This story starts with, “I met this woman in a bar…” She was telling me about an idea to start a Latin American Craft brewery, possibly in Chicago. I was intrigued. Ultimately she turned out to be the wife of my (now) partner, Andrés Araya, who along with another partner was developing the idea. Having worked as a consultant for larger breweries in Costa Rica (where he’s from) and Panama, it had always struck him that there was a huge gulf between the lively, flavorful food and the blandness of the regions’ beers.

I began working with them on the branding and eventually the conversation came around to the beers themselves, and we started cooking the first pilot batches in my basement homebrewery, the Buckapound. At a certain point I was deemed integral enough to the project to be invited to be a partner. From our humble beginnings in 2010, we’ve grown into a 30-barrel brewery with a staff of about 11.

Our branding is intended to feel Latin without being too linked to any one country. We’re not trying to look too traditional, or have much to do with Latin macro brew. We want to look fun, playful and maybe a little mysterious. Our beers appeal to a diverse audience, so we try to cast as wide a net as possibly with our brand imagery.

The name comes from a minor Aztec deity, 5 Rabbit. Pre-Columbian Central American names often had numbers in them, so there’s only one of him and his first name is 5. In that culture, the Gods of Excess function a bit like the Seven Deadly Sins, offering examples of how to be a good person. 5 Rabbit represents an excess of pride, the long ears reminding us to listen to our communities and inner voices.

The same goes for our beers. We’re constantly seeking the overlap between:

  • Beers we personally like and find interesting
  • Beers that reflect our pan-Latin concept
  • Beers that have commercial market appeal
  • Recipes and flavors that are absolutely unique

In addition, we are interested in how the parts add up to create a single identifiable whole, making sure the beers are food-friendly and taking special care to avoid any harshness or rough edges. And if we’re using a special ingredient, we definitely want you to be able to taste it in the beer. Another consideration we keep top of mind is that when you’re using unusual ingredients, there is a danger of creating novelty products that may thrill on the first sip, but tire the palate quickly. We strive to create beers that have drinkability and depth as well as intensity.

We have a number of different sub-brands. Today’s market is just about insatiable in terms of variety, so we  accommodate that lust for the new with our primary lines and seasonals. In addition to kegs, we package in 12-oz longnecks and 750 ml Champagne-style bottles.

The “Fives,” as we call them, are based on cohorts of 5 Rabbit, who are also Gods of Excess. These formed our original lineup and are intended to solidify our position as a creative Latin brewery. 5 Rabbit is a simple golden beer, but quite a delicious one that has won us several prestigious awards. We felt as a Latin brewery that we needed something recognizable to craft newcomers. 5 Rabbit Golden Ale is brewed with high-quality pilsner and Vienna malts, with a hint of Munich. The distinctive lemon-lime hop aroma comes from an exotic New Zealand hop, Motueka.

5 Grass uses juniper and several other herbs plus a very wacky hop from New Zealand—Wakatu—plus spices to recreate the fresh scent of the desert in a pale ale incarnation. 5 Vulture honors the alluring cuisine of Oaxaca with ancho, mulato and arbol chiles and raw piloncillo cane sugar.

5 Lizard, one of our best sellers, was conceived from the start as a ceviche-friendly beer. Fueled by my personal obsession with classic witbier, it’s a variant where lime peel replaces the traditional bitter orange, then it’s topped off with Ecuadoran passion fruit purée. Also an award winner.

We created our Gringolandia series in response to the marketplace reality that there isn’t enough space on a typical back-bar chalkboard to describe our more complicated beers. So far, these are beers with no funny stuff, they are our tributes to American craft beer. The series name is a term used across Latin America to refer to the US as a sort of giant “Disneylandia” (from whence the name derives), in a fun, ironic way.

All the Gringolandia beers reference classic styles, even if we can’t help ourselves and change them up a little. Super Pils is everything the name implies: pilsner flavors exaggerated slightly out of scale and with a much more aggressive hop character. Fabulosa Porter uses 30% wheat for a lusciously creamy, almost chocolate milkshake experience. Magnifica Wheat combines the mouth-filling texture of wheat with an unrestrained nose of piney and citrusy North American hops. The icons tell stories, some of which are inside jokes, and some of which we just encourage you to make up.
We also make a lineup of stronger beers based on Latin themes. All are limited editions and some are specifically seasonal. We call this line our Chingonas series, a rather vulgar boast we think fits the beers.  We think the labels tell you all you need to know.

Paletas is the Spanish word for popsicle, and in my North Side neighborhood of Rogers Park, the little freezer carts are pushed around wherever the kids might be all summer, filled with fruit juice paletas in a rainbow of flavors. We found paletas to be a fun urban/Latin inspiration for summer beers. Weighing in at just 3.5% Alc/Vol, we use a mix of malted and unmated flaked wheat for 70% of the recipe. On top of this substantial texture, we add various fruit juices along with fruit-specific complex spices. They are uniquely delicious and amazingly flavorful for their strength. Not your typical fruit beer either; very complex and dry as a bone at the end. When summer is over, they’re gone until the next year.

We considered canning them, but couldn’t make that happen to meet our quality standards, so we came up with the idea of clad bottles—pretty much unheard of in craft. The clear glass really lets the beauty of the fruit (this year, guava) show through. With a clear label, the result is a striking package. Since the hop level in this beer is minimal (6 BU), we use a modified hop bittering extract to eliminate the problem of the beer skunking with light. To test this theory, our first batch this year, brewed for draft only, was brewed with actual hops. Sure enough, a few minutes in daylight brought out that telltale light-struck skunkiness, so we successfully dodged this bullet using hop extract in our bottled beer formula.  Mission accomplished.

The final beer in our lineup is a unique seasonal called Vida y Muerte. Released in advance of the Day of the Dead, it plays on the Halloween theme with a Mexican twist. The grain bill is pretty close to a traditional Oktoberfest, but then the beer veers sharply away from leather-pants territory with dulce de leche, a luscious milk caramel we get from Argentina, along with minute amounts of tarragon and allspice. It’s like a pumpkin beer with no pumpkin—of which you actually want to drink more than one. After I sculpted a model, we hand-made tap handles by creating a mold from my carving and pouring in resin, then decorating the handles at a sort of beery arts and crafts party.

After a year or so of operation, we started putting together a taproom in one corner of the brewery. We were lucky enough to find an artistic young spirit with welding and fabrication skills who transformed a combination of the brewery equipment shipping materials and other “found objects” into a soulfully funky space. It’s been great to have a place where people can come and get the full 5 Rabbit experience firsthand, and we plan to continually improve and expand it over time.