Members of the Temperance Beer team toast their new non-alcoholic brew.

Welcome to “dry January.”

Originating in the United Kingdom, dry January is a time when drinkers take a month off from alcoholic beverages.

But being unable to sell as much beer is not good business for those making the product.

So with that in mind, Temperance Beer, the first craft brewery in Evanston, introduced a non-alcoholic beer on Friday, called “Near Tears.”

Founder and owner Josh Gilbert says “the timing was intentional in January, to give people a reason to come” to the Temperance taproom and drink non-alcoholic beer in what to some is a “dry” (no alcohol) month.

The no-booze beer on the bar at Temperance.

But not far from Temperance, a different beer maker has gone into a dry forever, not just a dry January.

Smylie Brothers closed its downtown Evanston site just before New Year’s Eve, saying the restaurant was unable to recover from pandemic-related losses. Smylie also closed its Chicago brewpub in late 2021.

Customers learned on December 30 that Smylie Brothers had closed.

The Smylie’s shutdown leaves Evanston with four beer producers: Temperance, Peckish Pig, Double Clutch and Sketchbook.

The market for small, craft breweries (either with restaurants attached or just producing beer for sale in stores) is quite “different than when we opened in 2013.” Gilbert says.

Back then, “there were only a handful” of small beer makers.

But now, he notes, “it seems each neighborhood can even have a few breweries.”

But is it now too many?

The Chicago Tribune last month reported the craft beer scene across the metro area “is facing closures and stagnant growth.”

That article notes that over the past 15 years, the number of breweries nationwide has increased from about 1,500 to almost 10,000. In Chicagoland, the story says, it’s jumped from about a dozen to more than 250.

So a shaking out of the market seems almost inevitable, particularly when the pandemic impacted businesses of all types.

Plus, inflation is not helping.

Gilbert says “prices have skyrocketed for malt and hops,” the key ingredients in beer.

That means some brewers are “not able to cover the cost of making the beer.”

Temperance, which has both a taproom restaurant and packaged sales in stores works to find a “balance” between the two aspects of the business.

Gilbert says his target customer is willing to buy a more expensive craft beverage, not downing a Bud Light on the couch at home.

Temperance, he notes, brews about 3,000 barrels a year. That’s maybe an hour’s output for Anheuser-Busch. (A barrel of beer equals 31 gallons).

Evanston remains a unique market for locally produced beer.

Home of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the prohibition movement, Evanston was once dry as a summer day in the Mojave desert.

Even now, while restaurants and brewpubs can sell alcohol, Gilbert notes there are still no actual tavern licenses, where booze is primary.

While Evanston is no longer “dry,” Gilbert notes it is more “damp” than “wet.”

Still, Gilbert says, “Evanston has become a destination” for those searching for a good brew that is not mass-produced.

“In no one’s dreams did you ever think you could say that.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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