Last week, the District Brew Yards opened right in the heart of Chicago’s Brewing District with a strategy that could serve as a new model for driving craft brewery districts. The Brew Yards is a creative partnership that brings small breweries together to share resources and knowledge. It features a production brewery collective, beer hall with a cashless pour-your-own tap system and retail shop that will sell merchandise and freshly packaged beer for consumption offsite.
The Brew Yards will be the permanent home to Burnt City Brewing, as well as Around the Bend Beer Co. and Bold Dog Beer Co., with additional tap handles for guest brewers. The facility is located in a renovated warehouse at 417 N. Ashland Ave. in the West Town neighborhood.
“The Brew Yards offers so much more flexibility to get a wider variety of exciting beers into the hands of more people,” explains John Saller, head brewer of Burnt City Brewing. “This comes from our mixed-fermentation room and designated bottle filler, our ability to brew a huge range of batch sizes — and then to put them all into cans and sell them in our package shop — and the self-serve taps in the beer hall that allow our guests to sample a little bit of everything.”
Craft beer fans encounter a one-stop shop at the Brew Yards to discover a wide variety of beers from multiple breweries across 40 taps — like a brewery crawl without having to leave the premises. The beer hall also serves a menu of smoked meats and creative sides, all prepared onsite.
The Brew Yards comprises host brewery Burnt City Brewing and partner breweries Around the Bend Beer Co. and Bold Dog Beer Co., as well as guest brewers. The full menu of beers on tap can be found on the Brew Yards website and at www.beermenus.com.
Burnt City Brewing
Burnt City Brewing’s story begins in 2012, when brothers and cofounding brewers John and Ben Saller opened a brewpub called Atlas Brewing Co. on the north side of Chicago with founding partners Steve Soble and Greg Lamacki. There, they brewed great beers, hosted some pretty epic events and made some good memories. At the end of 2015, however, they were faced with the harsh reality that they could no longer be called Atlas. A rebrand was in order, so they burnt it all down (figuratively speaking) and built Burnt City Brewing from the ashes, creating a beer brand that was bolder, braver, and wiser than before — with a focus on experimentation and pushing boundaries in a tasteful way.
This latest move to host District Brew Yards is strategic and multifold: Bringing its brewpub and production facility teams into one permanent space, Burnt City has more flexibility in what beers it makes, when it make those beers and how those beers get into the hands of the beer drinker. The company can package a much wider variety of experimental brews, as well as keep up with well-loved classics like Face Melter Hibiscus IPA and Two Headed Boy Unfiltered Pilsner. The brewers also have the opportunity to dive further into the art and science of active fermentation dry-hopping, as well as wild and sour barrel-aging.
“We have an opportunity to have more fun making beer than ever before,” said Ben Saller, head brewer of Burnt City. “What we’ve built at the Brew Yards is basically a playground for experimentation and pushing boundaries. I’m incredibly excited for our customers to be able to walk into our beer hall and pour themselves one of our new mixed-fermentation, barrel-aged farmhouse ales or take home cans of small-batch beers from our retail shop.”
Opening beers from Burnt City include:
- Wildfire Series 007: Cabernet Barrel Cherry Brett Saison (6.5% ABV)
- Golden Zombie Sour Passion Fruit Hazy DIPA (8.0% ABV)
- Gulo-Fermented Raw IPA, a collaboration with Omega Yeast Labs (7.0% ABV)
Around the Bend Beer Co.
When he formed Around the Bend Beer Co. back in 2014, Founder Dan Schedler believed there was a better way to brew. He knew that the giant mega-breweries only cared about saving a buck, so they brewed cheap, flavorless beer. They brewed boring beer and tried to convince people it was good because the can would turn blue when it was cold. WTF?!
No, there was a better way, and it involved searching out forgotten beer styles and experimenting with nontraditional ingredients and caring about the quality of the end product above all else. This new way, at its core, was about navigating the road less traveled. It was about constantly searching for what might be around the next bend.
So that’s what Around the Bend Beer Co. does. They take classic styles and imbue them with an experimental edge. Some of the beers are a little goofy. Others are delicate and refined. But they’re all damn delicious. So pour yourself a glass and let’s find out together what’s Around the Bend.
“Ultimately, it’s about freedom,” Founder Dan Schedler explained. “When you’re a small brewery there are all kinds of constraints. But at Brew Yards, we’re able to do things, working together, that none of us could have done alone. Because of the combined scale, we have the equipment, space, and flexibility that allows us to follow our instincts down all kinds of interesting rabbit holes. This structure frees me to make the kinds of beers I want, the way I want to make them.”
Opening beers from Around the Bend include:
- Vera Pistachio Cream Ale (5.0% ABV)
- Extra Circus IV Brut IPA (7.5% ABV)
- Diamonds & Pearls Late-Hopped Double Pale Ale, a collaboration with Maplewood Brewery & Distillery (8.2% ABV)
Bold Dog Beer Co.
Bold Dog Beer Co. began with a couple who loved craft beer, Jerome Stontz and Shari O’Connell (now O’Connell-Stontz), and their stubborn, yet faithful, bulldog named Beefy. What started as a hobby in experimental homebrewing morphed into something larger when in 2015, they started working with Chicago’s Lake Effect Brewing to learn the ins and outs of brewing and selling craft beer.
During this time, the couple received bad news: They would have to say goodbye to their beloved bulldog Beefy. To soften the weight of the loss, they began volunteering as foster parents with the Chicago English Bulldog Rescue. Many of the bulldogs who shared their home left a place in their hearts and inspired recipes for some of their most successful brews, including Tilly Mango and Papaya Hefeweizen, C-Lo Session Pale Ale, and Gwen Hibiscus Lime Kölsch.
Today, the Bold Dog Beer focuses on Belgian and American style brews with a goal to expand into German and other experimental styles at their new home at the District Brew Yards.
“We want to be involved with the District Brew Yards because we are excited about being involved with a location that is different than everything else on the market at this time,” said Jerome Stontz, Bold Dog co-founding brewer. “At anytime, you can come to the Brew Yards and try at least 30 different beers, covering a vast variety of styles. We also can’t wait to work more closely with Burnt City and Around the Bend, two breweries we were fans of before we even started down the road of opening a brewery.”
Stontz added, “We are also excited to be able to give people a location where they can come and drink our beer onsite, and have the ability to host onsite charity events with the Chicago English Bulldog Rescue. Since the patio will be dog-friendly, we will be able to have adoptable dogs when the weather is nice, so potential adopters will be able to meet them.”
Opening beers from Bold Dog include:
- K.I.S.S. Citra-hopped Saison (7.4% ABV)
- Tilly Mango and Papaya Hefeweizen (4.6% ABV)
- C-Lo Tropical Pale Ale (5.1% ABV)
In a natural light-filled warehouse that formerly served as a photography studio, the 18,000-sq-ft District Brew Yards building features refinished concrete floors, brick walls and a bow truss structure made of Douglas fir. In the beer hall, each brewery has a dedicated tap wall that they’ve uniquely designed to showcase their brand. The Brew Yards worked with Chicago-based Structured Development for the design and build. Among other projects, Structured built the nearly 1 million-sq-ft NEWCITY mixed-use development at Clybourn and Halsted in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, was tapped to redevelop the Village of Orland Park’s Main Street Triangle, and will soon break ground on the Shops at Big Deahl mixed-use development, also in Lincoln Park.
Mike Drew, founding principal of Structured, said, “Structured has had the opportunity to transform a range of urban and suburban spaces. Partnering with District Brew Yards allowed us to bring our expertise in adaptive reuse to West Town with an innovative project that celebrates the vintage charm of the neighborhood’s historic warehouses while embracing Chicago’s status as the brewing capital of the U.S.”
Murals: The Brew Yards will also feature two murals by Chicago artists. Forthcoming in May, the exterior northeast corner of the Brew Yards, on Hubbard St. at Ashland Ave., will showcase a black and white painting by popular street artist Lauren Asta, depicting beer hall characters eating, drinking, and having a great time. Completed before the opening inside the beer hall next to the Fourth Wall tap space, the Brew Yards partnered with Muros, an art activation agency, to engage visual artists and illustrators Benjamin Marasco and Erik Lundquist of B&E Studios to design a custom piece. Marasco and Lundquist drew inspiration from a Hunter S. Thompson quote (below) to create a mural in their signature style, which is evocative of American traditional tattoo.
“There is an ancient Celtic axiom that says, ‘Good people drink good beer.’ Which is true, then as now. Just look around you in any public barroom and you will quickly see: Bad people drink bad beer. Think about it.” — Hunter S. Thompson
The beer hall
Located on the southern end of the Brew Yards building, the beer hall includes four distinctive tap walls with 10 handles each for Burnt City, Around the Bend, and Bold Dog, plus one for the Fourth Wall—a space for friends of the Brew Yards, offering a rotating selection of guest beers brewed in-house, beers from burgeoning talent, and more. Beer guides help guests navigate the 40 distinctive beers that are on tap. The pour-your-own tap dispensing system allows for guests to take charge of their own experience, with beer prices that encourage sampling, starting at 42 cents/oz., with most beers between 50-70 cents/oz., and up to $1/oz. for reserve and barrel-aged selections. The Brew Yards is a cashless, non-tipping facility, with increased wages to replace tips.
Food menu: The Brew Yards serves up a menu of smoked meats and creative sides from the counter located at the back of the beer hall. Dishes include mains like smoked brisket, housemade pastrami, smoked carrots, and innovative sides that change daily. The menu is also available for delivery and catering. The Brew Yards will begin hosting private parties and events later in 2019; forthcoming details to be shared via the website.
Located between the brewery and the beer hall with a dedicated entrance on Ashland Ave., the shop offers visitors to the Brew Yards the opportunity to bring home canned and bottled beer from the partner breweries, as well as a rotating variety of merchandise. The shop features a large amount of cooler space so that all beers made at the Brew Yards are available to-go in 16-oz. cans or 750mL bottles, depending on the beer style.
Located at the northern end of the facility, the brewery at the Brew Yards includes two brewhouses, a 7 and a 30 bbl, allowing for flexibility in batch sizes ranging from 5 to 90 bbl — complete with robust quality control and quality assurance procedures. The smaller system also allows for collaborations with other breweries, homebrew clubs, restaurants, and venues. A separate fermentation space for sour and wild beers also includes a dedicated bottling line and barrel-aging capabilities. In total, the facility will be able to produce 15,000 bbl per year.
The Brew Yards includes a canning line with an in-line labeling machine, allowing for canning of even the smallest batches, thus eliminating the quality pitfalls of growlers. The facility also packages draft beer for distribution, direct on-premise sale in the beer hall at the personalized tap walls, and direct off-premise sale in the shop.