Craft beer explodes in Chicago

Craft beer explodes in Chicago

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Good beer and good cheer is in good supply in the Chicago area these days.

This Thursday marks the start of craft beer week in Chicago, which will feature literally hundreds of beer events and scores of breweries. There’s no doubt there’s been a craft beer boom, and some young entrepreneurs are riding a wave of suds to success.

Former accountant Kevin Cary is now living the dream.

"Five years ago I was only dreaming about it," said Cary.

He and a couple buddies opened Begyle Brewery on Chicago’s Northside, making tiny batches of top notch craft beer for local bars and restaurants. They even sometimes deliver that beer by bicycle.

"We took off running from the moment we decided we were going to open a brewery...and haven't really looked back since," added Cary.

Begyle is riding a craft beer wave that has seen the opening of dozens of small breweries in the Chicago area. The breweries all have colorful names like Broad Shoulders, Ale Syndicate, Five Rabbit, Pipeworks and Spiteful.

"It’s just growing faster than we ever could have imagined," said Pete Crowley, head of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild.

Crowley is also one of the owners of Haymarket Brewery in Chicago’s west loop. He has been brewing beer for 20 years.

"When I first started brewing, it was a novelty. There were very few craft breweries," said Crowley. "Everyone who's getting into it, they're not looking at dollar signs. They’re passionate and they're excited and they truly love beer."

However, dollars are one reason Wirtz Beverage of Illinois is getting into the game. Until a couple years ago, the liquor distributor only carried spirits and wine. But with craft beer sales growing at more than 20% a year, they’ve decided to keep up with everyone else and join brewing.

"You’re always looking for new opportunities. And it's hard not to see what's going on with craft beer. So, why miss out on that?" said Phil Kuhl, a Wirtz Beverage Craft Beer Specialist.

And while many of the new breweries got their start in someone's garage, California-based company Lagunitas is building a massive brewery for craft beer on Chicago’s southwest side.

Lagunitas is spending 26-million dollars to convert an old steel plant into the state's largest brewery. On the day FOX 32 News visited the brewery, they were already brewing the first Chicago batch of the company's popular beer "Little Sumpin' Sumpin.'"

"Too bad that camera doesn't have a nose where you could get a smell and share it with people," said one employee.

Lagunitas invested in the Chicago brewery after looking at how much it cost to ship their beer from California to the Midwest and east coast.

"There was about an ounce of diesel in every bottle of beer. And that was unacceptable. And if you do the math on that it was like, hell, we could build a brewery for that cost," said brewmaster Jeremy Marrshall.

And the craft beer boom isn't just confined to the city.

In southwest suburban Lyons, two former advertising men just opened Buckledown Brewery in order to meet growing demand in the suburbs.

"It’s been phenomenal. It's been really good. We get a ton of support locally. People are really into craft beer and supporting local business," said Ike Orcutt.

"If you can't have fun brewing beer, you're a real jerk," added Sean Mahoney.

All the brewers FOX 32 talked to did seem to be very happy.

By the end of the year there could be 125 craft breweries in Illinois. However, craft beer still makes up only 8% of the total beer market. So, there's still a lot of room to grow.

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