This piece has been a while in coming, because I’ve been busy and lazy. Between dealing with insurance resulting from an auto accident and planning a beer trip to Michigan (which I just returned from, many updates to come), I haven’t gotten around to consulting my digital recorder since I took it to Three Floyds Dark Lord Day, which I documented visually here.
One of the things that stuck out during that day that I have meant to get to, however, was the opportunity I had to speak with Beejay Oslon and Gerrit Lewis, the founders of Chicago’s soon-to-be Pipeworks Brewing Company. They will be known in Chicago for their eclectic, creativity infused ales sooner rather than later–I guarantee it. I also had the chance to try a few of their brews that sunny day about a month ago, and likewise predict that their 13% abv imperial stout will soon be yet another beer that will have people telling their friends “you gotta come check out the Chicago brewery scene, man.”
Anyway. I’ll let the boys speak for themselves, utilizing brutal candor that I’m sure any Alehead would appreciate.
Kid Carboy Jr.: So where are you guys from?
Beejay: I’m from Chicago, he’s from Colorado, but he’s been here for 14 years now.
Kid Carboy Jr.: And I know you’re both young dudes; how young exactly?
Beejay: I’m about to turn 30 in July.
Gerrit: I just turned 22 yesterday (At this point, Olson berates Lewis for lying to a serious, albeit gullible, journalist). Okay, I just turned 27 two days ago.
Kid Carboy Jr.: One of the most interesting and unique facets of your brewery is the way you very publically raised money using Kickstarter, with what I still think is a really funny little video. You got some other people to match what you raised on Kickstarter, right?
Beejay: We have some investors, mostly family oriented, who were backing up the funding we raised through Kickstarter.
Kid Carboy Jr.: So you raised around $70,000 or $80,000 then? I’m just curious what it takes to start a brewery. (They roll their eyes and give me a look that says “Come on now, don’t be an fool.” Clearly, they haven’t talked to me long enough to realize that this is a pointless request.)
Gerrit: It definitely takes a lot, significantly more than $40,000.
Beejay: I will say that we’re starting on a much smaller budget than the average brewery does. We’re piecing this thing together bit by bit, bootstrapping it and using all the do-it-yourself knowhow that we have.
Gerrit: Ebay has been very helpful.
Kid Carboy Jr.: I’m alternately excited and apprehensive when reading about your beers sometimes, because the funky ingredients sometimes strike me as “Sam Calagionesque”.
Beejay: Hah, yeah, I’d say what differentiates us from Sam Calagione is our attenuation. We like to dry our beers out.
Gerrit: That’s a stigma that we kind of have to fight now, because marketing wise, it’s like “alright, we want to do something bold and brash and attention grabbing,” but at the same time we have equal—and I do absolutely mean equal, 50/50 appreciation—for brewing a beer to style. If we just do a 4% English mild, we want that to be the most to-style beer it can be.
Kid Carboy Jr.: The mildest!
Beejay: There’s no part of us that wants to be Dogfish Head. We’re not trying to make extreme beers for the sake of making extreme beers. We want to make complex, well thought-out, culinary beers.
Gerrit: We still have utmost respect and love to drink classic styles, done correctly. Not classic styles done Americanized—done the way that they’re supposed to be brewed.
Kid Carboy Jr.: So we’ll see that mix of styles in the beers you release then?
Beejay: Sure, we like to do extreme 13% beers like the imperial stout you’re drinking,* but we also like to make a fucking badass session ale. I can’t drink 13% imperial stout all day, because I’ll shit myself.* Well I could, but I wouldn’t be able to brew beer if I did.
*It was good, real good.
**That’s why I love these guys, quotes like that.
Kid Carboy Jr.: What do you think of the ridiculously complicated legislation going on in Springfield regarding brewery self-distribution?
Beejay: It is super complicated! With all of this legislation, even us as industry people have an insanely hard time keeping track of everything that’s happening. I don’t even know what’s going on exactly. Even if the bill passes*, we’re going from having been able to self-distribute 60,000 barrels to only 7,500.
*It has passed both the house and the senate and simply needs to be signed into effect by the governor, assuming Anheuser Busch’s legal sharks aren’t able to get an appeal of some sort.
Kid Carboy Jr.: The problem is that nobody seems to know that brewers ALREADY had the right to distribute up to 60,000 barrels. In all the articles I see, they act like craft breweries are gaining a right and not losing one.
Beejay: We didn’t even know! We were reading the laws, saying “holy shit, we could have already done that?” It’s so unclear, and I think that’s why only a few breweries were taking advantage of the ability to self-distribute before. I think a lot of people are afraid to put the money and work into the idea of self-distribution. We’re such a small brewery though, I think we might be able to handle it.
Kid Carboy Jr.: So you will distribute then, and not just run a brewpub. Are you guys going to bottle or can?
Beejay: Bottle, for now. Maybe cans in the future, but we’re doing bottle-conditioned beers. We’re not doing force-carbonated beers, except on our kegs and stuff. We trained in Belgium, man. That’s the way I learned how to brew. Urban Coutteau of De Struise Brewery, he taught us everything we know.*
*Olson and Lewis recently did a collaboration with De Struise and Half Acre, called “Small Animal, Big Machine”. Check out this label, which is even trippier than Half Acre’s usual labels, if that’s possible.
At this point I flipped off my recorder to drink less encumbered, and forgot entirely to ever turn it back on. Such are the perils of attending Dark Lord Day.
I left, however, more excited than ever to see what the Pipeworks duo would produce. If you need ANY more evidence that these guys are geeks of the first nature, I invite you, take a look at this photo I snapped of Beejay Oslon’s knuckles. This must have hurt like hell, but just imagine how the ladies must love it. These guys are dedicated, folks.
Pipeworks is currently finalizing much of its nuts-and-bolts, having acquired a final location after many possible choices. Further bulletins will be provided as events warrent!
That’s all I got for ya. Happy drinking.