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.
We are a brewery, but as a business we can do more. Since our debut in 2012 we’ve been striving to push the status quo, push our own creative limits, and build a culture around us that shares a similar vision. We cannot sit still. And we look to surround ourselves with artisans, supporters, and instigators that share in the comfort of this discomfort.
Our jobs are great, but, like so many of you, we still have the drive to do more. We strive to push forward and surround ourselves with inspiration and creative expression. The vision of Solemn Oath has always been built around the ideal that every idea should be challenged with a fresh voice. And if that idea continues to fight through, our end result is always stronger. Always better.
I was brought on to Solemn Oath by Tim. Tim and I go way back.
I remember playing cards with Tim at a Bangladesh whorehouse in 1976. We were both on assignment tracking down opium smugglers. Tim was with the boys from Langley and I was with the Dept of Ag(riculture). The smugglers were laundering their money through the booming new industry of role-playing games. It was a change of pace for us in the DoA, but there was a new administration that year and we were trying new things. Anyway, we spent the summer posing as RPG creators looking for investors. The city was filthy with them.
The roots of Solemn Oath stretch down Ogden Avenue to Lisle’s Bavarian Lodge. This is the place where Tim became an SOB, where Paul first gained insight into what we were doing, and probably where Erin will someday be married. When Solemn Oath was just an empty space the Bavarian Lodge crew of Alan, Tyler, and Dan came to visit. They were trying to get a feel for what we were about, to see if they should back this horse. They did.
The Bavarian Lodge was the first place to pour our beers commercially. The crew from SOB stood behind the bar a year ago in an effort to give a face to our new little brewery, show them that there was passion in each of these glasses, and make the case that our beers deserved a place alongside some of the most exquisite and rare beers available anywhere. It all began here, and that will never be forgotten.
Each day we head to Naperville to keep our brewery in operation but, like many people, our hearts are spread around. We all have our families, our hometowns, and friends that we miss–places we love where we like to think a piece of us always is.
This is true for the heart of this brewery as well. There are a ton of places we love in Chicagoland, but fewer are the places we think of as our home. About a month after we opened our doors and began to flood this region with beer, we had the privilege to grace the lines of Bangers & Lace. Like lifelong friends, our relationship with B&L has continued to flourish. Their support has been unwavering and continues to grow. When we set out to arrange the places we were going to celebrate our first anniversary, there was no doubt where our city party needed to be.
The life of a bowhead whale can span up to two hundred years. Some bowheads caught in recent years have been found with late-nineteenth century harpoon points embedded in their blubber. Imagine going through life with a chip on your shoulder that you can’t shake because it’s literally a part of you. Every brewery will have one.
We don’t know what our chip is yet, but we’ll damn well know it when it hits us. By bowhead standards, we’re not old enough to live on our own. These animals are living museums, bearing silent witness to their rapidly changing aquatic world. The oldest bowheads alive today have weathered a mini-ice age, post-industrial oceanic warming, the filling of the seas with our plastic junk and chemical waste, and the depletion of their food sources. Our environs are changing in the beer world, too, but everything is actually looking up. Here’s a look back on this year from full-time SOBs.
If you had told me five years ago I would be managing a taproom at a brewery, I would have laughed in your face. I just graduated high school and had begun my first year at Columbia College in Chicago, majoring in fashion design. When I turned twenty-one, my beer of choice was Coors Light. What can I say? I was a sucker for the blue mountains.
Luckily, I had older friends with more sophisticated palates. They shared different beers with me. It didn’t take long before I fell head over heels for some hoppy brews. I tried every type of beer I could get my hands on. Sometimes dinner would consist of a rather pricey beer alongside some ramen. I spent my money wisely.
This life, this world, is a collection of experiences. That has always been what draws me to beer. Its social element has forged friendships, connections, and memories that otherwise never would have been possible.
Beer welds; it creates a setting. An industry friend recently reminded me that all we’re really doing is creating experiences for people. Even the original working job title for Erin’s position was ‘Experience Manager.’ The importance of this has never been taken lightly with SOB, and for each of us here that memory is different. The following happens to be one of my favorites.