• What a handsome new sign!

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.

  • This is where CHAOS folks do their brewing.

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.)

  • This Blichmann Tower of Power (its actual name) is on loan from Tim Lange, one of two head brewers at Marz. Only the most advanced CHAOS members are permitted to use it.

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.

  • Board member Steven Lane transfers his imperial stout from a mash tun to a brew kettle. That skeptical look is for me, not for the 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!

  • The recipe for the aforementioned imperial stout

  • By the end of the boil, this inky wort had reached an original gravity of 1.094, or 22.5 degrees Plato.

  • You may notice that this Blichmann gas burner has way more little holes in it than anything on your kitchen stove.

  • I’d have gotten a better photo of the flames, except it’s frowned upon to run one of these burners with nothing on it.

  • Cold water circulates through this copper coil to carry away heat; immerse it in hot wort and it’ll take the temperature down below 70 degress in no time.

  • Blichmann Engineering wishes you to know that the word “BrewMometer” is trademarked. So no funny business.

  • Brewers use these recirculating fountains to clean fermentation vessels. The brown flecks near the neck of this carboy are hop residue from a previous batch.

  • The fermentation room, pegged at 65 degrees. Not pictured: A carboy with aluminum foil over its mouth instead of an airlock. (“Not up to spec,” in the words of CHAOS board member Jamie Proctor.)

  • Not that you can see anyone’s face, but from left to right: Chuck Mac, Steven Lane, Darren Miller, Jean Zelt, and Pete Alvarado.

  • This style of sink is pretty handy for washing unwieldy kettles (or mash paddles, in this case).

  • The pegboard at each brew station holds more than a dozen tools. You can’t really see the thermometers, hydrometers, and bulkhead brushes in this photo.

  • Empty carboys outside the fermentation room. If the daylight through the entrance weren’t so overexposed, you’d be able to see the Metra tracks outside.

  • Barrels from Corsair (I think) and High West Distillery

  • This barrel isn’t used to age beer—it’s rigged to pour from eight different kegs, and sees service at CHAOS parties.

  • The CHAOS keezer. (The word was new to me—it’s a portmanteau of “kegerator” and “freezer.”) Its taps are usually a mix of leftovers from parties and beers brewed to share at the space.

  • Bricks from the demolished CHAOS building in West Town hold the keezer’s temperamental lid closed.

  • The CHAOS bar is a display model donated by Aaron Heineman of Heineman Bar Company. He’s also founder of Breakroom Brewery, soon to open in the same Albany Park space as HBC. (That’s Jamie Proctor behind the bar.)

  • The room with the bar also contains one of CHAOS’s few attempts at decor.

  • Brewers tend to bring good stuff to share. The Cigar City cans came from Pete Alvarado. The hand-labeled bottle contains Darren Miller’s homemade kombucha, brewed with pekoe tea, rose hips, and Carolina Reaper chili peppers, among other things.

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!

Philip Montoro writes about beer and metal, singly or in combination, on Mondays.

Philip Montoro

Philip Montoro has been an editorial employee of the Reader since 1996 and its music editor since 2004. Pieces he has edited have appeared in Da Capo’s annual Best Music Writing anthologies in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. He shared two Lisagor Awards in 2019 for a story on gospel pioneer Lou Della Evans-Reid and another in 2021 for Leor Galil's history of Neo, and he’s also split three national awards from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia: one for multimedia in 2019 for his work on the TRiiBE collaboration the Block Beat, and two (in 2020 and 2022) for editing the music writing of Reader staffer Leor Galil. Philip has played scrap metal in Lozenge, drummed with the Disasters, the Afflictions, and Brilliant Pebbles, and sung for the White Outs. He wrote the column Beer and Metal from 2012 till 2015, and hopes to do so again one day. You can also follow him on Twitter.