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Take a Look Inside Filbert's Old-School Root Beer Plant in McKinley Park

MCKINLEY PARK —  Ron Filbert is a fourth-generation pop wizard.

On most days, the blue-collar beverage boss rises before the sun to brew his family's famous root beer: Filbert’s, a 90-year-old neighborhood institution. 

In the bowels of a brick warehouse at 3430 S. Ashland Ave., Filbert and a small work crew mix, bottle and package 30 varieties of Filbert's pop for more than 400 businesses around Chicago and beyond.

“We’re all over,” Filbert said.

Filbert's is sold at neighborhood shops like Jackalope Coffee & Tea House, Johnny O's, Maria's Packaged Goods — and Mariano's.

As far west as Aurora, as far north as Gurnee and as far south as Matteson, Filbert's has a flavor for everyone. Everything from root beer, cola and cream soda to banana, peach and watermelon.

The Filbert's story began in Bridgeport.

In the early 1900s, Ron's great-grandfather, George Filbert, rode through the streets of this storied South Side neighborhood with his wife and son in a horse-drawn wagon to deliver milk, ice and coal to markets and homes.

The Filberts later brewed beer — until the height of Prohibition, when the booze trade fizzled out and root beer became one of the country's most cherished soft drinks.

George Filbert's son, Charlie, cooked up his own recipe and manufactured batches by the half-barrel.

It wasn't long before many of Chicago’s taverns on both sides of the city served Filbert’s root beer on draft.

Charlie Filbert ran the company until 1976, when he died and left the business to his son.

In 1988, Ron Filbert bought Filbert’s Sodas from his dad, more than 60 years after the family brewed its first root beer.

At the warehouse, in a little upstairs room, is a mixing room where Filbert blends together sugar and water until the syrup’s sweetness is just right.

Fed through a hose, the flavored syrup is sent downstairs to the bottling room, where Filbert watches over the pop-making machine.

Empty glass bottles are put on a conveyor belt and sent down a track like soldiers marching into battle. They rattle and clink.

On their way to a cardboard box, the bottles are rinsed, filled, capped, mixed and labeled.

At the end of the line, a worker packs the fresh pop into boxes, and another stacks them on pallets.

Dennis Antkowiak is one of those workers, a beverage professional for the last 45 years.

On a recent Monday morning, the man at the end of the bottle run was Mike Filbert, another son from one of Chicago's most celebrated root beer families.

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