Big Shoulders Beer Company

Big Shoulders' Hopapalooza IPA now is on tap at Howells & Hood and other Chicago bars. (Kate Bernot/RedEye / June 21, 2013)

It all started with a batch of wheat beer that Rich Szydlo homebrewed for his sister's engagement. People's positive reactions gave him the confidence to plan his own beer company, Big Shoulders. Three years later, his first batches of beer now are on tap around Chicago at bars like Howells & Hood, Monk's Pub, Flo & Santos and The Beer Bistro.

Currently, Big Shoulders doesn't have its own brewery. Instead, the beer is contract-brewed, meaning Big Shoulders pays a brewing facility to use its equipment to produce his recipes. The first batch of Hopapalooza IPA, the only Big Shoulders beer currently on draught in the city, was made at Itasca's Church Street Brewing. In the future, the beer will be produced at a small brewing plant in Zion that specializes in contract-brewing.

"My plan is to take the year to gauge the growth and gauge the response so that I can see what I want to be able to grow into, then use the second year to kind of build out and transition into brewing my own beer," Syzdlo said.

If it seems risky to hand over production of his beer to someone else, Syzdlo isn't worried.

"I’ve heard a lot of horror stories from places that contract-brew, but the thing about this place is that it’s their goal to contract-brew for smaller places," he said. "They’re saying ‘We want you there for the first couple times to see how we do it.' They do want to build a relationship and for me to be very involved."

Though Chicago seems to see new breweries spring up nearly every month, Big Shoulders hopes its Hopapalooza IPA and Crosstown Wheat will stand out as easy-to-drink brews that customers will order again and again.

"The one thing that we’re trying to do with all the beers and especially with the IPAs is trying to make it a more sessionable, approachable IPA," Syzdlo said. "We had the launch party and I was drinking it all night long and I never got tired of drinking it, which is the point. I want you to be able to get it during the game, and with the way overtime [hockey] games are going, you should still be able to drink it hours later."

Syzdlo said customers' reactions to the IPA has been positive, especially at River North bar Howells & Hood, where he bartends full time.

"The three questions the servers get most often are 'What’s new?' 'What’s local?' And 'What’s your best IPA?' Ours is all three." 

kbernot@tribune.com | @redeyeeatdrink

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