This weekend, the lights at the Great American Beer Festival shone favorably on Chicagoland breweries. Eight breweries in the area won various medals, including the West Loop newcomer, On Tour Brewing Company, which opened just nine months ago. The brewery walked away from the Denver festival with two medals, a gold in the Maibock category and winner of the “Best Very Small Brewing Company and Brewmaster of 2017” category. On Tour owner/founder, Mark Legenza, is proud of what the brewery’s been able to do in the small amount of time it’s been open, with an emphasis on making excellent on-style beers and fostering community.
Legenza wanted to create a space in West Loop where people could take a pause on their busy lives, because he has a belief that beer brings people together. Eater Chicago spoke to Legenza about what he thinks is in store for the Chicago craft beer scene and what’s next for On Tour.
EC: What’s it like to win Best Very Small Brewing Company and Brewmaster of 2017 at Great American Brewing Festival after being open for such a short time?
L: Being nine months open we’re really proud of everything that we’re doing from our operations to our guest experience and beers we’re putting out. We feel like we’re doing a good job, and we’re getting more recognition in the community. It’s a huge deal to get a national award—we didn’t expect it in our first nine months.
EC: Chicago took home a lot of medals at this year’s GABF, what does that say about Chicago’s brewing scene?
L: I think Chicago’s brewing scene is picking up momentum throughout the country. If you look at other cities around the country, there certainly are meccas for beer, like Oregon, Colorado and California. For Illinois to win 10 medals, it means people are excelling at making beers in the Midwest. It’s exciting to be a part of that.
EC: What makes On Tour Brewing stand out?
L: You know, we’re not trying to be different. We’ve been having success combining a bunch of real important elements. Good quality, we’re getting recognized for that. The guest experience, people like the space and the staff—to have all of those things working together just makes it work. We’re not trying to stand out. We’re just trying to do what’s important as well as we can, just as clean as it can. We just spend a lot of time and thought into what we feel is important to our success.
EC: Why West Loop?
L: You know the neighborhood that we found checked off a lot of boxes for me, that was a standout. There’s not a lot of areas that you can find 5,000 to 10,000 square foot spaces in abundance, but in the area that we’re in they’re in abundance. Plus, the building just spoke to me. We’re also meeting with the other breweries in the area and are beginning discussions on starting a Chicago Brewing District in that area. There’s not a lot of places in Chicago that you can try a bunch of different breweries within walking distance, but in West Loop you can try five or six that are super walkable even on the coldest day of the year. One of the reasons we picked that location is that in the future we feel that more breweries in that area. In Denver there’s an emergence of brewing districts, and you just can’t physically go to all of them in a day. That’s awesome. I think that that has the opportunity to happen where we are.
EC: Any plans to expand or add more events like On Tour’s regular beer yoga or anything similar?
L: In the near future, we have a Halloween costume party coming up. But we also have some fun things coming up this fall and this holiday season for specific events. There will be a couple of bands on the schedule for the next few months and some holiday food donation drives in conjunction with Thanksgiving and December holiday season. We’ll start releasing some barrel aged beer that we’re excited about this winter, along with some fun seasonals. We’re also open seven days a week, so you don’t have to just come in for brewery tours, you can come and have a beer whenever.
EC: What’s in store for On Tour Brewing?
We’re just gonna keep doing what we’ve been doing. We have a lot of success with our plan, there’s no reason to completely alter it. We’d like to produce a little more beer and get out of the “very small brewery” category. We’re not at capacity yet, so we want to and hope to make more beer to get to full capacity.
EC: What’s in store for the Chicago craft beer scene?
L: When I was at the airport on the way back yesterday, there was a sign that says there’s 148 breweries in Denver and the population is just over a million. It’s a big scene for beer in general, and I think it’s growing to be a big scene for local beer. But the city can support hundreds of new breweries in my opinion. I think we’re gonna see more breweries coming to Chicago—a combination of out-of-state breweries and some small local startups.