It was a dream that began in Chicago, in honor of 18th Street. Drew and his wife fell in love with Pilsen. Having been raised in Humboldt Park, Drew felt right at home among the incredible diversity there. Plans to open a craft beer bar were formed—after moving to Gary, IN, those plans went by the wayside. New plans were laid, a vision to open a brewery in a community without one. Though it is no longer the Gary of The Music Man, something just as lively is breaking ground there. And it’s not a Tribute to Michael Jackson Dance-off.
Introducing: 18th Street Brewery.
Since its opening, Pipeworks has been a growing family to the craft beer community of Chicago, welcoming entrepreneurs, brewers, and bedroom musicians together under the flag of craft beer. For months now, Drew has been a brewer at Pipeworks, in the company of Beejay Oslon and Scott Coffman. Putting in his time as a brewer has allowed Drew to hone his skills on a production-scale brewing system. He’s had a significant hand in the brewing at Pipeworks since batch eight—batch sixty-four is being brewed as I write this. And yet the launch of 18th Street has been anything but secret.
Sunday, 9:00 a.m. Gary, IN.
“I usually brew a few batches here on the weekend,” he says. But today he’s brewing just one, a Blonde ale, using traditional and non-traditional spices, such as jicama. Drew leads me around back to the brewhouse. The space is tidy, one he built himself with his cousin Jermaine Fox. High ceilings and exposed insulation. In working alongside Drew at Pipeworks I’m confident that cleanliness will not be an issue at his future brewhouse in Gary. The challenge may instead be this: proving to Gary that it is worthy of investing in itself.
It goes without saying that Drew’s investment in Gary is his brewery, 18th Street. An investment that comes with risks he has recognized, embraced, even. Here is a man who has quit his day job as a restaurant manager in Chicago—at a 5-star hotel, no less—to realize his dream.
On weekday mornings, Drew boards the South Shore Line en route to Chicago. Up before the sun. Convenient that the train stops no more than a block from his house: a modest two story, white paint peeling, the front bay window facing a boarded-up lot.
“It’s a depressed area,” Drew says. “So much potential. But yeah, it’s depressed.” As it stands, the latter is more readily mentioned. In 2011, a group of photographers from Rockford, IL took the opportunity to contrast the condition of their city—having been ranked by Forbes as the 9th most dangerous in America—with the apparently worse off, more miserable Gary, IN. The photos stand for little more than a journalistic cheap shot.
Stirring the boil, Drew reflects: “But the people of Gary deserve better.”
We open a few Pipeworks beers, and Drew shares his excitement for 18th Street’s first two releases. The second release is of a style you might expect. But the first release, well, he’d kill me if I gave too much away. It’s a strange style. I had to ask him to spell it out for me, because I’d never heard of it before.
Sunday, 11:30 a.m.
Drew says we’re done. It is his birthday, after all, and he’s looking to get the jump on a visit to Three Floyds. The wort left to cool in the brewhouse, Drew leads us into his basement, or “The Nubian Overlord lair.” This is where the fermentation happens.
A refrigeration system is in place. Two carboys bubble away, each cloaked with temperature-controlled fermwraps. One carboy of a spicy, pepper-infused Imperial Stout rests on the other side of the room. “It’s almost done, man. The fresh hop,” Drew says. He pulls a sample of Lyndale IPA, his first fresh-hop beer, and one that would not have been possible without the generosity of Robert Chamberlain.
In getting to know Robert Chamberlain I think I can fairly well pin him to three personality traits of note: he is approachable, fiery, and above all, German. His voice is downright booming. Dark head of hair and some gray along the sides. Mustached. Later, over beers at his house in Logan Square, I wondered if a noise violation wasn’t in order. Although, after our conversation I’m certain the the neighbors will have no trouble pronouncing Weihenstephaner.
Oddly enough, I met Robert through Andy Coleman, head brewer at Piece. Robert told me he had been growing fresh hops, and I said I’d have them put to proper use. So we picked them, and Drew made a fresh hop IPA. Community, man.
In terms of the 18th Street bandwaggon, I’m a little late to the party. Drew’s vision has been embraced by many in Chicago, old friends, new ones, and comrades in brewing, eager to support in whatever way possible. They’ll soon have their chance. Later this week Drew will launch his Kickstarter campaign. The ETA on bottled 18th Street beers is early 2013.
Last month, at the request of Brian and Chris of Tesa Cigar Co., Drew poured two 18th Street beers during an event hosted for Drew Estate. Brian and Chris have been a huge support to 18th Street, offering a venue for Drew to pour his beers once a month. As usual, Drew was warmly received—the place was packed, and both kegs kicked. Through the haze of cigar smoke, friends and first-time 18th Street drinkers alike embraced Drew, congratulating him, asking when the beer will on shelves. I’d suspected it, but right then I knew: Drew is actually going to do this.
Sunday, 4:00 p.m. Munster, IN.
Sitting inside Three Floyds Brewing. Over poutine and Topless Wytch Drew reminds me that the Humboldt Park of his childhood is worlds apart from what it is today. Racial tensions had been high. Gang activity was rampant and bloody. Drew remembers a time when knowing the right people could allow you—or in Drew’s case, his wife—simply to walk alone through the neighborhood. I get the sense that those years in Humboldt Park have afforded Drew more than street smarts and cool—they’ve equipped him with an unwavering determination to succeed.
I’m struck with the idea that the people sitting with us at Three Floyds—however far they drove—may soon add 18th Street to their docket of Indiana brewery stops. I hope like hell they do. And with what Drew has in store over the coming months, I’d imagine he’ll give them more than a few reasons to do so.
“Gary is undergoing a renaissance,” Drew says. “That’s a testament to our new mayor, Karen Freeman-Wilson.” If there’s a renaissance in Gary, I’m convinced Drew is a part of it. On the brink of launching his Kickstarter, Drew has posed this challenge to his family, friends, and supporters: “All in?”
We are. I am. Are you?
My cousin Seth Ekberg filmed and edited an interview with Drew. Drew talks about what community means to him, brews the aforementioned Blonde ale, and takes us on a walk through Gary. Click the link below.