Archive for ‘Chicago Area’

September 16, 2015

Lagunitas – Craft Beer’s Next Phase?

According to Wikipedia: “The Lagunitas Brewing Company is a brewery founded in 1993 in Lagunitas, California, USA. The brewery is known for iconoclastic interpretations of traditional beer styles, and irreverent descriptive text and stories on its packaging. The company is the fifth top selling craft brewery in the US, as of 2014.” Lagunitas is at the forefront of the craft brewing industry an industry founded mainly by rebels and those who were seeking a brew created more, as its moniker suggests, as a “craft” than a manufactured product.

Photo: Lagunitas Brewing Co.

Photo: Lagunitas Brewing Co.

Lagunitas is one of the breakout stars of the industry. Its Petaluma, California brewery grew so fast it caught the attention of local authorities, in the marijuana growing region, who thought more business than meets the eye may be taking place. It was even shut down briefly in its early years during a sting operation when undercover cop was offered a toke on a joint during one of the many celebrations put on by the company.

Its founder, Tony Magee started Lagunitas after his first batch of home brew spilled over and ruined his stove. His wife suggested that he take the brewing elsewhere. He did and became well known in the industry as a person who according “drew a line in the sand between what he perceives as “us” (craft brewers/beer people) and “them” (A-B InBev and MillerCoors).” Lagunitas grew a large following and expanded, eventually opening a Chicago brewery with another on the way in Azusa California.

I just happened to have visited the Chicago Taproom in the Douglas Park brewing facility last Saturday. I sampled the food, which they do source locally whenever possible. I also took the tour of the brewery. The brewery is located in a huge old Ryerson Steel plant. The plant came with several large overhead cranes and thousands of square feet.  Neighboring buildings house film studios where movie shoots and television shows, such as Chicago Fire are filmed.

The tour consisted of a very animated tour guide who told several interesting and funny stories about the beginnings of Lagunitas. Another thing the tour guide mentioned many times as we moved around catwalks above the numerous large fermenting tanks was the growth of Lagunitas. It seemed like they were really into getting big really fast. There are other breweries in the works similar to the Douglas Park facility including one in London, according to the guide.  The thought that came to my mind was, are they still, or should they still be considered a “craft brewer.”

Fermenting Tanks at Lagunitas Brewing in Douglas Park, Chicago

Fermenting Tanks at Lagunitas Brewing in Douglas Park, Chicago

Ironically, a friend I was with bought me a book on the history of craft brewing from the Lagunitas gift shop at the brewery. In it the author has a small bio on Tony Magee where he says how much Tony is fighting the good fight against “the tyranny of fast growth!” Then the news came on Tuesday that Lagunitas sold a 50% stake in the company to Heineken.

Kegs lined up at Lagunitas Brewing in Douglas Park, Chicago

Kegs lined up at Lagunitas Brewing in Douglas Park, Chicago

There are some who feel that the Heineken deal is, in Tony Magee’s words, just “craft beer’s next phase.” Others caught up in the world of small craft brewers doing their thing, sticking it to man in the guise of international faceless corporations, fear it is something more ominous.

Tony Magee

Tony Magee

Posts and comments from various sites across the web seem to take both positions. “RIP LAGUNITAS. Can’t believe you sold out to Heineken!!!! LOSERS!!!!!” reads one post and “WTF, you just sold your soul!” reads another. One just referenced the name of one of Lagunitas’ products with “ Lagunitas sucks!” Some have another take. A commenter named Gary on a social media site said “I have no problem with your deal with Heineken. A lot of silly over-reaction in these comments. The deal with Goose Island and AB hasn’t done them any damage. In fact, I think it has worked out well for Goose Island. The deal will help people around the world enjoy Lagunitas. What’s so bad about that?”


Of course, all of this is nothing new in the craft brew world. As Gary mentioned, in 2011, Chicago-based Goose Island was bought out by Anheuser-Busch in a deal worth $38.8 million. Later, in 2014, Anheuser-Busch InBev purchased New York-based craft brewery Blue Point Brewing Co. Also, many other industries started out in a similar fashion to the craft brewing industry. Nothing more than small entrepreneurs, working in sheds and garages, growing and then consolidating into behemoths. The auto industry started out this way, as did the computer and software industry. But, some would add that along the way both of those industries lost that early spirit and became faceless profit-first corporations seen in so many television shows like The Office and in Dilbert cartoons.

One thing is certain though, the craft brewing industry has come of age. It has caught the attention of the beer drinking public who had, until recently, been content with Bud, Coors, and Keystone Light. The industry giants have taken note, too that there is much more to beer than putting out a product just to make a profit. The newfound pride stemming from hometown and regional beer brewers and styles and beer brewing as a “craft” instead of something that is just manufactured has changed the large corporate brewing world in a good way.


As a side note, an analogous story in the local food movement would someday see ConAgra using products from small local farmers and buying a 50% stake in small craft cannery that grew beyond its ability to distribute its product. Craft brewing is really a part of the local food movement and hopefully will continue to be supported by the people who made it grow. It would be a shame if the Heineken deal is a sign that craft brewing is following earlier industries and will become just another bunch of giants chasing profits.

Photo: Lagunitas Brewing Co.

Photo: Lagunitas Brewing Co.

March 31, 2015

Hooked on Fish – A CSF in Chicago

A CSF, Community Supported Fishery is an alternative business model for selling fresh, locally sourced seafood. In other words it is the CSA of the fish world. It is an idea that has been around for a while on the coasts and is a popular way to locally source seafood, but obviously in the Midwest, which does not have as large of a fishing industry as the areas bordering the oceans, an idea such as this seems to go against the grain of the “local” food movement. There is another side to local food though, and that is the “sustainable” part of it. As the bi-coastal CSFs have been champions of sustainability, and it is not possible to source 100% of all the food a Midwesterner consumes locally, some people have taken the sustainable part to heart and have started Midwestern CSFs.


CSFs have been popping up in the mid-section of the country as of late in various places, including one on Food and Wine’s “Best Food Artisans” of 2014, Sitka Salmon Shares in Galesburg, Illinois. Another one right here in the Windy City that has been getting a lot of notice is Hooked on Fish. Hooked on Fish is a CSF that started up in the spirit of community-supported organizations and like a CSA, it is a membership based operation. Its members sign up in advance for 4, 8, or 12 weekly deliveries (as well as single deliveries for the uncommitted) of about 1 pound each. Each week they offer 3 types of fish that is sustainably caught or farmed. According to Karen Wollins of Hooked on Fish, they work with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, an organization who raises public awareness about sustainable seafood issues through consumer guides, website, mobile apps and outreach efforts.

I asked Karen why fish and why the CSA model? She said:

“I love fish, and I also want to know where my fish came from, how it was caught, and that it is super fresh. Here in Chicago, there are only a few places dotted around the city that are reliable. I decided on the CSA model because of the convenience for those who sign up of having a pick-up point—they can pick it up on their way home from work. And we don’t have a lot of waste because I provide only what our members need. We’ve supported CSA’s for several years and love the community engendered by it. It has forced us to cook with new vegetables, such as tatsoi and rutabagas that we now love. In the same way, I hope that we can introduce people to other interesting fish that are just as good – or better – than the basic shrimp and salmon that most of us have been eating for a long time.”

She went on to say that they “aim to provide ONLY fish that is sustainably caught. We do provide farmed fish, but only if it is farmed responsibly, following guidelines established by MB Seafood Watch, Marine Stewardship Council, NOAA, and other sources.”

Hooked on Fish sources their product from a variety of sources each week trying to make one of that week’s featured fish a local choice. Featuring fish that is lesser known, their products come from the US and Canada, but also from Europe, and to a lesser extent, Australia, New Zealand, and Asia. Some of the fish that they offer are chosen because they provide a good sustainability story. For example one week they offered Pacific rockfish, which was depleted, but has now made a comeback due to responsible fishing practices. According to Karen, one of Hooked on Fish’s goals is to introduce people to new types of fish (such as the Pacific rockfish) or even popular seafood that is produced in different ways. They have had whole fish which were gutted and ready for cooking along with shrimp, mussels, clams, and oysters.




It hasn’t all been easy to get sustainable fish to Chicago and offer it to the public. There have been a few issues with obtaining the licenses and permits needed to run a fish mongering CSF. Right now Hooked on Fish cannot sell at farmers’ markets without getting another permit. According to their website and other sources, the public have been positive about the products that Hooked on Fish offers and the idea of a CSF. So maybe as this catches on it will be easier for to start businesses such as this.

Karen Wollins said that in her opinion “it is important to find a fishmonger that you can trust. If they can’t tell you when and where the fish was caught, how it was caught, or if it was responsibly farmed, then don’t buy it.”  Hooked on Fish provides recipes with every order to help those who may have not have had experience with cooking fish. According to Karen “if you can’t cook the fish the night you receive it, put some ice cubes in a deep dish, covered with plastic wrap. Place the fish on top of that and cover with plastic. Just make sure that the flesh of the fish doesn’t touch the ice, and replace the ice as needed.”

Albacore Tuna

If you are interested in what Hooked on Fish has to offer or just curious about a CSF, more information can be found at: Currently, Hooked on Fish has several pick-up points around the city, and are adding more. The Chopping Block (at both the Merchandise Mart and Lincoln Square), Flatts & Sharpe, as well as several others. For those who find that the current pick-up points are inconvenient, six customers can come together to create a new pick-up point. A pick-up point can be either a home or business.

Photo: Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch

February 19, 2014

David Rosengarten’s Chicago Comfort

This is an homage to Chicago from the host of one of my favorite early Food Network shows. David Rosengarten hosted “Taste,” an informative show about food and wine. His show aired back when the Food Network was about food and not about celebrity and contests and all the crap that the put on the network these days. From the self description at his blog:
“Journalist, television personality, and cookbook author, David Rosengarten has covered great food products, restaurants, wines, gastronomic travel destinations, and related subjects for over 25 years. He has written hundreds of articles and contributed hundreds of original recipes to publications such as Gourmet (where he was Restaurant Critic from 1996 to 2000), The New York Times, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, Harper’s Bazaar, Departures, The Wine Spectator and Newsday.”

January 16, 2014

Illinois Agricultural Groups to Hold ‘Meet the Buyers’ Event for Farmers

From a press release put out by the Illinois Farm Bueau:

Farmers throughout Illinois are invited to attend a Meet the Buyers event to meet local and regional food buyers Feb. 18, 2014, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., at the Orland Civic Center in Orland Park, Ill.

“We have great plans for farmers to hear from several buyers and meet with the buyers one-on-one,” said Cynthia Haskins, manager of business development of compliance, Illinois Farm Bureau. “This will be our 14th Meet the Buyers event and we expect it to be one of our largest.”

Additionally, the Orland Civic Center provides a venue that will allow more buyers to participate and more farmers to attend.

“This event will include buyers who are looking for local fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, artisan cheeses, dairy, poultry and value-added products,” said Bob Rohrer, manager, Cook County Farm Bureau.

Plans are underway and buyers such as chefs, retail grocery stores and chains, foodservice distributors and schools have been invited to participate.

“In this industry the difficulty for producers often lies in making the right connections,” said Kendra Buchanan, local foods liaison, Illinois Department of Agriculture. “This event is the perfect setting for the proper people to meet and begin building working relationships.”

University of Illinois-Extension will present introductory information about two programs, MarketReady and Good Agriculture Practices (GAPs). MarketReady is a program designed to teach best commercial business practices between growers and various retail markets. GAPs are a set of recommendations that can help improve the quality and safety of the produce grown.

“This program gives farmers an opportunity to explore a wide variety of new market possibilities,” said Ellen Phillips, local food systems and small foods educator, University of Illinois Extension.

The following organizations are partnering to coordinate the one-day event: Illinois Farm Bureau, Cook County Farm Bureau, University of Illinois-Extension, Illinois Specialty Growers Association, Illinois Department of Agriculture, and several surrounding Farm Bureau offices.

The event is free to farmers. Those wishing to attend should RSVP to the Cook County Farm Bureau at 708-354-3276 by Feb. 14, 2014.