The Complete History of Anti-Hero | Revolution Brewing
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Brewpub + Restaurant

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Sun-Mon / 12-10pm
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2323 N. Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60647

773-227-2739

Taproom + Production Brewery

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September 30 — Private Event
October 9 — Private Event
October 21 — Private Event
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December 25 — Christmas Day
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Mon-Tue / CLOSED
Wed-Thu / 2-9pm
Fri / 2-10pm
Sat / 12-10pm
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Address

3340 N. Kedzie Ave
Chicago, IL 60618

773-588-2267

The Complete History of Anti-Hero

We’re celebrating a decade of Anti-Hero IPA in cans

Revolution has been known as a hop-forward brewery since our founding. Hops continue to drive our innovation and small-batch releases. And with the tenth anniversary of Anti-Hero's canning coming up, we want to finally tell the story of the beer that represents almost half of our total production and fuels our continued hop exploration. Anti-Hero wasn't necessarily designed as the headliner, but got there by sheer force of enthusiasm.

The Pub was Always the Proving Ground”

When we unlocked the Revolution Brewing doors for the first time in 2010, Anti-Hero wasn't around for the party. At least, not at first. The four Revolution beers on tap that day were:

A varied lineup for the time, but the IPA was still in the fermenter tank. The long-archived Iron Fist Pale Ale, pilot-brewed in Chairman of the Party Josh Deth's basement, came closest on day one. The first batch of Anti-Hero was the fifth beer brewed at the Brewpub, and it wasn't quite ready to serve on opening day.

"At the beginning, the plan was to have a year-round Pale Ale and rotate in different IPAs," Deth said. "Iron Fist was the year-round Pale Ale. That style sold about as well as IPA did back then."

Anti-Hero showed up on draft within days of opening, and represented the experience and vision of Brewmaster Jim Cibak, who had previously worked with Deth and whose pre-Revolution brewing career included some of the country's most respected breweries. He took that experience and his own vision for the style and created Anti-Hero. It was initially served in a tulip ("we wanted to showcase those hops, to differentiate a little. And yes, we wanted it to look a little fancy," Deth said) and quickly became one of the fastest sellers.

Pub regulars commented on the sessionability and restrained bitterness compared to what they'd come to expect from the style. And most importantly, it was a showcase of American hops working together. The balance of citrus, floral, and pine in the aromas and flavor brings notes of lemon candy, strawberry, and orange marmalade to the surface while a bracing bitterness keeps the balance.

Obviously those initial plans for it to go away never really stuck, though Brewmaster Jim Cibak continued to create a host of IPAs showcasing different hops, malts, and techniques.

"I was around the Pub all the time back then, and that means you hear customer feedback in real time," Deth said. "Every time Anti-Hero went off draft, the first question was always 'you guys are gonna make more of that Anti-Hero, right?'"

As Revolution grew into a production brewery, the early portfolio was based entirely off what had succeeded on draft at the Pub.

"The Pub was always the proving ground," Cibak said. "Everything that was successful or popular there drove what we focused on when building out the production brewery on Kedzie."

Anti-Hero soon became the brewery's calling card, especially as the beer hit draft-only distribution from the Pub in late 2011. Anti-Hero's success brought new tanks for the Brewpub, then even bigger tanks at the new production brewery a mile and a half northwest. As sales grew, the batch sizes went from 15 barrel turns at the Pub to 60 (and later 120) at the production brewery. Fermenter tank sizes grew from 120 barrels to 240, then 800. Most recently, Revolution was able to buy the Kedzie Ave. production brewery building and cement our commitment to Logan Square, Avondale, and Chicago and proudly brewing only in Chicago. More than any other beer, Anti-Hero bought that building.

It goes to illustrate: you can brew a lot of beer and make a lot of plans, but it's ultimately drinkers who are going to decide what your brewery's future looks like.

"I don't like to call things 'classic,' because when you do that you give a false impression that people have moved on to something new," Cibak said. "Certain styles of beer, certain ingredients, and certain raw materials are always going to be received well by people if they're treated with respect. The components we chose for Anti-Hero lend themselves to a very citrusy, floral, piney beer. And if you look at the most successful American IPAs, that's exactly the profile they build toward."

We Probably Focused on Anti a Little More Than Hero”

With a new production facility soon to be operational, Anti-Hero was selected as one of the original three Revolution beers to hit cans. Eugene and Bottom Up were both driven by labor imagery, but Anti-Hero was essentially a blank slate. To develop that visual identity, Rev turned to a young design firm called Mighty Few. Founder & Principal Ian Law headed up the project, which tackled the job of taking a conceptual name and visualizing it on a 12-ounce can.

"At the beginning, Anti-Hero was a name we liked because of the pop culture it represented. Conflicted heroes following their own path and working a little bit in the darkness for a larger goal. There wasn't much more to it than that," Deth said. "But Ian took a lot of what he heard us say about not just Anti-Hero, but about craft beer in general, and turned it into the concept that became Anti-Hero. We'd use the term 'hop bomb' to describe a beer and suddenly there are parachuting hop bombs on one of the sketches."

Early design rounds started with the familiar green, but centered on an eagle motif (an idea that would be revisited years later for our Freedom Session Sours) before pivoting to the Anti-Hero that adorns our cans today. Law took cues from political messaging, propaganda posters, and comic books to not only create the look of Anti-Hero, but flesh out an aesthetic for Revolution that didn't exist outside of the star/fist and lettering above the Pub door.

"Honestly, we probably focused on Anti a little more than Hero. He's militarized, and he's got some dark edges, but he's the call to action. He's leading the Revolution. And you don't take him too seriously, but there's a little bit of mystery there. You leave a little bit yet to be said, which is much more interesting than having everything just explained to you," Law said. "Back then, craft brewing was asking people to make a jump, a leap of faith to try something new. As the designer I am today, I might have been more hesitant to take a shot at creating Revolution's version of Uncle Sam, but looking back, it really makes a lot of sense."

But most importantly, Law and Deth both said, it was uniquely and identifiably Revolution. Craft beer labels were, at the time, imitating the look of either big beer or those earlier established national craft brands.

"Anti-Hero was and is a signal that Revolution isn't faking it, and Revolution isn't afraid to put itself out there and lead," Law said.

Years later, Galaxy-Hero followed Anti-Hero into the fray and opened the door for the League of Heroes, Hazy-Hero, and our Small Batch program.

There’s something to be said for timing”

Today, Revolution is the largest independent brewery in Illinois and Anti-Hero is the top-selling IPA in the state. But both the brewery and Chicago have undergone vast changes since Revolution's beginning.

By our count, there were fewer than ten breweries located within city limits in February 2010. By 2018, Chicago had made up lost time to win the title of "Beer Capital of America" with 167. In the interim, Revolution was building from a local brewer into a regional one.

"There's something to be said for timing with Anti-Hero," Deth said. "We knew the IPA style was popular, and got to several different points where we were making as much beer as the fermenters could hold. We had 18-24 months where we just couldn't add any new accounts."

At a time when bottles and large-format bombers were among the dominant forces, Anti-Hero was one of the very first widely-available Chicago IPAs available in cans. As a result, Revolution doubled both the production capacity and the physical footprint of the Kedzie Ave. brewery not long after beginning production.

While a hop-forward beer like Anti-Hero is always subject to some change, the recipe has remained fairly consistent because it doesn't rely on a single variety, but a combination that highlights the fascinating depth of what American growers can achieve.

And ten years removed from those first cans (with a few noticeable design updates along the way), the Anti-Hero is as big a part of Revolution's identity as ever, even as we continue to explore the next thing.

"IPA has always been our style to experiment in, from those first Pub batches to what we do with the League of Heroes and in our small-batch double dry hopped IPAs," Deth said. "But Anti-Hero has stuck around for a reason, and it's the first thing a lot of people think of when they hear 'Revolution.'"

Celebrate with us

We're celebrating ten years of opening the refrigerator and reaching for an Anti-Hero. And we'd like to hear from YOU. Click the button below to tell us your Anti-Hero story and you could win exclusive swag.