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Lincoln Square, North Center, Irving Park

As Lake Effect Brewing Awaits Firehouse Takeover, It’s Brewing Up Some Exotic Collaborations

The brewery is making beers with BBQ rub from Gale Street Inn, cakes from Fannie's Cafe, chai from Mango Pickle, rose tips from the Chicago Botanic Garden and more.

Left to Right: Clint Bautz, Lake Effect Brewing’s owner, and Eric Ullrich, Lake Effect's brewer.
Alex Hernandez / Block Club Chicago
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IRVING PARK — Nestled between two underpasses and behind a costume shop in Irving Park, Lake Effect Brewing has been crafting beers for seven years. Sometime in 2019, the brewery hopes, it’ll be able to serve them up to the public.

Plans are still in the works for an expansion into a historic vacant firehouse in Jefferson Park. The brewery is working with builder Ambrosia Homes to acquire 4841 N. Lipps Avenue firehouse, with the aim to convert it into a brewery with a tasting room on the ground floor — which would be Lake Effect’s first.

No date is set for the start of construction as the brewery and development team work on preservation issues with the 112-year-old firehouse and complete their due diligence.

In the meantime, Lake Effect is brewing beer and collaborating with all kinds of partners offering offbeat ingredients.

Over the years, Lake Effect has focused on collaboration, which has helped get their brews on people’s radar. These partnerships have included beers brewed with ingredients like oak chips and juniper from the The Morton Arboretum and beers designed to be paired with the hot dogs at Superdawg.

“We definitely love kind of intertwining ourselves with local businesses,” Lake Effect owner Clint Bautz said.

Cakes, Rose Tips, BBQ Rub And More

Some upcoming collaborations include a beer made with hops grown at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

“Because we’ve been making the Morton Arboretum beers for the past two years, we’re uniquely qualified to handle that relationship,” Bautz said. “So when we came to meet with them, I’d never been so prepared for a meeting before. It was the easiest thing in the world.”

The Chicago Botanic Garden gave Lake Effect plants like basil, ginger, rose tips and hyacinth as ingredients. Bautz said the hyacinth would be used in a wheat ale while the rose tips were used to brew a test batch of IPA.

“This year they have a bunch of hops growing on a fruit and vegetable island at the garden, too,” he said. “So we’re going to make a harvest ale this year with that. It’s fun. We’ve gotten close to Chef Cleetus Friedman, who runs the dinners there, so we’ve been able to be part of that too.”

Bautz also said the small batch barrel-aged beers on tap for this year include a Chocolate Cake Barrel Aged Stout with Fannie’s Cafe, Bakery, And Boutique, 5044 W. Montrose Ave., a collaboration with Mango Pickle, an Indian restaurant at 5842 N. Broadway, as well as a collaboration with Omega Yeast, which sits next door to the brewery on Montrose Avenue.

For the Fannie’s collaboration, Bautz is a fan of the bakery’s chocolate cake so he asked the owner to make a bunch of chocolate cakes so they could dump it in the mash for the beer.

With Mango Pickle, when Bautz was still working as an architect he traveled to India for work and fell in love with the local cuisine. So for the Mango Pickle collaboration, Lake Effect is using chai spices and lactose to make an alcoholic chai masala.

“And with Omega we’re calling it School of Brett, because we’re using four different types of Brett yeast in four different barrels,” Bautz said. “Those guys are cool, they’re probably the smart ones in the industry because they’re a supplier of yeast. All us brewers are these romantics that want to change the world with our beers, but they’re the ones feeding us all these awesome yeast strains.”

Another collaboration Bautz is excited about is a beer with Gale Street Inn, 4914 N. Milwaukee Ave.

“For that we’ve got a imperial stout aged in a bourbon barrel. We’re using the spice rub he uses for the ribs. It’s kind of fun, because we got to hang out in the kitchen and see the special rub that’s made for Gale that comes in these giant burlap bags,” Bautz said. “It’s crazy, that rub is like one of their secrets and I felt like I got to go behind the scenes, touch some holy ground there.”

‘We Can’t Wait For Them To Open’

Later this year, Bautz hopes to start production at the Jefferson Park firehouse.

“The firehouse project is the biggest thing we’ve ever done, by far,” Bautz said. “We’ll have a bigger system and a bigger output. Mainly because we plan to be selling a lot of our beer on the premise. We’re going to try to produce and package everything there.”

The project was announced early last year, but the acquisition is still pending.

“It’s more administrative, bureaucratic things that we’re kind of going through right now,” Bautz said. “But even after it opens we’ll still be brewing here on Montrose.”

Credit: Courtesy of Lake Effect Brewing
An image of the historic firehouse at 4835 N. Lipps Ave. posted to Lake Effect Brewing’s Facebook page on Dec. 22, 2018. The caption said more news was to come regarding the taproom in 2019.

Tim Pomaville, president of Ambrosia Homes, said his development firm and the city are currently going through the due diligence phase of his company’s purchase of the firehouse from the city.

“It’s my goal that we’re able to start building at the site within the year. And then Lake Effect can potentially be moving in by the end of the year,” Pomaville said. “That’s really our goal.”

In March 2018, Ambrosia met with residents to unveil its plans to invest $2.4 million in the historic firehouse, which was built in 1906. The plan is to have Lake Effect on the first floor with nine apartments on the firehouse’s second floor.

“They’re still in negotiations with the department of planning and development, and there are a few elements of the design they’re working through after some discussions with he historical preservation people,” said Owen Brugh, chief of staff for Ald. John Arena (45th). “But we can’t wait for them to open.”

RELATED: Vacant Firehouse Should Be Protected from the Wrecking Ball, Group Says

Lake Effect’s journey began when Bautz was an architect at a firm during the financial crisis of 2008. While he didn’t lose his job, the instability he saw during the recession made him realize he wanted to have more of a say in how his professional life was run and inspired him to pursue opening his own brewery.

“It gave me the courage to do it because I was like, well s—. You know, someone could come in and just take my professional life away. F— it,” Bautz said. “Why should someone have that say over me.”

Already a homebrewer, he did some research to figure out the best path for him to open a brewery of his own. While he was working at the firm he started drafting the business plan for Lake Effect, taking cues from other established craft brewers.

“I remember reading the Dogfish Head Brewery book, and they started with a brewpub and then they moved on to a production brewery,” Bautz said. “But then Brooklyn Brewery did a production brewery first and afterward opened a brewpub.”

For Lake Effect, Bautz decided to start with a production brewery at 4727 W. Montrose Ave. because the licensing was easier to get in Chicago. However, he says the initial challenge Lake Effect faced once they began brewing was getting their beers out into the world.

“That’s because you’re entirely dependent on other locations to sell your beer,” he said.

But with the tasting room, fans will be able to go straight to the source.

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