Big Hurt's Berwyn Brewpub?

Sure, soon as I decide to take a brief hiatus, the news starts rolling in. Wednesday, my mail lists were burning with the news that White Sox five-time All-Star Frank Thomas was headlining a deal to convert a bank building in Berwyn into a brewpub, to be called Big Hurt Brew House. The project is slated to open early in 2014. The original story broke on Crain's Chicago Real Estate Daily, though the details past the lede have gone behind a paywall.

Basically, the Berwyn City Council approved a redevelopment ordinance for the American State Bank building at 6801 W. Cermak Rd., on Oak Park Avenue, a few blocks east of the Cermak Plaza Shopping Center, which used to have the infamous "cars on a spindle" installation. Plans for the 6,500-square-foot building involve a spots bar, beer garden and production brewery, with beer also being made for off-site accounts. Thomas' partner in this venture is a team led by Chicago-area property manager/developer Rick Heidner. A TribLocal article by Amy Crowther offers more details.

Now while my best moments in baseball watching have been every at-bat taken by Hurt, it's a fact that I have been less than impressed by his Big Hurt Beer, made at Minhas in Monroe, WI. You call it an "Imperial Lager," I say it's Malt liquor. And describing his new MVP Beer as an "All-American Lager" makes me just think of Coors. Yet I'm optimistic about what might come out of the new brewpub. These two beer styles are actually not easily made in a brewpub setting. Malt liquors are generally made with a lot of corn in the grist, fermented as strong as possible, then watered down to whatever ABV you choose. Light lagers are indeed light and nearly tasteless, so any flaws in production are much more noticeable.

Besides, lagering requires cold storage tanks that can be tied up for several months for each batch, compared to about two weeks for an ale. That ties up a lot of brewing resources when you need to keep taps running. It's why so few small brewers make lagers, unless they plan it from the start, like Argus and Metropolitan. Even Goose Island had to drop its bottled Pils and replace Oktoberfest with the current Harvest Ale (although now that 312 and other regular Goose beers are being made elsewhere, relieving demand at the Fulton Street brewery, I've heard Oktoberfest should be returning this fall).

So a small-batch, ale-centered brewpub might turn out well. That depends, also, on whether they bring in a good brewmaster and let him follow his inspiration. No doubt the taps will still feature Big Hurt Beer kegs from Monroe, so it could be a chance to bring in new people to try other styles of beer. And as this news comes at the same week that we hear Thomas has put his Libertyville mansion up for sale, he may be more motivated to make a go of this brewpub venture. It worked out okay for Walter Payton.


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