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posted: 6/24/2021 4:00 AM

Tornado-damaged Skeleton Key Brewery gets help from friends, competitors

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Offers to help Skeleton Key Brewery came pouring in after the Woodridge business sustained devastating damage from a tornado late Sunday night.

In particular, members of the nonprofit Illinois Craft Brewing Guild stepped up.

"We always help each other out despite the fact that, yes, we are competitors," said John Szopa of Westmont, a co-owner of Skeleton Key. "If I needed ingredients for a beer ... we could call down the street and they would hand it over.

"It's a support team that has always existed," Szopa said. "Now it's the most apparent it has ever been."

Miskatonic Brewing Company in Darien collaborated with Skeleton Key last year on two beers called Sunstrike and Joint Effort. So as their geographically closest craft brewer, Miskatonic opened its doors on Monday to Skeleton Key staff.

"As soon as they walked in, we just hugged each other and told them that we're going to get through this," said Miskatonic general manager Paul Ananias Jr.

And crucially, Miskatonic opened up its coolers to take in surviving Skeleton Key canned beer and kegs. Helpers from nearly 20 other breweries showed up Tuesday with the coordination of Skeleton Key general manager Vikki Reid for the transportation and sales of the salvaged stock.

"We hosted an event Tuesday where Skeleton Key sold the remainder of their inventory," Ananias said. "It was a crazy and hectic day."

Another significant helper was Elk Grove Village-based Mikerphone Brewing. Its owner and founder Mike Pallen deployed a company truck and forklift to help move out Skeleton Key products from their damaged building.

"Their brewery and taprooms are destroyed," Pallen said. "It's going to be a long road for them to get back."

One way Mikerphone is helping is by having a half barrel of Skeleton Key beer on tap. The business is hosting a special event today when all the proceeds of that keg will go back to Skeleton Key.

Other local craft breweries also plan to sell Skeleton Key beer to help raise money, according to Danielle D'Alessandro, the executive director of the Chicago-based Illinois Craft Brewers Guild.

Beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, D'Alessandro believes this is the first natural disaster to impact one of its members.

"The brewing community of Illinois is incredibly strong and collaborative and supportive," D'Alessandro said. "It's really incredible that within 24 hours, there was support for Skeleton Key."

Financial help came to Skeleton Key with Mikerphone social media and special events director Charolette Converse setting up an online fundraiser. As of Wednesday, more than $100,000 has been raised.

"Brewers are a tight-knit family across the world," Pallen said. "And if it had happened to me, I'm sure they would have been lined up out our door to help us, too."