Evanston considers proposals for microbrewery, distillery

Sarah Freishtat

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Evanston, a pioneer of the Prohibition movement and the birthplace of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, is now considering proposals to open a microbrewery and microdistillery.

Evanston resident Ted Perez is working with the city to open Evanston’s first microbrewery, which would serve handcrafted specialty beer. Fellow resident Paul Hletko has also been working to create a small distillery that would produce high-end whiskey.

“It’s time to kick it up and turn my hobby into a career,” Perez said.

Microbreweries and microdistilleries are owned by individuals rather than large companies and often sell their products on the premises.

Perez, an information technology director for a local insurance company, has been a home brewer for six years and is president of the Evanston Homebrew Club. He adds fruits and spices to his beer recipes to create new flavors.

Although Perez is friends with Hletko, he said their ventures are completely separate. The two companies will be able to work together since whiskey and beer are both made from the same ingredients, he said.

Both entrepreneurs hope to make their facilities into tourist attractions, though they are not sure when they will open. Hletko said he wants to create a unique, high-quality whiskey that will draw connoisseurs to Evanston. Perez said he will probably brew eight different types of beer and offer food, tours of the brewery and, if the city approves, half-gallon to-go containers of beer called growlers.

“Historically, Evanston was home of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and Prohibition, so it would be a historical novelty and a great testament to how thoughts changed and how progressive Evanston is and continues to be,” Perez said.

Hletko and Perez said the city has been extremely supportive throughout the process in helping Hletko fill out the necessary government applications to produce alcohol. The new businesses will provide more jobs in the area, both entrepreneurs said.

Nevertheless, they have encountered challenges with the logistics of opening their businesses.

“Historically, Evanston has a unique relationship with alcohol,” Hletko said. “My vision conflicts with that.”

Perez said his biggest challenge is finding a location for the brewery within his budget. He is looking to open the microbrewery in southeast Evanston but is open to any location available as long as it is in his hometown. Hletko is considering the Main Street area.

The bureaucracy of the process is another challenge, Hletko said. He has to first get his plan approved by the city, the state and the federal government. After all the paperwork is completed, he must come up with a business plan and get insurance and zoning approved.

Space concerns prevented Perez from pursuing his original idea of opening a winery in Evanston because there is not enough space to grow grapes. A brewery, on the other hand, is possible in a much smaller space, and beer has just as many varieties as wine, he said.

“You can really make it your own,” Perez said. “Beer is enjoying a renaissance across the U.S.”

Hletko said he was interested in whiskey because of its high quality. His distillery will target people who are concerned with the products they put into their bodies, he said.

“Whiskey is what beer wants to be when it grows up,” Hletko said.