Chicago Brewery Tour: Part 3, The Southside

Part 3 of 3, The Southside A few years ago no one would believe the south side of Chicago would host this many microbreweries or taprooms. From the late 90s until 2010, most of the city’s best craft beer bars and the only breweries in town were located north of Roosevelt Road, my personal dividing line between the North and South sides of the city.   The very first southside craft brewery was Argus, opening in 2009. Then in 2012-2013 a new generation of breweries popped up all over Chicago including the second to be located in the southside: Horse Thief Hollow. In the following years many more incubated brewery projects came to life. Including one founded by myself, a few family members, and friends called Marz Community Brewing Co. Today there are sixty five breweries in Chicago proper and at least a dozen of them are located below the Eisenhower expressway.   This Southside tour might not be possible for most people to do in one day, but I think it is! Just don’t drink as much as you want to and eat lunch dinner and dessert when I suggest while on this tour. One other caveat: I didn’t include Argus because it doesn’t have regular hours and tours are by appointment. So take a train to that joint when ya have a minute. So let’s get on with it! – By EdMar   Horse Thief Hollow   Our first stop in our South Side brewery tour is a brewpub located in the neighborhood of Beverly and its where we suggest you have lunch at 11:30am. When Illinois competes at the Great American Beer Festival in Colorado each year, Horse Thief always brings home a medal. Last year they won a Bronze for their Prunkle’s Dunkle, a European-Style Dark Lager that kicks ass. One of the first breweries to open in the very South Side of Chicago, Horse Thief Hollow defied expectations and has become a must visit brewpub for any visitor to the windy city.   They have earned this reputation by making tasty suds. Brewmaster, David Williams, was a graduate of the legendary C.H.A.O.S Homebrew club and is the definition of the weird turning pro. We expect him to keep making the award winning brews which complement his solid pale ales, kolschs and IPAs.     Whiner Brewing   Whiner Brewery opened up in the ecologically minded manufacturing complex called The Plant, located in The Back of The Yards, a hardscrabble working class neighborhood. A few years back I saw the area in which the new brewery would be situated and it was an abandoned shit hole of a space. Today, after the Whiner construction team of Heizler Group did their magic it’s an industrial palace. The completely utilized facility has equipment in places that you make wonder what engineering feat they used to install the system and tanks ( I think they blew a huge hole in the wall to get all the stuff in). The lighting is sexy and the overall concrete vibe delightfully urban decay chic. And the beer is fantastic too. Besides their solid saison and brettanomyces beers try some of the barrel aged experiments they have on draft.   Whiner is the anchor tenant for The Plant, a vertical farm and food business incubator. Try to visit them on a Saturday when their market is happening and enjoy some tasty bread and treats from Pleasant House Bakery, coffee from a Whiner brewery Sister project, Four Letter Word, and check out Bike A Bee honey.     Marz Community Brewing   The experience of writing for, editing, and publishing Mash Tun Journal is one of the reasons Marz Community Brewing Co came into existence. We were inspired by craft beer and the culture that surrounds it. And somehow our love of beer and the brewers we interviewed talked us into it!   So it’s been almost three years since we started our own contribution to brewing in Chicago and we are pleased to announce that our new facility will be open in late spring. The new brewery is located in the first organized manufacturing district in Chicago right off Bubbly Creek.   Marz will have a tasting room, a bottle/merch shop and more. Since our tap room most likely won’t be open soon due to licensing, permitting and construction delays (the uholy trinity of the brewing biz), we will be open for tours. If yer in the hood, just stop by and knock on the side door. If we hear it we will let ya in and show ya around. Or just email or call us and we will hook ya up.     Baderbräu   After contracting beer for a few years with the recipe from the original craft pilsner revered by old-timers in Chicagoland, Baderbrau has opened their new plant a stone’s throw from Mc Cormack Place. The spacious brewing floor is complemented by a second floor tap room featuring local street art. Their beers have massively improved since they opened up the new joint.   I love the Gunsmoke, a lightly smoked hefeweizen and their Pilsners and Lagers are top notch. Grab a taste of each of these and get ready to check out a few more nearby joints.     Motor Row Brewing   Motor Row is part of the burgeoning development of the South Loop and is also close to the Mc Cormack Convention Center Complex. If yer planing a trip to Millenial park or the Art Institute, this is a great place to get yourself sorted. Motor Row is in a landmark South Loop building and the warehouse-like space has a retail/tasting room and an upstairs taproom for enjoying a few. You can order food in our bring your own. We dig their seasonal IPAs and the Schwarzbier. If you are continuing on, don’t eat yet!     Vice District Brewing Company   Just a mile up the block from Motor Row is Vice District. This south…

Chicago Brewery Tour: Part 2, The North Side

Part 2, The North Side – Read Part 1: The West Side here. Chicago’s North Side is teeming with brewery taprooms. Thanks to a comprehensive public transit system and (mostly) bike-friendly roadways, drinkers can navigate North Side brewery taprooms with ease. Seriously, get a bike or a Ventra card. Cycling is ideal, but the CTA’s buses and trains (Blue, Brown, and Red lines) can take folks from one North Side brewery to another in a jiffy. – Calvin Fredrickson     Half Acre   Start here. You’ll probably end here, too. If you didn’t already know, Half Acre is a Chicago beer institution. Their 16-ounce cans of Daisy Cutter Pale Ale, Pony Pils, and rotating seasonal IPAs are icons of Chicago’s obsession with hoppy beer. At Half Acre, aesthetic and concept can be as important as the liquid itself. Their social media and blog posts are a testament to the eccentricity that runs in the water over there. Rest assured, the beer’s as good as its story.   Finding a table or seat at Half Acre’s taproom is tough some evenings, so get there early and let the staff guide your choices. When in doubt, order a pint of Pony or freshly-released Tuna extra pale ale and coast into a reliably delicious experience.     Dovetail   Ales – mainly IPAs and big stouts – have long dominated Chicago’s tap lines. That domination may be due to a lack of representation of lager, limited mainly to elder statesman Metropolitan and, more recently, Baderbrau. Add to the lager-brewing movement newcomer Dovetail, your continental European-inspired huckleberry. Take the Brown Line to Irving Park and stroll over to their brewery/taproom, where tradition, balance, and patience are sacrosanct brewing tenets. With crowds at Dovetail often reaching capacity on weekends, and seeing an increasing number of Dovetail tap handles at bars around town, Chicago may well be falling for lager.   An amicable mix of big 10 bros, regular Janes and Joes, and old money tickers will find themselves rubbing elbows at Dovetail’s relaxed taproom. Food trucks are usually parked nearby, but if you don’t feel like getting off your barstool, order a dried sausage and a pretzel. If you’re lucky, Jenny will have some stinky cheese on hand. Be nice and she’ll save you a wedge, on the house.   Saturday brewery tours at Dovetail allow guests to drink beer straight from the fermentation and brite tanks while listening to the story of liquid dreams turned reality from co-founders Hagen Dost and Bill Wesselink themselves, offering an up-close view and taste of Dovetail’s heart and soul, fermentation. Buy a ticket to their tour, ya’ Scrooge – if it isn’t already sold out. Photograph their brewhouse – a 106-year-old copper vessel formerly of Weihenstephaner may catch your eye – coolship room, open top fermenters, horizontal conditioning tanks, and barrel cellar, filled with barrels of spontaneously-fermented beer brewed in the tradition of lambic.     Old Irving Brewing Co.   At last, the Northwest Side finally gets a brewery/taproom. Take the Blue Line to Montrose. Excellent food and great beers are the game at Old Irving Brewing. Formed in the wake of the Crooked Fork concept – a project put forth by now-deceased Homaro Cantu – Old Irving feels like a vision carried out by Cantu’s friends. Highlights from our visit include a few hoppy numbers and the dessert-like Krampus Cookies, a double chocolate stout brewed with cacao nibs and Madagascar vanilla bean.   Looking to play some drinking games while you, err, drink? Hold my beer, Old Irving has cornhole boards for casual gameplay, and a bocce league for the serious player. They also rent out space for birthdays and other events. Parents without a sitter will be glad to find Old Irving offers several kid-friendly food options, along with an attentive waitstaff. Their elevated, wood-fired pub fare and sound contemporary American beers make Old Irving a fine addition to Chicago’s North Side brewing scene.     Hopewell   This clean, airy brewery/taproom is the 2017 zeitgeist of Logan Square. Spacious as it is, Hopewell’s taproom is packed most nights, due in part to their central location and selection of thoughtful, peppy beers, brewed with the consideration of seasonality. Take the Blue Line to Logan Square. Order a Squad – quad brewed for Hopewell’s one year anniversary – and scribble on a coaster while soaking in the bubbly atmosphere of Hopwell’s taproom, marked by well curated music and conversation of area socialites.   As a brewer at Brooklyn Brewery, Hopewell co-founder Stephen Bossu gained an appreciation for brewing lager – an appreciation that informs Hopewell’s lager-friendly portfolio, including year-round First Lager and several other rotating lagers. Their kettle-soured Clover Club – brewed in collaboration with The Whistler – is a gin botanical and raspberry puree-infused saison, and tastes like an invitation to spring. Lately, Hopewell has been hosting pop-ups with area restaurants like Parson’s, Green Street Smoked Meats, and Dimo’s Pizza. Indeed, the Hopewell folks have made fast friends with Logan Square/Avondale businesses and residents alike – stop in for a beer and count yourself among them.   Revolution   In 2010, Revolution’s brewpub invigorated the food and beverage scene in Logan Square, attracting droves of thirsty patrons to a once quiet strip of Milwaukee Ave. Located steps from the California Blue Line, the brewpub sees a lot of foot traffic – it’s a packed house most nights after 5 p.m. If you’re solo, grab a seat at the bar, order a Workingman Mild, and thank your lucky stars the reuben sandwich is back on the menu. And by Jove, don’t forget to order it, either.   You won’t find a barrel aged beer as consistently good and affordable as theirs, made possible, in part, by the opening of their production facility in 2012, located near the Belmont Blue Line stop. Connected to Rev’s production facility is a sizeable taproom, where you can ogle their prodigious barrel aging program and take pictures in front of a gigantic American flag. Ask for a…

Chicago Brewery Tour: Part 1, The West Side

Part 1 of 3 Chicago’s reputation for making great beers is on the ascendancy. And this a reason you might be noticing why a lot of people visiting the windy city are here for the beer. There are sixty six breweries in Chicago and another hundred or so in the burbs. And whether you like it or not Chicago has become one of the top cities for craft beer in America. Not only do we have enough local breweries that would take you a year to try all of their beer, but Chicago has an incredibly diverse range of beers from around the country and the world making it one of the primary markets for the over hundreds of regional and national craft breweries to break into. The explosion of breweries in Chicagoland is a relatively recent phenomena. In the past few years you can find a brewery in many of the high traffic hospitality and entertainment districts in the city. But there are also breweries opening up in out of the way industrial corridors and neighborhoods you have never visited before. This is great for Chicago and craft beer drinkers everywhere. You can drink hyper local and regional brews that are high quality, rad and fresh. Some of the first craft breweries started here in the city and a dozen or so advanced and innovative breweries are making beers sought after all over the world. We have some of the best bars in the world, and restaurants that make food to pair with beer that are internationally renowned. For those of you with your favorite breweries and watering holes, you probably know where you like to go to have a cold one. But have you every considered doing a tour of some of the historic and brand new breweries that have popped up in the last few months and revisited ones you checked out a while ago? Where would you take out visitors from out of town? Well, let us help. We created a few tours in which to investigate our city’s microbreweries and brewpubs that a reasonable person could finish in a day or two. And we picked breweries that have tap rooms or tasting rooms and have left out most production only facilities. You don’t like our picks? The Chicago Reader recently put out a guide to the best Brewery Tours in the city and The Hop Review has a comprehensive google map of all of our metropolitan breweries. We encourage you to design your own tours and guides to drinking beer and want you to share them with us. Enjoy the ride. If you have one day to fill on a brewery tour of Chicago and are not going to Indiana to visit Three Floyd’s then this might be your best option. It’s close to the loop, the distances between them are not too far. It’s bike-able, walkable and taxi friendly. The tour includes a range of small brewpubs to the second largest craft brewing facility in Chicago. It also has a lot of food options. And if you want to eat your way through all this beer, this route maximizes your options. Enjoy.  – Edmar Haymarket Pub & Brewery   Let’s start our West Side Tour with brunch or lunch in the heart of the Chicago Food Zone. Before the West Loop Randolph St corridor became the eating and drinking freak show that it is today, there was Haymarket Pub and Brewery. Opened by one of the OGs of the 90s brewing scene, Pete Crowley, Haymarket became one of the second wave of breweries in Chicago that helped push craft beer’s expansion into the mainstream.   Pete has one dozens of awards for his brews. I suggest you try a First Chance American IPA or their Mathis Imperial IPA and then get some classic pub grub. The Riot Sandwich is the jam. Housemade Italian sausage patties, mozzarella cheese, house made apple bacon BBQ sauce and giardinara all smoosh together onto a brioche bun. A hot mess. I would also recommend the smoked then fried wings, the sausage sampler, and do not miss out on the cheese curds with house made marinara.   Haymarket probably learned that opening a brewery in Chicago is a nightmare. After a few years of success on Randolph they embarked on opening a production facility in Western Michigan, a big suburb of Chicago. Look for their beer outside the tap room and on shelves everywhere in Chicagoland soon.     Cruz Blanca   Rick Bayless has a nationally distributed line of beers called Tocayo. They are ok, but they’re nothing super special. Which surprised me because Rick should know better. But maybe he noticed he couldn’t control that aspect of his brand. So, being a Business Genius, Rick opened his own brewing joint in the middle of the Randolph Street food zone to make up for the contract brew. First thing I like most of all is the Cruz Blanca branding. It is some of the freshest and best stuff in town. I love the nod to the Mexico Olympics of 1968 because it reminds me of the Revolution, man, with fists help high in the air, the Paris revolt, etc. Second best thing I love about Rick is that he is a leader in sustainable business practices. His Frontera Farmer Foundation invested over $2 Million in local farms to help them scale up. What’s not to like about this guy? So it’s great that he has a brewpub, purchasing local farmers produce and making locally crafted liquid.   The brewpub crafts small batch European-style house beers imbued with what Rick’s best at: using Mexican flavors. My inside sources working for Rick tell me that the Marigold, a strong ale brewed with coffee and blackberry and the CDMX pilsner are the bomb. They also just perfected a brand new beer called If There Is Smoke, an amber, German-Style ratifier with cold smoked malt. Seems like smoked beers are having a moment…

SBA Financing Options for Brewery Expansion

I have been in commercial lending since 2005 and have closely followed the expansion of the craft beer industry for many years. Over the past several years, I had the good fortune to work with several individuals involved in various capacities within the craft beer industry. Throughout my interactions with them, I regularly found myself as interested with the business side of the industry as I was with the beers being created. Given my background as a lender, I thought about how the loan products commonly used by manufacturers could be used by breweries looking to expand. I believe expansion is the point at which a commercial bank is best positioned to work with a brewery. At expansion, the concept has been proven and implementation of a thoughtful capital structure can help fuel growth. SBA Program Overview: Many business owners are familiar with the Small Business Administration in some capacity. The larger question has to do with how the SBA and their loan programs can assist their company. In short, the SBA partners with banks and other lenders through a series of programs to provide funds to privately held businesses operating in the United States. As part of that partnership, the SBA provides those lenders with a guaranty against a loss on the loan in exchange for a fee that is paid by the borrower. That fee can be rolled into the loan request to help reduce the out-of-pocket funds needed to secure the loan. The overall underwriting process for an SBA loan is very similar to conventional commercial loans. The bank will underwrite the recent financial performance of the company in an effort to estimate their future performance. Through that review and consideration of projections, we can calculate the company’s cash flow in order to determine their ability to service both existing and new debt. In order to qualify for an SBA loan, the business must pledge the assets of the company to the loan and all owners with at least 20% equity in the company must personally guaranty the debt. Given that lenders are required to check the personal credit scores of all owners, I am often asked about the role that personal credit scores play in a credit decision. The overall expectation is that the business owners need to be as credit worthy as the company itself and thus a good credit score is expected. As a result, a good credit score will not necessarily improve your chances to obtain a loan but a poor score could put that loan in jeopardy. SBA loans can be used for a variety of reasons but are most commonly used to finance equipment purchases, real estate acquisitions or to provide working capital. Additional uses for the SBA’s programs include acquisition financing or buyout loans. There are a number of resources both locally and nationally for companies interested in obtaining an SBA loan for their business. As a lender, my recommendation is that you work with your existing advisors, area banks and the SBA itself before engaging anyone to help you secure an SBA loan for a fee. Fees to loan brokers can add up and are not eligible to be financed by the loan. If you choose to work with a loan broker, be sure to find out who is paying the fee as some lenders will pay finders fees in addition to ones paid by the business. Should you decide to move forward with an SBA loan for your brewery, the next logical question is who to work with? Outside of finding a partner who you believe would be a good fit, the following are some questions to consider as part of the selection process: •    To the extent you have existing loans, is your current bank an SBA lender? •    This question is important as all SBA loans are required to be secured with a first lien on the business assets. If you have existing conventional loans that are secured with the company’s assets, your new lender may those loans to be retired or combined with the SBA loan request. •     Does my SBA lender have delegated authority? •    Delegated authority (also known as an SBA Preferred Lender or an SBA Express Lender) allows the lender to approve the SBA guaranteed loan programs in-house. While this does not change any of the SBA program requirements, it does give the bank the ability to streamline the process and reduce turnaround time since the SBA does not need to separately approve the loan request. •    Does the lender intend to sell the loan guaranty or keep it within their portfolio? •    There is a secondary market for the guaranteed portions of SBA loans that is similar to the one that exists for home mortgages. As such, some institutions decide to sell the guaranteed portion to investors on the secondary market for fee income. Whether or not the lender chooses to sell the guaranteed portion of the loan should not have an impact on your ability to obtain the loan. Rather, the sale of the guaranty can impose limitations on that lenders ability to amend the loan in the future. If your brewery is seeking a long-term partner for your business, you may want to consider a bank who plans to keep your loan in their portfolio rather than one looking to sell the guaranty. •    Does the lender offer working capital lines of credit? •    This can be important if you anticipate needing a loan to support working capital in the future. Not all SBA lenders offer working capital lines which will limit your business if you find yourself in need of one. Similar to the first point, if you work with a lender who does not support working capital lines, you may be forced to retire or refinance the term loan with another lender in order to obtain the line of credit. SBA 7(a) Loan Scenario: For the first scenario, let’s envision a brewery expanding into a larger…

Mash Tun Journal #11 Release: A Reuben Party

On Saturday, April 29 from 5-9pm, join the producers of Mash Tun Journal at Maria’s/Kimski as they celebrate the release of issue #11. Enjoy some brews by a sweet lineup of breweries featured in the issue and try one of our favorite sandwiches: the reuben. Longtime Mash Tun contributors and sandwich enthusiasts Reuben Kincaid and Reuben Bratwurst Inc. will be on hand sampling out a few brews on the patio and celebrating the return of Chef Won Kim’s Reuben Sando. Featuring special sections by: Forbidden Root, Cruz Blanca, Hopewell, Revolution, Half Acre, Baderbrau, Whiner, Dovetail, Begyle, Marz, Corridor, and Goose Island.

Best Looking Brands in Beer Part 3: Grimm Artisanal Ales

  A few years ago, we tried to hook up with some mysterious brewer-artists that were serving their beers at exhibitions at alternative galleries in Chicago. We were hosting a series of Art of Beer events and thought they were perfect for the shows—but we never managed to connect. Four years later, we find out that the cats we were looking for were Joe and Lauren Grimm, the owners of Grimm Artisanal Ales.   What inspired you to start making beer?   Twelve years ago, you’d find us fermenting ginger beer, mead, pickles, and kimchi in our apartment kitchen. It was simple: We were interested in the transformation of materials by bacteria, yeast, and time.   Once we were hooked on Orval, Fantôme, and Jolly Pumpkin, beers with significant yeast and bacteria profiles, that was all we wanted to make. We only started producing IPA when we figured out how to make yeast esters play with hop character in a meaningful way.   We’re motivated by the challenge—we’re discovering how deep the rabbit hole goes, and there seems to be no bottom. Joe and I are constantly in search of new techniques and flavors in the beers we make.  Being truly great will require a lifetime of dedicated research and experimentation.     I assume you guys started as gypsy brewers instead of diving into the shit of opening your own brewery because of the cost and risk. Would you recommend going this route to others?   It’s always hard. We initially wanted to open our own production brewery with our own brewing equipment, but it was impossible without a sales record. Gypsy brewing ended up being the right move for us, but that doesn’t mean that it’s right for everyone. Now, we’re moving toward opening our own facility, specifically designed around our idiosyncratic practices.   It’s true that we didn’t have to deal with the upfront financial investment, but it’s not necessarily easier to operate the way we do. Folks often think that it’s easier than brewery ownership, but it’s just different. The risks are there, but different. The biggest risk in gypsy brewing is the power differential between the gypsy brewer and the partner brewer. They have you by the short hairs. Are you going to be able to assert yourself to get YOUR ideas into the bottle?   That’s why we’re constantly working on our relationships with our partner breweries. We have to be able to trust the people we work with day in and day out, and, in turn, they need to trust us to allow us into their breweries and give us the opportunity to experiment the way we do. Some people seem to have a fantasy of running a gypsy brewing business as, like, a hobby. If you treat it as anything less that a full time rigorous commitment you will suck at it and probably fail.   Three to four years ago it was brutal looking for space and time at breweries to contract brew beer. Has it been easier to find tank space and brewing time due to the growth in the number of breweries that have started?   It’s definitely been easier for us to find capacity more recently, but I think that it’s actually due to the relationships and reputation that we’ve built. There are more breweries around these days, but capacity still seems pretty tight. If a brewery is sitting with empty fermenters, ask yourself why. Is that somebody you really want to work with? How do you come up with concepts for your beers?   That’s a hard question to answer. It’s an ongoing process that began way back when we were first learning about fermentation 12 years ago. As we’ve developed identities as a brewers, we’ve developed a sense of style, a beer aesthetic. Each beer is a part of the Grimm project as a whole, and our ideas about our beer are constantly in flux. Every time we brew, we make small adjustments to our technique and ingredients, tweaks based on research and experimentation.   I see a Providence school of psychedelic hallucinogenic artwork in your beer labels. What is your process for naming, designing, and creating the artwork on your packaging?   You’re not wrong about the Providence connection; Joe and I both lived there in the aftermath of the Fort Thunder-era and that visual style was influential.   We always begin the process with a beer name. We’ll go back and forth playing off of one another’s ideas. For instance, the name Tesseract started out with a general idea of crystals, which led to tessera, the small pieces of tile that make up a mosaic, tessellations, and finally Tesseract, which came from A Wrinkle in Time.   Once we’ve decided on a name, the label design begins. One of our oldest friends, artist Gretta Johnson, is an integral part of our team.  The labels that originate in her drawings tend to have a hand drawn, gestural aesthetic (for example, Purple Prose and Future Perfect). The ones that I design from scratch tend to be more graphic and minimal (for example Magnetic Compass, Vacay). Because we’ve known each other for ten-plus years, our working process is pretty fluid. Most of the time, we just have a series of text messages to develop ideas for imagery.   Even though the final label is a computer file that I’ve worked through in Illustrator, the images usually begin as a drawing with pen and paper that Gretta or myself will draw. I think that’s one reason why our labels stand out so much. You can see the hand in each one, rather than just computer graphics. Can you tell me more of about the community of artists, brewers, and distributors that helped form Grimm along with you guys?   Joe and I are the only employees of Grimm, but we depend on a lot of other people to get our beer out there. Lately, we’ve been brewing a lot of beer at Flagship, on…

Know Thyself: An Essay on Lazy Beer Marketing.

  Know Thyself: An Essay on Lazy Beer Marketing. Matt Tanaka   There’s a lot of lazy marketing in the beer world, and it’s holding good breweries back. It’s not really anyone’s fault, it’s the result of a bad idea that’s been repeated for years: all a brewery needs to do to survive is make great beer, and that if the marketing is “good” and polished, then the beer must be bad. Unfortunately, in today’s new-brewery-every-day marketplace, that simply isn’t true.   That recurring notion stems from the misconception that marketing is just the act of making something shiny when it shouldn’t be. That it’s the swindler’s art of making stuff up to sell a product. That’s bad marketing. The truth is, real marketing — good marketing — is something much deeper than that. It’s the well-communicated story of the culture and identity of a brewery. And, whether it’s packaging design, social media content, the words on the website, or the way the reps present their story at an event, every part of what a brewery does should be focused on communicating that identity.   The following “case studies” feature breweries with marketing problems, all of which stem from the fact they aren’t doing a great job of communicating who they are to beer drinkers. Because I’m not a masochist, none of these breweries are real, but as the honorable Julia Louis-Dreyfus once said in an interview about her documentary series, Veep: “Everyone loves the show because they all think it’s about the other guy.” So, before you get mad at me: these are all about the other guy. You’re doing great.   Case Study #1: Super Brad Brewery   The Problem Super Brad Brewery is a brewpub in a small southern town known for its constant experimentation. After a recent shift to a wider distribution, they’ve found themselves needing to act more like the packaging brewery they’ve become, without abandoning their tiny-batch, change-on-a-dime brewpub origins. While waiting for a solution to magically fall into place, their social media accounts continue to treat the brewery like a bar in a small town.   The Fix A simple change in the way they approach social media would help to shift their image from being a bar that brews beer to that of an established brewery. To put it simply, these guys really suck at social media. If I see them post one more photo of the shitty band that’s playing at their taproom that week, or a poorly lit shot of a greasy looking burger on BOGO night, I’m going to lose my marbles. These things are uninspiring, unoriginal, and kind of miss the point of social media in the first place. It’s not about throwing tiny advertisements and announcements at people; it’s about providing a window into the culture of your brewery, then inviting people to join you in that culture. It’s a way for someone who has never visited your brewery to get a taste of the personality of the people that make that beer. It’s about extending the experience beyond your taproom.   The folks at Super Brad are super goofy, with a weird sense of humor and a penchant for pranks. This is reflected in the beer they brew — it’s weird and experimental and is really hard to pigeonhole into any one style, or region. Their social media should reflect this by documenting the actual scenes of life at the brewery. That time John bought a Nerf gun and that escalated into a weeklong, all-brewery dart war? Instagram that. That time Sarah wanted to see if she could brew a peanut butter porter using peanuts that she grew at home? Take some photos of the experiments and post them in an album on Facebook with a story about the process. Show off the culture of your brewery instead of trying to pull people into the brewpub.     Case Study #2: Heelflip Brewing Company   The Problem Heelflip Brewing Company is a production brewery and taproom in San Diego with a strong skateboarding theme. They have beers with names like, Double Kickflip IIPA, Boardslide Bitter and Frontside Fakie Narflip 360 BaitHook to Fakie Benihana Stout. Whenever they talk about the brewery, this is what they focus on. So much so that the beer is always treated as secondary. As a result, they’re not known for the beer they brew, even though they keep winning awards for it. It’s all summed up in their tagline: “Heelflip Brewing: Beer For Skateboarders.”   The Fix  “Beer For Skateboarders” is really only half of the story. They like skateboarding, yes, but what they’re really good at is making killer beer. There’s a much stronger tie to the theme that they’ve devoted themselves to under the surface, and it’s one that shifts the focus to what’s important: the beer. Most of what they brew is low in alcohol, a decision they made because they wanted to drink sessionable beers that let them extend their skate… sessions. To let that idea speak a little louder, they could use a tagline closer to this: “Heelflip Brewing: Session Beers For Longer Sessions.” The change is subtle but important. It shifts the focus of the brand from the skateboarding to the beer. Instead of saying “We started our brewery because we like skating,” the tagline could read: “We started our brewery to make great beer, and we like to make the kind of beer that we can drink while skateboarding.”   Case Study #3: Melange Brewing Company   The Problem Their IPA, Shondorf’s Second Staff has phenomenal graphics — a bad ass illustration of a wizard hovering above a cave where a troll wearing a “Shondorf” name tag pours hops into a steamy cauldron. Awesome. But when it sits on a shelf next to their Space Dust Oyster Stout with its classic video game-inspired graphics, or their The DM Is Always Right DIPA with what appears to be the artwork of the brewmaster’s five-year-old scribbled on a bar napkin… I get confused. And then…

Using Bankruptcy to Kill the Narrative of the “Craft Beer Bubble.”

By Jack O’Connor   Last December, San Francisco-based Magnolia Brewing filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Being a corporate bankruptcy attorney (and an optimistic beer geek), I view this positively.   You should, too. Why? Because it’s good evidence that the craft beer industry is ready to move past the tired narrative of the dreaded “Craft Beer Bubble.”   First, let’s talk about the bubble, and how it’s been speculatively applied to the current craft beer boom, for better or worse.   Then we can talk about why a bankruptcy filing in Northern California may be important to ending this narrative.   How the “Bubble” Concept is Applied to the Current Craft Beer Boom   What exactly does it mean when we talk about a “bubble,” in the craft beer industry? Why is it relevant? Should I be concerned about bubbles? What about bubbles in my bath? Are you going to keep asking rhetorical questions? BUBBLES!   The term “bubble,” seems ubiquitous these days when discussing the growth of the craft beer industry. But it’s rarely defined in a clear way. Most often, people seem to use the term “bubble,” to refer to the very broad economic concept of an economic cycle, characterized by rapid expansion in a market, which is followed by severe contraction.   The most commonly cited example of a past “bubble,” in the craft beer industry was the rise and fall of microbreweries in the late 90s and early 2000s. According to data from the Brewers Association, the total number of breweries in the U.S. grew by over 500% between 1990 and 2000, ultimately stalling out and slightly declining between 2001 and 2006. Since 2006, however, the total number of breweries in the U.S. has grown again by almost 300%, from 1,511 total breweries in 2007 to current estimates exceeding 4,300 total breweries; more than have ever existed in the country’s history.[1]   Along with the growth in number of breweries, the marketshare of craft beer has also grown significantly over this time, both in terms of total sales, and production volume relative to the overall beer market.   This rapid growth of craft beer in such a short time is constantly narrative fodder for journalists, bloggers, and forum commenters (Trolls!), speculating that we’re in the midst of another “bubble,” that’s ready to burst any day. The argument usually employs the following logic:   New breweries are opening, and current breweries are expanding, at an unsustainable rate. Since the rate of growth is unsustainable, the growth of the craft beer industry will suddenly halt, or reverse just like it did 20 years ago.   While we are certainly in the midst of a booming period of growth in craft beer, this argument ignores a number of factors in making the case that we’re in the midst of a bubble. Namely, it misses the idea that craft beer is in the midst of entering a maturity. Calling it a bubble is misleading and ultimately harmful for a couple of reasons.   First, the term “bubble,” itself is probably not the right term to describe what happened in the 90s and what people are speculating will happen now. When used by financial professionals, the concept of a bubble focuses on trade pricing for assets in a specific market that strongly deviates from the actual value of those assets (think stock prices, home values, etc.). For example, the dotcom bubble in the late 90s and early 2000s (which happens to coincide with craft beer’s last boom & bust period), was characterized by investors buying tech stocks at artificially high prices, in the belief that they could sell them at even higher prices in the future. This speculation proved untrue, causing the bubble to burst when the value of tech stocks took a nose dive.   What we saw in the 90s was probably better described as a boom-and-bust period within the craft beer industry. The number of breweries expanded rapidly, and very suddenly stopped, resulting in a shrinking of the industry generally. This distinction is important to note, because regardless of the rate of industry growth, the industry has never completely fallen off a cliff. The trend, over time has continued upward. Thus, the use of the term “bubble,” can be detrimental to the industry. It assumes a cataclysmic event in which the industry as a whole goes belly-up.   Rather than focusing on the bubble narrative, our attention should be focused on how the industry is maturing in the midst of a boom period. Expansion, financing, and acquisition rates are high right now, and likely to slow over time, meaning at the very least fewer new breweries will open on such a rapid basis. And when coupled with increased competition between existing breweries who’ve undergone significant expansions and need to sell more and more beer to stay in business, some breweries will inevitably be forced out of the marketplace.   Some won’t be able to compete on quality, others won’t be able to compete from an operational efficiency standpoint. More than a few experienced craft players have adopted this view, including Sam Calgione (Dogfish Head), Bill Covaleski (Victory), Greg Koch (Stone),[2] and Mike Stevens (Founders).[3] When recently asked, all four have indicated that they think that the industry is heading toward a “shakeout,” or “fallout,” where breweries will have to close, and the number of new brewery openings will inevitably slow. But none of them seem to think that the craft beer industry is about to experience a complete bust.   I think Van Havig of Gigantic said it best back in 2014, when interviewed for the Strange Brews podcast on NPR. “If you think that every brewery out there is going to make it . . . No,” because every industry has “bad operators,” who’ll go out of business.[4]   So even during a boom, industry turnover is natural and expected. It doesn’t mean that a magical pin is about to fall from the sky and pop…

The 39th Annual Illinois Craft Beer Awards are Coming!

The first ever 39th Annual Illinois Craft Beer Awards is a party to celebrate all the amazing, fun, and insanely creative people who make the Illinois craft beer industry the vibrant scene that it is! It’s produced by your friends at Mash Tun Journal and The Beer Temple. The ICBA ceremony is like The Golden Globes or The Academy Awards but for beer industry professionals and for a good cause! Who will win the highly-coveted “Foamy” trophy and in what category? You’ll have to attend the party to find out! General admission tickets are $35 BUY THEM HERE Admission includes: Complementary Miller High Life Complementary Craft Beer and Malort! Paparazzi ! Live Music! Entertainment ! Swag! Participating breweries include: Hopewell Brewing, Maplewood, Three Floyds, Half Acre, Revolution, Lagunitas, Goose Island, Arcade Brewing, Transient Artisan Ales, Marz Community Brewing, Lake Effect, Twisted Hippo, Une Annee, Scratch, Noon Whistle, Forbidden Root, Middle Brow, Ballast Point, Whiner, Miller, Band of Bohemia, Blue Island Beer Co, Aleman, Pipeworks, Illuminated Brew Works, Hop Butcher, and others. There is very limited capacity at this event. All the proceeds from the event will go to Doctors without Borders.

Mash Tun 010 Release party

Issue 010 of Mash Tun Journal features work by Calvin Fredrickson, JJ Jetel, Mike Killion, BJ Pichman, Alex Bach, Calvin Fredrickson, Ed Marszewski, Jack O’Connor, Jenny Pfäfflin, Mike Smith, and Matt Tanaka. We are having the official release party for Mash Tun Journal 010 at Kimski’s Sword Fight event. Sword Fight: A Sausage Battle Royale Sunday, Oct 9 – 2-6 PM 960 W. 31st St, Chicago, IL. 60608 Sword Fight: A Sausage Battle Royale Sword Fight is Kimski’s inaugural sausage competition. It’s a celebration of encased meats and the people who make and eat them. We will pit three of Chicago’s premier purveyors of encased, cured and fresh meats; Publican Quality Meats, Haymarket Pub & Brewery and Bridgeport’s own Martinez Supermarket in a brat battle royale against one another with the audience ultimately deciding who the wiener is by voting for their favorite. Sword Fight also features a Sausage Toss contest and a Relish Race. The Sausage Toss (like the well-known picnic balloon toss) will use casings filled with water with different players throwing the sausages to one another, taking a step back after each catch until one player either drops or pops his sausage. The Relish Race will be a three-member Olympic-like relay event with different runners handing off a sausage baton to one another as they run a circular course around Maria’s. First team to the finish line without dropping their sausage wins. The final competition will be a Polish -sausage eating contest, presided by the Sausage Queen, Nicole Makowski of Makowski Real Sausage Co. Other treats include The Chicago Stock Yard Kilty Band and Carnival Style Sausage cutouts painted by our own Chef Won Kim. We invite you to drop by to share in the festivities for this afternoon of good-natured fun, frivolity and great food. We will be serving all three sausages as a sampler and a la carte. And of course, you’ll be able to pair your sausage with Maria’s varied and wide selection of draft beers and cocktails.  

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