It is nearly impossible to keep up with all the brewery openings and prospective breweries within Chicago city limits these days, but damnit, I do the best I can.
I became aware of 5 Rabbit Brewery/Cerveceria during the recent Chicago Craft Beer Week, a wonderful time to be a craft beer fan in the city. They had purchased some advertising space in the CCBW Passport, and I was immediately interested in the concept they were laying out: an all Latin-American themed brewery, located in Chicago. As they put it, “We hope to bring the energy, passion, and amazing richness of Latin culture and cuisine to the delicious world of craft-brewed beer.”
Fine by me! I personally love eating and cooking Mexican and southwestern food, and many of the dishes cry out for beer, and not that watery, lagery stuff, either. Latin America in general is not exactly known by Aleheads for their great craft brews, partially because of the ever-present heat and glut of light lagers, but there are exceptions, and the Mexican craft beer scene has been on the rise in recent years. In Chicago, 5 Rabbit plans to offer five beers once it gets going, three of which have already been developed. They’re themed after five Aztec gods*, and are as follows:
*They could have made all these up and I would have no idea.
5 Rabbit – “All-Malt Golden Ale”
“As elegant as any classic pilsner, but way more fun.” 5.3% abv
5 Lizard – “Latin-Style Witbier with Passionfruit”
“Fresh, fun, gulpable, with a hint of the exotic.” 4.3% abv
5 Vulture – “Oaxacan-Style Dark Ale with Piloncillo Sugar & Chile Ancho”
“Subtle, mysterious and deeply soul satisfying.” 6.4% abv
You knew at least one would have chiles, right? I think we all knew that. Now, passionfruit witbier may or may not sound like the average Alehead’s cup of tea, but I at least give them props for originality and the attempt to keep the theme going. The next two beers will presumably be 5 Flower and 5 Grass. Don’t ask me what kind of beer goes with those two plants, when all the others have been animals–I have no clue. More information on the existing beers can be found at the 5 Rabbit website. The brewery founders claim in this good interview with Chicago Magazine that they’re after the craft beer drinker crowd primarily, and the Latin American market second, if you were curious about their priorities.
Now that I’ve given you the basic information, allow me to get on my soapbox a little bit. To keep things brief, I’ll just give you the things I currently like and dislike about the information available on 5 Rabbit.
1. The thing that has me writing this right now was the discovery, reading the interview above, that famed Chicago homebrewer, beer guy and author Randy Mosher is involved as one of the founders of this brewery. I love Randy Mosher–he is probably my favorite beer author, and his 2009 book “Tasting Beer” is likely my favorite all-around beer book. I met him at this year’s past Dark Lord Day and he’s a heck of a nice guy, and extremely involved in the popular Chicago Beer Society, of which he is an emeritus member. This guy IS craft beer in Chicago–the Michael Jackson of the city. I’m not sure why they haven’t promoted his association in every piece of PR they’ve ever sent out–I would plaster his face on the bottles. How I didn’t know he was coming up with their recipes was a mystery to me.
2. The idea in general appeals to me, and it would be cool to see this as the first of many ethnically and culturally focused breweries. It may be an especially significant precedent in its choice to represent the culture of minority craft beer drinkers. Imagine how cool it would be if all the small Mexican restaurants in the city were carrying these brews. Perfect complements for the food!
1. There’s one big one, and it’s this–the “brewery” has only an office building, and no actual production space. The actual brewing is contracted out to Argus Brewing, a place with a…let’s just say “less than sterling” reputation for their own beers, that also does a lot of contract brewing. The recipes were all supplied by Mosher, but it begs an interesting question that I have asked myself before: If a brewery makes bad beer on its own but does contract work for someone with a good recipe, will that beer come out good or bad? Can a “bad brewery” produce good contract beer for someone else? Are there precedents here? In my experience, contract beers produced by breweries are typically a step down from their usual production, but somehow I don’t think that will be the case here.
How bad are Argus’ regular products? Well, they’re not good. Beer Advocate scorers agree, and let it be noted that it is not easy to get C scores on Beer Advocate for beers like a house IPA. Some of these D and F reviews are indeed pretty harsh. I’ve had that beer, and I would agree with them–it might actually be one of the worst IPAs I’ve ever had. For comparison, it has the same grade as Anheuser Busch’s Shock Top.
I don’t need to say anything more after this.
Still, I look forward to trying 5 Rabbit’s brews, with only limited amounts of trepidation. I especially look forward to 5 Rabbit prospectively opening up its own brewing location within a year or two’s time. Of course by then, God only knows how many more new breweries there will be in the Chicago area. You can be sure, though, that I’ll be there to drink from all of them.
For those who want to sample 5 Rabbit’s wares, they’re currently on tap as of mid-June at a number of Chicago-area locations. The Rabbit and Lizard beers are available, and Vulture is soon to follow. Go out there, order some enchiladas or chiles relleno, and give them a whirl.
5 thoughts on “5 RABBIT CERVECERIA: CHICAGO’S NEW “LATIN AMERICAN BREWERY””
This whole endeavor seems odd- they’re trying to capture a market of Hispanic craft beer drinkers that doesn’t exist at all right now. Why aren’t they going the brewpub route? With their emphasis on food pairing it seems natural, but it doesn’t sound like that is the plan.
It’ll be a tough fight if they think go into Mexican restaurants and get people to stop drinking Corona and Margaritas in favor of a fancy “Latin” beer made in Chicago. The people that read this site would order it, but who else would? I just don’t see it.
Good points, all. I hadn’t considered the brewpub route, but that does seem to make sense, given that they could force people into pairing the beers. Man, a combination Mexican restaurant/brewery would be awesome.
Actually, I could see these beers becoming the house brews at Rick Bayless’s restaurants. Instant cachet and they’re already in the Chicagoland area.
I suspect you’re going to see a LOT more of these “niche” breweries in the next few years. While everyone and their mother are making a pale ale, IPA, and brown ale, it will be the innovators like Brewery Vivant (canned Belgian beers), Jolly Pumpkin (rustic country ales), and Russian River (barrel-aged sours…oh, and a kick-ass Double IPA) that really stand out. It’s becoming a crowded marketplace and you have to make your voice heard somehow.
I agree with your premise- I just don’t like the niche they picked or how they plan to fill it.
Totally a bad idea. Imported Latin american beer is expensive to the retailers. The immigrant population can not afford an $8.00 6pk of 12oz beer. It simply won’t fly. Only way is with huge post offs and that cuts into the brewers profits. Nice thought, stupid execution and flawed from the get go.