Middle Brow Beer Company serving up and giving back

Since launching in 2011, the Logan Square establishment has donated $25,000 to charities benefitting anti-violence, immigration activism, food banks, women’s health and homelessness initiatives.

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At the heart of Middle Brow Beer Company are some compelling highbrow ideals. The self-labeled “experimental brewery” description extends beyond its focus on unusual beers to its socially-conscious business plan.

Since launching in 2011, they’ve donated $25,000 to charities benefitting anti-violence, immigration activism, food banks, women’s health and homelessness initiatives.

“All the beer we make off site [around 500 barrels a year], we donate half the gross profits,” said co-founder Pete Ternes. Beer is brewed and packaged at contracted brewery locations despite the opening of their brick-and-mortar location earlier this year.

At Bungalow (2840 W. Armitage), their all-day cafe serving housemade breads, beer and pizza, the Middle Brow team has had to be more creative with their philanthropic efforts due to the costs associated with running a restaurant.

Beers made at Middle Brow Bungalow, from left to right they are called “Into the Woods” (IPA), “Lodger”(hefeweizen), and “Mexican Coffee Shields” (stout). | Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Beers made at Middle Brow Bungalow include (from left): “Into the Woods” (IPA), “Lodger”(hefeweizen), and “Mexican Coffee Shields” (stout).

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Giving back includes monthly community events and a free breakfast program to CPS kids on occasional Saturdays. In September, they’ll launch a workforce development program with an on-site social worker designed to help at-risk youth and adults from the neighborhood.

“We need to think less about squeezing every last dime out of the restaurant... [and more about] giving people a nice place to work which makes them happy [which in turn] makes customers happy,” said Ternes. The former corporate tax attorney, who has yet to pay himself a salary, added, “Doing this later in life … learning that money isn’t the be all and end all, it makes it a lot easier to do that here.”

Middle Brow is a family business — two of Ternes’ sisters work at the brewpub, and his wife, Polly Nevins, is general manager. The bright and airy space is styled with decor leftover from their wedding last August, along with heirlooms like an upright piano that has been in Ternes’ family for over 100 years.

“It was never really about money but how do we have a company in this industry that’s all about consumption and luxury and [do it in a] socially conscious way,” said Nevins. “It’s been a hard way to start a business but in the end it’s paid off... because it’s become a community-based company.”

The bar and dining room at Middle Brow Bungalow. | Brian Rich/Sun-Times

The bar and dining room at Middle Brow Bungalow.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

“A bungalow is a starter home, or at least it was, for the working and middle classes,” said Ternes, “In a sense this [Bungalow] is our starter home … so there’s a lot of that middle-class, down-home hospitality, community feeling here.”

Even if you don’t care to delve too much into Middle Brow’s philosophy, the beers are delicious and an easy way to give back with your purchase.

Brewmaster Bryan Grohnke wants to give drinkers more than just IPAs and lagers. He’s focused on “yeast-forward” beers, with unique and wild yeast strains that result in flavor profiles from sour, tart and spice to barnyard and funk. Three prominently stacked, enormous foeders (300-gallon wood vessels used to age beer) factor prominently in the output of these “weird” beers.

On draft, a rotating beer selection regularly features at least one sour, aged or fermented foeder offering, and a release from a specific series. Standards include the Bungalow lager and the Robyn flagship saison. On my recent visit there was an imperial milk stout and a strawberry brut IPA.

”Every last beer we make is approachable to a non-beer drinker. They don’t have to think about it at all. It’s just a delicious beer but to beer fans it’s incredibly subtle, complex and surprising,” said Ternes. “It tastes like nothing they’ve ever had and they’ll want to have another one.”

The margherita pizza at Middle Brow Bungalow, is topped with fresh mozzarella and herbs. | Brian Rich/Sun-Times

The margherita pizza at Middle Brow Bungalow, is topped with fresh mozzarella and herbs.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

“Similar to the beer, the food may seem simple but they’re canvases for playful ingredients we find at the market and collaborations,” said Nevins. “Fermentation and grains are the two things that tie the whole menu together.”

Jess Galli is the head baker responsible for the breads and pizza dough. A whole-grain wheat round loaf is not to be missed. Also, a naturally leavened, sprouted rye bread packs surprising punches of sweetness. Pizza crusts are routinely eaten with in-house cultured butter.

Pizza choices include margherita, sausage and butternut squash. The house favorite is the mushroom with cream sauce and caramelized onion. Vegan and gluten free options are available.

“You shape the world you live in with where you put your dollar. It’s kind of like voting with your dollar,” said Nevins. “It goes beyond just the cup of coffee, pizza or beer to the philosophy of socially conscious consumption.”

Bungalow at Middle Brow is located at 2840 W. Armitage. For more information call (773) 687-9076 or visit www.middlebrowbeer.com

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