Chicago Brewing 2016 - An Overall Success.

Chicago Brewing 2016 - An Overall Success.
Photo Credit: Mathew Powers

Happy Brew Year! Despite a few breweries closing down, the unfathomable success of the Chicago brewing scene is hard to describe. Numerous breweries expanded in space, opened new establishments, increased production and distribution, and also offered new (more!) beer. Ten Chicago breweries medaled at GABF, several chicago-area breweries were included in the DRAFT Magazine top 25 beers of the year (Dryhop Brewers & Hop Butcher for the World, Off Color Brewing & Three Floyds Brewing, and Solemn Oath Brewery) and the a few breweries took home medals from the World Cup, too. Meanwhile, countless breweries from across the land arrived at Chicago’s creme de la creme of festivals, the Festival of Barrel-Aged Beers (FoBAB).

Some breweries enjoyed a noteworthy 2016. Here are a few examples:

Revolution: In April, the Brewer’s Association listed Illinois’ largest independent Brewery as the nation’s 50th largest craft brewery, the first Illinois craft brewery to crack the top-50. The brewery followed that accomplishment with an even further increase in production as well as expanding its marketplace to New York.

Loving a Chicago-only bar -- The Barrel (Pilsen neighborhood). #chicagocraftbeer #craftbeer

A photo posted by Mathew Powers (@powers_mathew) on

Maplewood: Maplewood expanded distribution, doubled its production, and partnered with Great Central Brewing Company. Maplewood also introduced slick new labels, which are wrapping a bevvy of new beers. However, it was the brewery’s flagship that took home the brewery’s first GABF Medal; Charlatan won bronze. That same beer will now be sold in cans, and soon that will be sold in other states. Add distilling that’s ready to burst on the scene and, well, it’s hard not to notice that Maplewood is knocking on the door of “big boy brewery” status.

See my Maplewood profile on Porchdrinking.com

Goose Island: It may be easy to scoff at any mention of a brewery that’s ostensibly one piece of a global conglomerate, but it’s hard to argue that Goose had a damn good year. After its prized Bourbon County Brand Stout suffered from infections and subsequent recalls in 2015, the response to to 2016’s release was met with huge lines, quick sell-outs, and nearly a quarter of a million social media posts regarding people’s purchase of the beer. An impressive turn-around, to say the least. The latest news is that Goose Island pubs will now populate parts of Europe. It’s easy to credit Ab InBev, but Goose is one of only a couple breweries at AB InBev's High End division thriving to that degree.

See BCBS in pictures - my post on Sommbeer.com.

Bourbon County 2016

Photo: Mathew Powers

Burnt City: After a long legal battle, the brewery formerly known as Atlas had to undergo a name change. It did, and the brewery also changed a few beer recipes and its label artwork. In many ways, the brewery enjoyed resounding success by reinventing itself. Burnt City went from partnering with the quaint, hip bowling alley next to its northside Chicago location to creating one kick-ass gastropub and bowling alley under one roof. Meanwhile, the Southside production location provided space to Around the Bend Beer Co. and will contract brew some of that brewery’s increasingly popular beer, which also opens up possibilities for Burnt City. Like Chicago after the Great Fire - out of the ashes arose a new, stronger, and better brewery.

See my article about the name change on PorchDrinking.

Three Floyds: It’s almost hard to wrap one’s mind around the story, but Todd Haug, the legendary brewer at Surly, left for Three Floyds. It’s not that Three Floyds was somehow hurting, but much like Kevin Durant going to Golden State, the addition of a great player to an already successful team usually provides good results. Or in this case, increased deliciousness. It was a big story in 2016, but one can only imagine what that means for 2017.

Half Acre: The new production brewery continues to churn out its flagship brews, but the brewery also was included in Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp collaboration. It seems, many big national breweries love to visit Half Acre; Avery brewing paid a visit in November, too. More importantly, as it was reported back in January of 2016 by Eater Chicago:

“Beer lovers will finally taste chef Nick LaCasse's labors, as Half Acre Brewing Co. opens up its taproom's kitchen, serving unique burritos and other plates developed by the former Drawing Room and mfk chef….’It's just very comfortable, stuff we'd cook by ourselves when serving good beer with our friends,’ LaCasse said. The article added, “He's also in charge of Half Acre's other food project, an ambitious 200-seat restaurant inside their upcoming new brewery.”

Band of Bohemia: How about a Michelin Gold Star at a brewer? Yep, it’s official. The first brewery to obtain the prestigious award hails from Chicago. The beer is great and, based on the gold star -- you might find a good meal here, too. Ya think? :)

Two Brothers:: They opened The Craftsman, a veritable monument to all things “craft,” enjoyed a record-breaking Two Brothers Summer Festival, gained another gold at GABF and a bronze at the World Cup, and made plans for the 20th Anniversary coming in early 2017.

My article (and picture slideshow) about the Craftsman can be found here (PorchDrinking).

Mikerphone:: The year began for Mikerphone by receiving RateBeer’s Best New Illinois Brewery of the Year 2015. But, what’s a great brewery without a home? After bouncing around for awhile, Mikerphone found a place to rest its musical head in Elk Grove Village. The taproom is near completion (essentially). After releasing nearly fifty beers in 2016, one can only imagine what 2017 will be like!

Dryhop & Corridor: As if Dryhop wasn’t successful enough -- the place is always busy, its sister location, Corridor, opened in November of 2015, and then became increasingly popular throughout 2016. The aforementioned Draft Magazine recognition of DryHop's collab with HopButcher, “Milkstachio,” is but one of a gazillion collaborations between the Dryhop/Corridor franchise and other breweries, not to mention Lincoln Park Zoo. You know, you might just think of head brewer, Brant Dubovick, as a bit of a Chicago brewing slut -- and we are all thankful for that.

To name all the success would require an article with a length comparable to War and Peace. But, here's a few more examples:

  • Haymarket: Nearly completed its second, bigger, Michigan location
  • West suburban breweries did very well in 2016. Urban Legend, now Myths and Legends, as well as Werk Force Brewing, Pollyanna, Miskatonic, and Imperial Oak, to name a few, all expanded in various ways.
  • Sketchbook Opened its taproom in Evanston and it is routinely packed.
  • Pipeworks opened a bottle shop,the Dojo
  • Off Color Made plans for a second production location and taproom
  • Moody Tongue and its culinary brewing opened a gorgeous taproom, too. See my review.
  • Beer Hoptacular returned, FoBAB was a success, and Chicago did great at GABF
  • Several breweries opened in 2016, as did many craft brew bars
  • The list goes on and on and on....and on

I wish I could mention them all, but does it really matter? To say it’s been a good 2016 - even with a few bumps in the road -- would be an understatement. To the Chicago beer drinker this means one thing -- good beer is all around.

Pull up a stool, toast to Chicago brewing and a hoppy New Year!

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