We sat down with Pete Crowley, award-winning brewer and co-owner of Haymarket Pub and Brewery to get a behind the scenes look into year one.
ICBG: You have a wonderful place here, can you tell me a little history behind the beginnings of Haymarket?
Pete: When I met my business partner John Neurauter about 5 years ago we both separately had passions for craft beer and slow cooked food. We met because his Dad had won a “Brewer for a day” I put into a charity silent auction and gave it to John as a gift. When he came in to brew with me he was really interested in the brewing process and I was really interested in what he was doing with making homemade sausage, smoked meats… we liked and appreciated a lot of the same restaurants and food styles. We started talking and within a year of knowing each other decided to open up our own place. It was something I had been wanting to do for 10 years beforehand. I’ve been in the industry for almost 20 years, have a lot of experience and always wanted to open my own brewpub. It took us about a year to raise the cash, look at places and sign a lease. We spent all of 2010 under construction and opened for Christmas Eve.
ICBG: This space obviously has a lot of history in Chicago, what attracted you to this location? And why the open floor plan with the brewhouse?
Pete: For the location we wanted to have a back room for banquets and “Drinking & Writing” theater, so we wanted a space with two rooms and two bars. We also wanted people to be able see the brewery. We looked a lot of spaces that didn’t fit the bill, not knowing just how much space we needed. We thought 100 seat small brewpub and ended up with a 350 seats. When we found this location – the fact that no one in the area had promoted the historic significance of Haymarket Square was shocking to me. Our whole concept was always slow cooked food, hand crafted beer and to us that really spoke to the working class. It really made sense for the history of Haymarket Square, labor movement, fair wages – everything that came out of the Haymarket Riots. It all came together immediately and we jumped on the space. World history remembers the Haymarket Riots, not just Chicago. It was the perfect spot for our concept.
ICBG: You just started doing tours this past month, how’s that going?
Pete: Yes, on Sundays. We’ll do a tour anytime but when it’s busy it’s not feasible to do it properly, so we wanted to set up a set time when anyone could come. They’re at 12pm, 2pm and 4pm. They get a tour, they get samples of the beer – it’s really intimate, 15 people. They can spend time with the tour guide and learn about our history and the beer. It works out well.
ICBG: You have a history of producing Belgian beers and a fancy for hops — Tell me how you developed your palate for beer:
Pete: In my brewing career I’ve had a lot of “A-ha!” moments, as I like to call them. The first craft beer I ever had – I graduated from South Carolina, drove to Colorado for a week and ended up staying for 3 years. I walked into a brewpub in Aspen, they handed me a dry hopped IPA and I had never had anything like it. And I was like “Holy shit, that’s amazing. What is that?!”. I started reading up and learn about hops and what good beer was. I fell in love with hops immediately. It was the most amazing smell I had ever experienced. So when I got into brewing I was really focused on hops and IPAs.
Then I took a trip to Belgium, another “Aha!” moment. I was blown away by the diversity and complexity of beer styles, the rich history and how when you say “Belgian beer” it means 100 different things. When you say “Belgian beer” it could mean a Trappist style like an Abbey beer – Double, Triple, Single – all about malts. It could mean something spiced, made with fruit, aged in wood. The complexity and variety of beers just blew me away.
My first bourbon barrel aged beer was at a brewery in Denver, down in LoDo (the warehouse district). I really fell in love with the marriage of beer and wood, and how the wood could contribute to so many different flavors – oak, vanilla, tar, what was in the barrel before – bourbon, wine, port.
So those were my three “Aha!” moments that I have put into my brewing. I wanted to make beers that were hoppy, aged in barrels, Belgians and then I also combine them. Like this one [we’re drinking] is a Belgian IPA (American hops with Belgian Yeast) and this is what we won golds for at the World Beer Cup and Great American Beer Festival.
ICBG: Are there particular challenges in brewing American made Belgian style ales?
Pete: You can make any beer style anywhere in the world really. I would say the challenging thing about Belgian and hoppy beers is that they’re expensive. We just made a gold, red and brown. We us a lot of speciality yeasts, spices and ingredients that are expensive. We try to use as much from the US as we can but some are imported. It’s easy to make any beer style in the world, in the US. Its the only country in the world that that’s possible. It’s an amazing brewing scene (in the US). I think the challenge is to emulate beers from a specific region. You really need to research and taste and make it work. I have several that I admire and try and pay homage to.
ICBG: Would you say you have a top 3 favorite beer list? If so, which ones and why?
Pete: Favorite beers… not on my beer list?? Not gonna happen. [smirks]
ICBG: Well then what are your favorite beers to make here at Haymarket? And what makes them unique?
Pete: My Indignant Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout it takes forever to make but the complexity and layers in the beer are unbelievable. Its a great sipping beer, conversation beer, food beer. I can use different types of barrels to switch it up, very versatile, its cool. Mathias Imperial IPA, not only because I love hops and the beer tastes amazing, but I’m shocked that when it’s on tap is the best selling beer I make, which is crazy because it’s a ridiculously large beer. And how many women like it – there’s a misnomer out there that women don’t like hoppy beers because they’re bitter, but you can make a hoppy beer without being bitter. Woman have a much more delicate and in-tune palette, so for them to love Mathias makes me really happy.
ICBG: On a scale of 1-10, 1 being traditional and 10 being wacky how much risk are you generally willing to take when developing new recipes?
Pete: A lot. What’s the scary one, 10? Yeah. We just made a fennel, star of anise, strawberry saison. We pureed 15 gallons of strawberries and just threw it in. Not really sure what the seeds are going to do – hopefully it will settle out or we’ll have chunky beer [laughs]. We made another beer with grapefruit, maple syrup and sarsaparilla. We don’t go out of traditional brewing practices, but we try and use non-traditional ingredients.
ICBG: What is the most important factor in developing a solid beer list?
Pete: I think it’s important to think about your food menu if you have one and pairings. It’s important to have diversity – so you’re going to want something that’s malty, hoppy, weird. We focus on IPAs and Belgians but overall it’s important to make sure that the beers are good. It’s good to taste them daily.
ICBG: Where does the inspiration for the menu and pairings come from? Who is involved in developing it?
Pete: The original menu was my partner John and I. We wanted to make our own sausages, pulled pork, smoked meats and all that in house. But it was also inspired by making sure we had something for everyone that was hand crafted. We wanted to have all of our favorite things, so like the atmosphere aspect we wanted our menu to be inspired by all of the places we like to go. Everything is fresh, never frozen, and sustainable. We have fun trying new things almost every day.
ICBG: Do you find most customers who come to Haymarket know what they like or want or is there an opportunity to influence and recommend new styles?
Pete: There’s definitely an opportunity. I’d say less than half come in the door and specifically know what they want. Plus our beer menu changes daily. We haven’t had the same beer menu for more than two days, ever. There’s a huge opportunity for the staff to recommend things and each server has their favorites, which makes it fun. When we first opened we’d make a beer and when its gone its gone. It may come back eventually, but the only thing that stays on all the time is the Speakerswagon Pilsner. The rest come back maybe once or twice a year.
ICBG: Let’s talk about the Drinking & Writing Theatre concept…
Pete: I met Steve (who’s half of Drinking & Writing) maybe 10 years ago and he ended up brewing with me for a little bit at Rock Bottom. Their plan originally was to travel around to different bars and perform their show, which they did for about 8 years. Their shows are all original, written live theater. They explore the connection between creativity and alcohol, focusing on world famous writers that were all raging alcoholics basically (Hunter Thompson, Hemingway, Mencken, Cheever, Bukowski). They do a run of shows in the back, also festivals, bus trips, they make movies. Its pretty cool – the cultural side of Haymarket.
ICBG: Since you’ve opened, what are your most proud accomplishments?
Pete: Getting Haymarket open was a proud accomplishment. The one year anniversary of being open was an amazing day. The gold medals at the two biggest beer festivals in the country in my first year open – I was really proud of that. Overall I’m most proud of the number of employees that have been here since day one because they really like working here. The fact that they enjoy being here and are proud of Haymarket makes me really happy.
ICBG: What has been the biggest challenge of growth in the craft beer industry and particularly in a city like Chicago?
Pete: Well I don’t want this to come off as cocky but there hasn’t been a problem with growth in the craft beer industry for me. Some folks might find they have a problem if they don’t fill a void, or have good branding, or the beer doesn’t taste good. I think the only problem anyone is going to have (in the craft beer industry in Chicago) is if the beer isn’t good or you don’t have a clear concept of who you are (as a brewery). People like a story they can identify with.
Most of the new breweries coming in are not brewpub, which is going to be a challenge fighting for tap handles and shelf space. To me the largest market for growth is going to be a brewpub which has its own challenges, but I feel like the market is more warm to brewpubs than new production facilities.
ICBG: As the President of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild can you you give me an overall view on how Haymarket supports the Guild, and the Illinois craft beer scene in general?
Pete: Haymarket supports and donates beer to the Guild events. We’ll host anything the Guild needs or wants – it’s important to me. It helps keep the beer community of IL together, intimate and friendly. It keeps pushing things like collaboration for us to stay connected rather than competitive. Haymarket participate in any festival we can and donates to as many charities as we can to help those in need.
ICBG: What’s in store for Haymarket going forward?
Pete: You know… the future is bright. We’ve enjoyed great success, a lot of fans and regulars. We enjoy being a part of the Chicago brewing scene and festivals. We’d like to expand to either another brewpub location or facility, or both – get our brand out there. We really just want to make beer for Chicago. We’d love to be on tap at some of the cool local beer bars. And we’d like to focus on our rare, one-off stuff.
ICBG: I know people are wondering so I have to ask – any plans to bottle or distribute?
Pete: Yes. Down the road. That’s all I’m saying.
ICBG: Any exciting collaborations coming up that you want to talk about?
Pete: Yes! Our second collaboration with Stephanie Izard from Girl & The Goat is out. The first one was a Belgian Ale (brewed with specialty malts, ruby red grapefruits, maple syrup, thai chilis and sarsaparilla root). The second is a Belgian Farmhouse Ale (brewed with whole fennel, toasted fennel seeds and fresh Michigan strawberries). We’re doing a collaboration with Dryhop (a new upcoming brewery in Chicago) with tangerines, chamomile and grains of paradise. We’re also putting together a collaboration panel on July 21st and come up with a recipe in front of everyone. We’ll collaborate live and then brew the beer here in October. So Half Acre, Revolution, Three Floyds, Metropolitan, Rock Bottom, Goose Island are all involved. It will be fun.