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Marz Community Brewing A True Collective Effort

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Sep 9, 2014 7:30PM

A scene from Monday night's launch party for Marz Community Brewing at the Co-Prosperity Sphere. (Photo credit: Chuck Sudo/Chicagoist)

When brothers Ed and Mike Marszewski transformed the former dive known as Kaplan’s Liquors into Maria’s Packaged Goods and Community Bar four years ago, few could have expected the Bridgeport tavern to become one of the best beer bars, if not best overall bars, in Chicago. Maria’s approach to what they stock in beer inventory has been a sincere, inventive mix intended to appeal to craft beer aficionados, novices and budget drinkers alike. Beer, throughout the ages, has served as a means of fostering community, and I can attest firsthand that Maria’s beer menu has helped forge lasting bonds among disparate people over the years.

So when Ed Marszewski started talking about starting a brewery, barely a year into Maria’s transformation, I knew to file that in the back of my mind because a) it would take a while to get off the ground and b) most of Marszewski’s ideas are worth following. From his days leading the mirthful gang of misfits at Lumpen magazine to his current projects in the “Neighborhood of Mayors,” “EdMar” has always been about fostering community.

This brings us to Marz Community Brewing, now brewing beers and selling them across the city, which hosted a launch party Monday night at the Co-Prosperity Sphere. As with any Marszewski endeavor, this is a true group effort, born from a mutual interest in beer and homebrewing. Mike Marszewski and Eric Olson (a Maria’s bartender and Ed Marszewski’s brother-in-law) are longtime homebrewers. Kazys Ozelis is another neighborhood homebrewer and one of the founders of the homebrew club Homebrewers Pride of the Southside (HOPS). Alex Robertson came to Marz from Crown Brewing. Pete Alvarado comes to Marz from CHAOS homebrew club. Mairead Case edits Ed Marszewski’s Mash Tun Journal. Tim Lange begged and pleaded with the Marz crew until he was allowed to join in. There are more involved with the project. All of them have a say, and stake, in the beers Marz is producing.

From a storefront on South Halsted and 33rd Streets, the Marz collective brews beers on a four-barrel Psycho Brew system with four fermentation tanks—two three-barrel and two-five barrel. They aren’t competing with Goose Island, Lagunitas, Revolution or Half Acre for volume; Marz will probably brew about 300 barrels of beer annually.

What they lack in quantity they’ll be able to make up for in quality and experimentation. Marz currently brews four primary beers in their “Zewski’s Brewskis” line. “The Machine” is a pale ale marked by a strong malty backbone and aromatic hops. “Buddy,” a session ale, is a perfect front stoop or porch sipper. The “May ‘68” saison is brewed with barley, El Dorado hops and Omega Yeast lab’s hybrid Saison yeast strain for a wonderfully funky take on the farmhouse ale style.

Marz Community Brewing's harvest ale (Photo credit: Chuck Sudo/Chicagoist)

I’ve been able to sample these and other Marz offerings at Maria’s over the past 4-6 weeks and my favorites have to be the “Bubbly Creek” Berliner Weiss and the “Smoke Wheat Every Day” gratzer. The latter, a beautiful interpretation on a rare Polish style of beer, takes wheat malt smoked over oak that’s top-fermented. The smoke flavor dominates the palate, along with some tart backbone from the malt.

Bubbly Creek is arguably the best Berliner Weiss in Chicago, in a summer where Berliner Weiss has dominated tap handles in bars across the city. Straw-colored on the pour, Bubbly Creek has a lightly sour flavor and no bitterness from hopping. At 3 percent alcohol by volume, it’s eminently sessionable. The Marz collective evidently knows they have a hit on their hands with Bubbly Creek. Maria’s has also been pouring a version infused with Yuzu, giving the beer a grapefruit-like flavor, and a version with wine yeast to ramp up the sour.

The launch party also served as a debut for some of the beers in Marz’s “Alchemy” series. Lines of drinkers snaked around the Co-Prosperity Sphere’s interior for a taste of “What the Pho” porter, a collaboration with chef, Bill Kim; “How Braggot Can You Go,” a honey/malt ale; and “Pineapple Jungle Boogie,” a wheat ale infused with pineapple that is an ideal late summer sipper. Seasonal beers include a harvest ale brewed with Centennial hop cones, that tasted like drinking fresh pine.

Besides Maria’s, Marz Community Brewing’s beers can currently be found at establishments like Owen & Engine, Dusek’s, and Rock Island Public House.