For years, brothers and Illinois natives Samuel and Jesse Edwin Evans brewed beer at an independently-owned contract brewery in Northern California. When they decided they wanted to come back to the Great Plains, they scouted around the Chicago area for a site to install their brewery.
The location they found will eventually play home to one of the most sustainable beer-making processes in the world, part of a massive vertical farm taking shape in an old South Side warehouse.
Last summer, John Edel and Bubbly Dynamics LLC bought the former Peer Foods meat processing plant in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. What they’re putting inside the space, which they’ve renamed The Plant, is a true green marvel, a combination of biological and technological innovations that will create a self-sustaining, off-the-grid food production system.
The Plant gives the following diagram to summarize its inner workings on its website (click for larger version):
The “brewery” portion on the bottom-right is where the Evans brothers come in. Their New Chicago Brewing Company will use some of the facility’s resources, and provide its waste products as fuel.
“In the beer-making process, there’s an amazing amount of spent grain that’s produced,” Jesse explained in an interview with HuffPost Chicago. “At most breweries, around 50 percent of that goes to the landfill.”
But the spent grain is very nutrient-rich, Jesse says. At The Plant, it will have several uses. Some will feed tilapia and mushrooms being raised on the site. But much of it will go to an amazing device called an “anaerobic digester,” which is essentially a bacteria-driven stomach that eats up food products like spent grain and produces biogas. That gas will be used in a turbine generator to create electricity for the facility, and 850º steam to be used in the brewing process. The CO2 created by the generator will be fed to plants grown elsewhere in The Plant.
The steam will be especially helpful to the Evans brothers. “If you put it in perspective, we’re going to be using a 3,000-gallon pot that we boil for two, three hours.” Instead of having to burn gas for the boil, the steam will do the trick. “So that’s a huge cost savings.”
New Chicago (which, we assume, isn’t affiliated with the Rahm Emanuel PAC of the same name) will brew a strong, West Coast-style ale, but its parts and labor will be uniquely Chicago. Both volunteers and full-time employees will come from the city, and all of their equipment and as many of the ingredients as possible will be locally sourced as well.
Equipment will be arriving on site this October, and the Evanses are hoping to launch their beer on March 4, the 175th anniversary of the incorporation of the city of Chicago.
Once it’s up and running, Jesse says The Plant will offer an immersive experiences for visitors. “Microbrewing is usually a closed-door thing,” he says. “Here, beer nerds are going to get to be a part of the process.”
And what a process it will be.