CHICAGO – There is a little bit of trivia he has for anyone who decides to pick a particular beer on the menu at Haymarket Brewery in the West Loop.
It’s called “Thrower’s Scotch Ale” – a 7% APV malt-forward, easy-drinking brew – and it’s consistent with all of the beverages that Jay Westbrook makes: It has a local story to tell.
“Definitely my love of Chicago and my love of Black Chicago because I know what the narrative is about my city,” said the brewer and native of the city when talking about the most rewarding thing about this particular beer project. “I’m very passionate about letting people know that great things, pioneering things, these things have happened in Chicago.”
This one concerns a player that took the field for the Bears 69 years ago and made football history.
“Everyone is still like, ‘Wait, What?,'” said the Chicago-based brewer when he tells them the story behind this new beer he created in the fall of 2022.
It’s in tribute to Willie Thrower, who was the first Black quarterback to ever play in the National Football League, doing so as a member of the Chicago Bears.
A native of New Kensington, Pennsylvania, Thrower played college football at Michigan State where he became the first Black quarterback in Big Ten history. After leading the Spartans to the 1952 national championship, he signed a one-year deal with the Bears in 1953.
Thrower got the chance to appear in one game against the 49ers on October 18, 1953, at Wrigley Field. He was put in for a struggling quarterback George Blanda and went 3-for-8 for 27 yards, driving the Bears deep into San Francisco territory before the starter was put back in the lineup.
That season would be Thrower’s only one in the NFL, but his appearance on that day at the “Friendly Confines” made him a trailblazer for future Black quarterbacks in the league.
It was the perfect story for Westbrook to tell, which fits with his desire to educate drinkers through beer as he tries to create more diversity in the brewing industry.
Earlier in 2022, Westbrook was looking for a beer that could be released around the start of the Bears’ 2022 season.
He sought a brew that would work through the fall and early winter, spanning the NFL season, and the decision to brew a Scotch Ale was made. With the 49ers serving as the Bears’ season-opening opponent, the idea of featuring Thrower came to mind.
“It just made sense to make that move and to tell a story of someone special, someone whose a pioneer but actually not have that storied career that, let’s say, a Jackie Robinson in baseball or Willie O’Ree in hockey had,” said Westbrook.
Yet his contribution to the NFL is something that often gets overlooked, something that this brewer wanted to fix. Hence the introduction of “Thrower’s Scotch Ale” to get this Chicago story out to the public, one beer at a time.
“Just being able to continue that legacy,” said Westbrook. “Unfortunately, Mr. Thrower passed away from us in 2002, but I’m going to be here to live that legacy, to ‘Beer Up, Bear Down’ and talk about Mr. Thrower and what he means to being a pioneer, which is what I’m trying to do in the brewing industry.”
Larry Hawley has more on Westbrook’s “Thrower’s Scotch Ale” and his tribute to the former Bears’ quarterback from WGN News Now in the video above.
You can see more on Jay’s beers and those which he’s brewed in the past based on the stories of Chicago by clicking here.