By Michael Austin | July 1, 2015 | Food & Drink
The boldfacers of Chicago's beer scene.
Known for its hoppy, aromatic West Coast IPAs, Lagunitas Brewing Company (2607 W. 17th St., 773-522- 2097) set up shop in Chicago in 2014 and instantly became the state’s largest brewery, not to mention one of the country’s largest craft brewers. Aurora native Mary Bauer, 32, tapped as head brewer for the Petaluma, California-based company’s 300,000-square-foot Lawndale operation, discovered food science while a student at the University of Illinois, and she earned her brewing chops at Anheuser-Busch.
Art vs. science: “It’s 50-50. Tony Magee, our owner, is a musician, and he talks about how brewing beer is like writing a song: Everything has to work in harmony. You have to be creative and see what works best. On the other hand, when things go wrong, you have to know the science behind brewing, too.”
The best part of the day: “I really enjoy our roundtable because that’s where we get to taste all of our beer. We do it every day.”
Her go-to: “I love IPAs. They’re my favorite kinds of beer. I’m definitely working for the right company. I love to smell the different hop aromas and taste the bitterness.”
Making her mark: “It’s a male-dominated industry, and there aren’t a lot of girls, but I’ve had a lot of great mentors. And I work for a company that welcomed me with open arms. My crew treats me as one of their own, and that’s all I can ask.”
Raise a glass to the gentleman with the coolest name in the Chicago beer scene: John Barley. Now the president of both the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild and Solemn Oath Brewery (1661 Quincy Ave., No. 179, Naperville), Barley got interested in the culture of craft beer about 10 years ago during his frequent visits to pioneering Chicago beer bars Hopleaf and Map Room, along with trips to the US West Coast and to Belgium. “I’ve always had a natural inclination to build, but no direction ever really clicked until I became interested in beer about 10 years ago,” he says. Today, most of his life revolves around suds. He spreads the word on the state’s breweries and he oversees the Belgian-inspired and barrel-aged beers at his own operation.
On being a newbie: “I didn’t home-brew before we opened Solemn Oath. When we turned on our system in 2012, it was the first time I’d ever brewed beer.”
How much is too much? “We talk about that saturation point a lot. In my opinion, there is still a lot of room for new breweries. There is room for more innovative ideas and new beers. As crazy as it seems, we’re certainly not saturated right now. In the end, high-quality beer wins.”
The place to be: “Craft beer-wise, there’s nothing in the country right now like what’s happening in Chicago. It is truly a renaissance.”
A native of Costa Rica, 37-year-old Andrés Araya spent years working for Latin American beer giants like Cerveceria Costa Rica before earning degrees at Purdue and Cornell and moving to Chicago four years ago. Now he’s on the micro side with his 5 Rabbit Cervecería, the country’s first Latin-inspired brewery, where he infuses his local craft beer with the flavor and culture of Latin America.
The Latin touch: “There’s so much richness in the culture of Latin America, and that was missing in the beer. So I thought, why don’t I do it myself?”
Inspiration: “Anything related to Latin American culture. Sometimes it’s a place, sometimes an ingredient, sometimes a dish, or music.”
Making it fun: “Paletas are our summer beers—very low alcohol, easy to drink, fruit, wheat session beers—and they’re based on the ice pops you see guys selling from carts in the park.”
Favorite style of beer: “I think beer is very specific to moments—everything from the time of day, to the date, the season, how you’re feeling, what you’re eating, and what you’re doing. Sometimes I’d rather have one style over another, but I’m an equal-opportunity beer drinker.”
Chicago today: “We’ve got so many different things going on in terms of size and style of breweries. I think we’re going to continue being more of an influence worldwide.”
Weighing in: “We’ve built a very collaborative effort here. Everybody who works at 5 Rabbit has an opportunity to offer input; that allows for a lot of creative freedom.”
Ray Daniels lives quite a beer-full life: A faculty member at the Siebel Institute of Technology brewing school and an investor in Revolution Brewing, he is also the brother-in-law of the owner of Lagunitas Brewing Company. But perhaps most noteworthy, Daniels is the founder and director of the Chicago-based Cicerone Certification Program, which accredits beer servers, Certified Cicerones, and Master Cicerones worldwide. He started out drinking American lagers at his Texas college bar, the Dixie Chicken, but a chance encounter with a craft beer in the mid-'80s changed his life.
The Cicerone idea: “It came out of my experiences in the marketplace all over the country, mostly from going into bars and being served bad beer.”
That life-changing beer: “It was at a hotel bar in Washington, DC. I remember tasting Sam Adams and going, ‘Wow, what is this? This is really amazing.’ That was probably my first big, eye-opening, there’ssomething- going-on-here kind of beer. And then a few years later, I started home-brewing and got caught up in the whole thing.”
His capacity for throwing back: “In the immortal words of one of my bosses at the Brewers Association, ‘It’s a marathon, not a sprint.’ Slow and steady. When you talk about professional drinkers, they’re people who don’t get out of control. Tomorrow’s another day. And, you know, thank God for Uber.”
photography By neil Burger