Good Beer Hunting

Dedicated Contracting Facility, Great Central Brewing Co., Opens in Chicago

Production is underway at Chicago’s first dedicated contract brewing facility, Great Central Brewing Co. Last week, a year removed from breaking ground, the company announced Maplewood Brewery and Distillery, Begyle Brewing, Like Minds Brewing, and Around the Bend Beer Co. as its first four clients. 

“Partnering with great breweries like these to make more of what we all love is our singular focus and the reason we founded GCBC,” said company CEO and co-founder David Avram in a news release. “Their trust in our team, our facility and our dedication to quality is both humbling and exciting.” The company will launch with 24,000 BBLs worth of capacity, but is capable of scaling up to 125,000 BBLs.

It really wasn’t long ago that the practice of contract brewing carried with it a bit of a stigma. In essence, people felt contract brewers didn’t have real skin in the game, or that they were misleading consumers regarding the origin of their beer, or a mix of the two. In fact, this dishonorable reputation can be traced quite a ways back. A 2013 Slate piece on the subject points to a 1996 episode of Dateline in which an Anheuser-Busch rep called for truth in advertising as it related to Boston Beer. The company’s Sam Adams brand was, and remains, synonymous with the city of Boston, but its production had been—and still is—contracted out to a number of places outside of Massachusetts.

This wasn’t just Big Beer subterfuge. Noted craft beer industry ambassadors have weighed in on the subject, too. Stone’s Greg Koch is quoted in the same piece: “As a consumer, I want the truth to be easy to understand and require no special knowledge ... If [the beer] is not brewed at the company whose name is on the label, I’d want to know.”

That’s not a controversial idea, of course, but somewhere along the line, that sentiment somehow stripped contract brewers of their presumption of innocence. The Brewers Association has itself been vocal in combatting this notion, once declaring, “This business structure…is a sadly misunderstood segment of the craft beer industry and often a target of criticism and discrimination.”

Whether or not that stigma still exists depends on who you ask. But Great Central is the latest in a clearly growing line of contract-centric businesses popping up all over the country. Brew Hub hit the scene in Florida in 2013, and is now in the process of building out a second operation in Missouri. Isle Brewers Guild in Rhode Island is slated to open soon, with early investment from Narragansett and Newburyport Brewing. Two Roads in Connecticut makes reputable beer of its own, but also lends its space to a number of breweries, including the much-lauded Lawson’s Finest Liquids. It’s not just the proliferation of dedicated contract facilities that have legitimized the practice in the eyes of the public either. Mikkeller and Evil Twin have downright romanticized the image of the “gypsy brewer.”

This is obviously a good thing. And as long as brewers uphold transparency as core to their ethos, it will only continue being a good thing . So, rest in peace the idea of contract brewing being inherently negative. You were an idea once.
—Dave Eisenberg