversee restaurant operations at Village Vintner, have noticed one thing already this summer: “It’s not always the light beer,” Steve Boyer said. “People don’t care anymore.”
One guest beer that’s been popular at Village Vintner is Robert the Bruce, a Scottish ale by 3 Floyds’s Brewing Company in Munster, Ind., the brothers said. That’s a dark, malty beer, hard to find on draft in the area.
And, they said, customers have raved about the brewery’s own Vanilla Cream Ale, light and sweet and not unlike the brew at the former Prairie Rock Brewery in downtown Elgin.
“Everybody from Elgin remembers Prairie Rock. It’s been getting rave reviews,” Bob Boyer said.
- Emily McFarlan
Two Brothers Brewery,
This summer marked a number of milestones for the Two Brothers Brewery. In the same month, the brothers celebrated their one-year anniversary as owners of the city’s historic Roundhouse and moved their annual Hop Juice Festival from their Warrenville roots to the festival’s new Aurora home.
But at either location — their Tap House in Warrenville or Aurora’s Roundhouse — craft enthusiasts can catch a draft of Two Brothers’ golden summertime brew, Dog Days.
Dog Days is spicy, crisp and refreshing — and unique for the Two Brother’s brand.
“It’s the only lager beer that we do traditionally,” said Gabe Nanni, general manager of the Roundhouse. The beer has won more awards at craft brew competitions than any of Two Brothers’ other beers, he said, because it’s a lager, not an ale.
“Lagers are a style that craft brewers haven’t really embraced,” Nanni said. That’s because lagers are what the large American breweries — think Miller or Budweiser — were known for.
Two Brothers co-founder Jim Ebel said he started brewing Dog Days in 2001 with his brother, Jason Ebel.
“We were looking for something cleaner, lighter to brew for summer,” Ebel said. “We ended up picking a Dortmunder (German) style because it was different. So many people were doing Pilsners, but this was pretty unusual.”
The brothers said more changes are in store at the Roundhouse before their winter seasonal hits the taps.
Their first year operating the Roundhouse “went well, but it was more work than we thought,” Ebel said. “But we enjoyed the challenge.”
With the old brewing system removed, Ebel said they plan to install a smaller set of equipment that will brew 200-gallon batches of beer by fall. They also plan to install a bakery and coffee roaster.
“Where the brewery was, there will be a little counter bar. We want to bake out old breads and have something a little artisanal in the space,” Ebel said. “We’re still reshaping the Roundhouse to fit our vision.”
- Stephanie Lulay
Stockholm’s Pub, Geneva
It should come as no surprise that Michael Olesen brews a beer at his downtown microbrewery Stockholm’s Pub here called Older But Weisser. In fact, that’s the beer he currently recommends for these hot, summer days — a light, Belgian white wheat with coriander that is served with an orange slice.
But the reason the name is appropriate is because it also fits Olesen’s theory as to why craft beer sales are up 12 percent across the country, and mega-breweries are down by about 3 percent. “As humans age, the ability to appreciate strong flavors increases,” he says. “With aging, more people are able to appreciate good beer, good food. “
Good beer and good food is the reason Stockholm’s exists, serving a good quantity of both at its State Street site, just west of Third Street, in the heart of downtown. Stockholm’s qualifies as a microbrewery and a Brewpub, based on the amount of beer it brews, and the amount of food it serves. The menu has a wide variety of formal entrée items, as well as more traditional pub food, such as specialty burgers, sandwiches and salads.
As far as beer goes, Olesen chuckles that he makes more than a nano brewery, but much less than a regional brewery.
“I’m so far under the radar,” he says.
Stockholm’s does not have a distributor, so it only sells its beer on its own premises, most of the time by the glass. It does sell the growlers that a consumer can take home, but that’s the closest to a packaged Stockholm beer one will get.
The beers are cask-conditioned but not filtered, which makes them smooth.
The company brews nine beers at any one time, eight of them on a regular basis, and the ninth is a seasonal brew, available until it sells out. Earlier this year, Olesen brewed a Saison-style beer that was to be the summer brew, but it turned out to be the fastest-selling season beer Stockholm’s ever had, and is gone.
In addition to the brews, there are three more beers mixed at the tap, so at any one time, Stockholm’s has 12 of its own recipe beers available.
- Steve Lord