Beer connoisseurs across the globe have long held California as a mecca to the craft, and they’re absolutely right. From the long-time powerhouse breweries in the north to the hop-centric revolution carried forward by producers in and around San Diego, the California market has long been then envy of others throughout the states. But few people ever mention what’s going on in greater Los Angeles.
Last week we had the chance to bring Solemn Oath to pour beer in Los Angeles as part of a truly unique event called Uppers & Downers. Michael Kiser of Good Beer Hunting and Intelligentsia teamed up for the first in what will be a series of events highlighting the past, present, and future of beer brewed with coffee.
It was August. It was time to get the hell out of town. The bustle of a brewery expansion and festival season receded into the foggy recesses of beer-soaked memory as our head brewer’s reggae-themed wedding and marathon honeymoon loomed on the horizon. If not now, then when? If not because I just fucking needed to, then why?
I set out with Emily, your favorite Solemn Oath taproom server and my wonderful girlfriend, on a two-thousand-mile journey to South Dakota and back with a hatchback full of camping gear and possibilities. It would be a voyage about finding ourselves–could we really stand thirty hours in the car with each other?–and about finding what’s not ourselves. Going out into the wild forces you to consider what you really need–what’s bullshit and what’s real. So we traded the man-made millieus of Logan Square (home) and Naperville (the brewery) for the untamed peaks, spires, and buttes of the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota, hoping to glean something about the nature of the universe and our place in it.
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.
You know, the sharp-as-a-tack heart-throb from across the pond. Grant. Hugh Grant. Not really.
The grant we’re talking about here is a critical piece of our brewhouse. If you’ve ever been on a brewery tour or brewed beer at home, you already know that virtually all breweries have at least two stainless steel or copper vessels in their brewhouses. You can’t really get by without having a mash-lauter tun (MLT) and a boil kettle (BK), though there are exceptions–just check out Lunar Brewing Co. in Villa Park. A good chunk of breweries also have a hot liquor tank (HLT), though Pipeworks manages just fine with instant in-line water heaters. We’ve already covered the heat exchanger, which is the last stop for wort in our brewhouse before going into a fermenter. That leaves the grant.
I know that a lot of you gaze in interest as you peek over the half wall and see us SOBs hard at work. You stare at MOfferman dripping with sweat and crushing up malt in his bad boy cargo shorts and muscle tee. It’s foxy.
You stare down Tim, riding around on his sexy beast of a forklift in his vibrant, blue, rubber boots. And John, in his unnecessarily stylish Diesel jeans that are worn in all the right places, scrubbing those filthy kegs ‘til they sparkle. You think Paul manages to look even more brilliant as he rinses the floor, hose in hand, with a soft head-bob to Ke$ha.
What did you do last Thursday at your job? We prohibitioned a beer barrel. Why would we do that, you ask? Because we’re professionals, first of all. And also because a bad fit on one end of the barrel caused a slow leak out of beer and a slow leak in of bugs and maggots and the like.
So we had to unfortunately dump the whole barrel. It was a sad day. Until Joe said, “Hey team, let’s prohibition this son of a gun!” We all thought, “Gee, that’s a swell idea!” Or at least I thought that. And since I had Murray, my axe, for Bring Your Axe to Work Day*…
You know that scene from Fight Club? The one where Brad-Pitt-Tyler Durden teaches Edward-Norton-Tyler Durden about chemical burns?
That’s what caustic is. Sodium hydroxide is the core of Project Mayhem’s soapmaking-cum-explosives-making operation, and it’s also at the heart of our cleaning processes here at the brewery. Tyler uses powdered lye; we use liquid caustic detergent made of sodium hydroxide (NaOH), potassium hydroxide (KOH), and water (H20).
Sometimes you just don’t know it all. I know this because I am one rockin’ eavesdropper.
I love listening to people’s private conversations. Washing glasses in the taproom gives me the perfect opportunity to tune in to your intimate chatter; I look focused while I’m rinsing away yet I’m totally listening to your every word. TLC’s “Creep” is my jam. Aside from hearing about how your beloved hamster just died or how you strongly believe Justin Bieber is prettier than those guys in One Direction, a lot of what I hear is beer talk and a lot of what you say is bullshit. Let me clear some things up for you.
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.