COMICS AND CROWDSOURCING: AN INTERVIEW WITH CHICAGO’S ARCADE BREWERY

Ever since writing a post a few months back about the 20-plus breweries in the process of attempting to open in Chicago, I’ve been fortunate enough to develop open lines of communication with some of the city’s nascent brewers. So when I got an email the other day from Arcade Brewery founders Chris Tourre and Lance Curren letting me know about the launch of their new Kickstarter campaign to raise funds and awareness for their project, I knew this would be a good opportunity to conduct an interview and help them get the word out about their unique concept. Through Arcade, these two nouveau brewers are planning a company that will combine unique, comics-based packaging with user-inspired brews.*

*Partially, anyway.

Because I interviewed these two simultaneously over the phone, I’ve condensed all of their dialogue into one amorphous mass that I have dubbed “Arcade Brewery.” They didn’t seem to mind.

Kid Carboy Jr.: Obvious questions first–how did you guys meet one another and decide you wanted to open a brewery?

Arcade Brewery: Well, four or five years ago, I was in an experimental noise punk band called Careful.* We were looking for a keyboardist and my friend brought Chris to me. I was also homebrewing and running this community-based art project. As part of that, I created a project called Public Brewery, and we would invite people to homebrew sessions, or convert a gallery into a public brewery; people could come in and work with me collaboratively to create beers together that would then be served at the end of the art show.

We wanted to do something like that concept on a bigger scale. People are really getting into this idea of being able to participate in beer production, so we thought “maybe we can involve crowdsourcing in the creation of labels or even recipes.”

*This is Lance, if you care.

Carboy: Why did you choose to use Kickstarter, and just how necessary is the funding you’re raising here? What other kind of funding do you have?

Arcade: It’s definitely going to be very useful. *laughs*  And we’re going to be giving a lot back to the people who are donating. It’s really a way for us to get our names out there. The $30,000 we’re trying to raise, that isn’t a necessity for us to get the business started, but it will get us started sooner than we could have otherwise.

It’s also important to note that we’re using this fundraising not just to get the brewery open but also to develop the website to the point where we can do all of the community-based stuff that we have always planned to do. This cash will be paying off all the little fees and helping to keep us afloat until we’re actually legal and licensed.

Once operational, the business will be an alternating proprietorship. We’ll be using New Chicago’s brewing equipment when they’re not using it, but we’re also purchasing our own fermenters and bright tanks to keep that aspect separate. And we’ll be using their bottling line.

Carboy: How confident are you in the Kickstarter’s success? Do you have any realistic expectation of someone investing in one of the really expensive tiers, like the $7,500 reward or the $10,000 reward?

Arcade: I’m extremely confident in it. It’s done really well so far. We would be thrilled if someone would come in on one of those tiers, but either way it’s caught the attention of some other investors already. Currently we’re on track to meet or exceed our goal of $30,000.

Carboy: Your starting of lineup of beers is pretty balanced: An IPA, a honey ale, an oat-milk stout and a kolsch means a little something for everyone, pretty much. What other styles of beers will you explore in your seasonal and limited releases?

Arcade: I think we both prefer sessionable, drinkable beers for the most part. We’re probably going to be making those types of brews to begin with and then develop more complexity as we develop our brand. But I think a lot of our beers tend to be very sessionable. We’re not really that into a lot of super heavy or alcoholic beers. It’s just something I think we’ve found we’ve gotten a little tired of.  We want to concentrate on big flavors and drinkability, not alcohol content.

Carboy: So how will the actual crowdsourcing aspect for ideas and recipes work, then?

Arcade Brewery “Grapefruit IPA.”

Arcade: This will all be based around the website. Right now we’re in beta. As we develop this with our tech people we’re going to have a much more sophisticated system than just the forums that are in place now. And it’s certainly not something simple and random like “throw us your recipes.” People have been confused about this, and some people even seem think we’re going to let customers brew the beer! We’ll have a system on the website that will make it much more easily understood.

Essentially, though, we would lay out templates for what we want for the seasonal beer and then have people submit suggestions for certain elements, like adjuncts, other ingredients, etc. So like, we could say “We’re going to make a pumpkin ale in the fall,” and then perhaps canvass for opinions on spices or specialty malts. We feel that we can have at least four beers like that per year once we’re up and running. And obviously it will work far in advance; we’ll be accepting submissions and opinions for a fall beer in early summer.

We’ll also be adding more features to the user accounts over time, including fully editable profiles. They’ll be able to tie their profiles to the Arcade beers that they’re drinking and the ones they’ve helped give opinions on creating.

We also want to post videos and how-to’s on how we’re brewing a lot of our beers step-by-step so people can see their contributions in action.

Carboy: Another project of yours are the “Six-Pack Stories,” where each of the beers in the six-pack has a panel of an original comic. Which beers will be released as Six-Pack Stories, and how big will the batch sizes be?

Arcade: Each one will be a special release beer. And you can actually have multiple panels on each beer label. Each bottle in the six-pack will be different, with the full six-pack telling a self-contained story. The stories won’t carry over to multiple six-packs–as far as contacting these comic artists to do the work, spreading it over multiple six-packs would be really difficult.

As for batch sizes, we’re still working on that as to whether we’re going to hold off on those beers until we can work with New Chicago’s larger 20-barrel system. Chances are with those six-packs, we’d be doing at least 20 barrels for each series release, at a minimum.

We haven’t decided on any beer styles for Six-Pack Stories releases, because the comics story and the artwork will inspire us in the creation of the beer itself.

Carboy: So is everything you make going to be in six-pack format then, or will there be special release bombers as well?

Arcade: Everything is in six-pack format.

Carboy: Not to play devil’s advocate, but wouldn’t cans really allow you the maximum amount of art space for comics on beers?

Arcade: You know, I’ve just never been a personal fan of beer in cans, despite their popularity today. So despite the artwork maybe lending itself to cans, I just prefer it in a bottle. It’s a taste thing, I suppose.

Carboy: What do you think of a brewery like Half Acre then, putting all their regular releases in 16 oz. cans?

Arcade: I think they pull it off really well, but I still don’t prefer beer from cans. Plus, we just like how the Six-Pack stories will look on our bottles.

By the way, we’re also going to use those bottles to do these bottle caps that double as game tokens. You’ll be able to go to certain places around the city that will have Arcade swag and turn certain amounts of bottle caps for Arcade merchandise.* Supplies will be limited, of course.

*I would do this.

Carboy: How much more expensive are Six-Pack Stories releases going to be than year-rounders and seasonals? You just don’t see a lot of “special releases” in six-pack format.

Arcade: We really don’t want to price ourselves out of the game. So we’re currently thinking it will be around $12.99 for the Six-Pack Stories releases.*

*For special, limited-release beers, I personally think this is quite reasonable, especially compared to paying $10 for a bomber.

Carboy: Finally, when is the current ETA for getting things open and getting Arcade Brewery beer on the streets?

Arcade: Right now what we do is largely dependent on the progress of New Chicago as well, but things are moving along. I’m going to say that January/Feb. 2013 is the current conservative estimate.

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I want to thank Lance and Chris for reaching out to me and for sharing information about their project with us here at Aleheads. I look forward to actually getting to taste some of the brews that they’ve designed, and if I’m able to score a private tasting in the city at some point, I will report back here. Until then, go check out the Arcade Brewing kickstarter, Facebook, website and related etcetera.

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9 comments

  1. Mike HG · ·

    Jimbo, any chance you know the address off hand of the New Chicago Brewery? I’d like to stop by when they get the ball rolling and have their grand opening. Is New Chicago Brewery also going to have a tasting area / pub room?

    1. Alright, so New Chicago planned for YEARS to open at a location way down south at 1400 West 46th Street called “The Plant” to do this crazy green-brewing thing, but they just announced a few weeks ago that they won’t be moving in there any longer. I am just finding this out now, so I guess nobody knows where they will be located just yet. This is exactly why I always felt hesitant in writing about their ecological plans with this place. Dozens of profiles have already been written about that stuff, and now those pieces are irrelevant.

      As for a tap room, I would imagine they would probably have at least a tasting room. I know they were planning on doing a lot of tours at the other place, but once again that doesn’t mean much anymore.

      1. Mike HG · ·

        Were they serious? 1400 West 46th Street? That’s not where I think of when I imagine beer fan’s wanting to go try out a new brew.

        1. Kid Carboy Jr. · ·

          New Chicago wanted to do this eco-conscious hippie-type thing. There would have been a tilapia farm on site and stuff, and the tilapia would eat the spent grains. It was meant to appeal to people wearing a lot of hemp and plaid, not the business-types like you. ;) I wish they could have opened in this location though; the south side needs more of these projects. The north has hogged most of them.

          There will be more urbane and “downtowny” breweries on the horizon, don’t worry. Have you ever been to Haymarket Pub & Brewing in the West Loop?

  2. Very cool interview! Thanks for that.

  3. Hey, if they can get that beer mug pong game going on their website, I’m sold. The world needs more internet pong.

  4. skibit · ·

    Good interview, horrible website. Did they borrow the theme from geocites?

    1. Haha, it’s supposed to be intentionally “8-bit silly,” I think. Plus, keep in mind that this is just the beta. They’re just kicking around ideas at this point. Seeing as their website is going to be a huge part of their business, I would expect the finished product to have quite a lot of thought going into it.

      1. skibit · ·

        I got the fact that it was intentional, but man is it loud and in you face. I think they have the right idea, it just doesn’t need to be so obvious.

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