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Chicago's craft beer history on tap at Fountainhead

Cleetus Friedman is executive chef at Fountainhead, a restaurant and bar on Chicago's North Side that has long been known for its beer and whiskey selections.
Cleetus Friedman is executive chef at Fountainhead, a restaurant and bar on Chicago's North Side that has long been known for its beer and whiskey selections.
Bob Benenson

It took a while for the rising tide of craft beermaking to reach Chicago’s shores. For many years, from the late 1980s until about a decade ago, it was Goose Island and not much else. But change -- which initially came gradually -- has become a flood, with dozens of new breweries coming on line just within the past few years.

This history will be documented -- by the glass -- over the next week in an event called “It Comes in Waves” staged by Fountainhead on Chicago’s North Side. It Comes in Waves is the restaurant and craft bar’s contribution to Chicago Craft Beer Week, which has spawned numerous events around the city and its suburbs.

From Wednesday through next Tuesday, Fountainhead will provide a rotation of beers on tap representing what executive chef Cleetus Friedman describes as the four waves of Chicago craft beer.

“There’s the first wave, Goose Island, Three Floyds, Two Brothers, who are now the grandfathers of the craft beer movement,” Friedman said. “Then you have the second wave, which is Half Acre, Metropolitan, Revolution. Then you have the third wave, which is a million. You have 5 Rabbit, Solemn Oath, Ale Syndicate, DryHop, Begyle, Pipeworks, Spiteful, Off Color, Penrose. The list goes on.”

Friedman includes himself in the fourth wave, which is made up of one-off collaborations among brewers and between brewers and culinary types like himself. “I’ve done over 30 collaborations,” he said.

In fact, a spirit of collaboration is one of the trademarks of craft beer nationally, a “rising tide lifts all boats” philosophy as producers in this sector work to erode the longstanding dominance of mass beermakers such as Anheuser Busch and MillerCoors. “It’s an amazing community of people who just want to bounce ideas off each other.... It’s this communal celebration of the craft that makes what we do so exciting. I’ve never seen bad blood among any of them,” Friedman said.

Friedman is native of Baltimore, where he began his career in food before moving to Chicago in 1995. He added that there’s an element of Midwestern nice that lubricates the clubby relationships within the Chicago beer community. “Me being from the East Coast, what I love about the Midwest is this mentality of friendliness. There’s none of that, ‘I’m gonna [expletive] take you down,’” he said.

He added that the recent proliferation of local breweries is forcing producers to up their game by experimenting with different styles and ingredients, something that will be in evidence in the beers on tap during Fountainhead’s It Comes in Waves event.

“It’s amazing to see the quality coming out of all of these people and how they differentiate. You can’t just put out a pale ale because nobody’s gonna care,” Friedman said. “Our capacity for knowledge and our palate has become so distinguished that you have to put out something amazing and something different.”

Fountainhead is located at the corner of Montrose and Damen in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood.

Note: Fountainhead is located in the Ravenswood neighborhood. The original post of this story mistakenly identified it as River North.