New Brews: The South Side’s only microbrewery lays down roots in Back of the Yards

Sophia Anastazievsky: “It’s like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory—it keeps going and going and going…there are a lot of crazy things going on here and we’re one of them.” This is how Samuel Edwin Evans, cofounder of the New Chicago Brewing Company, describes his work. Started by Samuel and his brother Jesse, the brewery, which is currently under construction, will soon occupy 13,000 sq. ft. of the Peer Foods Building in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. In this post-Goose Island buyout world, the brewery aims to utilize innovative and sustainable brewing practices to create a beer unique to Chicago.

Like most brewers, the Evans brothers started off brewing in their backyard. According to Samuel, “when you’re a home brewer, you have a lot more free reign over the process.” Eventually, the brothers began working with an independent brewery in Oakland, California; the company had a contract with Whole Foods that provided aid with distribution throughout California. There, the Evans brothers became familiar with sustainable brewing methods, and they decided to leave Oakland for their home city, Chicago.

The brewery will become the latest chapter in a lengthy heritage of Chicago-made industry. The triangular plot of land at 1400 W. 46th Street that the Brewery’s will call home is situated in what were once Chicago’s bustling stockyards. Formerly known as Whiskey Point, this region was made infamous in Upton Sinclair’s 1906 exposé, “The Jungle.” The Buehler Brothers Meat Market opened a packing facility here in 1925. In 1944, the building was renamed the Peer Foods Building, when the Buehler Brothers began selling more than just meat from the location, expanding operations to include such zany products as Spanish olives and pie dough. In its latest manifestation, The Peer Foods Building is striving for sustainability—a complete divergence from its past inhabitants. In 2010, the space was purchased by Bubbly Dynamics LLC, renamed “The Plant,” and converted into a sustainable, off-the-grid, vertically integrated operation. A full production farm, sustainable food businesses, a community kitchen, and educational facilities currently share the space.

In keeping with their mission of sustainability, New Chicago Brewing plans to be a true local beer. Their ingredients are not only from within Chicago, but many are from within their own building. Another business in the building grows the hops that are to be used in New Chicago’s beer—brewed in a “hoppy” West Coast style. Other ingredients come from local family farms and community gardens. New Chicago looks to talent, ingredients, and volunteers to create their product, which in turn will be distributed locally in order to keep the profit as well as the labor local.

The New Chicago Brewing Company will be a full-scale production brewery. In its first year it plans to produce a whopping 1,000,000 22oz bottles. The Evans brothers knew that they planned to brew sustainably when they moved to Chicago, but it was not until they found the Peer Foods location that they decided on a larger-scale production.

“The neat thing is the way we get out energy and use waste here,” says Samuel.  A brewery of this size produces 1 ton of spent grain a week, which at normal breweries is simply trucked off to a landfill. At the Plant, however, the grain is treated with bacteria to create a natural gas, which runs a turbine that powers the building. New Chicago’s mission is one of sustainability—of handling waste and creating power from byproducts that would otherwise become an ecological problem. “The only thing that leaves the brewery is the beer itself,” says Samuel.

New Chicago plans to send out its first shipment of beer on March 4th, 2012—the 175th anniversary of Chicago’s inception in 1873. On Saturday, May 5th, they held their second open house, attended by 400 local students and community members who came to see the innovative recycling methods in action. What they are doing is a new combination of processes that have been practiced on a smaller scale, and that often have been discreet from one another. Samuel explained that, “Some breweries are doing parts of our process—but no one does all of these things.”

Ironically, the northern corner of the Plant’s land has a deed that prohibits the sale of alcohol, a throwback to the early 20th century, before Prohibition, to a space that was designated by religious forces as alcohol-free. In keeping with tradition, no beer will be brewed in that part of the property, as it will serve as the facility’s parking lot.