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Breakroom Brewery Sneak Peek: Irving Park Brewpub Preps for Opening Day

By Patty Wetli | December 22, 2014 5:23am
 The Irving Park brewpub is "trying to open as fast as we can," the general manager said.
Peek Inside Breakroom Brewery
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IRVING PARK — When it comes to building bars, woodworker Aaron Heineman is Chicago's go-to guy.

You can belly up to his handiwork at Revolution Brewing, Gale Street Inn and Old Town Social, among others, but Heineman's commission for Breakroom Brewery's 40-footer is perhaps his most important project to date.

It's certainly the most personal — Heineman is Breakroom's founder, president and CEO.

For every client who's ever told him "You wouldn't understand" the challenges of getting a bar up and running, Heineman can now answer, "Yes I do."

The genesis of Breakroom is right there in the name. The location, 2925 W. Montrose Ave., was the break room for Heineman Bar Company's employees (hence the brewery's saw blade logo), who served as some of the earliest taste testers of Heineman's home brewing efforts.

Patty Wetli says their fans are eager for the brewery to open:

And that's still the vibe Breakroom is aiming for when it opens, fingers crossed, by the end of January.

"It's a place to take a break after a hard day's work," said Dean Ordzowialy, general manager.

Brewing in a Fishbowl

Chicago's craft beer scene may seem crowded, but not to the folks of Irving Park and neighboring Albany Park.

"If you look down this strip, there's nothing here," Heineman, who lives just blocks away, said of Breakroom's location. "The people here are starving for a place to come. We have 6,000 fans on Facebook, and all 6,000 ask us daily when we're going to open."

Instead of attempting to nab shelf or tap space at liquor stores and pubs, which already are bombarded with craft beer offerings, Heineman will sell Breakroom's beers exclusively at the brewpub to start, the intent being to build a personal connection with customers.

"This is the only place you're going to find our beer, the only place you're going to find our culture," he said.

"We want to have people come in, meet great people and have an amazing experience," Ordzowialy added.

Head brewer Mike Pallen, who frequently bikes to work from his home in Park Ridge, plans to arrange his schedule so that he's occasionally brewing during the pub's hours of operation.

"Aaron's always wanted Breakroom to be a fishbowl," said Pallen, who some may know from his own venture, Mikerphone Brewing, or his days at 18th Street Brewery.

Windows will be cut into the brewery's walls to give patrons a glimpse into Heineman's adjacent woodworking operation (office staff work inside a tent, to keep wood dust off computers), and a large garage door will open onto Montrose, offering up Breakroom eye candy — fermenters, wood trusses, corrugated steel walls — to passersby.

Oh, and speaking of fishbowls, Breakroom will figure prominently in an upcoming Discovery Channel series on Heineman Bar Co., set to air sometime in the first quarter of 2015.

"They kind of stalked us," Heineman said of the cable network.

After years of saying no, he finally agreed to the filming.

"I'm looking to build and strengthen our business," he said. "I want to be able to share what we do."

'Bigger, badder, ballsier'

OK, let's cut to the chase. What about the beer?

Breakroom has eight 10-barrel fermenters and 10 "bright" serving tanks, with the capability to have more than 10 beers on tap at any one time.

Pallen, who early on promised his brews would be "bigger, badder and ballsier," has made nearly 100 test batches and previewed a good number of them at festivals, events and tap takeovers.

"I've been lucky to get my hands on some of the best hops," he said. "We'll come out of the gate with some heavy IPAs."

As a nod to the many young families likely to patronize Breakroom, Pallen is also brewing a house root beer — kids can join the root beer mug club for free.

Big on flavor — if a beer is advertised as a chocolate stout, he thinks you should be able to taste the chocolate — Pallen is a fan of single-hop beers that allow the uniqueness of each hop to shine through, and he also plans on producing sour beers.

For the latter, Breakroom acquired a white oak foeder (pronounced "fooder"), which is a large wood vessel used to hold wine.

Breakroom's foeder is contaminated with brettanomyces, a compound that's a "wine-maker's devil," Pallen said, but "will funk up the beer" in the best sense of the word. The foeder holds 550 gallons, and a beer can stew inside for a year.

'Trying to open as fast as we can'

Announced in 2013, Breakroom has been a labor of love and occasionally frustrating for Heineman, Pallen and Ordzowialy.

"We're trying to open as fast as we can," Ordzowialy said.

Budgets swell. Construction reveals the occasional surprise — like the need for all new plumbing — and city licenses and inspections always take longer than expected.

"The thing that keeps us going is Aaron's passion," said Ordzowialy.

"I'm doing exactly what I want to do," Heineman said. "My big philosophy is, if you're not enjoying what you do, what are you doing?"

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