Chicago is a town that is known for two things, traditionally, when it come to beer -- Old Style and Budweiser. The former is represented by the countless corner taverns adorned with a hanging Old Style sign. Meanwhile, Budweiser, and now it's subsidiary Goose Island, are a big part of Cubs' baseball lore, especially since the days of Harry Carry. (And, as much as I would include my Sox in this discussion, with their ties to Miller and Leinenkugal, the North Side is, by far, the bigger beer district, to say the least.)
However, despite historical ties to Old Style and Bud, a new all-star player has arrived and its name is craft. Nearly 100 breweries exist in the Chicago metro region, a litany of bars highlight their love of craft beers, and local liquor stores now advertise their dedication to craft. But, here is the thing -- Chicago is a town that loves its "Chicagoness." Chicago loves to have things done the Chicago way -- deep dish pizza, box-cut thin pizza, and admonishing those that put ketchup on a Chicago-style hot dogs. Moreover, as much as I prefer ESPN1000 to the Score, there is no denying that most flock to the Score largely because, according to their slogan, they are "Chicago's original voice of the fan."
In a city where people regularly fly its 4-star flag, how did craft beer become Chicagoan?
Argus brewery states on their website that their beer is the "Chicago beer you should be drinking." The website also says, "Argus is Authentic Chicago. Tough and sometimes unruly. It’s not that we need to brew the best craft beers in Chicago. It’s because we do." On a side note, this is much more competitive than most craft brewers, but their commitment to Chicago and being a good, responsible citizen is not only something they talk about, they are dedicated to it. I wrote about that on a previous blog entry and you should peruse their website for more information. They are adamant about being good Chicagoans. A brash attitude and not caring what you or anyone else thinks is, well, pretty typical of Chicago.
Metropolitan Brewery exudes that big-shoulder attitude when they mention on their website, "Chicagoans all the way; we make the beer we like to drink. Period."
That idea of Chicago as a tough, blue-collar town exemplified by Coach Q, Ditka, and Butkus is noted by many brewers. For example, Ale Syndicate says they love two things -- Chicago and good beer. Although they temporarily set up camp in California, they never lost their love for Chicago. As they state on their site, "We always had a Chicago flag hanging in the brewery. We missed just about everything about Chicago. The toughness. The skyline. The winter. Even rust - nothing rusts in California. We missed the spirit of audaciousness that is uniquely Chicago. A drive to do big things...We considered bringing our beer to Chicago. But the beer we were making was distinctively California. We felt Chicago deserved something bolder and stronger."
Of course, blue-collar attitude is more than just an attitude, it involves working hard.
As Motor Row Brewing states, "Craft Beer from the city that works, for the city that works. Our beer is unpretentious and approachable, to us, the ultimate test is a beer’s drinkability....No gimmicks, no crazy names or logos, real beer for real people.
Buckle Down Brewing in nearby suburban Lyons adds, "Just outside of Chicago, we are creating bold, flavorful beers with the same creativity & determination that built this great city and its enduring work ethic. We take diligent care to craft the finest small-batch beers with premium ingredients... and our mantra is simple: WORK WITH YOUR HANDS. WORK HARD. MAKE GREAT BEER.
But, Chicago is more than just a blue collar town that enjoys "working hard." Chicago is the home of the Art Institute, the Symphony, the Newberry Library, and amazing architecture.
The brewery that likely resembles that aspect of Chicago is Arcade Brewery who provide amazing beer labels. Their motto states: Arcade Brewery is a Chicago-based craft brewery dedicated to creating delicious craft beer inspired by art and community."
Chicago is one of the most studied cities around, notably by sociologists and historians. Chicago celebrates its rich history.
Last, Chicago is a place of neighborhoods.
Revolution Brewing declares on their website that their "brewpub in Logan Square is a bustling, neighborhood institution." For that matter, Sketchbook Brewing in Evanston champions the fact they are a Community-Supported Brewery that "focuses on the production of fine beers in small batches - and strictly local distribution - with growler sales and keg sales within our own community."
In many ways, Chicago's beer scene typifies craft in the 21st century -- a throwback to the 18th century when America was an entire country of small regions: towns, states, and territories -- a medley of small areas tied together. As a result, akin to a good craft brew with a multitude of notes and layers of flavor, Chicago is place that enjoys endless complexity - culturally, geographically, politically, and historically. It's also possible that craft brewers resonate with Chicagoans because craft brewers work with their hands, build their operations from the ground-up, support local businesses, celebrate its art and culture, and do it all with a zeal for Chicago.
Can a "Chicago beer" be defined?
It's impossible to define Chicago, or Chicago's craft brewing community, with one word or phrase except to say it is a conglomeration of diversity glued together by one theme - a love for Chicago.
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