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)
John Barley, who is four years younger, wanted to open a brewery in Naperville called Solemn Oath. It would specialize in Belgian-style beers with bold American twists. John Barley spent nine months persuading his older brother to move back to the Midwest to join him. John even made a trip to San Diego to make his case.
"I wasn't hesitant about the brewery, as I knew it would be amazing," Joe, 35, said. "I was hesitant to leave the beach."
Chicago-area beer drinkers are glad he did. Solemn Oath has become a quick staple in the constellation of local craft beer, appearing on tap at 140 locations, all of whom, said John Barley, have wanted more kegs.
But for the truest Solemn Oath experience, head to the brewery's taproom in Naperville. In a region quickly evolving into a major craft beer player (look out, Denver and Portland, Ore.!), Solemn Oath is among the most eye-opening of those recently opened. Here's a rundown of the new entries.
Solemn Oath Brewery
Much of Solemn Oath's new home, in a former industrial park automotive repair shop, has been set aside for brewing and expansion. But in a tidy front corner, local designer Greta de Parry has created a sleek space to match the beers: modern and edgy, yet familiar and comfortable.
Spread across a concrete floor, the taproom is highlighted by an L-shaped walnut bar ringed by about a dozen concrete-and-steel stools. Ten taps sit behind that bar, four to nine of which are pouring beer at a time, though there is no guarantee of what they might be. Solemn Oath makes no year-round beers but will eventually. John Barley said the market will make that decision.
When I visited, the beers offered a healthy range, from Khlorost Escobar -- a blond coffee-infused wheat beer -- to Man vs. Internet, a well-hopped Belgian red ale edging close to 10 percent alcohol. There is commonality among Solemn Oath beers, most of which possess some degree of Belgian yeast and West Coast hops, and often both. The results are bright, tasty hybrids that reach well beyond traditional styles, demonstrating the inventive best of contemporary American craft brewing.
The brewery is already planning to expand, with equipment ordered that will allow it to make about 60 percent more beer by early next year. In May, they plan to expand again.
"We could probably grow three or four times tomorrow and sell all our beer, but is that how we want to grow as a company?" John Barley said. "Selling out of the beer in a couple days is where we want to be."
That's especially true in the taproom, which is open only until 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 7 p.m. on Sunday, yet the brothers say it has become a reliable madhouse on weekend nights. Even at 2 p.m. on a recent Wednesday, there were only a few open seats at the bar.
Though the Barleys considered opening in Chicago, their bet on a Naperville industrial park seems to be working.
"We wanted to branch out a little bit," John Barley said. "Naperville has a large population and a great community. There are lots of wine drinkers ready to be converted, and we see it every day in the taproom."
Summing up: Many of Solemn Oath's beers are reminiscent of one another, but that's not a bad thing: The flavors are unanimously interesting and clean (due largely to the experience and vision of brewmaster Tim Marshall, who spent 12 years in the Rock Bottom chain), making the brewery one of the most exciting to pop up in Chicago's recent wave of craft brewers.
1661 Quincy Ave., Naperville, 630-995-3062, solemnoathbrewery.com
Atlas Brewing Co.
When Steve Soble had an underperforming pool room beside his Lincoln Park bowling alley, Seven Ten Lounge, he knew it was finally time to get into the brewing business.
The longtime Chicago bar and restaurant owner, who also owns Daily Bar and Grill, New Line Tavern and Southport Lanes, first considered opening a brewery in the 1990s in Ravenswood. He scuttled the idea after running into community opposition.