As Chicagoans, we are often inspired by our city. The people and places of both the past and present seem to influence much of what we do. From fires to fairs, our history is varied, and complicated. And perhaps one tale from our rich past is the one that has affected us the most. The Great Chicago Fire was such a pivotal moment for us that we honor it with a star on our beloved flag. It was a time of tragedy, yet it was a time for a rebirth. When I first encountered Burnt City Brewing in Lincoln Park, I was singed with curiosity. And then I got it. And I appreciated it. Not just because of a fire, but because beer. And history.
The area that encompasses most of Chicago’s North Side was once home to a myriad of Native American tribes. Congested modern era diagonal streets — Clark, Elston, Lincoln — were once busy Native American trail paths which led people from camp to camp. Swiss immigrant, Conrad Sulzer, was instrumental in establishing an “official” settlement in 1837. Lake View Plank Road (known as Broadway today) helped connect the new locale to the city of Chicago which made it an attractive place to be. Swedish and German farmers soon moved in and called the region home, leading to a population burst and an official township incorporation by 1857.
Thanks in part to the Great Chicago Fire, the township saw another residential surge in the late 1870s. Interestingly, it also saw a boom in celery production. Lake View was, once upon a time, the celery HQ of the country. Yes, that’s right. Celery. But it was also during this time that Chicago would experience its golden era of beer production and Lake View Township was no stranger to the industry. Fast forward to 2017 and you’ll see history repeating itself. Beer is back in full force and we still love our celery (salt).
Burnt City Brewing: Inspired by the Past
Taking its name from one of the most important moments in Chicago history, Burnt City Brewing aims to honor our city’s renaissance after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Established in 2012 as Atlas Brewing Company (an homage to a popular brewery in 19th Century Chicago), John and Ben Saller opened their brewery in a former factory which stitched up uniforms for the Chicago Beers, er Bears. But just three years after opening, the duo faced a nasty trademark battle. They lost. But like the Chicagoans of late 1871, the pair chose to rebuild and move forward and be inspired by the past. And, just like that, Burnt City Brewing was born.
The beer and packaging is reflective of that too. The cans feature curious and edgy characters that seem to evoke superheroes of a different era. Staples like Dick The Butcher Pale Ale, Balloon Boy Wheat, and Face Melter IPA offer popular beers styles while referencing those heroic personalities. Beer is art, after all.
The Newest Beer Release: Artist as Alchemist
Speaking of art, be sure to get your hands on their newest beer, Artist as Alchemist, a tasty session IPA brewed in collaboration with the Art Institute of Chicago. As with anything, the partnership began with a conversation — the museum wanted a special beer made for the institution and they turned to Burnt City brewer, Ben Saller. Influenced by the museum’s newest exhibition, Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist, the beer is an extension of the exhibition experience.
Having spent a significant of time in Polynesia, artist Paul Gaugin was often inspired by the people, scenes and colors of this part of the world. The beer, then, takes inspiration from that too. It’s a delightfully juicy and tropical beer which plays off Gauguin’s Tahitian themes. It also contains lupulin powder, a unique ingredient which is separated from hop cones and contains concentrated amounts of aromatic oils and resins. Ben used it because, “it really helps push the hop character of the beer over the top." It is an incredibly drinkable and refreshing beer and one that will undoubtedly appeal to a wide audience. A broad stroke, if you will. Whether you find it at the Art Institute or at the Burnt City taproom, it’s a win-win.
For more on Chicago breweries, check out a long list of beer festivals and tasting events that occur all year long. A summer highlight: Friday Night Flights, coming to Chicago neighborhoods all across the city with upcoming dates July 21, August 11 and August 25.