UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — A Chicago brewery is working with brewers from Ukraine to make a signature beer that will benefit relief efforts in the war-torn country.
Midwest Coast Brewing, 2137 W. Walnut St., is collaborating with Varvar Brew in Kyiv to release their version of a Ukrainian Golden Ale later this month.
Midwest Coast connected in February with Ukrainian beer expert Lana Svitankova, who has been spearheading a push for international recognition of the Ukrainian Golden Ale style.
Midwest Coast co-owner Suzie Compton jumped at the chance to work on the beer as a way to honor her heritage and help elevate Ukrainian craft brewing. Compton was born in Odessa, Ukraine, before immigrating to California in the late ’80s as a young child with her parents.
But just a few days after the breweries started working together, Russia began its invasion of Ukraine.
“This started purely as a beer thing. We wanted to start a Ukrainian Golden Ale as an official style. They need international collaboration, they knew I was Ukrainian and were like, ‘Would you be interested? We’re like, yeah, that sounds awesome.’ It’s a fun thing to do with beer. It’s different. It’d be cool to help with a new style … and then that was three days before [the invasion],” Compton said.
After an initial pause, the collaboration continued with a new urgency — in large part because Varvar brewer Martin Dawson, who is British, was able to leave Ukraine. Varvar is also working with breweries in Michigan and the United Kingdom.
“Everything was lined up. And then it was all ruined when the tanks started rolling over the border, and the brewery closed down. I was able to leave Ukraine. So we said, ‘Okay, if you can leave, let’s still do the collaborations,'” Dawson said.
Dawson traveled to Chicago and worked with Midwest Coast brewers to develop their own version of the Ukrainian Golden Ale.
The beer style is relatively high in alcohol — Midwest Coast’s comes in around 7 percent —and is usually pretty sweet, Dawson said.
Varvar encouraged Midwest Coast to add their own flavor to the beer, perhaps with a local fruit.
Compton said the brewers weren’t entirely sure what that would be for Chicago, so they went with coriander.
“When we were talking to them about how we’re gonna brew and like what our spin is, is they’re like, ‘Well, what’s Chicago known for, what’s the fruit?'” Compton said. “We’re like, it’s onions. We’re not going to go down that route. So we settled on coriander.”
Varvar Brew has remained closed during the Russian invasion. Dawson said the owners and staff are all scattered across Kyiv, but are safe. Now, collaborations with Midwest Coast and others have become a way to raise funds for humanitarian efforts as the war continues.
“Since I got out, we’ve been doing a lot of collaborations and preparing for festivals and things. Not to promote the brewery, but because we want to raise money for good causes, and hopefully it will help the brewery stay alive until all this blows over,” Dawson said.
For the first time ever, the US Open Beer Championship has announced a Ukrainian Golden Ale category at their upcoming annual competition. Registration fees will benefit the Red Cross, and Midwest Coast is planning to enter their version.
The brewery is releasing the beer at a day-long party and fundraiser on May 15. All proceeds from the Ukrainian Golden Ale will be donated to relief organizations Come Back Alive and the Global Disaster Relief Team, with which Compton’s parents have been volunteering in Poland.
The brewery is also holding a silent auction at the event to raise additional funds. Compton said more than 20 businesses have already contributed, but anyone with additional ideas or offers for the auction can email her at email@example.com.