December 6, 2011

Chicago, IL - My Kind of (Beer) Town

Finally, I've had a chance to check out the city Sinatra's been singing about -- Chicago.

I was in the Windy City last week taking a Start Your Own Brewery course through the Siebel Institute.  The 3-day seminar was held at the Goose Island Pub in the Clybourn neighborhood and covered a wide range of topics, including business plan development, site selection and construction, brewpub operations, starting a packaging brewery, distribution, marketing, and much more.  The class was moderated by Ray Daniels, author of the highly-rated homebrewing manual Designing Great Beers.  For each segment of the class, Ray brought in different players from the Chicago and Midwest beer scene to talk about their experiences.  I was pleasantly surprised with both the breadth and depth of the course.  Hearing from people who had actually been successful in the beer business was both inspiring and eye-opening.

DAY 1 started with a brief overview of the course and introductions by each of the students in the class.  The 53 students came from all over the country.  I noticed the class was about 80-90% bearded male, a trend commented on here and inspiring this brewer and his blog.  Anyways, I digress.

After introductions, we were introduced to Josh Deth (rhymes with teeth), managing partner of Revolution Brewing Company.  He talked about opening the Revolution Brewpub, which I had the pleasure of visiting.  (It's awesome.  Check it out, even if just to see the beautiful bar and interior design.)  What stood out to me from Josh's presentation was how much time it can take to get one of these projects off the ground.  From the time that he conceived of the original idea, it took nearly 15 years and multiple job changes for all the right pieces to come together that allowed Josh to finally open the doors of his dream brewpub in early 2010.  Throw in putting together a massive initial investment, and we're talking serious business.

Following Deth was husband and wife team Doug and Tracy Hurst.  Their presentation was all about starting up their Chicago production brewery, Metropolitan.  They explained that in starting their business venture, they wanted the focus to be "all about the beer."  Specifically, about German-style lagers, which they viewed as an underserved niche.  Doug and Tracy got into some of the details of writing a business plan, including discussions of cash flow, profit and loss, and break even.  It sounded to me that the more you can plan out in advance, the more problems you can avoid down the road.  Many thanks to them both for their insights and for bringing in a case of their Dynamo Copper Lager.

For lunch, most of the class stayed at Goose Island.  I got a delicious Turkey Burger with a Mild Winter, a mild rye ale, which the pub describes as "toffee in color, dark bread aroma, spicy rye and caramel flavor, rich body."  Spot on.

The afternoon session began a discussion of site selection and real estate by Gabriel Magliaro, the brains behind Half Acre Beer Company.  Gabe talked about the transition from contract brewing (having another brewery make your beer for you on a contract basis) to building and opening a full-scale production brewery.  Gabe's presentation included a lot of theoretical questions that they asked themselves when getting the brewery off the ground.  When I visited the Half Acre tasting room, located on a city block in the middle of a nice neighborhood, it was evident that they had found some good answers to those questions.

The final presentation of the day was by Pete Crowley, brewmaster at the brand new Haymarket Pub & Brewery in Chicago.  Pete's presentation was all about the multi-million dollar renovation for the Haymarket Pub.  Well, I visited the pub and that investment was worth it.  When you walk into a place and even the floors are beautiful, you know you're dealing with people that pay attention to the details.  And the beer was fantastic.  To wash down some Fish and Chips, I got 4 oz. samplers of their Cease and Desist Smoked Porter, Matthias IPA, Torch Pale Ale, Bieber's Teabag Honey Chamomile Wheat, and Mini Mojo Belgian Dubbel.   I had a hard time picking out a favorite!  (I eventually settled on the Chamomile Wheat.)  Just look at this gorgeous brewhouse!

The brewery inside Haymarket Pub.
After class, I met up with some friends, had a Goose Island Honker's Ale for a nightcap, and got ready for DAY 2...

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