His law degree, the right friendships and a love for suds is how Adam Toosley became one of the few members of the Chicago Brewseum’s board of directors who isn’t an actual brewmaster or restaurant owner.
A partner at Freeborn & Peters, where he heads the real estate and construction litigation practice, Toosley has been with the beer history and culture project since his friend, historian and Brewseum Executive Director Liz Garibay, decided to combine her love of brewing and its role in Chicago’s past into a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit cultural organization that is trying to someday become a standalone museum.
The Brewseum opened up an exhibit at the Field Museum of Natural History last November; it will run until January 2020. Brewing Up Chicago: How Beer Transformed a City depicts the history of beer in Chicago, touching on such events as the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition, the 1871 Great Chicago Fire and the 1855 Lager Beer Riot, an event in which city hall tightened liquor rules in an attack on Irish and German immigrants.
“We tell [the history of beer] through the story of immigrants to the city of Chicago, so that’s why the Field Museum was interested in the exhibit as well because there’s obviously a historical component to this particular story,” Toosley said. “But this is only one snippet of what we hope the Brewseum will eventually be.”
Toosley is also a good fit as counsel for the Brewseum since Freeborn & Peters represents several members of the beer industry through its food and beverage practice, he said.
“I get calls from them all the time looking to get information about what it takes to be a brewer in the city of Chicago or in the Chicago metro area,” he said.
He talks to us more about the Brewseum and what it holds for the future.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Chicago Lawyer: When was the Brewseum founded?
Toosley: We started talking about it in 2013. In 2014 is when we really got serious about it and actually started working on calling it something; creating the name and vision. Our pop-up events started immediately, and we really started in earnest in 2016 to get as many interesting and cool people involved in the project. Liz Garibay does the majority of the legwork — it’s been like a full-time job that’s taken her all over the United States. She took the lead on getting all of these third parties to agree to provide us with everything in the exhibit currently at the Field Museum. She does a great job with it.
CL: How did you get involved in the Brewseum?
Toosley: Liz has been one of my best friends for 16 years. She worked at the Chicago Historical Society for a long time. At one point, she created an app where you can enter [the name of] a bar and it would generate the history of the bar. It just became a passion for her in particular to figure out a way to take her experience at the Chicago Historical Society and create a museum dedicated to beer.
With my being a lawyer and also having such a love for beer, and craft beer in particular, we thought it was a good idea that I get involved. She has many good connections — the board is full of really impressive people from the city of Chicago, like the guy that owns Goose Island [John Hall], the guy that owns Piece Pizza in Bucktown [Bill Jacobs] and the founder of 5 Rabbit [Andres Araya].
I’ve been involved since the very first meeting; having a lawyer associated with it is always good because you need somebody to do corporate documents and make sure people are staying on track because we immediately registered as a nonprofit and then we had trademark issues and things like that. But this is all a means to an end to eventually get to a point where we have a brick-and-mortar actual real museum. The Field Museum exhibit is really an opportunity for us to get the word out.
CL: How do you envision the standalone museum?
Toosley: We want to make it a very interactive museum that’s not just like a frat-boy type of thing for people to do. [We want something] like the Guinness factory in Dublin, but on a different scale — that’s a place where there can be a bunch of kids because there are interactive exhibits. It’d be something to draw in anyone who comes to Chicago versus limiting it to one particular demographic. We’ve been in development on this for five years and we’ve been doing pop-up events over the last couple of years, like the beer festival in Garfield Park.
CL: Why is Chicago a great location for the Brewseum?
Toosley: Chicago’s really become a cool craft beer town. Both the state of Illinois and Chicago in particular have taken craft brewing very seriously. There are all kinds of events and organizations — the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild, Beer Under Glass at the Garfield Park Conservatory every year, for example. I was at a craft beer event last year on the Riverwalk and Mayor Emanuel just walks by like he was physically going out of his way to come to this event. I think that the city has done a good job of embracing and putting out there that this is a destination for craft brewery.
There are certain places in the United States that are better for this; Colorado, Oregon, even Michigan are better at promoting craft brewing. Illinois is really catching up to that now. Goose Island was one of the original ones who really made a name for themselves here. So many tourists come to Chicago and these little neighborhood breweries provide an outlet for people to go and sit down and try something different.
CL: What’s the future hold for the Brewseum?
Toosley: We’re still aiming for a 2021 hopeful opening of the physical museum itself. If people are interested in being involved at all in the museum, whether it’s monetarily or otherwise, that information is directly on the website [chicagobrewseum.org]. If people want to be involved in participating in the costs of running the exhibition, a link will take you to an actual CrowdRise website.
We needed to get $50,000 over the course of this year and we’re at about $32,000 right now. People just appreciate donating to keep this exhibit up. We love to have other people showing the willingness and desire we do to be involved with this project. It’s a big endeavor, trying to create a new museum from scratch. It’s not easy, but one thing that everyone on this group has in common: We love beer.