Tapping into fall
Beer-makers open sites tailored for tasting
On tap: Half Acre's taproom, which is awaiting final permitting, promisies to be a fascinating new platform for some of Chicago's most beloved beer. (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune)
"I use the business side of things to rationalize what I'm doing, but I've always been into craft beer, all the way back when I opened my first place in 1989," he said.
Brothers John and Ben Saller, who grew up in Hyde Park, came on as partners. Ben, 28, a longtime home brewer, is brewmaster. It's his first professional brewing gig. Eight beers were on tap when I visited, a fairly standard assortment of ales from light (an easy-drinking golden ale) to dark (smoked porter).
"We don't try to do gimmicky beers," Ben Saller said. "You have your Dogfish Heads, which I like and respect. But they have a lot of beers with a lot of strange ingredients that I'll try once and probably never come back to."
Atlas is essentially a classed-up traditional Chicago tavern -- thin and long with a black marble bar that seats about 15. Just beyond the end of the bar, patrons get a view into the bright white-tiled room that houses Atlas' brewing tanks. But the visual highlight is the artwork opposite the bar: back-lit ads of long-defunct Chicago breweries. Atlas, in fact, is named for another Atlas brewing, which Soble's research told him was among the city's first breweries. Except this Atlas brewing is dimly lit Lincoln Park chic.
"The concept started as bringing back the neighborhood brewery," Soble said. "There's still so much untapped potential in this city."
Summing up: Atlas' beer at this early stage is uneven and includes several that are simply bitter without an interesting journey or flavor. This is often the case with young breweries and first-time professional brewers, so odds are that Atlas will find its footing.
2747 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-295-1270; atlasbar.projectparties.com
There are plenty of reasons to love Revolution's brewpub on Milwaukee Avenue: the food, the beer and the people-watching when you get that perfect spot at the bar. There are wholly other reasons to love the taproom in its Kedzie Avenue production brewery.
First, the brewery didn't cheap out on the number of taps. There are 16 of them, the same number of Rev beers poured at the brewpub, and the brewery said more will likely be added. Also, the beers that have disappeared at the far-busier brewpub are often still on draft at the taproom. Finally, it's an absolutely massive (and relatively mellow) space with expansive views of the brewery: rows of barrels of aging stouts, barley wines and porters, a huge American flag and, beyond a glass wall, tall, gleaming brewing tanks.
It's usually busiest around 6 p.m., which is when free tours, limited to 40 people, are offered. Later in the evening -- the taproom is only open 2-10 p.m. Wednesday though Saturday -- things calm nicely, quite unlike its Milwaukee Avenue sibling.
Summing up: Owner Josh Deth has surrounded himself with immense talent, and it shows in nearly every Revolution beer, regardless of style. The taproom is a welcome addition, mostly as an antidote to the crush of bodies that can overwhelm the brewpub, but without a drop-off in beer quality and options.
3340 N. Kedzie Ave., 773-588-2267; revbrew.com
Half Acre taproom
(coming soon -- maybe)
Though the opening remains in limbo -- final permitting awaits, which makes early November seem likely -- Half Acre's taproom promises to be a fascinating new platform for some of Chicago's most beloved beer.
From 10 draft lines in a gorgeous block of wood, owner Gabriel Magliaro plans to sell Half Acre beers in the taproom that are available nowhere else -- no bottles, no cans and not at other bars. Included will be a house brew called Space, an India pale ale released in bottles last year under the name Daly Double, and a rotating guest beer made by visiting professional brewers on Half Acre equipment.
The taproom is as pretty a place as there is to drink in Chicago. Magliaro called himself "a wood nerd," and the proof is on the taproom walls. The room's most arresting element, other than the beer, of course, are the wavy pine walls salvaged from the inside of a 100-year-old Wisconsin grain elevator.
The room is full of clean lines, though heavy with natural elements: wood, brick and concrete. The floor was assembled from white 40-year-old Japanese tile. It adds up to beautiful simplicity, like the most Scandinavian of lunchrooms.
"This is about an environment where we can roll out new beer with ongoing diversity and connect with people on a deeper level," Magliaro said. "The store has been great, but it's one thing to pour someone a growler and say 'Hi.' This is a deeper experience and, hopefully, fun."
Summing up: Half Acre has hit its stride, along with Revolution, as a newer brewery that knows what it wants to do and does so expertly. I can't wait to try the new stuff in the taproom.
4257 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-248-4038, halfacrebeer.com
— Josh Noel