Dry January, not Beerless January

Go Brewing in Naperville, Illinois’ only no- and low-alcohol craft brewery, encourages customers to go boozeless.

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Joe Chura draws a brew at his Go Brewing brewpub in Naperville. The first craft brewery to brew only lo- and no-alcohol beers, it opened in October and is having a brisk Dry January business.

Joe Chura draws a brew at his Go Brewing brewpub in Naperville. The first craft brewery to brew only lo- and no-alcohol beers, it opened in October and is having a brisk Dry January business.

Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

Joe Chura is more than halfway through a dry January. Or make that Dry January, capital D, now that it is an official cultural phenomenon.

One in five U.S. adults told pollsters they planned to go the whole first month of 2023 without alcohol. It’s the same in the United Kingdom.

Why swear off booze for a whole month?

“One, I needed to, personally, I wanted to take a month off completely from drinking,” said Chura, a 45-year-old father of three. “But secondly, I wanted to create a challenge for a group of people that wanted to try for the first time or do it again. And I couldn’t have it without myself doing it. This is a very unique experience that someone can come here.”

Opinion bug

Opinion

“Here” is Go Brewing, the craft brewery that Chura started in Naperville last October that brews only no- and low-alcohol beers — the first in Illinois.

Regular readers might be aware that every January is Dry January for me — and February, and March, and on through the year. For the past 17 years, which means I remember when you were lucky to find O’Douls at a bar. Now you can buy Bud Zero at Wrigley Field and there are shelves of exotic NA IPAs at Binny’s.

Four hundred people signed up to do Dry January with Chura, and Go Brewing offers regular activities like CrossFit-style workouts and live-band karaoke nights. (The pub does offer several full alcohol guest beers for those who just won’t be denied.)

When Chura opened his doors, he expected his average customer to be a “40-year-old who is gaining weight and wants to be healthy.”

”The brand was built around that,” said Chura, who was surprised by who walked in.

“Week one, 50% or more of the people who came in here were in recovery or couldn’t drink for health reasons. I looked at them and thought, ‘Holy s—t, I got this wrong.’”

Joe Chura removes a type of beer no longer available at Go Brewing, a Naperville craft brewery that experiments with various flavors and varieties in addition to its five “core beers.”

Joe Chura removes a type of beer no longer available at Go Brewing, a Naperville craft brewery that experiments with various flavors and varieties in addition to its five “core beers.”

Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

Which is unusual for Chura, who has had considerable business success. He grew up in Calumet City and worked the line in the Ford plant on Torrence Avenue, rising through the Ford ranks while getting his education. He became a car dealer, jumped on the internet, founding Dealer Inspire and Launch Digital Marketing, both snapped up by Cars.com for $165 million in 2018.

That will buy a lot of stainless steel tanks, centrifuges and state-of-the-art canning equipment, which explains why his brewery has less of a shoestring feel than other ambitious craft brewers. And the fancy etching on the glass hatches.

“This is such a passion,” Chura said. “It combines everything I love.”

Brewing beer is complicated; brewing NA beer is more so. Alcohol does more than just deliver a buzz — and, recent studies show, deteriorate health. It’s also key both in a beer’s taste and in keeping bacteria at bay. Go Brewing beers must be pasteurized to compensate. The alcohol isn’t removed; rather, the beer is brewed so that it never forms.

“Every batch we learn from,” head brewer James Bigler said.

Since I’ve been in enough rooms to know that certain AA types view drinking nonalcoholic beer as the same as drinking Jack Daniels — a diving leap down the greased slide into the abyss — I should point out: a) your opinion is noted; b) work your own program, and c) if I could drink a regular beer and be satisfied with one the way I am with an NA beer, then I’d flutter my hands to heaven and declare myself cured.

So how do Go Brewing beers taste? While I’m no connoisseur — my standard go-to beer is NA Pabst Blue Ribbon, which tastes just as mediocre as regular PBR — I sampled the lot, with names like Mango Peach Hazy IPA and Sunbeam Pilsner. I enjoyed the taste of their Grapefruit IPA and found the Street Cred Stout almost Guinness-like.

“Our goal is to have the first NA black and tan for St. Paddy’s Day,” said Chura.

On Friday afternoon several tables were taken by customers busy at their laptops. One was Kimberly White, executive director at Career & Networking Center in Naperville. She’s doing Dry January.

“My husband and I thought, ‘Let’s just focus on being healthy and starting the new year off right,’ she said.

Has it been hard?

“No,” she said. “You know why it hasn’t been hard? This mango, it’s the best. It’s very good.”

Kimberly White does work for the Career & Networking Center while enjoying a nonalcoholic Mango Peach Hazy IPA at Go Brewing in Naperville.

Kimberly White does work for the Career & Networking Center while enjoying a nonalcoholic Mango Peach Hazy IPA at Go Brewing in Naperville.

Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

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