Brewing creativity in Chicago

By Emily Ornberg

In an apartment gallery in Pilsen, owner Paul Hopkin, artist Benjamin Bellas, assistant director Jeffrey Grauel and friends Ann Chen and Brent Garbowski converged in October 2012 to work on a project Hopkin said would enhance the ambience in his contemporary art exhibition space, Slow Gallery.

The project became what is now known as Small Ass Brewing, Slow Gallery’s own brewery that plans to prepare a custom batch of beer, roughly two cases, for every upcoming exhibit, Hopkin said.

“We’re interested in the way that beer is contextualized in the art world,” Hopkin said. “Would you rather have a beer that tastes like something or a Pabst Blue Ribbon? We’re artists. We demand more experiences than that.”

Although Small Ass Brewing so far has only brewed for Bellas’ Oct. 6–31 solo exhibit, Hopkin said he and the rest of Small Ass Brewing are constantly coming up with new ideas and flavors to introduce. Previous brews ranged from a basil ale, to a strawberry vanilla beer to a red beet rye beer.

Hopkin said he tries to play with the flavoring of the brews to playfully enhance the art in the exhibits.

“When I get ready for a show with an artist, I tell them about the beer project and see if they have any particular requests or ideas,”

Hopkin said.

On April 6, Slow Gallery will host an exhibit featuring visual artist Emily Severence. Hopkin said much of Severence’s art touches on themes of age and disability-—such as found-object sculptures with crocheted details. To pair with her art, Grauel created an adult version of a childhood favorite—a peanut butter and jelly beer flavored with dehydrated peanut butter and raspberries.

“The body of the beer is based on a recipe where the flavor is described as ‘bready,’” Hopkin said. “Which isn’t that surprising because beer is brewed from barley.”

In July, the gallery will host an exhibit for visual artist Andreas Fischer, who made a specific request for a beer flavored with turmeric, a plant that is typically used in curries, Hopkin said, addingthat he plans to create a Belgian summer ale spiced with turmeric, saffron and other Persian flavors for the event.

Because Small Ass Brewing is new to making beer, Hopkin explained that sometimes the flavors don’t turn out the way he expects, like the strawberry vanilla extra special bitter beer that turned out less fruity and sweet than

Hopkin anticipated.

“We’re not experts on brewing,” Hopkin said. “It’s something we’re paying attention to, and it’s something we are learning. Just like when you curate art that goes into a show, you can’t choose to have something that doesn’t exist.”

A Bridgeport gallery has also hosted a beer-centered exhibit titled “Under the Influence Art show,” which opened Nov. 3 at Co-Prosperity Sphere, 3219 S. Morgan St., an experimental cultural center. It featured beer-focused artwork, beer tastings, including exhibit owner Ed Marszewski’s original recipes, and food prepared by local chef Won Kim.

“Most art openings supply beverages, whether they’re alcoholic or nonalcoholic,” Marszewski said. “In this instance, the beers are handcrafted by local artisans, [and] the work that was displayed was also by local artists.”

The exhibit also served craft beers from local breweries and focused on the graphic labels from breweries like Revolution Brewing, Sixpoint Brewery, Duvel Moortgat Brewery, Great Lakes Brewing, Brewery Ommegang and Founders Brewing.

Some of the featured artwork also portrayed potential consequences of alcohol, like a giant whale liver, representational of liver cirrhosis.

Columbia junior journalism major Christopher Svymbersky has recently taken up homebrewing, but instead of pairing his beers with art, he pairs his concoctions with music.

Svymbersky operates a blog called “TopherChaos’ Bands and Brews,” in which he draws parallels between the way homebrewing and punk music began.

“It basically stems off of the idea that homebrewing in America—this whole resurgence of it—kind of came out of this [do-it-yourself] ethic, in a similar way that punk [music] started,”

Svymbersky said.

Svymbersky said his first post was comparing a porter from Founders Brewing—a beer he described as having an “emotional spectrum in flavor” with aromas of vanilla and cocoa and complemented with a dark, bitter finish—to the sweet-yet-sinister band The Cure.

Svymbersky said combining beer with artistic expression in the art world makes sense because both are unique expressions

of creativity.

“Beer is art,” Svymbersky said. “A new style is created almost every decade. It’s something that people do socially. It’s something that requires a lot of collaboration, and you can also put your own spin on it.”