You never forget your first. The freshman year for a brewery is an intense time, full of awkward growth phases and hard lessons. But by the second year, a lot of things become muscle memory — the brewing plan takes shape, people know your story, and you’ve made a shit-ton of new friends. For some, this is the time to take your foot off the gas a bit and recover from all the late nights and endless work weeks. For others, it frees up critical brain space, enabling the team to focus on new challenges and accelerate the growth plan.
The sophomore year for Solemn Oath Brewery in Naperville, Illinois has been even more intense than the first. It’s a rare second album that transcends the debut. They’ve operationalized most of the brewery, instituted a safety program, busted through the walls to double the square footage of the brewery, hired their eighth full-timer, got their first bottles out the door, and now they’re prepping a canning line. They seem very aware that this is their time, and they’re going for broke.
But perhaps the biggest thing they did this year had nothing to do with the brewery at all — it had to do with opening up a new market, their first outside Illinois, and connecting with an entirely new audience in Wisconsin. This was huge both professionally and personally for the Barley brothers. They grew up in Wisconsin before bouncing around the country and finally returning to the Midwest to start Solemn Oath. And the cultural heritage for brewing in Wisconsin is a narrative to which they aspire to contribute in a meaningful way. They could have hit up all the cool spots, and sent bottles to New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia — and no doubt they eventually will — but rather than scatter themselves thin across a bunch of different markets, they decided their early move should be closer to home, closer to the heart, and closer to where the story begins.
Opening new markets is tricky business. Your distribution partners can make or break you, and perception matters. Most breweries enter new markets with a blitz, and then whimper away when sales plateau and the tap takeovers run dry. And the further away you are from home, the harder it is to maintain momentum.
That’s why today’s announcement is even more exciting than Solemn Oath’s original launch into Wisconsin this summer. Because this coming year, they’re going to double down. With just a trickle getting into Wisconsin this year, the demand has been livid. In order to maintain a strong connective thread with their home market, allocations went to accounts that reflected SOB's values and attitude, like Burnheart's in Milwaukee and Coopers in Madison. This next wave hopes to fill the spaces between those towns, and goes deeper into the Wisconsin bar scene. No doubt, those accounts that already have allocations and have helped build the SOB name will keep a firm grip on those tap handles. It’s been amazing to see one of Illinois’ best grow, but it’s even more fun to watch how they do it.
This video is a collaboration between Solemn Oath’s crew, Potluck Creative, and Good Beer Hunting. It was shot over the course of two launch trips in Milwaukee and Madison with some of the raddest people in American's Dairyland. And it was a helluva good time.