Booming craft breweries attract new beer makers to Chicago

September 20, 2012

Tricia Bobeda

Wil Turner loves beer.

He gushes about its flavorful notes and tones like a seasoned sommelier. But he does it while wearing a baseball cap and listening to the punk rock band Black Flag.

Turner is head brewer at Revolution Brewing in Logan Square and a member of the Illinois Craft Brewers’ Guild.

These guys take beer seriously.

“We exchange raw materials, information and we love to go sample each other’s beer,” Turner said about the guild. “I like to call (it) liquid inspiration.”

Turner isn’t the only one feeling inspired lately.

The burgeoning craft brewery industry has led a growing number of Chicago beer lovers to start their own businesses.

The guild reports 57 craft breweries currently operate in Illinois and counts a whopping 67 more in planning.

The planning number includes some still wading through paperwork and setting up facilities.

It may take them months or years to open for business. But others are almost ready to pour pints.

Clint Bautz of Lake Effect Brewing has set up shop in Portage Park. He will distribute just a few kegs at a time.

It's taken him about a year and a half to set up a brewing facility, file all the necessary paperwork and find partnering pubs to carry his product.

Soon he’ll be able to sit down at a neighborhood bar and order his own beer.

“Definitely it will be a moment,” he said. “It will be a bit surreal. Definitely looking forward to that.”

Bautz decided it was time to go pro after realizing his homebrew hobby had taken over the house.

“We have three bedrooms,” Bautz said. “Fermentation was in one bedroom, and then I bought a few more fermenters and and started brewing beer in the other bedroom.”

Then it grew to a storage unit in the basement. And the deck.

The brewing process took over the kitchen and the boil over process left surfaces a sticky mess.

Bautz said brewing is part art, part science and a whole lot of janitorial labor.

The guild reports overall beer sales in the US dipped about one percent in 2011.

But craft brewing grew 13 percent last year, continuing the industry's trend toward double digit annual expansion.

Major players like California brewery Lagunitas recently announced plans to open a Chicago brewery and tap room.

And for now, it seems like there is still room for upstarts like Greg Shuff too.

Shuff will open Dryhop Brewers in Lakeview this winter.

The gastropub will tailor its food menu around seasonal brews made with locally sourced ingredients.

He thinks there is plenty of room for craft brewers to grow in Illinois.

“It’s an industry where no one wants anyone to do anything but make great beer,” he said. “We all look at it from the perspective of if one of us does well, it really elevates the whole craft beer scene and we all benefit from it.”

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