NEAR WEST SIDE — Every day at lunchtime, there's a pack of German workers dressed in matching royal blue jumpsuits who march from Lagunitas Brewery across the street to Chicago's craft brew "Embassy."
It's the brick three-flat on Washtenaw that's a home-away-from-home for the team of craftsmen sent to the brewery to install the massive 250-barrel craft brew operation imported from their homeland.
The team of German welders, technicians and specially trained brewery builders — who, if we're being honest, rather resemble a gaggle of tall "Oompa Loopas" in blue jumpsuits — arrived at Lagunitas' Willy Wonka-esque craft brewery in waves starting in October.
"First there were three Germans, and four days later, five more showed up. Then, eight more," Lagunitas spokeswoman Karen Hamilton said.
And by late fall, there were nearly 30 of them — Armin, Christoph, Heiko, Manfred, Wolfgang, Andre, Graham, Josef, Lance, Geunther and too many Peters to count — gathered around a table for their Thanksgiving feast.
Rather than put the Germans up in hotels and give them a few bucks for lunch, the folks at Lagunitas bought a building across from the brewery, got rid of the "black mold, black rats and cockroaches," renovated the bedrooms and decorated each room with pictures of a different country's embassy.
"I know staying in a hotel gets very old, and we wanted to have something nicer for them, a place that's homier with a short walk to work," Hamilton said. "It's comfortable like a bed and breakfast."
Calling the Lagunitas Embassy a "bed and lunch" might be closer to the truth.
Since Lagunitas had hired chef Bob Chamberlain — but didn't have a kitchen for him to cook in yet — they set him up at the Embassy to cook the Germans a gourmet "mittagessen" — or midday food — six days a week.
What do you feed 26 hungry Germans?
"Sauerbraten, schnitzels, stews, goulash, bratwurst, roasted pork, smoked ham, and they want to have an American experience, so I throw in the occasional ‘hamboogah,' " Chamberlain said with a smile.
"They come over, get their plates lined up and dine around the table. They have a good time relaxing. And these guys never ate so good at lunch."
Chamberlain — a former chef at Wrigley Field who a Tribune sportswriter dubbed the "Sultan of Smoke" — said some of his Embassy lunch creations will make the Lagunitas "TapRoom" menu when it opens in mid-June.
"We'll have a wurst of the day and burgers and bake our own breads by using yeast from the brewery," Chamberlain said. "There will be a lot of beer-infused things on the menu. Beer mussels, marinated sausages and a ‘DayTime' brat, which is cooked in our DayTime Ale, which just won a gold medal at the World Beer Cup."
Speaking of beer, the German brewery builders, as you might expect, like to enjoy the frothy fruits of their labor — a perk of their business that makes the Embassy an especially welcoming place to call home.
"These guys drink beer like you've never seen anyone drink beer," Hamilton said. "I mean a lot of beer. Seriously. And they're certainly supplied with beer. … There's beer everywhere in here."
On a recent visit, two cases were waiting for workers at the front door and each of three refrigerators were stocked with tasty Lagunitas brew.
The Embassy's German population has declined some since most of the brewery is up and running, but that won't last.
"Every three months we're getting two more fermenters, and that will continue to happen," Hamilton said. "And we've ordered another 250-barrel system that will arrive in November 2015. So we're going to have Germans here at the Embassy for quite a while."
But the Germans aren't the only guests at the Embassy — brewery employees, including electricians, out-of-town office staff and brewers regularly stay there, too.
In fact, earlier this month, a team of acrobats and "freaky performers" in town for the Lagunitas Beer Circus stayed with the German crew.
The Embassy isn't the California-based brewing company's only residential crash pad in Chicago. Lagunitas also has a place in Uptown called the "Safe House" — a fancier version the Embassy offered as a crash pad for company executives, beer distributors and other clients.
"It's a little more upscale and close enough to Wrigley where you can walk to all the bars and stuff," Hamilton said.
In the summer, there's also an unwritten rule that Hamilton says shows Lagunitas is committed to Chicago's local baseball customs.
"Down here at the Embassy, we go to Sox games. Up there, we go to Cubs games," she said. "We know how it works."
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