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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Since I set out on this project nearly three years ago, I’ve tried to approach each challenge by finding solutions that were two things: different and simple. The beer industry is small and collaborative, but still competitive. Separating yourself is a constant challenge. For me, my biggest challenge was also pretty simple: in this industry, I was green.
The first batch of beer I was ever a part of making was the first-ever beer we brewed at Solemn Oath back in April of 2012. I had never homebrewed. I had no experience selling beer. How do you get taken seriously and build a team when you’re trying to dive into a new industry? There’s always more than one way, but this is how I did it.
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.