- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 11, 2017

GARY, Ind. (AP) - Drew Fox, head brewer and owner of 18th Street Brewery, explains the beer-making process to Indiana Secretary of Commerce Victor Smith, at the brewery in Gary’s Miller neighborhood last year. The brewery self distributes to Chicago establishments including Little Goat Diner, in the West Loop; Skylark, a bar in Pilsen; and the Map Room, a bar in Bucktown.

For Drew Fox, founder of 18th Street Brewery in Gary and Hammond, distributing his beer in Chicago is simple. It’s his hometown.

“I want to sell beer where I live and where I’m from,” he said. “And we see that as a big, important part of our business growth.”

Selling its beer to and drawing customers from the Chicago market is in the plan for most Region craft brewers. Nationally recognized Three Floyds, Munster, has led the way, of course. It’s not uncommon to enter many bars and restaurants in Chicago and find a Three Floyds beer on tap. And the brewery tucked away in the industrial park of Munster certainly draws craft beer fans from Chicago, if not the entire country and beyond. Look no further than its annual Dark Lord Day.

Most local breweries, many of which have only just started brewing and pouring their beers in the Region in the last few years, would like to tap into that Chicago market.

“It’s such a huge market, how can we ignore it,” said Byway Brewing co-owner Branko Sajn.

Fellow co-owner Dave Toth says Byway, which opened in Hammond’s Oxbow Landing in February, has already been drawing beer bus tours from Chicago.

“Three Floyds has put Northwest Indiana on the map in that regard,” he said. “People from Chicago or Illinois say they want to go to Three Floyds but then want to hit some other places, too. And we’re one of the closest to them and right off the expressway.”

18th Street Brewery opened in Gary’s Miller neighborhood more than three years ago. Being a short walk from the South Shore station made it attractive to Chicago craft beer lovers. Now its new location in Hammond, also near a South Shore station and a bike trail, is even closer to Chicago.

“We’re starting to find that people are taking the train to Hammond and walking the 12 minutes to get here,” Fox said.

Fox said it was always his goal to get back into the Chicago beer market. “Get back” meaning that prior to opening 18th Street, Fox had been brewing his beer in small quantities at Pipeworks, in Chicago, where it was distributed throughout the city.

Fox said 18th Street has also just started self-distribution in Chicago.

“In the beginning, we were so small that we knew we would never keep up with the demand and go into Chicago in our first two years,” he says. “It was rather expensive to do that. Not that it’s gotten any less expensive. We spent a ton of money - we hired one of the best legal firms in Chicago to help us with self-distribution.”

Fox said it was more important for 18th Street to self-distribute because he knows the customers from his earlier days as a contract brewer. And it allows them to control their own produceand hire more people and keep some of the revenue in house for expansion and business growth.

“We’re not looking to sell 10,000 barrels there,” Fox said. “We just want to take care of some of the people who have taken care of us. We’d like to sell anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 and spread that across Chicagoland.”

Locations that sell 18th Street craft beers include the esteemed Little Goat Diner, in the West Loop; Skylark, a bar in Pilsen; and the Map Room, a bar in Bucktown, which was the first account Fox had in Chicago.

Byway Brewing is not yet distributing in Chicago, but Toth said he’s working on that “pretty much as we speak.” They recently inked a deal with Indiana Beverage to distribute their beer in kegs to area on-premise locations. And in December they plan to can their flagship beer, called, appropriately enough, ChiPA.

“We’ll be distributing that to grocery stores and selling it as well,” Toth said.

Toth said it will take about three months to do everything they need to do to start self-distributing their product in Chicago.

“We think there’s room for more in Chicago and we’re planning on being there,” he said.

Fox said that Chicago is a tough beer market to get into.

“Any small brewery who wants to get into the Chicago market, they have to really understand that you just don’t walk into Chicago and say, ‘hey I’m here to sell beer,’” Fox said. “They want to know who you are, they want to know who the sales people are. They want to have that relationship.”


Source: The Northwest Indiana Times, https://bit.ly/2ig4PFC


Information from: The Times, https://www.nwitimes.com

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