Interview with Beejay Oslon of Pipeworks Brewery

Pipeworks Brewing Company started as a crowd sourced nano brewery in a non descript building on Western Avenue right by the Western Blue Line Stop. Many people the world over are enamored with their big and bold beers sold mostly in bomber bottles. The brewery developed a cult following for drinkers and became the defacto brewing school for aspiring Chicago brewers as well. In the past few years if you wanted to start your own brewery with your own money, chances are you went to Pipeworks and if you were lucky, learned how to use their Psychobrew system. If you were smart you took notes on how to turn your art form into a business. And Pipeworks is the best case study in the Art of Beer Business. They just opened their new expansion facility on the west side of Chicago allowing them to immediately triple their annual output of beer and allow for further growth. And their line of 16oz canned beers has become a hit with drinkers in Chicago, New York and soon the world. Within the next few years this new expansion operation is on track to become one of the biggest breweries in Illinois next to Lagunitas, Revolution and Half Acre. I checked in with Beejay Oslon, to ask him a few questions on their new production facility and where they are headed next. -Edmar   High Life or PBR? – PBR Can you please tell us what were the greatest challenges you encountered on the road to opening the new facility? – There have been a lot of challenges in opening the new facility. A project of this scale requires depending on a lot of different people, ranging from architects to contractors, various tradesmen, fabricators, trucking companies, and suppliers to name a few. Choreographing so many moving parts was a constant challenge, especially when any one part falling through caused a ripple effect with other players. We heard you might dedicate the original brewery to making mostly sours, can you make this an official announcement? And if so what styles will you be doing? – I don’t want to make any promises regarding the original facility yet, but it is definitely our intention to start working with sours at that location eventually. Styles will range from the berlinners we’ve been working on to more traditional Belgian styles like flemish reds and lambic influenced beers, and of course we wouldn’t be Pipeworks if we didn’t make some weird ass sours that defy categorization. For now the focus is on getting the new production facility running smoothly before we begin working on any new projects. What’s the general plan for the new space, what brews can we expect and in what frequency? – In general, the plan with the new space is to keep doing what we’ve always done, by continuing to make intriguing flavorful beers. We will continue to showcase our higher ABV and more experimental beers in the bomber format, though now with larger batches which will hopefully cut down on the perceived rarity while allowing us to drop our prices on many products. The addition of the canning line has allowed us to make more sessionable beers, as well as make significant price drops on fan favorites like Ninja Vs. Unicorn. When we first interviewed you guys in Mash Tun Journal  a few years ago you mentioned your business model was a Chicago Specific model. Has that changed since you are on the path to brew a ton of beer? Right now on average, each week, we are doing one 90bbl batch of a canned beer as well as a 30bbl batch of bottled beer. So we aren’t currently coming out with as many different brands each week as we did at the original facility. That being said we are already in the process of adding more fermenters which will allow us to simultaneously release more brands as we continue to grow. – Our focus will always be on satiating the Chicago market, however we have laid the groundwork for a brewery capable of the possibility of outgrowing our home market. With that in mind, we have begun exploring other markets such as New York and Europe. I think it’s important to begin building those relationships now rather than waiting till we’ve already saturated our home market. You don’t want to run into a situation where you have a warehouse full of beer with no one to drink it. Again we are not trying to cheat our long time fans out of beer here at home. We are building these alternative markets up slowly and organically exactly the way started here in Chicago. What the best advice you can give to the breweries that are following in your footsteps and the and breweries in planning? Is the much ballyhooed craft beer bubble gonna burst? – For anyone considering getting into this business, the most important thing is quality of product. It doesn’t matter how cool your labels are or how cool you look on instagram if you are putting out a shitty product. Fundamental brewing science is infinitely more important than coming up with some off the wall molecular gastronomy inspired ancient ale. That might sound strange coming from the owner of a brewery like Pipeworks, but with as many new breweries that are opening we are seeing more and more fundamentally flawed product on the shelves. The best thing you can do as a hopeful brewery owner is get some real world brewing experience before risking your life’s savings. Either you will gain the knowledge you need to make a superior product or you will realize that maybe the brewing industry isn’t really for you after all. Either way you’ll be making a gain. I don’t think that we will see a craft beer bubble burst any time soon, however that doesn’t mean that we won’t see some of the newcomers closing their doors.

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