A love of beer, and a hobby lead to the creation of Maplewood Brewery & Distillery.
Beer lovers create Maplewood Brewery
Ari Megalis is a beer man. He loves a good brew. Now he crafts and sells beer for a living at Maplewood Brewery & Distillery.
Meet Ari Megalis
Ari Megalis grew up in Wood Dale, IL, just west of Chicago, and attended The Greek Orthodox Church of St. Demetrios in Elmhurst, IL. He traces his Greek roots to Dorio, Messinia on his dad’s side; and Qytezë, Southern Albania (incidentally the same village from which John and Jim Belushi’s family hails), on his mother’s side.
He grew up working in the family business. His father, Nick, and Uncle Nick Theodos co-own the Chateau Ritz Banquets in Niles, IL, where Ari worked since high school.
A beer aficionado, around the time he finished college, in 2005, he decided to try his hand, and began homebrewing in his parents’ kitchen. As his skills grew, so did his small operation.
“I was still helping out at Chateau Ritz, and there’s a huge kitchen. So we moved the operation there, and worked on it after hours. We were so focused on perfecting our concoction — some nights we worked until 4 am.”
When he says “we”, Ari is referring to himself and childhood friend, Adam Cieslak, his business partner.
A hobby becomes a business
Part art, part science, part trial and error, Ari and Adam honed their skills, and felt they were really on to something.
“Adam was working as a patent attorney, and was exploring the possibility of a career change. I had wanted to start a business, and wasn’t sure what direction to take. We were really excited about what we were creating. So we decided to start a business, brewing craft beers.”
When you do what you love, it’s not work, and along with Ari’s brother Paul, (co-founder and CFO), they quickly began setting up the business and scouting locations. They settled on a place in the Maplewood area of Logan Square in Chicago. The neighborhood, which is slowly beginning to gentrify, has its own unique history.
“At one time, this area was the Village of Maplewood. It was annexed to the City of Chicago in the late 1800s. The residents were builders, and were integral to the rebuilding following the Great Chicago Fire. We loved the history, and it’s a good location, near a major highway.”
It’s clear this trio is doing what they love. They work hard and it shows, but they’re also having a lot of fun.
Maplewood Brewery & Distillery
The partnership was formalized when they incorporated the company in January 2014, and named it for their historic location.
“The name Maplewood has a classic feel, which we think goes with our beers.”
With operations set up, they got to work creating a brand, learning new brewing techniques, and adding equipment.
Art + Science + Trial and Error = Brewing Process
Ari briefly explained the brewing process.
“We source barley from all over. Then we mash it and boil it, at which point it converts starches into fermentable sugars. Then we boil the wort. At this stage, hops are introduced. The wort is chilled, then transferred to a fermentation vessel, where it ferments and conditions for usually for 2-3 weeks.”
Just as people are learning more about wine and the winemaking process, many are becoming more interested in unique craft beers. Ari said that while they don’t have to worry about growing grapes and harvesting them, and all the challenges that presents, beer making is more complex. He did say, however, that it is “easier to attain greatness” in the brewing process.
The types of the flavors of the beers they brew are inspired by what the partners like to drink.
“Plus, we come up with ideas of what we think is needed in the market, and we design a recipe from there.”
Ari and Adam show one of the fermentation vessels.
Maplewood beer hits the market
Their first beer, Charlatan, was released in October 2014.
“We worked on Charlatan for two years. It remains our best seller. It’s a pale ale.”
Shortly after, they released “Fat Pug,” a dark, oatmeal milk stout. Ari says it’s a good beer to drink with food, due to the hints of sweetness that balance out the malt.
Next came “Creepy Ginger”, whose name comes from some lighthearted jesting with Paul, who’s a redhead. There are also hints of ginger in the aromatics. This Belgian golden strong ale has a 7.8 abv — which is the percentage of alcohol.
“You can’t tell when you’re drinking, but it creeps up on you!”
“Lemon Drop” is an American wheat ale, which is a “lighter, hoppy” wheat beer. It’s named for the lemondrop hops that are used in making it.
“This one has hints of lemon meringue pie, plus mint notes.”
Fans of the 80s TV show “Saved by the Bell” will get the reference in the name of this beer. “Azacca Morris”, made from the Azacca hop, is an IPA with intense tropical aromas and flavors. It has some fruity notes, and a hint of “pine needles”.
Their newest beer, released this month, is “Brownie Points”, an English-style brown ale made from oats.
“It’s a nice, easy drinking beer with Tootsie Roll flavor.”
Their brand is defined by its drinkability. They focus on creating complex beers that are easy to drink.
Where to find Maplewood beer
Maplewood beers can be purchased at Binny’s, select Whole Foods, Costco, and independent bottle shops. The beers are now served in bars around the city. Click here for a list of places in Illinois that serve Maplewood beer.
The next progression
Ari says it is a natural progression for a brewery to distill spirits, and described whiskey as “basically distilled beer”. Maplewood is preparing its first whiskey, with a planned market release of Summer 2016. Also, keep an eye out for some gin.
“We have a strong passion for whiskey and spirits too. We are aging some right now, and want to get it right. It shouldn’t be rushed, Stay tuned for more on this in 2016.”
This new venture makes Maplewood, Illinois’ very first brewery/distillery.
Tasting room under construction
Fellow beer aficionados, intrepid explorers, and those who just want to hang out in a cool space, will soon have a new place to go. Maplewood is in the process of building out a tasting room, featuring their beers, and cocktails made with their in-house spirits. It’s shaping up to be a very special spot, that will no doubt become one of the trendiest places in town. It will also be available for private parties.