With the plethora of breweries opening up over the next year or two (the Red Eye just had an awesome showcase of most of them) it may be difficult to differentiate yourself from the crowd. While all of the new breweries are unique and exciting, one of the most enticing business plans is the one by Begyle Brewing. Instead of the usual distribution format, they are forging new territory by following a community sourced agriculture (CSA) model where subscribers will stop by the brewery on designated days to pick up their allotment of beer. This CSA model fascinates me and while the cynic in me wonders how/if it will work, I know I wanted to learn more.
The hubby and I met up with one of the brewery’s founders, Kevin Cary, at Floyd’s Pub in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood. As luck would have it, Cary and I are neighbors and apparently we both frequent Floyd’s quite regularly. I’m surprised I haven’t run into him before! We ordered beers and Cary began walking us through a rendering of the brewery space. The facility is bigger than what they need so they built some rooms to allow artists to rent space. “There’s a really cool artist community in the building,” said Cary. The subletting artists allow a sort of symbiotic relationship where Begyle brews will be served at their art shows, and the art will be displayed during brewery tours. And the rent from the artists is helping to fund the brewery build-out. That sounds like a win-win to me!
While I had a great time talking with Cary and hanging out at Floyd’s, I was not satisfied by merely looking at a rendering; I wanted to experience the full Begyle brewery in person. So on a chilly spring morning in April the hubby and I headed north to the Ravenswood corridor to see the brewery’s progress. When we arrived, the brewery crew was braving the cold wind to film a Kickstarter video. While they do have much of the brewery equipment already, they want an expensive counter pressure growler filler and hope to raise enough funds with Kickstarter so they can purchase and install one. This growler filler preserves beer much better than just filling from a tap line; it is similar to bottling. This will allow subscribers to stock up on beer that will last longer and is easier to transport. And since this crew will focus mainly on growler sales, having the best growler filler is of utmost importance. According to Cary, bottles require a lot of planning and label approval and they don’t want to be tied down like that. So growlers it is!
Cary and the others were just wrapping up the video when we arrived so he immediately took us into what will soon be the retail section. As you walk in, you notice a large banner proclaiming Argyle Brewing, the crew’s former name before they received a cease and desist order from an Australian winery of the same name. This incident puts into perspective how a slight misunderstanding in the law can lead to this. Cary thought that the law said there was a difference between wineries and breweries, thus allowing a winery and a brewery to have the same name. The already-established winery (and their lawyers), however, interpreted the law differently and felt that their patent and copyrights were violated. The just-starting-out brewery decided to take the high road and change their name to Begyle Brewing in order to avoid any further legal action. This name also has significance in that a “parti-gyle” is a brewing technique to achieve beers of varying strengths, and the play-on-words with “beguile” adds a little mystery. Personally, I like the new name and the way the alliteration roles off the tongue. Well done, fellas.
The Begyle boys are in the process of working with an architect on the buildout of the brewery. While the brewery is still quite a ways off from being finished, you can definitely see it starting to take shape. The retail section will be a good size with areas for growler fills and merchandise. They are even planning to bake dog treats out of the spent grain from their beers and selling those. There is an old garage door that they will open on nice days that will be inviting for passersby to stop in and have a taste of their brews or pick up their ration.
Moving on from the retail space is a large cooler that the gang acquired from their neighbors over at Half Acre Beer Company. Cary saw the posting for a used walk-in cooler on Facebook and pounced, saying “I’ll take it!” Right now the cooler just looks like a large metal room but soon it will house the kegs of beer that will be handed out growler-by-growler to Chicago patrons.
So, how did the idea of opening a brewery come to fruition? Kevin Cary and Matt Ritchey were roommates who started homebrewing together and toying around with the idea of opening a brewery. And then Cary went to work for Brendan Blume’s Pedi Cab Company. Cary noticed that Blume had many beer stickers on his cab and they started talking about beer. It turned out that Blume had also been thinking about opening a brewery so a partnership consisting of Blume, Ritchey, and Cary was formed. Ritchey is the brewer; he looked into going to Siebel Institute but the waiting list to be admitted was two years. So he bought the textbooks and taught himself. They were all members of CSAs and thought it would be interesting to apply that philosophy to beer. That way they could start small and grow based on consumption, just like a small farm. And then the customer can celebrate in the success of the brewery. Blume is the business manager while Cary, an accountant by day, is the liaison between the business and brewing sides of things.
Things have been moving along at a fairly good pace. The Begyle team is going with a two-barrel system to start but there is plenty of room for expansion, providing an easier transition as they grow. They want to grow organically, starting with the CSA model and then beginning sales in the brewery. They just received their Federal license, and are now just waiting on the State, City, and permit for liquor sales. It really is starting to look like a brewery; kudos to the guys for all of their hard work and innovative ideas.
For more pictures of the Begyle Brewery, check out Christopher Murphy’s photostream.