Crown’s Bodacious Brown Ale
We’re in the beer. This summer has seen two new brewpubs pop up in the greater Chicago area, although they couldn’t be more different. Think town and country: One is stationed in an already established bar, smackdab in the midst of Drinktown Central (i.e. Wicker Park); the other is nestled in the idyllic Northwest Indiana enclave of Crown Point. The two brewmasters, however, share a pedigree that includes degrees from Chicago’s Siebel Institute, stints at Goose Island, and a boundless enthusiasm for beer. We talked to both.
WHO: Bob Kittrell, 47
BREWING EXPERIENCE INCLUDES: Oxford Brewing in Baltimore; Stone Brewing in Escondido, California; Goose Island in Chicago
NOW AT: Moonshine
ON TAP: Pints for $5, growlers for $30 (refills $15)
Your e-mail address [not included here for privacy reasons, but trust us: it’s the beeriest e-mail address ever] is an ode to PBR. Is PBR your favorite beer?
I don’t drink it much, but I do have an affinity for it. I’ve been brewing for 20 years, and if you do this long enough, you come full circle. Some young guys have a snobby attitude about commercial beers. What they don’t realize is we wouldn’t know what we know without those big guys. I like PBR more as an iconic thing than drinking it. Half my house is decorated with PBR memorabilia. But the majority of the beer I drink is Busch in a can. Don’t get me wrong: It’s not for the subtle nuances of flavor. It’s what you’re going to drink if you’re going to drink more than eight beers.
With a name like Moonshine, the owners must have been thinking about brewing their own hooch or beer from the beginning.
I don’t think they originally opened [in 2003] thinking they would have a brewpub, but if there’s ever a Moonshine Two or Moonshine Three, I think a distillery is going to be a priority. It’s a much smaller footprint: Beer can take two weeks to a month, but you can do a two-day gin. And it’s a much simpler process, not as demanding and unforgiving. If you screw beer up, you can distill it and make it into something good, like schnapps.
Your offerings right now include a porter, Emo, that, at 5.9 percent alcohol by volume, is your strongest beer on tap. What’s next?
I’m brewing an IPA for next week called Thee All Mighty, which is pushing 7 percent. It will righteously beat upon its rivals like a rented mule. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. We’re aiming to have six beers up at all times, maybe 20 to 25 beers over the course of a year.
I hear you’ve got a lot of tattoos. Any beer-related?
Two. One’s a tribute to my favorite bar in Baltimore, Tio Loco’s, which unfortunately doesn’t exist anymore. The other is a takeoff on a traditional religious tattoo, the Rock of Ages. I’ve got a beer version of that, the Pint of Ages.
Any favorite Midwestern beers besides PBR and Busch?
That’s one of those questions I have a different answer for every day. But my friend Jonathan Cutler at Piece has a Kolsch beer that’s so good, we’ll probably never brew one at Moonshine.
Do you remember your first homebrew?
I was a maniacal homebrewer, but it had nothing to do with the love of good beer. I read some article that said you could make a six-pack for 50 cents. Within a year, I had turned my whole basement into a brewery and couldn’t give the stuff away fast enough, so I started driving around to breweries and dropping it off.
What about your first beer?
I was ten or 11 years old. I drank a six-pack of Schlitz on a camping trip and threw up in the tent.
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WHO: James Cibak, 36
BREWING EXPERIENCE INCLUDES: Goose Island in Chicago; Three Floyds in Munster, Indiana; Firestone Walker in Paso Robles, California
NOW AT: Crown Brewing
ON TAP: 8 oz. pours for $3, pints for $5 to $7
You grew up in Calumet City and went to Loyola and Siebel but how, exactly, did you end up in Crown Point?
I play golf out there. It’s a great little town, with the square and the courthouse. When my partner and I were searching out our own building, we got hooked up with some investors who own some space out there, and we happened to find this building, which used to be a Meals on Wheels. We didn’t close on the building until December 23rd and didn’t start remodeling until January, but by June 13th we were up and running with two beers on tap.
I heard you got some yeast from the Three Floyds guys, so it must be a case of fairly friendly competition.
The brewing industry as a whole is pretty close-knit. Nick Floyd was one of the first guys I met in craft brewing, when I was at Siebel. Back then he was also in his brewing infancy; he had probably only been brewing about a year, a year-and-a-half.
Sounds like you’re going to focus on classic beer styles.
Right now, we’ve got the Bodacious Brown Ale and the Weizenheimer, a really traditional German-style Hefeweizen. Last week I brewed a heavily dry-hopped American pale ale. I’m shooting for 40 IBUs [a bitterness measurement] at 4 to 5 percent alcohol by volume. Don’t have a name for that one yet. We’ll work up from two drafts at a time to three to four to six.
Do you have a favorite Midwestern beer?
I really enjoy hops, so this time of year I like a nice American pale ale. But my first love was dark beers, so once it gets colder, I look for porters and stouts. Goose Island and Bells were what inspired me to start homebrewing.
How was your first homebrew batch?
It was a pale ale from a beer kit I bought at the original Sam’s. I was back home visiting my parents from college, and I had the whole thing going down in the basement of my parents’ house. Most homebrew kits are so simple, if you’re doing it for the first time and you expect it to taste like [Three Floyds’] Alpha King, you’re going to be vastly disappointed. But that inspires you.
Do you remember your first beer ever?
I believe it was an Old Style that I removed from my father’s stash he kept around for holiday occasions. My mom and dad aren’t big beer drinkers, so whatever he had would be around forever. But they always want to taste what I’m brewing.
Photograph: Jennifer Wehunt