Each month, the Greater Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce spotlights a different business from our neighborhood. This month we get to know Bill Hurley, CEO of Empirical Brewery at Foster and Ravenswood.
Can you tell us a little about Empirical- How long have you been open and where can we find your beer?
We’ve been operating in Ravenswood since 2014. At first, we were keg-only for distribution. We added a bottling line and the taproom in 2015. Empirical distributes beer to Northern Illinois, our taproom, and soon our brew pub on Morse Avenue in Rogers Park. We have three year-round beers: Cold Fusion Cream Ale, Heliotropic Pale Ale, and Infinity IPA.
What sets your brewery apart from the competition?
Experimenting! We have a 1-barrel experimental beer system that we brew on several times each week. We use it try new styles, to refine recipes that are new and try to get them perfect, or see if we can improve on an old favorite.
What inspired you to start the business?
The last recession. I was working a miserable job in the financial industry and realized my whole life revolved around the stock market. I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, and I loved the craft beer movement, so I started planning Empirical. It took three years before we brewed a drop, and it’s been a struggle every day since, but it’s worth it. The neighborhood has really embraced the taproom, the beers, and our people.
I started this business to escape a terrible career and take control of my own destiny. But I maintain it because my family, our partners, the employees, and the customers give me so much support. Empirical does seem to be having a positive impact on peoples’ lives and that’s ultimately the real reason any decent entrepreneur starts a company.
Our neighborhood is definitely a hot-spot for breweries. What do you like most about doing business in Ravenswood?
Ravenswood is an interesting mix of industrial, residential, commercial, retail, and other properties. It’s fantastic to be part of such a great mix of Chicagoans. I love this city and am thrilled to be living and working in this area- my family and I live about a mile north of the brewery. The GRCC is doing a great job bringing together the breweries of Ravenswood. We get so wrapped up in our distribution timelines, brewing schedules, equipment repairs, and the daily grind, we forget to poke our heads up and talk to each other.
Do you have a favorite menu item?
At the taproom, our Infinity IPA. At the new brewpub, either our shepherd’s pie potstickers or the beer cheese burger.
You mentioned that Empirical is always tweaking recipes and brewing up new beers. What’s the latest addition to your menu?
Our Cold Fusion Cream Ale. We played with this recipe for over a year, then we did an experiment in the taproom to get feedback on four versions, then we combined aspects of two of those and released a final version. That’s the one going into bottles now.
The variety of the beers in the taproom comes from the heavy use of our 1-barrel system. We’ll be adding a 5-barrel system at the brew pub to complement the 1-barrel at the brewery, plus our 30-barrel production system. That means more new recipes, more styles, more refinement of recipes, and more fun brewing and imbibing.
What’s the funkiest thing inside your taproom?
Our people! They’re so weird, it’s awesome. They’re also super talented. We have a mixed bag of people on staff. A soon to be nurse, a jewlery maker, a music producer, an ex-gameshow host and even a soon to be farmer/vigneron. Yeah, a bunch of lovable weirdos!
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A brewery owner. Or a policeman, I can’t remember which. Definitely not an equities financial analyst covering utilities and semiconductors for a large bank downtown.
What’s your go-to karaoke song?
Firework by Katy Perry. FYI, the taproom has karaoke on the last Thursday of every month. We always do a theme and this month (5/25) it’s “Motown”.
For more on Empirical Brewery, visit empiricalbrewery.com and follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
1801 W Foster Ave
Chicago, IL 60640
Open Tuesday and Wednesday, noon to 10pm
Open Thursday, Friday and Saturday, noon to midnight
Open Sunday, noon to 8pm