How Chicago’s Logan Square Neighborhood Became a Craft Brewing Hotbed
Chicago beer drinkers are spoiled with the multitude of taproom options available to them throughout the city. With more breweries than any other city, it only makes sense that there are numerous spots where patrons can leisurely stroll from one brewery to the next in just a few minutes. Up north in Ravenswood, there is the Malt Row which boasts the likes of Half Acre, Spiteful, Begyle and Dovetail Brewing. To the west is the Chicago Brewing District, which includes award-winners like On Tour, Great Central Brewing Co. and more. Smack dab in the middle (okay, somewhat close to the middle) of these two vibrant brewing neighborhoods is Logan Square, which has quickly become one of the hottest brewing locations in the nation, with a growing list of breweries calling the unique neighborhood home.
From the likes of established stalwarts like Maplewood and Revolution, newer destinations like Middle Brow, Hopewell and Bixi Beer, and taprooms yet to be open from Solemn Oath, Pipeworks and more, Logan Square has become a hotbed for brewing excellence and innovation. We asked several brewing members who call the neighborhood home to get their thoughts on the vibrant brewing community, what comes next for the neighborhood, and what they’re most excited about.
A Brewing Home for Old and New Alike
Revolution Brewing Founder Josh Deth has lived in Logan Square since 1997, giving him a unique perspective on how the neighborhood has changed over time. “It used to be tough to get good, fresh beer on tap, but now there are a lot more choices, and most restaurants include local beer when they open.” Thankfully, that trend is primed to continue.
Revolution (2323 N. Milwaukee Ave.) was the first to put their craft beer stake in the Logan Squad ground with the opening of their Brewpub in 2010. Now, the impactful imagery of Revolution’s “Fist” branding is found well beyond the tap handles of local restaurants and craft beer spots in the neighborhood.
The success of the brewpub and their production facility/taproom nearby helped create the vibrancy of the Milwaukee Avenue corridor, which also houses the likes of Hopewell Brewing (2760 N. Milwaukee Ave.). Hopewell Co-Owner Jonathan Fritz notes that Revolution’s success in the corridor opened up opportunities for breweries like his and bars alike to stand out by offering a uniquely local craft beer tap list. “When I first moved into the neighborhood, imported beer was commonplace on bar menus. However, in the last few years, many neighborhood bars have shifted their focus to a more local selection of beers. Following Revolution Brewing’s Milwaukee Avenue brewpub lead, we’ve seen a lot of great bars open up on the Milwaukee Avenue corridor, most of which have great craft beer selections.”
While it’s tough to draw a hard line on the distinct area that the Logan Square neighborhood resides in–everyone has an opinion–it’s clear that everyone that does business in the area is passionate about the neighborhood they share. Many also call the area home. John Barley, Solemn Oath’s Founder and President, calls their upcoming taproom space a “homecoming” of sorts as many of the workers from his team live in the area. Their new taproom (address TBD), will differentiate from their current space in Naperville thanks to a new “ corner store selling our beer to go, merchandise, prints from our upcoming SOL (Solemn Oath Lithograph) project, and some unique goods from makers in all the different markets we touch across the country.”
Innovation in More Than Just Beer
Sure, you can find a thoughtful rendition of practically any beer style in the American lexicon by venturing through the breweries in Logan Square, but the creativity that has led to their robust tap lists also manifests itself in the food and taproom experience as a whole. Pipework Brewing Co.’s Creative Director, Kate Brankin, says that this multi-fold approach of offering a unique beer, food and scenery experience is paramount in the development of their soon-to-be open taproom. “We’re focused on creating an experience that contributes to that culinary vibrancy by offering food that’s as delicious as the beer program. We really enjoy being part of hyper local brewing community that we currently share with our fellow brewing neighbors.”
Middle Brow Brewing’s new Bungalow space (2840 W. Armitage Ave.) is a testament to how far the brewery scene has evolved in this realm, both in Chicago and beyond. I’ll let co-founder Peter Ternes explain: “We suppose our new brewpub is part danish farm, part rural Michigan lake house, part surf-town beer garden, part south side bungalow, part edgy-but-nourishing bakery, part post-punk Appalachian hippie-farmer pizza den.”
New Businesses and New Roles in the Community
As the beer scene in Logan Square matured and became more of a destination for interested Chicagoan’s and beer tourists alike, the makeup of the neighborhood also changed. High-rise apartments and high-end stores now take up some street corners. The neighborhood has categorically changed, which has both positive and negative consequences for its inhabitants. “Breweries are natural forces of gentrification; there’s nothing they can really do to avoid it. We’ve spent the last decade-and-a-half living in and around Logan Square and Humboldt Park, watching the demographics slowly shift in one direction. Since we launched our brewery in 2012, we’ve donated over 50% of our profits to local social-justice organizations. And in our new space on Armitage, we hope to counter the natural forces of gentrification to which we otherwise contribute,” said Ternes of Middle Brow.
Being a good neighbor goes well beyond cool brewing collaborations and awesome places to drink. It also means helping out the local residents and businesses that called Logan Square and neighborhood’s like it home well before breweries began to dot the local map. It’s important that breweries both new and old decide to grow with it.
Thankfully, the breweries I talked to remain committed to making the space they reside in a great place to both drink and live in. “The beer scene in Logan Square has really matured in the past few years,” said Adam Cieslak, co-founder of Maplewood Brewery and Distillery. “The way we see it, the more people interested in craft beer and looking to check out breweries around here, the better….as the neighborhood beer scene continues to grow, we look forward to continue to grow with it.” Jonathan Fritz from Hopewell echoes that sentiment: “Having more options in Logan Square encourages more visitors from outside the neighborhood and city, and brings a more diverse crowd to all of our breweries.”
How to Brand the New Logan Square Beer Scene?
So, with so many breweries housed under one roof, how do you wrap everything together in a neatly-branded bow?
For starters, you can create a beer style unique to the area. At the recently opened Bixi Beer taproom (2515 N. Milwaukee Ave.), Master Brewer Eymard Freire has a specific idea in mind: a Chicago-Style Lager. As opposed to a traditional German lager, the Chicago version has a nuttier malt profile and a lighter body. It’s also designed to go well with two of Chicago’s favorite cuisines: pork and beef. It’s an inventive twist on a beer style that is reflective of Bixi’s uniquely Asian-inspired culinary creations and tap list.
There are also some other options, including frequent collaborations between brewers throughout the neighborhood and a potential new “Chicago Brew Line,” which connects the breweries in Logan Square with several on the fringes of the neighborhood in a semi-branded way similar to what has happened in Ravenswood and on the West Side. Think of it as a way to add convenience to your brewery crawl via foot or train while mixing in the myriad of other great local bars and restaurants nearby. And while that is in the works, Josh Deth from Revolution notes that it is more than easy to pop a quick search into Google to get a list of breweries close by which is always an entertaining venture for any beer lover daydreaming during the work week.
A common thread found throughout the responses from brewers was how connected these breweries felt to each other and how aware they were of their special spot in creating a “hyper-local” beer scene in this unique neighborhood. If you’re in the area, you’ll have the chance to taste world-class beer, which is an exciting notion for both beer lovers and the likes of John Barley from Solemn Oath. “I think the future is bright and patrons are going to reap the benefits of a lot of world class beer, good people, and unique spaces to gather.”
See you out there. Cheers!
Feature photo courtesy of Curbed Chicago