The surge in brewery taproom openings in Chicago may delight typical beer drinkers, but they pose a threat to some bars which are seeing fewer customers. Several popular Chicago craft beer owners are voicing concerns over a law passed last week that they say will pose bigger challenges to their businesses. Last week, Governor Bruce Rauner lifted restrictions that prevented larger breweries from serving beer and cider from other companies at their facilities. Now companies like Half Acre Beer Company and Revolution Brewing will be able to pour beers from other brewers if they want.
While Springfield lauded the law for providing consumers with more choices, bar owners said the law creates an uneven playing field. The law further dissolves the line between taproom and bar by eliminating one of a bar’s competitive advantages. A bar still can sell wine and spirits, unlike a taproom.
Michael Roper, owner of Hopleaf — one of the city’s best craft beer bars — told Brewbound that taprooms are already taking customers away from his Andersonville icon. They’ve reportedly hurt other craft beer bars, too. The bigger companies, like Constellation Brands-owned Ballast Point Brewing (which earlier this year opened its first Chicago location), have a “have a leg up on traditional taverns and bars.” Roper said they can’t compete against the big guys who can lobby lawmakers. These brewers already enjoy high-profit margins from selling their own beers at their taprooms.
Other bar owners, including Craig Fass — owner of The Bad Apple (which was recently put up for sale) — told Brewhound about how brewery taprooms aren’t subject to the same zoning laws as bars. That means taprooms could open in areas that bars can’t.
The breweries, unsurprisingly, approve the new law. Josh Deth, owner of Revolution, said his taproom will focus on selling their own beer and won’t masquerade as a bar. Half Acre founder Gabriel Magliaro said the law will allow his brewery to serve collaboration beers made with other breweries.
The law affects breweries which make 30,000 barrels a year. These breweries aren’t allowed to own brewpubs — taprooms with kitchens that serve food. The new law seemingly gets around the brewpub restriction; brewpubs are allowed to serve beer from other breweries. It also affects breweries which make up to 120,000 barrels a year.
- Bill Status of HB4897 [Illinois General Assembly]
- Rauner Signs Bill Lifting Restriction on Craft Breweries [Illinois Policy]
- Illinois Bar Owners Voice Opposition to Law Allowing Taprooms to Sell Other Companies’ Beer and Cider [Brewhound]