Regular readers may remember my column from July 2013, about CHAOS Brew Club's Summer Brew-BQ—the group's last party in its old home near Grand and Ogden. CHAOS has been operating out of a new, larger space at 2417 W. Hubbard for more than a year, and I've finally found a pretext to write about it again without simply summarizing another party: Learn to Homebrew Day, which the American Homebrewers Association has declared to be Saturday, November 1.
For you lazy bastards who can't be bothered to read that old post, CHAOS is a Chicago-based nonprofit home-brewing collective. Monthly or quarterly membership dues (more on those in a moment) buy you the right to use the collective's space and equipment to make your own beer—all you need to bring is a carboy, a fermentation lock, and your raw ingredients. You're not allowed to sell anything you brew, but that's the only catch. CHAOS will celebrate National Homebrew Day with a free Saturday open house from 11:30 AM till 6:30 PM, where club members will give free introductory brewing demonstrations.
CHAOS ordinarily holds open houses on the third Saturday of every month, and I visited this past weekend to take murky photos and ask dumb questions—because I don't brew, I couldn't reliably guess the function of every piece of equipment. (With my cozy, cluttered one-bedroom apartment, I'd be a perfect candidate for CHAOS membership—except I live eight miles away, without a car or a bike trailer.)
The current CHAOS space, at about 2,000 square feet, holds five brewing stations so far, with room for more; the West Town brew house had four. The fermentation room, held at roughly 65 degrees year-round, can fit about 160 batches of beer, compared to 80 in the old facility. There's more space for barrel aging too. When Gwynedd Stuart wrote about CHAOS for the Reader's "Show us your . . . " feature last year, board member Conrad Fuhrman told her, "From what we can tell we're the only club in the nation that has brewing and storage on premises."
CHAOS has 54 "brewer" level members (with full access to the brew house), 24 "apprentice" members (access if accompanied by a brewer), and 62 "friends" (who can attend classes and events but can't brew). That's a modest increase from last July, when it had 43 brewers, 23 apprentices, and 46 friends. Friends pay $21 per quarter, apprentices $45 per quarter, and brewers $26 per month. Thirty bucks gets you a trial membership—basically a 60-day apprenticeship. CHAOS usually takes on 40 to 60 trial members at each of its quarterly parties, since admission to the party requires club membership.
The CHAOS brewing room is hardly the most immaculately finished space—few of my photos show the ceiling, because who takes pictures of ceilings, but in places it's straight-up missing. The collective has opted to spend its money elsewhere—on the floor, for instance. Granted, it's bare concrete, but it's bare concrete that CHAOS members paid to have poured when they moved in—it all slopes gently down to a central drain to help deal with the inevitable spills of water, wort, and beer.
Though the room has the barely decorated, utilitarian feel of a band practice space, some of the people making beer here have definitely graduated from the "figuring it out" phase of home brewing. If my thumbnail reviews from last summer's party didn't convince you that CHAOS members can brew professional-quality beer, then consider that several of them are in fact professionals: Pete Alvarado of Marz Community Brewing is a former CHAOS vice president, and Eli Espinoza, also of Marz, is a member too. He's responsible for Jungle Boogie, a hoppy amber ale brewed with wheat and rooibos that I fell in love with last week at the Hopleaf.
What follows is a brief tour of the CHAOS facility. Not every piece of equipment proved particularly photographable—I don't have pics of the bottling table, the powered grain mill, or the "hot box," which is kept at 90 degrees or more for saisons and other ales that benefit from warm fermentation—but you'll get the idea, I'm sure. If you can't make beer at CHAOS, it may be time to consider the possibility that you can't make beer.
I almost forgot—click on any photo to enlarge. Some of them are actually in focus, so you'll be able to see details that way!
You don't exactly have to turn over rocks to find metal songs whose titles use the word "chaos." (Encyclopaedia Metallum lists more than 4,000.) This profusion of options allows me to present you with a song from a band I genuinely like: Portland doom four-piece Usnea. "Chaoskampf" appears on their 2013 self-titled full-length.
A new Usnea album, Random Cosmic Violence, comes out November 10. It's their first release via metal institution Relapse Records, and congratulations to them for that!