Chicagoans know better than most that great things can rise from the ashes of a tragic fire. So the incremental re-emergence of Twisted Hippo Brewing in the wake of the destruction of its Albany Park brewpub (along with a neighboring gym and apartment building) in a devastating fire in February is something to be welcomed. Twisted Hippo is once again brewing beer and selling it on site—and soon it will do so in two locations.
The brewery has been surviving in the months since the fire with the help of fundraisers and appearances at festivals. “We got amazing support from both the local community—our regulars and everybody—and then the brewing community as well,” says Karl Rutherford, who owns Twisted Hippo with his wife, Marilee. “It’s almost overwhelming to talk about that level of support that we’ve received.”
One instance of that support came from District Brew Yards, a beer incubator and hall in West Town, which reached out shortly after the fire to check in. Before Twisted Hippo had opened their brewpub, they had considered joining District Brew Yards, but it didn’t work out. Now it made sense—and there was room available at an upcoming District Brew Yards location in the northwestern suburb of Wheeling. When Bold Dog Beer Company decided to shut down, their spot at the West Town location became available for Twisted Hippo as well. The Rutherfords are still looking for a space to open another brewpub in Albany Park, but for now they can continue operating out of both District Brew Yards.
“It’s kind of a marriage made in heaven for us, because we love their beer,” says Steve Soble, the founder of District Brew Yards.
Twisted Hippo joined District Brew Yards in West Town last month, and will also produce and sell beer at the Wheeling location when it opens in mid-September. It joins three other breweries at the West Town location: Soble’s own brewery, Burnt City Brewing; Around the Bend Beer Co.; and Casa Humilde. Each produces beer there and also sells it via a self-serve tap system as well as a to-go shop. Lillie’s Q also has an outpost supplying its barbeque in the hall.
The shared space allows breweries to share some operating costs: Soble was inspired to open it a few years ago when canning companies told him they could no longer supply his brewery with preprinted cans because his business was too small. He envisioned a food hall for beer, a dream that is fully coming to fruition at the new location in Wheeling. In addition to trying beer from different breweries there, guests will also be able to sample three different food options, all from chef Charlie McKenna: Lillie’s Q, fried chicken and fish from Salt & Scratch, and Mexican from Chicano Taqueria.
All four breweries from the West Town location will be in Wheeling, along with Histrionic Brewlab, which started at Logan Square’s Pilot Project Brewing. For Twisted Hippo, the two locations “allow us to get a little bit back to what we were able to do over at our brewpub,” says Rutherford. The availability of two different production systems at the West Town location allows them to brew small batches just for District Brew Yards as well as larger ones for distribution around the city. Wheeling provides additional production capacity and another eight taps for people to enjoy at the hall.
“We’re intending to see what does well in Chicago and see what does well in Wheeling and make sure that we’re doing our line-ups accordingly,” Rutherford says. “And then we’ve got some things that we’ve been making regularly that will see distribution, and a couple of beers that are actually brand new that will start seeing distribution as well, so we’re excited about that.”
The first beers that Twisted Hippo has produced at District Brew Yards are making their debut this weekend, at the Great Taste of the Midwest festival in Madison, Wisconsin. It’s perfect timing: only a few cases of beer produced at the old brewpub are left.
While Twisted Hippo gains new life via District Brew Yards, there will also be an homage to a now-shuttered business at the Wheeling location: the bowling alley Southport Lanes, which Soble bought in 1991 and closed in 2020. (The Boka restaurant group bought the more-than-a-century-old building and is transforming it into three restaurants.) Two tables at the new District Brew Yards will be constructed from wood from the bowling lanes.
“I love the idea of adaptive reuse of real estate and giving things a second life,” says Soble—for instance, the Wheeling District Brew Yards replaces a RAM Restaurant & Brewery. And that’s what District Brew Yards is currently doing for Twisted Hippo: giving it a second life in the wake of tragedy.