A year or two ago, I was tasked with researching the brewing history of Kankakee. The name that jumped out to me then was the F.D. Radeke Brewing Company, which was located near Dearborn and River streets, right next to Jaenicke’s. I Googled what I could about the brewery, but researching things about Kankakee is not that easy.
So, I visited the Kankakee County Museum in Small Park. I found artifacts from the brewery and some interesting photos. What I was looking for was a recipe of one of its beers in hopes of reviving its legacy locally. That didn’t pan out, but the journey of discovery was fascinating. F.D. Radeke Brewing Company was a big player in the region. What eventually closed down Radeke, like so many other breweries of that era, was the Volstead Act, more widely known as Prohibition.
When alcohol sales were made illegal, that made its business illegal. Many breweries tried to survive the new regulations by converting to selling ice, which was a “hot,” commodity as many families were acquiring iceboxes at the time. The brewery also tried to pivot to soft drinks, such as root beer. They struggled until brewing could begin again but ultimately didn’t survive. I bring all of this up because something happened recently that reminded me of this mission.
A old brewery has been sparked back to life in Chicago — Conrad Seipp Brewing Co. Right now, its beer is produced at German lager house Metropolitan Brewing, one of my favorites of the city. Seipp Brewing — Seipp which rhymes with hype, according to its website — has been revived by Laurin Mack, the great-great-great granddaughter of Conrad Seipp. Mack wanted to embark on this mission because she always has looked up to the family’s patriarch.
Seipp’s brewery, founded in 1854 in Chicago, survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. There are similarities between the woes these past breweries faced to the threats current businesses are enduring in the coronavirus pandemic. By now, we all hear COVID-related stories constantly. Especially with school starting back up, we are all likely to continue to hear more and more as the weeks go on. It has been on my mind lately what another potential reversal to an earlier phase might do to the craft beer industry.
Things such as an aluminum shortage and the effects of distribution delays could do a lot of damage. These are not pleasant things to dwell on, but this one odd story came roaring out of my research this week. This resurrected brewery tells of an older time when a city-wide fire had the power to derail an entire city. Now, a global pandemic could disrupt the trajectory of a whole country. Similar to F.D. Radeke Brewing Co., the previous iteration of Seipp Brewing had to close its doors because of the Volstead Act. Not much could withstand such a movement. What gives me hope is Seipp survived the fire.
The Great Chicago Fire continues to live on in the popular consciousness of the city. Spiteful Brewing on the north side even has a beer named after Mrs. O’Leary — whose cow widely is believed to have started the fire — and plenty else brings this historical event to our minds. Chicago rebuilt eventually. It took some time, and the city changed because of it. People pitched in, I imagine, to help save what they could from the loss and rebuild when it was over. Seipp continued to brew during it, and according to the new brewery, their beer was enjoyed by the workers helping to rebuild the city.
The challenge of COVID hopefully someday will be met by smart, hard-working scientists and medical professionals bringing back to our lives some sense of normalcy. The strain coronavirus has brought to us will continue to be felt for years to come. Some things will be lost. Perhaps we have not yet seen the extent to which we have lost. Some things could change for the better.
Conrad Seipp Brewing Co. came back from a long-lost past with its Extra Pale Pre-Prohibition lager made now by one of the best lager brewers in the country, in my opinion, Metropolitan Brewing’s Doug Hurst. Drinking this beer is like drinking history, and I for one find hope in looking to the past to see what previous generation of folks, with a lot less sophisticated technology, did to overcome their tragedies to survive. A part of that approach then was to drink a Seipp beer and get to work. Hopefully, we can find some courage in that, too.
I checked with a few local places to see if we could get this beer. It is out of stock but will be back in our market soon. In the meantime, you can find a beer also brewed by this same outfit, Metropolitan’s Krankshaft Kolsch. They just released these beers in 12 packs of cans, having been one of the longest hold-outs in Chicago to stick to glass bottles. The cans look fantastic, and they are a perfect companion to late-night summer sessions here at the tail end of the season.
Extra Pale Pre-Prohibition Lager from Conrad Seipp Brewing Co.
ABV: 4.5 percent
Style: Pilsner — German
Brewery’s notes: “One of Chicago’s original beers, a resurrected Pre-Prohibition pilsner modernized for today. Clean, crisp Bohemian hop character.”
Where to buy: Binny’s in Orland Park in a six pack of 12-ounce bottles for about $10 and sometimes at The Open Bottle in Tinley Park.
Krankshaft from Metropolitan Brewing
ABV: 5 percent
Brewery’s notes: “The world’s best example of an easy-drinking, smooth, accessible brew. Krankshaft is pale straw in color and features a light, but round malt character. Gentle hop spice compliments the fruity flavors kicked off by ale yeast fermentation. As per tradition, we lager this beer for a clean, crisp finish.”
Where to buy: Liquor World in Kankakee in a six pack of 12-ounce bottles for $9.99 or in a 12 pack of 12-ounce cans for $19.99.