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Empirical Brewery Abruptly Closing After 7 Years In Ravenswood: ‘A Pretty Big Disappointment’

Empirical Brewery helped usher in the "Malt Row" slate of breweries lining the Metra tracks in Ravenswood.

Empirical Brewery announced it is closing.
Kayleigh Padar/Block Club Chicago
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RAVENSWOOD — Empirical Brewery, which opened a Ravenswood taproom in 2015 and helped usher in the “Malt Row” slate of breweries lining the Metra tracks in the neighborhood, announced it is closing.

“Last call for Empirical…,” the brewery posted on social media. “Unfortunately the Brewery will be closing after this weekend.

“We will explain more soon, but for now we just want to say thanks for all the love and cheers to one more weekend! 🍻💛🍻 ”

Sunday marked the brewery’s last night open. Fans flocked to the taproom at 1801 W. Foster Ave. throughout the weekend to get a last few pints. Owner Bill Hurley could not be immediately reached for comment.

The closure comes less than two months since another neighborhood brewery, Urban Brew Labs, closed its doors. The brewery and taproom at 5121 N. Ravenswood Ave. closed Sept. 11. Owner James Moriarty said they “just didn’t have enough traction” with beer sales via distribution.

The brewery’s roots trace to 2009, when co-founders Hurley and Sumit Mehta collaborated on their first beer in Mehta’s kitchen.

“Our friendship began over beer,” Hurley said in 2015. He like Mehta, moved to Chicago in the early 2000s.

Credit: Patty Wetli/DNAinfo Chicago
The Empirical team in 2015: Brewer Nevin McCown; owner Bill Hurley; taproom manager Steve Milford; brewer Peter Anderson; and head of operations Jim Ruffatto.

They raised money to open the Foster Avenue taproom with an Indiegogo campaign. It started as one part tasting room, one part laboratory, as the brewers tested experimental beer in small batches with the help of brewery patrons who weighed in on the taste. “Exploring the science of beer,” was a brewery motto.

“It will be the literal manifestation of the empirical concept,” Mehta said in 2014. “It’s not a great beer until your customer tells you it’s a great beer.”

The taproom in the red brick building at the southwest corner of Foster and Ravenswood featured a 32-foot-long bar and a friendly atmosphere, with families playing board games and no shortage of people bringing in their dogs.

Several of the beers took off, and Empirical began bottling and distributing around the area.

On Sunday, fans showed up to say goodbye.

“It sucks. I came here yesterday and today. It’s a pretty big disappointment. I feel like this is one of the better breweries in the area because of all the experimental brews they do,” said Katie Fragaskis of Lincoln Square.

“It’s in a really accessible part of the neighborhood, close to everyone and has just such a big space that’s perfect to bring a group.”

Credit: Kayleigh Padar/Block Club Chicago
Empirical Brewery announced it is closing.

Hollis Thomann of Andersonville came with a friend.

“Empirical has more of a local brewery vibe, compared to other breweries in the area, and as far as I know, hosts more unique events to bring people in, in a way that other breweries nearby haven’t,” Thomann said. “It would be good if someone else local could come into the space.”

Stephen Morrison of Uptown said Empirical was the brewery he frequented the most

“I really liked their attitude toward brewing, they were always trying to do something a little different,” Morrison said. “They have a really cool space in the back and the addition of the patio during the pandemic was a nice touch too.”

“It feels like the end of an era, I’m certainly disappointed.

“It has a nice, unpretentious vibe. You didn’t feel like you had to be the biggest hop-head in the world to come enjoy a beer here. There was something for everyone.”

Credit: Kayleigh Padar/Block Club Chicago
Empirical Brewery announced it is closing.
Credit: Kayleigh Padar/Block Club Chicago
Empirical Brewery announced it is closing.
Credit: Kayleigh Padar/Block Club Chicago
Empirical Brewery announced it is closing.
Credit: Kayleigh Padar/Block Club Chicago
Empirical Brewery announced it is closing.

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