Dining | The Scene

‘I was flabbergasted’: North Aurora brewery wins gold in World Beer Cup

Brother Chimp Brewing founder Steve Newman, left, and head brewer Sam Altaner recently won a gold medal at the World Beer Cup for the Vienna-style lager Ludwig,

When Brother Chimp Brewing won a gold medal in the 2024 World Beer Cup in late April for their Vienna-style lager, the founder of the small North Aurora brewery said he was “flabbergasted.”

“This was something that was more of a dream than a real aspiration,” Steve Newman said. “So few breweries get to win a gold. There are so many vying for it that everything has to hit just perfect.”

Brother Chimp’s Ludwig bested 101 other entries to win the category in the world’s largest beer contest.

While the beer itself still isn’t ready for distribution, Brother Chimp’s label for their Vienna-style lager Ludwig is.

Often referred to as “The Olympics of Beer Competitions,” the World Beer Cup included entries from 2,060 breweries from 50 countries. Overall, 9,300 beers were entered in the 110 categories, and 290 judges from 37 countries picked the winners.

As the ceremony was nearing its close that night, he didn’t think he was going to have anything to celebrate. The first two beers they’d entered didn’t place, and as they got to the Vienna lager category, the last he’d entered, he was losing hope.

“They announced the bronze and silver and it wasn’t us, so I thought ‘that’s it.’ But then they announced the winner and I did a double take,” he said. “I was flabbergasted.”

There was only one problem. They didn’t have any of the beer to sell.

“When we found out we won we didn’t even have any for us to celebrate with,” said head brewer Sam Altaner. “Then we immediately got flooded with calls and I brewed it as fast as humanly possible.”

Unfortunately, it’s been a hurry-up-and-wait process, Altaner said. Ludwig needs six to eight weeks in their lagering tanks before it’s ready.

The taproom is planning a release party for the weekend of July 19.

Nine breweries from Illinois won silver or bronze in the competition, including five others from the suburbs.

Tonality Brewing Co. in Mundelein and Sundial Brewing and Blending in Barrington both took home silver medals. Tonality’s Dubbel Crit placed in the Belgian-style dubbel category, and Sundial’s Table Coupage was recognized in session beer or Belgian-style table beer.

Bronze winners included Crystal Lake Brewing for their brown porter Frozen Over; Sturdy Shelter Brewing in Batavia in the Munich-Style Dunkel category for Wilson Street Dunkel; and Double Clutch Brewing Co. in Evanston in the German-style Altbier.

Old Irving Brewing Co. in Chicago (gold in juicy or hazy India pale ale), Soundgrowler Brewing Co. from Tinley Park (bronze for historical beer) and Golden Fox Brewing from Decatur (gold in American-style imperial stout) rounded out the Illinois winners.

Brother Chimp Brewing is located at 1059 W. Orchard Road in North Aurora.

Newman, who lives nearby in Batavia, opened the Brother Chimp taproom as a retirement project in 2020.

With a tagline of “craft beers that taste like beer,” he said they focus on more traditional styles.

“A lot of places are making crazy fruity, hoppy beers,” he said. “I wasn’t even going to have an IPA, but I talked to enough brewers before I opened who said, ‘You’re doing this to make money, so you have to have an IPA.’”

Their IPAs are generally in the classic style, though they make a hazy from time to time. Otherwise the tap selections generally include ales, pilsners, lagers, Saisons and the like.

Newman started as the head brewer, but after six months he realized there was no way to run the business and be the brewer.

“Plus, Sam is far more talented than me,” he said.

Altaner said he was shocked after they won.

“Ludwig is something that I’ve been tweaking for many years now, trying to dial it in and get that right balance,” he said. “This one came out the best and I kind of can’t believe we got the recognition we did.

“Coming from such a small little brewery going up against the big guys, it’s really awesome to see, and I’m really proud of it.”

Newman said they’re on track to make about 400 barrels of beer this year, which is about the most they can do. To grow the distribution side of his business, he recently started having some of his beers contract brewed at another location and also added a salesperson.

Brother Chimp was recently added to some Binny’s locations and is available in a number of restaurants in Geneva and other nearby communities.

“Not enough people knew we existed,” he said of the taproom. “Package sales are almost like advertising, because there’s a pretty low margin, but it gets the name out there.”

Newman said winning the gold medal certainly helps as well.

“It’s been giving us a little notoriety, so I think it’s made a difference,” he said.

They had entered the contest for the past couple of years, but this was their first time being recognized with a medal.

“We’ll keep trying and hopefully we’ll win more,” he said with a smile. “The bar has been set. Nothing less than gold.”