By Ben Kramer
In recent months, the Near South side has been dominated by sports headlines like “Sox Land Melky Cabrera” and “Jay Cutler Benched. Will He Be Traded?”
In the midst of these triumphs and tragedies, Motor Row Brewing (2337 South Michigan) has been quietly working its way toward January 14th, its opening day.
Owner/brewer Frank Lassandrello has been involved in the industry for more than a decade. Graduating from Seibel Institute of Technology, America’s oldest brewing school, Lassandrello worked at Goose Island before moving to Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery to become their Quality Control Manager. As Lassandrello explains, “You can’t make good beer if your tank’s not clean.”
Perfectionism and an eye for detail landed Lassandrello a judging position at the Great American Beer Festival in 2009. “When I was judging,” he remembers, “it was apparent to me that I really wanted to be able to do my own thing. It was great representing another brewery, but you get this feeling, this certain sense of pride that goes with creating your own recipe and following through with it.”
Wanting to differentiate his brewery from others in the city, Lassandrello decided that he’d locate to Chicago’s Near South side (where few Chicago breweries currently operate) in a one-hundred-year-old building in the old Motor Row District.
At Motor Row Brewing, Lassandrello focuses on lagers instead of ales, which further sets his brewery apart. “It’s personal preference,” says Lassandrello. “At every good brewery I know, you start with what you like to brew, and adapt to what the general public is interested in.”
Motor Row Brewing produces two lagers, an India Pale Lager (IPL) and a session lager, to satisfy his personal preferences, while also providing a pale ale and a red ale. The IPL may be the most distinct of the bunch, designed to “accentuate the hop characteristics of the beer, having little to no yeast esters and phenolic compounds.” Esters and phenols can add other notes to the beer, such as fruitiness, and for Lassandrello, those flavors distract from the distinctive hoppy character he wants you to taste.
The beers of Motor Row Brewing are not the work of Lassandrello alone. Amanda Bates aids in all aspects of the brewing process, acting as the owner’s first mate. A former Brew and Grow employee, Bates also served a year-long stint at Pleasant House’s new microbrewery in Three Oaks, Michigan. As brew master, Bates brought in her own recipes, brewed the beer, and even worked to market the brewery to the public.
The Motor Row Brewing operation is divided into three floors. The first floor is a tasting room, where starting January 14, people can fill growlers and howlers. The second floor, the taproom, will be open soon, and the third floor, a private events space, will open later.
Food won’t be served, but it’s cool to bring in food: Lassandrello will even provide the flatware. For those seeking bites that pairs well with Motor Row beer, Kroll’s (1736 South Michigan) is a solid choice. Try the “Original Kroll’s Hamburger,” or their “3 Cheese Grilled Cheese,” a blend of sharp American, mozzarella and gouda served on thick, crusty bread—and make sure you ask them to add some bacon: heavenly.
A designated Chicago Landmark since 2000, Chicago’s Motor Row district is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Rolling Stones recorded in this neighborhood, and they marked that experience with their track “2120 South Michigan Avenue.” This former location of Chess Records is where Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon created Chicago Electric Blues; it’s currently the home of the Blues Heaven Museum. Along Motor Row, almost 120 different makes and models of automobile were sold and repaired in what are now beautiful old buildings. Take a few minutes to walk around the remaining architectural treasures before stopping for a beer at Motor Row Brewing.