NORTH CENTER — After his small church closed, a suburban pastor has traded his pulpit for a new calling: Chicago beer.
Pastor Brent Raska, who formerly led a Presbyterian congregation in North Riverside, is now finishing construction on Burning Bush Brewery at 4014 N. Rockwell St. in an industrial stretch of North Center. He hopes to open the new brewery and taproom this winter.
Raska had been brewing beer at home for almost six years when his church closed in 2017. It was the nudge he needed to pursue his brewing passion full-time.
“It had been on that trajectory long before I got there,” he said of the church. “But after it closed, I thought maybe it was … time for me to pour my time into finally opening up my own brewery.”
When it opens, Burning Bush will have about six house beers on tap, including an oatmeal stout, Belgian Dubbel, a pale ale, an IPA, a Mexican-style lager and an amber ale with basil — a recipe he perfected with basil and hops from his garden at home.
“It’s going to be a little of everything,” he said.
Raska lives in Skokie with his wife and kids. While he initially thought of opening Burning Bush there, North Center’s density, ample free parking and proximity to bike paths was too good to pass up. The brewery space in part used to house an industrial bakery.
And the new 312 RiverRun project, which is set to open on the Chicago River between Belmont to Montrose avenues later this year, was another incentive to open the brewery on Rockwell location.
“To have the visibility right on the river, with the new bike and walking path on its way, is going to be huge,” Raska said.
When it came time to name the brewery, Raska drew inspiration from one of his favorite passages in the Bible’s Old Testament, which tells the story of Moses and the burning bush.
“I just love that God kind of shows up to speak to him that way,” Raska said. “I think it speaks to everybody, whether they’re religious or not. And the name is catchy and lends itself to some cool artwork, too.”
The name is also a nod to the history of brewing. In medieval times, religious monks in Europe brewed their own beers.
“Some of the best and oldest beers in the world were made by monks in monasteries,” Raska said. “And Martin Luther’s wife also brewed beer. So it’s kind of cool to carry on that tradition.”
When designing the interior of the brewery and taproom, Raska worked with his architect to maintain the brick facade and industrial aesthetic. Touches include exposed wooden bow trusses, metal-framed windows and warm incandescent lighting.
Building off the burning bush theme, Raska also used a unique Japanese-style burntwood — the contractor’s team torched it themselves — as a design accent.
Though operating a brewery is a career change for the pastor, he said Burning Bush will build community much like a church does. He hopes to partner with local nonprofits and community groups to host coat drives, fundraisers and fellowship.
“When I chose to open a brewery I did it because it really does combine a lot of the things that I liked about being a pastor into a new career, but in a slightly different way,” he said. “I can use my brewery as a community space and give back to the neighborhood through service. And it carries back to my background as a pastor of being hospitable, but now with great customer service.”
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