Get A Sneak Peak Into Chicago’s Most Unique Craft Brewery

Wait … what’s a craft brewery?

Before we get started, let’s define a craft brewery as an independently owned brewery that produces smaller quantities of beer than larger, corporate-owned breweries.  I typically find that craft breweries place more of an emphasis on quality, flavour, brewing techniques, experimentation, and focus on customer experience than their counterparts do or are able to.

You may recall that earlier this year I had the chance to go behind the scenes with Chicago breweries during Craft Beer Week (you can read that post here).  One of the highlights of that event was getting to meet Karl Rutherford, founder of Twisted Hippo.  I was so fascinated with Karl’s passion and willingness to push the boundaries of craft beer that when he offered me a sneak peak into their soon-to-open brewpub I jumped at the chance!

Twisted Hippo is well-known for taking “standard brews” and putting their own “twist” on them.  The result is some amazing creations that are unlike anything you’ll find at another brewery, and that’s why I call them Chicago’s most unique craft brewery!

So strap on your pink hardhat,
spread your wings,
and get ready to Embrace Your Strange!

Who is Twisted Hippo?

Kent’s passion for brewing started when his wife, Merilie, brought home his first home-brewing kit.  He spent time refining his techniques and began experimenting with different styles.  Soon the idea of opening their own craft brewery began to take shape, and the duo co-founded Twisted Hippo.

Why “Twisted Hippo”?

The “Twisted” comes from the idea that they could easily brew the standard beer styles, but  wanted to give people a reason to choose them over other craft breweries.  The result is that they take those usual brews and “twist” them into something completely unique, that leaves their fans wanting more!

The “Hippo” comes from their mascot “Pinky”, who will give you some great insight into Kent and Merilie if you look closely:

1. The pink hippo is based on the toy that Kent would use to run away to his grandma’s house as a child (yes the real Pinky has a permanent home behind the bar)
2. Pinky has 13-point antlers because 13 is their lucky number
3. Pinky has wings to pay homage to the winged monkeys from The Wizard of Oz (they’re from Kansas)
4. Pinky has  pigtail because they love bacon

Twisted Hippo has been sharing brew space at AleMan’s facilities, another local craft brewery (isn’t it great how the craft beer community supports each other!).  That has allowed them to take their time to get their name out there through Chicago’s great festival and event scene.  They have developed a very loyal fan base that’s eagerly anticipating the opening of the new facility.

But How’s The Beer??

The craft beer brewed here is exactly what you’d expect from Twisted Hippo: unique, interesting, delicious, and conversation starting.

You may recall the “Beating Heart” I sampled as part of Craft Beer Week.  It was a twist on a Kölsch-style beer, made with beets.  A unique blend  of sweet and earthy flavours that works amazingly well together.

On this visit, we chose to sample the “Plumpass” – a Saison style brewed with Italian plumbs – and “The Great Malvolio” – an Imperial Stout Ale brewed with vanilla.  Both were excellent!

Plumpass has less of an ‘alcohol’ taste than I normally get from Saison brews, which was something I preferred.  The plumb was subtle, but you definitely knew it was there as it was a great contrast to the spice of a Saison.

The Great Malvolio was an excellent stout.  The vanilla added some sweetness without providing an overpowering aftertaste that often comes with it.  The brew itself was smooth and clean on the palate.

Why Open Your Own Space?

The timing is right!

It’s been great working with the folks at AleMan, but the excitement and anticipation on Karl’s face is contagious when he talks about the plans for the new space and his ability to brew and experiment in his own facility.  It’s time to start experimenting again!

Helping with the transition is that the equipment that came with the lease agreement allows Twisted Hippo to continue using the “3-Step Brewing Process” they’ve grown accustomed to with AleMan’s facility.  The 3-Step Process consists of brew, heat, rapid cool (where the grains flow to the next step while cold water flows in the other direction), and ferment.  They’ll have 7 tanks, allowing for many opportunities to test new creations while continuing to serve their local favourites.

After fermentation Twisted Hippo can transfer their brews to cold tanks behind the bar for fermentation.  From here they’ll be able to bottle for sale, or serve directly to thirsty patrons using the taps in the bar.

As we talked, I could see Karl’s marketing background coming through.  They’re very conscious of their brand and doing everything “the right way” – remaining customer focused while firmly staking their claim in the Chicago Craft Beer scene.

What Can We Expect?

Opening at 2925 West Montrose Ave, this Brewpub will be instantly recognizable and comfortable, but also uniquely Twisted Hippo.  Other brewpubs have tried to make a go at this location, but the creativity and care that has gone into this design is next level!

Karl and Merilie have made a point of focusing on the experience you’ll have when you visit, rather than just serving their excellent craft beer.  One of the first things you’ll notice is the pink!  Though it’s definitely toned down from earlier concept blueprints I got to see, it’s still there to subtly remind you where you are.

In an effort to better provide the experience you want when you visit, there are 3 types of seating areas: cafe style in the front, communal tables through the middle, and cabaret style at the back.  There’s also a section at the centre of the bar reserved for ordering drinks.  This not only provides better flow as people move through the brewpub, but ensures you wont be blocked out by other patrons sitting at the bar when you just want to order a drink.  Genius!

Speaking of the bar, there will be multiple taps serving the Twisted Hippo brews alongside collaborations (where proceeds go to charity), and feature taps for other local craft brewers.

Another way they’re serving the local community is by providing an art space upstairs for artists who design labels for the beer to display some of their other creations.

The Twisted Hippo Brewpub has a goal to be as sustainable as possible.  A few of their initiatives include a green wall area that will be used by the kitchen, and re-using spent grains in their baked goods.

The Future of Twisted Hippo

The future is definitely bright for Twisted Hippo, and a big part of that is thanks to Karl’s vision.  He’s already looking into changing some of his brews from 22oz bottles to standard beer cans.  Tests have shown that potential customers are more willing to commit to a smaller can than a larger bottle if they’re unfamiliar with the brewery or the style of beer.

The cans will also help usher in the next phase of the building, which is slated to include a To-Go and Swag area for purchases, and Games Room.  There will also be many more developments coming in the form of sustainability and self sufficiency.

As you can see this is not your ordinary brewery, and definitely not your ordinary brewpub.

I’m so excited for this new brewpub, and I know many others are eagerly anticipating those doors flying open so we can start to Embrace Our Strange!

Have you ever seen a more unique, creative, customer-focused craft brewery?

Be sure to comment below and let me know what your favourite feature was, and where I should visit next!

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Blogger’s Jumpstart Guide – Download my FREE guide outlining how to successfully start your own blog