Serving Stouts Aged in Uncle Nearest Whiskey Barrels, Chicago’s Only Black-Owned Taproom Debuts

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Chicago

Aliya Ikhumen/Eater Chicago

Turner Haus in Bronzeville is Chicago’s only brewery in a predominantly Black neighborhood

After more than two years of preparation, Turner Haus Brewery is open in Bronzeville giving Chicago its first Black-owned brewery taproom.

The journey toward an opening has been a long one for Turner Haus’s founders Steven Turner, Blair Turner-Aikens, and Nathaniel Aikens. They opened in November in the middle of the holiday season, sharing a storefront with the Sip & Savor location at 78 E. 47th Street. The 70-seat space functions as a coffee house during the day and transitions into a beer bar in the afternoon and evening.

Steven Turner and Blair Turner-Aikens sit in brown leather chairs and laugh with glasses of beer.
Turner Haus founders Steven Turner (left) and Blair Turner-Aikens.

The taproom is a “testament to [their] persistence,” says Turner-Aikens, who notes that back in 2021, they hoped to get the business up and running in a mere six months. A complex and extended process of rezoning an entire city block, coupled with the nuances of alcohol licensing, quadrupled that timeline.

“The process has been very long and it has been a true exercise in patience,” Turner says. “It has been an exercise in faith and an exercise in believing not only in ourselves but in our vision… Having done this and come out on the other side victorious, it definitely makes me feel more confident in us as a team, that we can weather any storm.”

Having soldiered through years of pop-ups and one-off events, the owners are proud to have a home for their beers, all named for prominent women in their families including Helen, a grapefruit lager; Lola, a peanut butter, basil, and jalapeño IPA; and Eliza, a cherry oak-aged saison. They’re also pouring a special Caribbean-style stout called Queen’s Legacy that’s aged in Uncle Nearest whiskey barrels thanks to a partnership with fellow Black-owned brand Tennessee Brew Works. It’s named in honor of Victoria Butler, Uncle Nearest’s master blender and the great-great-granddaughter of Nearest Green, the first named African American master distiller in the U.S.

Black brewers remain relatively few and far between in the white-dominated beer industry, both in Chicago and across the country. In 2021, the Brewers Association (a trade group for independent and craft beer makers) found that 93 percent of brewery owners are white, while just 0.4 percent are Black.

Locally, residents saw the rise and fall of Vice District, a craft beer brand advertised as Chicago’s first Black-owned brewery that operated locations in South Loop and suburban Homewood. Vice District was founded in 2014 but four years later, it was evicted from its Chicago taproom, and by 2019, the company closed entirely. The city is currently also home to Black-owned companies Moor’s Brewing, founded in 2021, and Funkytown Brewery, which operates out of Pilot Project in Logan Square and shares a taproom with other brewers like Azadi and Brewer’s Kitchen.

Turner Haus is also the only brewery in a predominantly Black neighborhood. As Block Club Chicago reported back in 2020, that’s not always easy to do. Turner Haus also adds to the culinary choices in the neighborhood, something that stakeholders are trying to increase. The success of Bronzeville Winery, which opened in 2022, is the prime example.

Turner is keenly aware of the industry’s dramatic demographics, telling the Sun-Times in 2021 that he hopes breweries like his will play a role in diversifying the beer world. Bronzeville’s long history as a hub of Black culture and community made it a natural fit for Turner Haus, and ultimately worth the red tape required to put down roots in the neighborhood.

The taproom opening represents an important and hard-fought benchmark for Turner Haus, and the founders hope it’s just the beginning. Turner credits his father, also a businessman, with teaching him the importance of pragmatism and practicality. “It’s about marginal growth, about us being able to control our expansion so we don’t overshoot or undershoot,” he says. “I think right now, for where we are [as a company], it’s the perfect space and size we need to grow ourselves into a larger facility over time.”

To be clear, Turner does have visions of grandeur down the line: “In my head, yeah, Turner Haus is a 10,000-square-foot facility with brew tanks and a five-star chef, but that’s not where we are right now.”

Turner Haus Brewery, 78 E. 47th Street, Open 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Turner Haus Brewery

78 E. 47th Street, Chicago, IL 60653 (773) 805-9272 Visit Website

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