(Chicago, IL) – During the last week of November, BeerPulse’s Tim Mannion meandered his way over to Pipeworks Brewing Company. There, he met with Co-Founder Beejay Oslon (Co-Founder Gerrit Lewis not present) for a lenghty interview.
Since several weeks have transpired, we’d encourage you head on over to Pipeworks’ Facebook page once you have finished reading for the latest.
Tim: So what was the first craft beer you ever had? And when did you really get into the craft beer scene?
Beejay: Let’s see. The very first craft beer I ever had would probably be something in Belgium. I’ve been to Belgium before but I didn’t know a lot about beer. That was years ago, maybe nine years ago.
It was the first time and I think I had some kind of kriek and it was the first time ever having a cherry beer and I was like, “Oh my god! This is amazing! I didn’t know there’s beer like this.” But what really got me into brewing was; I had a roommate in college who was a chef and he brought up the idea that we can home brew beer and I was like, “Wow! That sounds awesome.”
So we bought some crappy kit, brewed the beer and then quickly we, went to all grain brewing and started learning a lot more about it and you know, when I started reading about IPA’s and all these different English ales and Belgian ales, I was like, “Wow, I have no reference for the things I want to be brewing.” So we went to Whole Foods and I think the beer that really sparked it for me was Alpha King. That would have been seven years ago. When I tasted what hops were I was like, “Holy shit!”
Tim: Right. So the Chicago Tribune had reported that you guys decided to start the brewery while in line at the 3Floyds. Is that actually what happened?
Beejay: Absolutely. I believe it was the 2008 Dark Lord Day. Gerrit and I had met working at West Lakeview Liquors. We’ve both gotten jobs there to kind of get closer to the industry and then we were in line at, you know I had already been home brewing for quite some time at this point and we’re in line just seeing the masses of beer geeks and just the whole buzz around the scene and how much passion there was behind it. We looked at each that day and it was just like, “Oh hell yeah! This is something I want to do.”
Tim: Very nice. So how far did you go into the planning process before quitting your jobs or making the real commitment to do this? Why did you decide to quit at that point and how much money had you saved up?
Beejay: For me, I really jumped off the diving board and went full on in. For me personally, I was working at West Lakeview at that time. As soon as I had secured my apprenticeship in Belgium with De Struise, I quit my job immediately, started getting ready for that. I had basically no money whatsoever; I had enough money to fund my trip I actually got credit cards and stuff to get the frequent flyer miles because I was close on frequent flyer miles so I was like, “Oh! If I sign up for this credit card It will flip me over the edge.” So I got the free fly and then we had free room and board. So really getting out there for three months cost me next to nothing but at that point I pretty much whole-heartedly dedicated myself to this and my now fiancé, she was the one that kind of helped me along during that tumultuous time.
Gerrit was working up until we were open and even a little bit into us being an operation and I think after the first five or six weeks of running the brewery it was like, “No! I can’t do this anymore. This is crazy.”
Tim: Right. So, as you have mentioned, you spent time at De Struise in Belgium. What was the biggest thing you took away from that experience?
Beejay: We learn so much out there. One of the things I really took to heart: that beer can be simple, even on the commercial level. The things I have learned as a home brewer were important and it was a big part of the process especially working at a Belgian brewery that wasn’t high-tech or sophisticated. I was like, “Wow! This is a giant home brew setup.”
Beejay: As you see what we have here is also very similar to a giant home brew setup. So I mean that was important. Just respect for the craft, I mean in general. Urbain is so passionate about everything that goes into his product and he also does everything basically on his own whether it be from formulation of recipes, to creating labels, to delivery of the beer and that’s something that we definitely put into this company. We’re self distributing, we do all the artwork ourselves or with the help of a couple local artists but I mean, we are really hands on doing our own website and everything. So we really learned how to work hard and just stick to the game from beginning to end.
Tim: So you guys are operating on a relatively small brewery. Why did you choose to go with a small system and how did you choose the manufacturer?
Beejay: Largely the reason that we started out so small is because it was what we could afford. There was a certain juncture especially after Kickstarter and we had a certain amount of money in the bank. We had a big decision whether or not we were going to take outside investment and thus give away part of our company, and we felt that just by working hard on a small system we can produce just as much beer as if we bought a larger system. We would just have to work harder for it but thus keep the company for ourselves.
We did the research, and there are not a lot of places that makes small system. I forget exactly when we heard about the Psycho Brew guys but it was conveniently located in Michigan. It was made here in the U.S. so we were able to drive up there and see the system work and it was affordable for us at the time as something that we were like, “We have money. We can go ahead and do this right now.” So, it was an easy decision at the time, I think.