Something tells me Samuel and Jesse Evans, the sibling owners of Chicago’s Ale Syndicate, have been riding around in a car with an over-sized, gaudy bumper sticker that reads, “Go BIG or go home.” Judging by the plans for their brewery they recently filled me in on, the whole city will soon be aware of Ale Syndicate and its standing in the city’s craft beer market.
I met the brothers at their office in Logan Square’s Green Exchange, the country’s largest sustainable business community, to learn more about their brewing beginnings and where Ale Syndicate is headed in the coming months. It’s a classic story of “home is where the heart is” for Samuel and Jesse. The two grew up in central Illinois and parts of Chicago before moving to California’s wine country in the early 2000s for work. It didn’t take long before they were enamored with Sonoma’s vineyards and began making their own wine as a hobby. During a winery visit, they noticed winemakers drinking Lagunitas, a local craft brewery, and began to appreciate these beers’ complex flavors, which lead to an additional hobby of home brewing.
From there, the brothers began exploring West Coast breweries and their wide variety of beer styles. Following an afternoon at Stone Brewing in Escondido, they shared a growler of Ruination on a beach in Carlsbad and made the bold decision to make brewing beer a career. After volunteering at a handful of breweries, they opened Lucky Hand Brewing Company in the Port of Oakland. Brewing mostly lagers, they established themselves in the area well enough to distribute about 3000 bottles per month across their local accounts. While business was strong enough to keep them moving forward in California, the Evans brothers still had their dreams set in the Windy City.
For the past couple years, Samuel and Jesse have been back in Chicago, slowly and methodically working out the plans for their next brewing venture. With Ale Syndicate, their love and appreciation of Chicago, its history, culture and people is quickly evident. From the logo and packaging to the website design and copy, the brothers continually give nods to their hometown and everything that makes it great.
As Samuel walked me over to the site of the brewery, only a block from their office at 2601 W. Diversey, it quickly became clear how much time and thought had gone into their planning. While the 6000-square-foot facility, which was originally the train station for the city of Maplewood in the early 20th century, is both exteriorly and interiorly a few months from being move-in ready, Samuel painted a vivid picture of what will soon be Ale Syndicate’s headquarters.
The main brewery will house a 5 BBL brewing system with seven 10 BBL fermenters, while a 30 BBL system will be used in an adjacent room for keg and bottling distribution. A tap room and shop will fill the west-most section of the facility with outdoor seating both behind the building and on the sidewalk along Rockwell Street. New windows will be going in that will allow for great views of the working brewery, while vegetable and spice gardens will be planted on the rooftop with help from their Green Exchange neighbors. As the brewery backs up to the Kennedy, passerby will be able to see the big, bold Ale Syndicate logo on the side of the outdoor grain silo. Not only will guests be treated to a freshly poured beer upon beginning tours of the main brewery, but Samuel and Jesse plan on making their brewery an alt-prop. This opens the door for other startup breweries to use dedicated equipment within Ale Syndicate’s brewery for their own purposes. Once they’re on their feet and ready to move into their own space, another startup can take their place.
While the brewpub plans unfold, Ale Syndicate is already building buzz by way of a couple of their beers that have been introduced to the city. Working out of Galena Brewing in northwest Illinois, Samuel and Jesse have brought Richie Imperial Porter and Municipal IPA to the market to rave reviews. Sunday Session, a hopped-up summer ale, will hit the taps later this month. The brewery is already distributing to nearly 30 local accounts and plans to focus on delivering “fresh” beer by maintaining its network within the Chicagoland area. You’ll also be able to sample these beers at upcoming events such as the American Beer Classic, Beer Under Glass and the Summer Solstice in Yorkville.
Ale Syndicate is also working with Metropolis Coffee in Andersonville on a coffee porter that will feature beans sourced specifically for this beer. “Developed to the bean,” this porter will be offered year-round but with variations in the roast from season to season, delivering a new flavor to the beer with each batch.
As former home brewers, Samuel and Jesse also have managed to keep their fellow garage laborers in mind when developing their packaging. Working with an adhesive company, they are using bottle labels that peel off easily without leaving any residue, making them ideal for reuse. Plus, they won’t wilt and fall off when left in water/ice for long periods of time.
There is no opening date set for the Ale Syndicate brewery, but after viewing the blue prints and hearing Samuel and Jesse passionately discuss their vision, it’s easy to share in their excitement for a business that has the makings of becoming a staple in the Chicago beer scene.