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Pipeworks Voted 'Best New Brewery'

A Wicker Park microbrewery has earned impressive props from a well-known beer review site.

A major consumer beer review website has named a Wicker Park microbrewery the best not just in Chicago, but the world.

Pipeworks Brewing Company, 1675 N. Western Ave., has been voted RateBeer.com's best new brewery for 2012. The business opened in January 2012 after a successful Kickstarter campaign, and has been going strong ever since.

It distributes to about 100 stores and bars across Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, according to brewmaster Beejay Oslon.

"We are solely in Chicago and the outlying suburbs right now," Oslon said. "So we're at all the Binny's (stores), we're at West Lakeview Liquors, we're starting to expand to bars and restaurants now as well."

Pipeworks has its roots in Oslon's home brewing efforts. He met his brewing partner, Gerrit Lewis, while working at West Lakeview Liquors, where they had both taken jobs to get closer to the beer industry. The two eventually started brewing together, laying the groundwork for what would eventually become Pipeworks.

In 2009, Oslon flew to Belgium to apprentice under Urbain Cootteau of De Struise Brouwers for three months, and it was during this time that his work with Lewis was called "Pipeworks."

"When I got out there, (Coutteau) said, 'Hey, we can do a collaboration beer,' but at that point we didn't even have a name for the brewery yet," Oslon said. "It was at that point that we were going to have to have a logo on a bottle, along with their logo."

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After a few more years of home brewing, the duo was inspired to seek funding through Kickstarter to open their own production brewery in a dedicated space after seeing another brewing project successfully funded through the site. The campaign was successful, and Pipeworks celebrated its first anniversary on Jan. 30.

Oslon said the brewery has nearly quadrupled its output and capacity in that first year with the addition of new equipment, and that it's nearly reached the capacity of the current space. He said Pipeworks ships about 240 cases of 22-ounce bottles each week, along with two sixth-barrel kegs. He attributed much of the brewery's success to the rotating types of beers it produces.

"I think one of the biggest things that we did differently is we released a wide variety of beers in our first year," Oslon said. "I believe we had 39 different beers that we released within our first year. For a production brewery, that's certainly uncommon."

Oslon said he and Lewis don't plan to stop growing any time soon. They expect to open a bottle shop in the front of the brewery in April.

"Eventually we'll do growler fills up front and sell our product directly to people," he said. "And then we're also considering opening a larger production facility within the next couple of years as well, and perhaps a brew pub in the future at some point."

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