Historic Beer Birthday: Bill Siebel

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Today is the birthday of Bill Siebel (March 26, 1946-November 8, 2015). Bill was the grand-grandson of John Ewald Siebel, who founded what would become the Siebel Institue of Technology. In the early 1970s, Bill became president of the brewing school his family founded, and held that post until his retirement in 2000. I had the pleasure of meeting Bill a couple of times judging at the Great American Beer Festival, when we sat at a few of the same judging tables. Talking in between flights, he had a great sense of humor and seemed like such a nice person. I was only sorry I had’t met him sooner. Join me in raising a toast to Bill tonight.

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This is Bill’s obituary from the Chicago Tribune:

Bill Siebel was the fourth generation of his family to head a Chicago beer-brewing school that has produced tens of thousands of alums with surnames such as Busch, Coors, Pabst, Stroh and Floyd — as in 3 Floyds Brewing Co.

It wouldn’t be exaggerating to call him a member of the “First Family” of beer education in the U.S., said Charlie Papazian, president and founder of Denver’s Great American Beer Festival, the nation’s largest.

Bill Siebel was chairman and CEO of the Siebel Institute of Technology, established in Chicago in 1872 by his great-grandfather, Dusseldorf-born immigrant John Ewald Siebel. It bills itself as the oldest brewing school in the Americas. “There is one, based in Germany, established before us,” said Keith Lemcke, vice president of the institute, 900 N. Branch St.

“It’s been a continuous run,” Lemcke said, “except for this inconvenient time we call ‘Prohibition.’ ” During Prohibition, it kept going as a school of baking — which, like brewing, uses yeast.

Siebel Institute students, Lemcke said, have included August Busch III of Anheuser-Busch; John Mallett of Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo; the father and grandfather of Samuel Adams brewer Jim Koch; and Greg Hall, a brewmaster at Goose Island Beer Company and son of Goose Island founder John Hall.

“The contributions that the Siebel Institute has made to brewing — and to training craft brewers — in its long history, are far too numerous to count,” said Koch of Samuel Adams. “I’m a sixth-generation brewer, and my father graduated from Siebel in 1948 and my grandfather in 1908. . . . The industry has lost a great one.”

Mr. Siebel, who had esophageal cancer, died on Nov. 8 at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. He was 69.

The family school is “the longest-living institution that has served as an educational institution for brewers in the United States,” Papazian said. “They’ve gone through a lot of transitions, from the small breweries going out of business in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, to embracing the small craft brewers that were emerging in the ’70s and ’80s, welcoming them, and offering them educational opportunities. Bill was involved with that transition.”
“Many of our employees are graduates of Siebel Institute, and the impact the school has made on the beer community is impressive,” said Ken Stout, general manager of Goose Island Beer Company. “A great industry leader has been lost, and we’ll miss him dearly.”

Bill Siebel and his brother, Ron, grew up near Devon and Caldwell in Edgebrook, and at the Southwest edge of the Evanston Golf Club in Skokie, where one of the tees was behind their home. A highlight of their youth was spending summers with their mother, Mary, at Paradise Ranch near Colorado Springs, while their father, Raymond, commuted back and forth from the Siebel Institute in Chicago. The Siebel boys became accomplished horseback riders.

They attended grade school at the old Bishop Quarter Military Academy in Oak Park. Bill Siebel graduated from Florida’s Admiral Farragut Academy and the University of Miami. He served in the Navy, rising to lieutenant, before returning to Chicago — and the family beer school — in 1971, said his wife, Barbara Wright Siebel.

Both brothers attended the Siebel Institute, where a variety of classes, diplomas and certificates focus on yeast, malt, fermentation, biological science, quality control, engineering and packaging. “One of my classmates in 1967 was August Pabst, and August Busch III was a few years before,” Ron Siebel said.

For decades, the school and laboratory were located at 4055 W. Peterson, where the Siebels had a brewing library and a second-floor bierstube with heirloom steins.

After their father and uncle sold the business, “Bill and I were successful in getting it back,” Ron Siebel said. “We got it back in the family hands, and it stayed there until [Bill] retired and wanted to liquidate his holdings in the institute.” Today, the school is owned by Lallemand, a Canadian yeast company.

Ron Siebel focused on selling products such as stabilizers, which preserve clarity in beer. “Bill was ‘Mr. Inside.’ He was very good with numbers,” his brother said. Because of him, “The business was always on a steady course.”

Bill Siebel retired in 2000, Lemcke said.

He restored himself and reveled in nature, hiking, and watching birds and animals. For their honeymoon, Bill and Barbara Siebel canoed nine days on the U.S.-Canadian Boundary Waters. And for 20 years, they canoed in Ely, Minnesota, where he enjoyed spotting bear and moose. He also loved reading Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.

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And this is another obituary from website Beer Monopoly:

William (Bill) Siebel, philanthropist and former President of the Siebel Institute, died 8 November 2015, aged 69

In the classroom of the Siebel Institute in Chicago, there is a long wall featuring the graduating class photographs of students dating back to the year 1900. The year 1973 marked the first appearance of a young, moustachioed Bill Siebel in the faculty section of the Diploma Course photographs, and his image would appear in every class photo for the next 26 years.

Unless you knew Bill, visitors to Siebel could be forgiven for wondering who this prankster was, who, year after year, managed to blag his way into one of the world’s oldest brewing schools to have his photo taken with the brewing school’s graduates?

Certainly, Bill would have chuckled at the suggestion of him being a repeat gatecrasher at the school, which has borne his family’s name since the 19th century. He would have even taken delight in being awarded the nickname Zelig – the title character of a Woody Allen “mockumentary” from 1983 about a human chameleon that sneaked past guards at major events to rub shoulders with the high and mighty – because he would have known of the film or more probably would have even seen it.

Bill had a great sense of humour. When he attended the Munich trade fair Drinktec as an exhibitor for the first time in 1993, he came armed with only a poster, expecting to be given a tabletop for his brochures. To his surprise he had in fact rented a large booth. Bill being Bill made the best of this and immediately organised two dozen large trees in pots which he placed alongside the walls. If passers-by remarked that the Siebel Institute had obviously branched out into horticulture, Bill laughed his infectious and his eyes would sparkle behind his glasses as he repeated the story about his mishap over and over again.

Despite his self-effacing modesty, Bill represented the best of North American “beer royalty”. Being a fourth generation Siebel to run the business, whose passion for beer was undeniable – he was most inconsolable when he had to cancel being a judge at this year’s Great American Beer Festival in Denver due to his failing health – Bill felt equally strongly about his obligations as a citizen. He diligently and conscientiously gave his expertise to many good causes and probably even more in terms of financial support. However, you had to know him really well to discover this side of him.

Bill was a Chicago man: born and bred in the Windy City, which he loved but hated for its extreme weather. This may have been one reason why he chose to study in far-away Florida. He graduated from Florida’s Admiral Farragut Academy and the University of Miami. He served in the Navy, rising to lieutenant, before returning to Chicago — and the family beer business — in 1971.

The Siebel Institute of Technology was established in Chicago in 1872 by Bill’s great-grandfather, the German-born immigrant John Ewald Siebel. Unlike Bill, JE Siebel must have been a real sourpuss, judging from the dour-looking gentleman, whose bust Bill and his wife Barbara kept in their yard. On my last visit to Chicago this spring, we presented JE to the Siebel Institute – they already had the other of the two busts that JE had made – because Bill knew no one in his family would want such a stern character face them in the morning.

Bill did not bear his family’s heritage lightly. He would joke about how the Siebel Institute made it through this “inconvenient time” Americans call Prohibition. Officially, the Siebel Institute kept going as a school of baking – which, like brewing, uses yeast – and Bill would laughingly speculate that his ancestors probably were involved in all kinds of shenanigans. After all, Prohibition in Chicago gave rise to plenty of colourful gangsters whose empires were made with alcohol. In fact, reality was far bleaker than Bill liked to narrate it. When JE Siebel died in late 1919, Prohibition had already been ratified, which meant that the Siebel Institute could no longer teach brewing in America and several Siebel family members were left destitute, says Keith Lemcke, Vice-President of the Siebel Institute.

As we know, the Siebel Institute survived. But when Bill joined the Institute, his father and uncle had already sold the business. Fortunately, Bill and his older brother Ron succeeded in getting it back. “We got it back in the family hands, and it stayed there until Bill retired and wanted to liquidate his holdings in the institute,” Ron said. Today, the school is owned by Lallemand, a Canadian yeast company.

Both Bill and Ron attended the Institute to be taught all about yeast, malt, fermentation, biological science, quality control, engineering and packaging. “One of my classmates in 1967 was August Pabst, and August Busch III was a few years before,” Ron said. Over its long history, the Siebel Institute has produced tens of thousands of alumni with such illustrious surnames like Busch, Coors, Pabst and Stroh. But John Mallett of Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo; the father and grandfather of Samuel Adams brewer Jim Koch; and Greg Hall, a brewmaster at Goose Island Beer Company, were also among them.

For decades, the school and laboratory were located at 4055 W. Peterson, where the Siebels had a brewing library and a second-floor Bierstube in mock-Germanic style. For parties they liked to serve brat and sauerkraut.

While Ron would focus on selling auxiliary products, Bill was Mr Inside. “He was very good with numbers,” his brother remembers. Because of Bill, the business was always on a steady course. This does not mean that things were easy. For decades, the U.S. beer industry has been in a state of transition. In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s a lot of the smaller brewers went out of business followed by the remaining mid-tier brewers in the 1990s. Fortunately for the Siebel Institute and thanks to Bill’s tireless travelling and networking, international students and craft brewers began to fill seats as of the 1990s. Bill wholeheartedly welcomed them, offering them educational opportunities.

Until his retirement in 2000, Bill taught at the Siebel Institute and took on various roles, from registrar, to President, Chairman and CEO.

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Historic Beer Birthday: Michael Brand

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Today is the birthday of Michael Brand (March 23, 1826-October 26, 1897). Born in Gau-Odernheim, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, he was trained as a brewer and came to America and became a partner with Valentine Busch in 1852 and Busch and Brand Brewery continued until Busch passed away in 1872, when in became the Michael Brand Brewery in Chicago, Illinois, though many sources say that it was 1878 when the name change took place. In 1889, in became the United States Brewing Co., which it remained until in closed in 1955.

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Here’s a short biography from the “History of Chicago.”

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Here’s another short history of his brewery for “One Hundred Years of Brewing.”

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Beer Birthday: Grant Johnston

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Today is the 63rd birthday of Grant Johnston. Grant was the original brewer at Marin Brewing when it opened in 1989, and spent a number of years at Black Diamond Brewing in Concord, California. Grant was very influential in the early days of Bay Area brewing, and he’s an incredibly talented brewer. A few years ago he moved to the midwest, and these days can be found working a few days a week at the Argus Brewery in Chicago. A couple of years back, I was in Belgium at the Cantillon Brewery when in walked Grant, quite by chance, so you never know when you’re going to run into him. Join me in wishing Grant a very happy birthday.

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Grant and me at GABF in 2006.

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Grant (on the right) judging the 2006 Double IPA Festival in the cellar of The Bistro, with Tom Dalldorf, Vicky, our hard-working beer steward in the middle, and the Toronado’s Dave Keene in profile on the left.

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Brendan Moylan and Grant shortly before Marin Brewing opened in 1989.

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Grant and Arne Johnston brewing his Wild Rice Ale for Marin’s 25th Anniversary.

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Grant, bottom left, among the GABF judges for the 10th anniversary of the festival in 1992.

Historic Beer Birthday: Joseph Junk

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Today is the birthday of German-born Joseph Junk (January 15, 1841-1887) who emigrated to the U.S. in 1868, and in 1883 opened the eponymous Joseph Junk Brewery in Chicago, Illinois. Unfortunately, he died just a few years later, in 1887, and his widow, Magdalena Junk, took over management of the brewery, renaming it Junk’s Brewery and then the Jos. Junk Brewery, which it remained until 1909. She increased production from around 4,000 barrels to 45,000 barrels of lager beer.

It then became the South Side Brewing Co. until prohibition, and afterwards reopened under that same name. But in 1937 in became the more fancifully named Ambrosia Brewing Co., then changed again one final time, to the Atlantic Brewing Co., before closing for good in 1965. It was located at 3700/3710 South Halstead and 37th Streets. According to Tavern Trove, “the brewery has been torn down. What was the Ambrosia Brewery is now the parking lot for Schaller’s Pump, a tavern located at 3714 S. Halsted, Chicago.”

Here’s a short article from the Western Brewer (Brewer’s Journal) from August 1909 reporting on the transition from Jos. Junk to South Side Brewing.

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I was unable to find any photos of any of the Junk family, and in fact very little of anything, which I guess makes sense since they were the Junk Brewery, or some variation, for a relatively short time a very long time ago. Here’s what I did find.

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A rare Junk bottle.

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This is a South Side delivery truck taken around 1936.

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The website where I found this claims it was from 1930, but American Breweries II states that it wasn’t called Ambrosia Brewing until 1937, so it’s probably from the late 1930s at the earliest. But another source says it’s from the 1950s, and indeed it as known as Ambrosia through 1959, so that’s perhaps more likely given the look of the postcard.

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This is in the collection of the Chicago History Museum, but they appear to have no idea when it was taken.

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This is the brewery around 1952, taken by Ernie Oest and featured at beer can history.

But by far, this is the most interesting bit of history on Joseph Junk I turned up. This is a newspaper article from the Chicago Tribune for March 29, 1902. It concerns what I can only assume is Joe and Magdalena’s son, since they refer to him as a “young man” and “member of the Chicago Brewery” rather then saying “owner.” Seems the young man went on a bender in San Francisco and ended up marrying some floozy he’d just met. But here’s the best bit. “The trouble began when the young man’s family learned that Lottie (is that not a floozy’s name?) had done a song-and-dance turn in abbreviated skirts.” Oh, the horror. It sounds like they could live with or tolerate the “song-and dance turn,” but not, I repeat not, if there were “abbreviated skirts” involved. That was the deal breaker, so they sent him off on “a Southern tour” and her packing back to Frisco, eventually settling on a payoff on $10,000, which in today’s money is over a quarter-million dollars, or roughly $276,150. It must have been the talk of polite society for months afterwards, bringing shame down on the Junk family.

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Historic Beer Birthday: Peter Schoenhofen

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Today is the birthday of Peter Schoenhofen (January 2, 1827-January 2, 1893). He owned a brewery in Chicago that was called the Peter Schoenhofen Brewing Co.

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Portrait from “100 Years of Brewing,” originally published in 1901.

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And here’s another portrait that included this text: “German-born Peter Schoenhofer (1827-1893) came penniless to America in 1851 and took jobs in various breweries around Chicago. Eventually he and a partner, Matheus Gottfried, opened a brewery. Schoenhofen bought out Gottfried in 1867 and the company became the Peter Schoenhofen Brewing Company. Ads bragged that the beer’s clean taste came from the artesian spring located under the brewery. Their Edelweiss brand was the best known.”

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Here’s an entry about Schoenhofen from the Encyclopedia of Chicago:

Peter Schoenhofen, a Prussian immigrant, was in Chicago working in the brewing trade by the 1850s. In 1861, he started a partnership with Matheus Gottfried; they were soon operating a brewery at Canalport Avenue and 18th Street where, during the early 1860s, they made about 600 barrels of lager beer a year. In 1867, Schoenhofen bought out his partner, and the company became the Peter Schoenhofen Brewing Co. By 1868, annual output had increased to about 10,000 barrels. During the 1890s, when the business was owned by the City Contract Co. of London, England, annual output reached 180,000 barrels. Around 1900, the Schoenhofen family regained control of the company, which employed about 500 people at its brewery on West 12th Street by 1910. During this time, the company was also known as the National Brewing Co. The company’s “Edelweiss” brand of beer was a big seller. Operations shut down during Prohibition, but by 1933, after the national ban on alcohol production was lifted, the company was back in business as the Schoenhofen-Edelweiss Co. After being purchased by the Atlas Brewing Co. in the late 1940s, Schoenhofen became part of Dewery’s Ltd. of South Bend, Indiana, in 1951, and thereafter assumed the Dewery’s name. By the beginning of the 1970s, there was nothing left of its Chicago operations, although Dewery’s reintroduced the famous Edelweiss brand in 1972 after nearly a decade-long hiatus.

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Forgotten Chicago has a nice photo gallery about the Schoenhofen Brewery and what remains of it today, saying that what is left “of the Schoenhofen Brewery are still the most impressive pre-Prohibition era brewery structures in Chicago. Buildings were first erected at 18th and Canalport in 1862 when the brewery relocated here from 12th and Jefferson. The last buildings were built in 1912, and the brewery remained in business until 1924, a casualty of prohibition.”

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The area where the brewery operated are today known as the Schoenhofen Brewery Historic District.

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I love their ad copy: “A case of good judgment,” which they used extensively. And this beer was a “secret brew,” whatever that means.

Beer Birthday: Wil Turner

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Today is the 49th birthday of Wil Turner, brewer at Goose Island Brewery. Wil’s originally from California — or at least that’s where I first met him — but moved to Chicago to brew at the Clybourn Goose Island brewpub, eventually moving to the production side. Since the sale of Goose Island, Wil’s moved back over to brewpub brewing at Revolution Brewing, also in Chicago. Wil’s a great brewer, of course, and a terrific person for the industry, always a fun guy to drink with. Join me in wishing Wil a very happy birthday.

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Wil, me and Greg Hall at GABF in 2006.

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Tom Nickel with Wil at the Brewer’s Reception at Wynkoop during GABF in 2009.

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On the floor at GABF in 2007 with Andrew Mason (on left), Matt’s assistant when he was still at Flossmoor Station, and Wil.

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Wil, also at the 2006 GABF, sadly empty.

Historic Beer Birthday: William A. Birk

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Today is the birthday of William A. Birk (November 11, 1861-June 11, 1916). William was the son of Jacob Birk, who co-founded Chicago’s Wacker & Birk Brewing Co. When Jacob retired, he bought the Corper & Nocklin Brewery for his sons, renaming it the Birk Bros. Brewing Co. William and his brother Edward ran the brewery through Prohibition, and it successfully reopened after repeal, and continued until 1950.

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Here’s William’s obituary from the American Brewers’ Review from the year after he died:

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Here’s some biographical info from “Historical Review of Chicago and Cook County and Selected Biography,” by A.N. Waterman:

Birk, his father having been born in Germany and being in early manhood a harnessmaker. He came to Chicago in 1854, prospered in trade and business, and for many years conducted a hotel on West Lake street. In 1881 he became associated with Fred Wacker & Son, then engaged in the malting business, and in the following year became associated with the firm in brewing operations under the firm name of the Wacker & Birk Brewing Company. In 1891 the business was sold to the English corporation, the Chicago Breweries, Limited, and Jacob Birk and his two sons, William A. and Edward J., incorporated the Birk Brothers’ Brewing Company. Since the founding of the company, at that time, William A. has been president and Edward J. Birk, secretary and treasurer. The basis of the complete and extensive plant was the Corper & Nockin brewery, purchased in 1891, and since remodeled and enlarged. The elder Birk retired from his connection with the business in 1895.

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And here’s another account, from the “History of Cook County, Illinois,” published in 1909:

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Birk Brothers Brewing Company delivery wagon on Belmont Avenue, around 1895.

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Beer Birthday: Greg Hall

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Today is also the 51st birthday of Greg Hall, former brewmaster at Goose Island Brewing. Goose Island, of course, makes some incredible beers. Founded by Greg’s father John Hall in 1988, Greg became brewmaster a few years later and has been setting high standards ever since, though he left after the family business was acquired by ABI. His new venture is Virtue Cider. Join me in wishing Greg a very happy birthday.

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Greg with Alex Puchner, head of brewing operations for BJs.

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Greg with the owners of Monk’s Kettle in San Francisco.

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Wil Turner, also with Goose Island, me and Greg at the 2006 GABF.

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Greg pulling a proper pint of English brewed Honkers Ale at the Crosse Keys in London (this last photo purloined from Facebook).

Historic Beer Birthday: John L. Hoerber

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Today is the birthday of John L. Hoerber (October 24, 1821-July 3, 1898). Hoerber was born in Germany, I believe, but founded the John L. Hoerber Brewery in 1858 of Chicago, Illinois, located at 186 Griswold Street. There was very little information I could find about him, not even a photo. But his brewery appears to have taken on a partner in 1864, and was renamed the Hoerber & Gastreich Brewery, but just one year later was hte John L. Hoerber Brewery again. But in 1865 it was sold. As far as I can tell, another John L. Hoerber Brewery was opened in 1864, located at 216/224 West 12th Street, but appears to also have been sold in 1882. Then in 1882, yet another brewery was opened at 646/662 Hinman & 22nd Streets, though it 1885 it changed its name again from brewery to the John L. Hoerber Brewing Co., which is stayed until prohibition. After prohibition, it reopened as The Hoerber Brewing Co., and remained in business until 1941, when it closed for good.

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There’s a little bit more information in this translation of “Chicago’s Breweries Statistical Items about the Most Outstanding Breweries,” from Western Brewers, 1875:

J. L. Hoerber is one of our oldest German citizens….He founded a brewery on the South Side….in 1858. He sold this brewery later and established himself at his present location, 220–222 West Twelfth Street. Evidently this was a very fortunate choice, because property values….have increased rapidly in that neighborhood.

Mr. Hoerber has had ample opportunity and means to enlarge his establishment, but 24he prefers to brew only as much beer as he requires in his own beer hall, and possibly enough to supply three or four of his old customers.

Hoerbers’s brewery and beer hall is one of the most imposing brick buildings on West Twelfth Street. The frontage, including the cigar business of the younger Hoerber, is seventy-five feet. Since the house on the east, at 218 West Twelfth Street, also belongs to Mr. Hoerber, the total frontage on Twelfth Street reaches one hundred feet….

The ground floor of the main building is used for the beer hall. It is a popular meeting place for all who like a good glass of beer.

The upper floor contains a hall, a dining room,….etc., and is used for lodge meetings by the Freemasons at present.

J. L. Hoerber brews only in winter, and his guests may rest assured that they will always receive genuine lager beer in the summer, since he serves only his own 25 product.

The business….is stable and well managed. Mr. Hoerber is superintendent…. He stored one hundred and fifty cords of ice….

As we pass the main building, walking towards Dussold Street, we notice the following arrangement: The beer hall faces Twelfth Street; at the back is the adjoining icehouse and the brewery. The yard along Dussold Street would make an excellent beer garden.

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Chicago historian and beer writer Bob Skilnik had an article in the Chicago Tribune that mentioned te Hoerber Brewery in 1997:

A population increase from a few hundred in 1833 to more than 100,000 in 1860 opened the market and made success possible for scores of brewers. In 1857, the city council ordered the grades of all existing properties to be raised to a height that would ensure proper drainage. John Hoerber used this opportunity to raise his combination saloon, store and boardinghouse and install a small brewery underneath, pumping fresh beer to his customers. By doing so, Hoerber beat the now-defunct Siebens on West Ontario by about 150 years for the title of Chicago’s first brew pub.

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Beer Birthday: Jonathan Cutler

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Today is the 44th birthday of Jonathan Cutler, brewmaster/owner of Piece Brewing in Chicago. His brewpub makes great pizza and even better beer. Plus, he’s a terrific, fun person. He even got a shout-out at the Academy Awards a couple of years ago, when Quentin Tarantino said “Piece Out” during his acceptance speech. Join me in wishing Jonathan a very happy birthday.

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Serving beer and pizza at the CBC Reception at the Field Museum.

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At Stone Brewery during CBC in San Diego in 2008. From left: Peter Schell, Eric Rose (Hollister Brewing), Ian Ward (Brewers Supply Group), Jonathan Cutler (Piece Brewing), Chad Kennedy (Laurelwood Public House) and Fal Allen (now back at Anderson Valley).

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Jonathan picking up another GABF award for Piece in 2007.

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Jonathan tearing up during Dave Keene and Jennifer Smith’s wedding during GABF a few years ago.