Ria Neri of Bangers & Lace

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.

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Let’s Moff This Guy

I just completed my fifth month at Solemn Oath and still feel like the new guy. I thought maybe you guys would appreciate a little more info about who I am. I’m not great at talking about myself, so I found some questions online and answered them below. I didn’t have a traditional interview for this position, so I feel a need to answer some of these for my own peace of mind.

Some of these are from the nebulously-titled “10 Great Interview Questions” that I came across after 0.0432221 seconds of Googling, ten come from a Cosmo quiz, and ten are the questions from Bernard Pivot that James Lipton asks on “Inside the Actor’s Studio.”

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Why I Value the Culture of Beer Above All Else

We work in a unique industry wherein the camaraderie of a small faction of people brings joy to the masses glass by glass. Then there is the collective satisfaction of the market-share we’ve been chipping away from the ‘Big Brothers’ of beer. But that isn’t where I’m going with this. Lately, I’ve found myself diving into a simple question: What is it about beer that makes people want to engage? Or simply, why is beer different?

The easy answer to give is that it’s a tangible product distinguished by passion, quality, and attention to detail. But ice cream is also a tangible product. It’s made by brilliant artisans with dedication and love. Why isn’t there an enthusiastic, far-reaching culture built around seeking out the world’s finest frozen cream-based sweets? Why don’t you and your friends plan weekend trips with the idea of hitting six ice cream shops across three states? For some reason it’s different. For some reason with beer you sense a connection.

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Tim Marshall, M.D.

Solemn Oath is just in its second year, but head brewer Tim Marshall is no stranger to the world of beer. How he got here is another story, but Tim’s ongoing passion for innovative and creative beers comes through in the joy (we hope) you’re experiencing in your glass.

What makes this man tick? What does he look for on his beer ops team? And who the fuck is Electric Six? Questions. So many questions. Actually, just ten.

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Emporium

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.

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Taxation Without Representation? Come At Me Bro

In honor of the 237th anniversary of our country saying “bugger off” to King George, we thought this would be a good opportunity to hold a mirror up to America and get us all back on track in a few key areas.

As you man the grill, smuggle fireworks into the state, and reflect on the Supreme Court’s recent decisions affecting the rights and liberties of tens of millions of Americans, please take a moment to stop ruining the American experience for the rest of us. Here are five easy ways. Get on it.

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The Real SOB Origins Story

Originally, Solemn Oath was a barbershop quartet. Or barbtet, as we called them in the industry. Sure, John has told you about how he had an epiphany about opening the brewery while flying back from visiting Joe in SoCal. That’s all true, but what he didn’t mention was that Solemn Oath was already in existence, just in a more delicious, a capella form.

John had actually gone out to ask Joe for some more money.  The quartet was not making any of us rich. On the contrary, our one-bedroom townhouse, that we all shared, was about to get foreclosed on. But we were starving artists chasing our harmonious dream, and Joe always supported that.

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Twitter or Bonnaroo

I want to explore two ideas with you, and then mash them together. No, not like a Girl Talk mashup. You see, this is where the problem starts…

First, let’s talk about indie music song titles. They’re in the same grave as Family Guy’s non-sequitur gags. Dead. Let’s put them to rest.

I know you’re a pro, indie music guy. Pro enough to drive around the country through the night for months on end in an Econoline with six other dudes who haven’t showered all week, rationing out your McDonald’s money and scheming to steal their share of the merch sales. No, you’re right man, you need seven musicians for all that texture. But with such business acumen how can you be so blasé about the names of the products you’re putting out in the world? It all starts with identity. The chain is only as strong as its identity; you shouldn’t throw bricks if your identity sucks; a bird in hand is worth your identity, etc. Simple marketing, people. Read up.

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The Zahm

You can’t observe how fast a train can go if it’s standing still. The only way to solve some problems is to force a change. That’s how our Zahm works.

When we say a beer is ready to go out, we mean it. At that point, we have decided that the color, clarity, aroma, flavor, mouthfeel, and finish are dialed in enough to put our name behind a beer and share it with the world. We expect to see a small degree of variation when looking at any given characteristic, but any deviation outside of imperceptible and subtle usually belongs in the drain and not in your glass. To make beer as consistently as we need to, we take several measurements as beer ferments, conditions, and carbonates. Making beer on a scale as small as we do, there are some limits to how well we can know what we need to know. It doesn’t make sense for a brewery our size to invest in all the bells and whistles that New Belgium or Sierra Nevada has.

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