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Chicago’s Small Breweries: Local, Sustainable, and Just Great Neighbors

3p Contributor | Monday June 11th, 2012 | 1 Comment

Chicago Craft Beer Week 2012

By Brian W. Miller

Craft beer has exploded in Chicago. Though momentum has been building gradually for about a decade, 2011-2012 saw an unprecedented uptick in new and planned breweries, brewpubs and beer bars. It’s like a mustachioed man biked up Lincoln Avenue sprinkling hop pellets and a bunch of craft beer bars sprouted up.

I find it fitting that Chicago Craft Beer Week 2012’s theme is “Chicago: A City of Neighborhoods.” While sustainability is most often perceived as a strictly environmental concern, community impact is equally important. Chicago’s small local brewers are taking neighborhood stewardship to heart. Expect new brewers to lead the way.

Stewards of the neighborhood

Ravenswood startup Begyle Brewing is employing a “CSB” concept – that’s Community Supported Brewery – modeled after increasingly popular Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSAs) as the first phase in production. This concept will allow Begyle to “start small, like a farmer, and grow organically,” says Kevin Cary, one of Begyle’s founders.

Begyle is exceptionally committed to community arts events like the Ravenswood Art Walk. Fittingly, they’ve converted currently unused space in the brewery to a shared space for artists from the adjacent Chicago Mosaic School.

Soon-to-be-opened East Lakeview brewpub Dryhop holds a similar mantra. “Worry first about how you can add value for people…find a way where it’s not about you wanting to open a brewery, it’s about you wanting to improve the quality of the lives of your neighbors,” said Greg Shuff, Dryhop’s General Manager in an interview with Jessica Murphy at Girls Like Beer, Too.

Though still relatively fresh on the scene, Half Acre Beer Company seems like a craft old-timer, quietly serving as a role model for urban startup brewers. Half Acre’s cozy but prominent space on Lincoln Ave. allows the brewery to “decrease that space between who we are, what we do, and the people that are supporting our company,” said Half Acre president Gabriel Magliaro. Magliaro often donates beer to local non-profits and fundraisers “or really anyone that we think is doing something good and cool – anything to improve the life of [our] area.” Plans for Half Acre’s pub and taproom, opening in Fall 2012, have been well received by the community and local officials like Alderman Ameya Pawar – Half Acre’s next-door neighbor. “Gabriel had community support even before he approached us,” said Ernie Constantino, director of constituent services for the 47th Ward. “Half Acre has been a good neighbor.”

Pushing for zero waste

Beer is a tricky thing to make 100 percent environmentally sustainable, as noted by TriplePundit’s interview with New Belgium Brewing Company.

But new brewers, able to build production practices around sustainable measures as opposed to retrofitting old methods, again lead the way.

Counter Pressure Growler Filler at Devil's Canyon Brewery

A counter-pressure growler filler in use at Devil's Canyon Brewery.

Begyle is striving to be as close to zero-waste as possible, employing water reclamation efforts, donating spent grain to make dog treats, and working with a graduate program from the University of Dayton to develop a LEED-certified heat transfer process in the brewery. A counter-pressure growler filler – also in the works at Dryhop – will help reduce waste. Filling a growler with a traditional tap-and-rubber-hose system can produce a 20 percent loss of product. “Our target with the new system is 2-3 percent loss,” says Cary.

Despite recently moving out of The Plant, an urban vertical farm, New Chicago Beer Co. “will always continue to engage in sustainability practices because we believe it is just the right thing to do,” says co-founder Jesse Evans.

Established Chicago brewer Goose Island’s Green Line Project produced a product life cycle and carbon footprint analysis of a single keg of 312 Urban Wheat Ale. At the risk of being labeled a macro apologist by the indie denizens, Goose has been on this train since well before its sale to AB-InBev and continues to produce local beer with measured sustainability practices at its Fulton Street brewery.

Community support

Chicago’s craft beer community isn’t just brewers; there is an entire legion of purveyors and consumers dedicated to Chicago’s great beer and the city’s future. Case in point: the upcoming Oak Park Micro Brew & Food Review – an absolutely wonderful event – is the Midwest’s largest zero-waste craft beer festival.

I’ll see you there.

[image credit: devilscanyonbrewery.com]

Brian W. Miller is a Chicago-based freelance writer. You can find him at brianwaynemiller.com, on the CTA, at Fountainhead, or at Green Lady on trivia night.


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