Sheffield's Chicago, which has 50 craft beers and hundreds in bottles, updates its craft beer list daily. Photo via fb.com
Aside from Goose Island, which is now owned by AB InBev, Chicago has been near absent of craft breweries.
But in such a large city, the thirst for the growing craft beer industry was there and had to be quenched, and Michigan beers filled the void. Early in the craft beer years, West Michigan breweries such as Founders Brewing Co., Bells Brewing Co. and New Holland Brewing Co. made their presence felt in the Windy City.
Those three pioneers have helped several breweries pop up in Chicago during the last couple of years, said Anders Stromley, beer manager at Sheffield’s Chicago, a beer bar in Wrigleyville. The taste was there in the giant city, but not the breweries.
“I wouldn’t say the scene was behind Michigan,” Stromley said. “We just didn’t have the number of breweries that Michigan has. Plus, Michigan makes a lot of great beer.”
Sheffield’s hosted one of Brewery Vivant’s launch parties in November when the brewery opened up to the Chicago market. Currently, Vivant is maxed out in capacity and is only distributing to Michigan and Chicago.
Vivant had planned to be in Chicago by October, but the distributor called and told owner Jason Spaulding to double the order because the demand was high in the underserved market.
“It’s a sizeable market and they’re thirsty for craft beer,” Spaulding said prior to the release. “We have a lot of people come up here from Chicago and there are huge Michigan connections through Chicago.”
Recently, more Michigan bottlers have found their way to Chicago, including Greenbush and Dark Horse, said Chicago food and beverage blogger Bob Benenson, a 1977 MSU graduate. Vander Mill, a cider maker in Spring Lake, also has entered the Chicago market and done well.
A large reason the Michigan beers have done so well are Michigan transplants in Chicago, Stromley said.
“They already recognize the brands and know it’s good beer,” he said.
Not only are the beers quenching the thirst for good beer in Chicago, the Michigan industry also helps make for an easy weekend getaway from the big city. The Chicago Tribune has run several stories in the past year on Michigan beer, including two recent articles about Grand Rapids brewing in the past six months.
An August 2012 article detailed the amount of brewing prowess Grand Rapids and the surrounding area holds, and stated the BeerCity USA title is “hardly preposterous.”
But with thousands of tap handles in Chicago, it’s a hard market to crack and stay in, Stromley said. He doesn’t see Michigan beers going anywhere, however.
“As long as the beers are good, they’ll stay around,” he said. “And consumers are satisfied with Michigan beers.”