They say that good things come in threes. The third time’s the charm. We here at SOB think the number three still just marks our beginning.
A few weeks back, Oath Day Three happened, our annual celebration of all things SOB. For those of you who are not familiar with Oath Day, let me give you a quick tutorial. Oath Day is the birthday of Solemn Oath Brewery. It’s where we invite all the SOBs of the world to come party with us in true SOB fashion, at our brewery, and celebrate another year of good beers and good friends. A thank you of sorts.
Just shy of two years ago, we poured our first beers in Chicagoland. Those first few weeks consisted of minimal sleep, mass consumption of beer, making new friends, and an all-around kick-ass time. Now it is time for round two. In just a few weeks we launch in Wisconsin: the land of cheese, beer, and many of mine and John’s great childhood friends and memories. We can’t wait. We are stoked to bring our beers to you in May, in no small part because we are excited to meet you and share with you what we do. Come drink with us, say hi, and bring a friend. Bonus points if that friend is your mom or Port Washington’s own Dustin Diamond.
As we ease our way into the state, you will only be able to find Solemn Oath in a limited number of spots in Madison and in the Milwaukee area, but our footprint will grow deeper and wider in the state over the next year–as long as you come drink the stuff, that is. Think of our Wisconsin entry as a months-long series of gatherings. These are the first.
There is a lot more to the success of a brewery than just making beer. When a beer is ready to leave our four walls, we rely on on a number of people from areas including operations, sales, marketing, beer buyers, bartenders, wait staff, and consumers.
We create strategies for new and old products and communicate with our sales team. We devise a plan and get after it, knowing that we’ll need to constantly adjust to ensure that the beer that reaches you is of the highest quality and as fresh as possible. It takes an army to do this. And in Chicago, Wes Phillips devises the plan for infiltration.
Beer Dinners. Tap Takeovers. Beer festivals. The list goes on. As more and more breweries pop up all over the country, the number of beer events skyrockets. What’s on the horizon? Where will the evolution of events and promotion take us? How will we differentiate?
When we first opened our doors in 2012, we tried to keep things as creative as possible on our end. It was hard. We wanted to get our name out there as much as we could, but we wanted to do it in true SOB style. We have done beer dinners, thrown tap takeovers, and participated in countless beer festivals. We have certainly done our share of standard beer events like these and will continue to participate in many of them.
Over the past 16 months, we here at Solemn Oath began pouring our beer in the Chicagoland area with the help of the great people of Windy City Distributing. Without their belief in us, their belief in craft and, quite honestly, their awesomeness, we would not be where we are today.
The creation of Windy City by Jim and Jason Ebel of Two Brothers and their father in 1999 pioneered the distribution of craft beer throughout the Chicago area. When they began, it was just Two Brothers and Goose Island brewing locally and they couldn’t persuade a major distributor to bring Two Brothers Brewing Co. into their portfolio. Unlike today, where the major distributors fight to get as many up-and-coming suppliers as possible into their network, nobody wanted to touch smaller brands. Windy City began as a way for Jim and Jason to sell their beer, and quickly became the go-to wholesaler in Chicago for small breweries across the country. Since then the dynamic has flipped, and the business that Jim and Jason Ebel created out of necessity, has helped pave the way for renaissance in Chicagoland beer that you are witnessing today.
I think everyone can agree that what makes Chicago a great beer city is, well, the beer. There’s a ton of it made here. There’s arguably a better selection of out-of-town beer here than anywhere else in the country. And I’m from San Diego.
Coming in a close second, however, are the talented, determined people bringing the beer to you. I’m not just talking about brewers here, I mean the people who own, manage, buy beer for, and serve at all the rad bars and restaurants we love to go to. With that mind, I’m starting a new series here on Sob Stories. Every month or so, I will corner a significant person in the beer business and ask them a handful of questions over a beer. For this post, I sat down with Ria Neri, the beer buyer for Bangers & Lace as well as a few others. Really, I emailed her because she is in another country right now. Ria has been a very strong supporter and amazing friend to us here at SOB. Here are some of her thoughts on the craft beer industry not only in Chicago, but throughout the world.
Growing up in the ’80s, as most of us did here at SOB, makes our love for Emporium strong. Dig Dug, N.A.R.C., Paperboy, Ms. Pac Man all remind us of our local roller rink, rocking our Vision Street Wear, and of course, a brewery favorite: the movie RAD. (Hellooooooo Lori Loughlin)
Danny and Doug Marks are two fine gentleman who show love not just to Solemn Oath, but to midwestern breweries in general. Their twenty-four lines of craft beer will give you liquid courage to challenge your closest friends (or maybe Danny, but you will get crushed) to an NBA Jam tournament. Their intense whiskey list, that we sometimes like to pair with whatever beer we are drinking is so extensive you could use it to lure your father-in-law to Emporium, just so you can kick his ass in Double Dragon and show him who’s really the man.
Chicago Craft Beer Week. A time to celebrate, drink too many nights in a row, and spend time with all our friends and colleagues. For us here at Solemn Oath it was also a way to reflect on and celebrate (as you already know) our first anniversary with all of you. For me, it was a time to toast to our accomplishments, almost overcome a fear of mine, over-enjoy whiskey, meet supporters of our brewery that I never knew before, make sure my brewery obligations were taken care of, and still train as much as I could for a half-Ironman race.
Thursday started with a whirlwind of things to finish up for the week. An early morning swim. Making sure kegs were where they needed to be. Getting all five hundred million taphandles in the right spots around town. Briefing and mentally preparing dozens of visiting family members for what was about to happen over the next ten days–that’s ⅓ a month, not a week, by the way.
Last month my girlfriend and I decided a road trip was in order. Michigan seemed to fit, especially since neither of us had done any beer travel in Michigan other than visiting our friends at Greenbush. The abundance of West Coast beers in the beer closet needed some loving additions from the good old Midwest.
Being a fan of both Founders and Brewery Vivant, Grand Rapids was the perfect first stop. After a little research on hotels (yes, I am what some would call a hotel snob), I found City Flats Hotel. A modern boutique, LEED-certified hotel right in the heart of town. After checking in, we wasted no time time and headed over to Founders. If you have never been there, just look for a few grain silos and construction. Lots of it. This place is growing by leaps and bounds and they should be; they make awesome beer.