This month Chicago’s Half Acre Beer Co. landed in Wisconsin for good. Here are four things you need to know about this newest kid on the block.
1. Chicago born.
Half Acre debuted in Chicago in 2007, which makes it a forerunner of the Windy City’s booming beer scene — after, of course the granddad of the whole thing, the 29-year-old Goose Island. (At the start Half Acre made its beer in Wisconsin, at Sand Creek Brewing in Black River Falls, before opening its own brewery in 2008.)
For such an enormous market, Chicago was criminally underserved in the craft beer domain. Half Acre was the first spark in what’s grown to an inferno, with several heavy hitters and dozens of smaller breweries, and it’s arguably still the standard bearer for Chicago craft beer in 2017. One of the other big Chicago players, Revolution Brewing, began shipping to Wisconsin last summer.
2. Here, now.
Half Acre’s Wisconsin launch is part of growth related to — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — a new production facility.
In late 2015 it fired up a 30-barrel brewhouse on the north side, about a mile and a half from its original brewery and outstanding tap room on Lincoln Avenue. That brewery had been maxed out for three years, and the new capacity from the 60,000-square-foot facility allowed Half Acre to expand distribution to southern Illinois about a year ago. As of mid-year, Half Acre was on pace to make about 36,000 barrels of beer last year, just short of twice what local favorite Ale Asylum made in 2016.
Nearby and beer-thirsty Wisconsin is an obvious next step.
“We’ve had a handful of opportunities to hoist our beer in our neighbor state and it’s always felt like a good place for it,” Half Acre said in its Wisconsin launch announcement.
3. Cans as art.
As I was purchasing my first cache of Half Acre, the (had to be) teenage girl who scanned the first four-pack of tallboys remarked to the bagger — an even younger girl — on how “pretty” the can was. The next one was even cooler. Then another. “Oooh, this one has daisies on it!”
That Half Acre’s cans are awesome is by design. Half Acre co-founder Gabriel Magliaro came to Chicago from Philadelphia for art school and described himself to Good Beer Hunting as “an imagery nerd.” Half Acre has a full-time artist, Phineas X. Jones, on staff who designs the labels for the brewery’s signature cans and handful of limited-release bombers.
I struggle to pin down the unifying theme of Half Acre’s aesthetic — I’ll stick to describing the beer — but there’s undoubtedly one, and attitude comes through loud and clear with every label. Plus, there are owls.
4. Great beer.
All of this is great, but the beer has to be good, right? It’s that and more. Half Acre’s portfolio is contemporary and relentlessly hop-forward. It’s opening Wisconsin with three year-round beers and two seasonals, every one of them with a characteristic hop profile and dryness. They’re also all well-served by the fresh date codes that can be found on the bottom of the can; these will bear watching as Half Acre’s newness here passes.
Daisy Cutter Pale Ale: This is Half Acre’s flagship, or at least the beer that made its name outside Chicago. And Daisy Cutter, with its West Coast IPA profile in a smaller pale ale package, is worthy of that reputation. Its aroma is pine-citrus harmony, while the moderately bitter flavor leans more toward the pine and a biscuity-bready malt. But perhaps Daisy Cutter’s most notable attribute is an assertive dryness that lasts long into the finish. 5.2 percent ABV
Pony Pilsner: Another year-round crusher, Pony is a really well-done pils. Need I say more? Well, OK. It’s on the German side of the pilsner family tree, crackling with moderate bitterness and spicy-earthy-herbal-floral hops. (Yeah, they’re all in there.) Pony finishes with another resoundingly dry flourish. 5.5 percent ABV
Navaja Double India Pale Ale: This year-rounder swims in pineapple/sweet-citrus character, cut by a touch of dank resin. Navaja has a full, round mouthfeel, and both the alcohol character and bitterness are more modest than you might expect from such a big IPA. 10 percent ABV
GoneAway India Pale Ale: A bright, citrusy aroma is the first impression of this seasonal IPA, but with just a little more time GoneAway reveals its true identity as a resin bomb. The spruce-like, resinous notes are front and center, with a modest orange-grapefruit and muted malt character deep in the background. Theme warning: It also is assertively dry. 7 percent ABV. Available from September to March, GoneAway alternates with the spring-summer Vallejo IPA (6.5 percent ABV).
Lead Feather Black Ale: A change of pace! The aroma speaks of chocolatey malt with a gentle roast character. But with a sip, hops again jump to the front, moderately bitter and again with what seems to be that signature resinous profile. Black Feather’s body is soft but it still drinks quite dry, something like a cross between a black IPA and an Irish dry stout. 6.5 percent ABV. Also out from September to March, Lead Feather is replaced in spring and summer by Akari Shogun American Wheat (5 percent ABV).