In the last five years, the number of micro-breweries in Chicago has tripled -- from one to three.
For such a beer-guzzling town, that's a pretty small number of producers, but the microbrews made in Chicago aren't made to be guzzled. They're crafted, meant to be savored and beers the city can be proud of.
The first of Chicago's hometown brews was made by Goose Island Brewery and served up at its Brewpub beginning in May, 1988. Goose Island is still thriving, with a selection of over 50 craft beers and small variety of craft sodas, according to its Web site.
For a long while, they were the only game in town -- also having a presence out of town, since "The Goose" ships its beers to 15 states and the U.K. Crain's Chicago Business reports that as many as 25 micro-breweries had tried and failed to establish themselves against enormous odds in the city.
In October 2006, a second winner entered the race.
Half Acre Beer Company began when some friends put their heads together and figured out how to make a go of it by opening a new beer company in Chicago. They started by making their beer in Wisconsin at the Sand Creek Brewing Company in Black River Falls. As their sales grew, supported in large part by a large distributor and a number of supportive bars in the Bucktown neighborhood, they began to show numbers that supported a pitch for a Chicago-based brewery.
Gaining the necessary support, Gabriel Magliaro, the CEO of Half Acre, worked with a couple of investors and two partners to pursue a dream of producing a local beer in Chicago.
According to Crain's, finding the right location was another challenge. New Jersey native Magliaro assumed that his space requirements and Chicago zoning laws would limit Half Acre to an industrial site, but instead, as luck would have it, he and his partners are rehabbing a warehouse on Lincoln Avenue in the North Center neighborhood. Their intention is create a "community brewery," where they'll make carefully brewed beer and sell it in an attached retail space.
The most recent arrival to the microbrew game in Chicago is Metropolitan Brewery, in the Ravenswood Corridor along the Metra tracks, west of Andersonville. Still wet behind the ears, this two-person operation is small, but well-represented in bars and restaurants across the Chicago area (check out some of the locations here).
"The smooth, mellow flavors and dry finish of German lagers are the foundation of Metropolitan's beers," according to its Web site, and there's a promise of opening up to visitors as soon as the pair get their feet more firmly on the ground.
Crafty theater-goers got a good glimpse of the operation during a stretch of Saturday nights when the Neo Futurist theater company performed a piece entitled "Beer" in the space. That shows has since closed, so the lockout continues for the curious.
For now, you can follow their progress on the Metropolitan facebook page. And, of course, by bellying up to a neighborhood bar and sipping some of Metropolitan's brews. It's the "Beer of the Month" at the Map Room ... at least for another week.
So, just as Walgreens announces that its bringing back the sale of beer and wine at its stores, you may find that you have to work just a little bit harder to get some of Chicago's locally crafted beers. It'll be worth it, no doubt.