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Rick Bayless Launching First Beer Line on Thursday, Previews Cruz Blanca Brews

First available at XOCO Wicker Park, the beer offers a sneak preview of his West Loop nanobrewery.

Rick Bayless at the Chicago Food + Wine Festival
Rick Bayless at the Chicago Food + Wine Festival
Shea Flynn

Rick Bayless is employing a chef's intensity when sampling and adjusting the Mexican flavors in the beers that he'll brew at Cruz Blanca, his West Loop brewpub slated for a spring opening. But beer nerds won't have to wait until then to taste, as Bayless and co. will tap the first kegs of his Tocayo Hominy White Ale, contract brewed by Two Brothers Brewing Co., on Thursday night at Xoco Bistro in Wicker Park.

The Tribune delved deep into Bayless' approach to beer, but offered one small clue to the food at Cruz Blanca: Expect a small, yet exciting menu, Bayless told the Trib.

Bayless continues to expand the relationship he's developed with Constellation Brands, a rapport that's been forged since the beer company underwrote Bayless' PBS-TV show "Mexico: One Plate at a Time." He's also using the same approach to brewing as he employs as a chef, which entails constantly brainstorming and using ingredients in creative ways. For example, he suggested running hominy kernels through the same mill used for malted grain to produce better aroma and flavor. Cruz Blanca's flagship beer, La Guardia, is a bière de garde — a sessional pale ale with hominy and epazote.

The beer will initially be distributed only in the Chicago area, with plans to expand with Constellation later. The enterprise of brewing is an about face for Bayless, who more than two decades ago removed the draft beer lines at Frontera Grill. Times have changed.

Xoco Wicker Park

1471 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60622 (872) 829-3821 Visit Website

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