Double Clutch Brewing in Evanston wins Brewery of the Year

EVANSTON, IL – Less than a year after opening, an Evanston brewery was named the best brewery of its size and received two medals at the Great American Beer Festival for its German lagers.

Double Clutch Brewing, celebrating its one year anniversary ahead of Halloween at 2121 Ashland Ave. to celebrate, last month won the Brewery and Brewer of the Year award for venues that produce up to 250 kegs of beer. It also won silver medals in the Munich Helle and Rauchbier categories.

Scott Frank from Wilmette is the head brewer of Double Clutch and a self-confessed “Deutschphile”.

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“It goes back to the cars. I love German cars. I loved German beer and my ancestors are German even though I’m American,” said Frank. “I come from many generations of farmers, we go back to the German farmers, so it just suits me perfectly.”

Frank, 57, said he first came to Germany in the early 1990s and has long had a particular fascination with Bavarian beer traditions.

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“It has something to do with drinking it in those enchanted halls in their big one-liter jugs, that just makes it better,” he said. “There’s something about that energy that inspired me, and I’ve always tried to recapture that as a brewer.”

(Courtesy of Double Clutch Brewing Co.)

The former artist and illustrator started brewing beer in his garage as a hobby about 15 years ago. He continued to learn the craft in stints at two Chicago breweries – Old Irving Brewing Co. and Brewing on tour in west town.

Frank said he was looking for something different during the craft beer explosion of the 1990s, when India pale ales became all the rage.

“I’ve always been a bit contrarian,” he said. “So if everyone gets on ‘Line A’ I’ll probably go on ‘Line B’ and when everyone was going crazy over IPAs I got bloated in the German bars and ordered pale lager and experimented with black beer and hefeweizen and berliner weisses and munich dark and things that others didn’t pay attention to.”

Munich Helles, one of the categories in which Double Clutch won a silver medal, has always been one of Frank’s favorites, he said.

“Because it’s just refreshing and yet has a malty character that you really don’t find in American lagers, so it was something I’ve always been drawn to,” he said.

Pale lager, Frank said, is only surpassed by the other silver-medal-winning brew, Helles Rauchbier. (“rauch” is German for smoke)

Frank said he entered this year’s Great American Beer Festival competition to get feedback from certified judges on the seven beer categories in which he competed, including Doppelbock, Schwarzbier, Pilsner and Kolsch.

“That’s the value for us as a new brewery,” said Frank.

“I know sometimes the people closest to you don’t give you the best feedback. The people who drink your beer will often tell you that they love it,” he added. “But having a blind taste test with objective, qualified judges, that was the value of this competition for me.”

The brewer has credited Noon Whistle Brewing of Naperville and the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild with providing help in the challenge of shipping alcohol across the country in July.

Double Clutch is owned by Vandalay Markswhich also operates Pescadero Seafood and Napolita Pizzeria in Wilmette, Casa Bonita in Libertyville, and several locations in Chicago.

Owners Mike Chookaszian, Luke Cholodecki and Nick Hynes originally planned to open the Evanston Brewery on Memorial Day 2020 on the site of a former CrossFit gym. However, delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the opening by approximately 18 months.

Frank said he prefers to look at the silver lining in the coronavirus-related delay.

“It was difficult, but it was also a blessing in disguise because it gave me more time to work out my recipes,” he said. “And the opening would have gone much less smoothly for me without those year and a half.”

In addition to its location in Evanston and other Vandalay-owned restaurants, Double Clutch Brewing Co.‘s beers are available at Millennium Hall in Millennium Park, Eately in Chicago and soon Binny’s in Evanston.

Frank said the team is aiming to produce 1,200 barrels in its second year and to expand in the coming years.

“There are a thousand ways to fail, but there are a few ways, maybe half a dozen ways, to succeed,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of money tied up in it, and we just want to make sure we’re keeping that fun and everyone’s still enjoying it — but that we’re successful.”

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