Good Beer Hunting

Critical Drinking

Critical Drinking with Gabriel Magliaro of Half Acre Beer Co.

As one of Chicago's first-on-the-scene brewers, Half Acre's story one of many starts. Everything Gabriel Magliaro and his working partner Matt Gallagher learned, they mostly had to learn themselves. To start a craft brewery in Chicago in 2006 was to start in obscurity, and like so many brewers at the time, their challenge wasn't in standing out—they had to fit in. They had to convince people that the beer they were making was worthy of the term "beer" at all.  

Almost unrecognizable from those beginnings today, Gabriel and the growing Half Acre team are one of the most sought-after, stand-out brands in the city, and the team is ready to make a major leap to a second production facility on Chicago's north side. These days, Half Acre is considered the veteran in Chicago's craft scene, helping guide the early days of so many new brewers popping up around them. That wisdom didn't come cheap, and it didn't come easy. But here he is, still giving it all away anyway. 

You're a Pennsylvania guy like me. I don’t meet a lot of PA folks out here. And if I recall, you moved to Chicago for the same reasons I did: art school.

Yeah, I’ve lived in Pennsylvania. I grew up in New Jersey on the Delaware River which separates PA and New Jersey. So, I was in Pennsylvania as much as I was in New Jersey. I had left the East Coast and was living in Colorado for a few years. And then came here to go to School of the Art Institute. Visual Communication. Photography, that was my world while I was there.

I studied that as well, but for grad work at The School, I studied Poetry. At least yours is a little bit more relevant, I guess. There’s only one poetry job in the U.S. We used to joke about hiring someone to take out Billy Collins, the poet laureate, just so a gig would open up.

I’ve thought a lot about how school connected to this. I think it was great for this. It applies, maybe not in a very direct way, but a lot of what running a business is comes down to rules. I should say the things that business school would provide you, those are like rules about how to not get audited by the IRS and things like that. Whereas art school, in general, and especially The School of the Art Institute, teaches you a creative approach to just thinking. And I think business people, whether it’s a brewery or anything else, you better get awfully creative about how you approach things. And when things don’t go well you have to get re-creative. So I’m happy with that choice.

Well there’s two aspects to Half Acre for me, from the outside looking in, of course. In some ways it seems like you take the visual communication of your brand very, very seriously. You’re one of the first breweries in the country, let alone Chicago, to hire in a full-time artist, with Phineas. So, obviously, you take it very seriously. But you’re also much looser than other people in terms of the way you express yourselves. You don’t seem obsessed with one mark, making sure it’s always the same, making sure it’s easily recognizable. You guys play with the brand more than almost anybody I know. But somehow you always recognize it as Half Acre.

Yeah, it’s all over the place. That’s been largely about exploration, fucking around, having a good time and kind of feeling things out. We talk more about it now, as of late, about moving forward and how we want to approach that. Maybe being a little bit more measured, or maybe not measured but if we want to be more measured and what it all means and how it all syncs up. I think some of it’s about the body of work thus far. We’ve mostly just amassed imagery. I’m an imagery nerd. All kinds of things. Photography based. Graphically based. Screen prints. Anything. I just like imagery. So, I think we’ve been kind of collectors of “Half Acre” imagery thus far. It may start to narrow or it might not. But, we have been talking a little bit more about it and how we see things moving forward.

That first year and a half of Half Acre was really interesting to me. I had personally only been in Chicago for a few years at that point so I didn’t really know the city that well. I was just starting to drink better beer. And Half Acre, this Chicago-esque brand showed up on the shelves. But no one knew who it was, or where it was, or what it was all about. It was very different than what Half Acre is today. That Half Acre imagery hadn’t really come into play yet. It was a really straightforward brand, as though it had to remind people that it was just beer. That first lineup included a basic lager.

Yeah. Half Acre had two starts, in a way. We started contract brewing the lager bottles. That kind of got going in 2006. I had, really, none of the on-paper qualities that you should have when starting a brewing company. That was including a large sum of cash to build a brewery, which was probably great at the time. There weren’t really any models about how to do that in Chicago. Goose had done it so much in the past that they were light-years ahead. We were contract brewing out of Sand Creek Brewing Company, which gave us a peek into what the hell was going on, and helped us learn.

It was interesting that you and Metro were starting up around the same time and both chose lagers. That’s like ancient history for you guys now. Nobody thinks about lager when they think about Half Acre any more.

No, but we do brew lagers year-round. So, we haven’t kicked them to the curb completely. The reason we stopped brewing them for a while was we just couldn’t afford the time in the tank. It just couldn’t happen relative to what was happening out there in the world. We were just getting trounced by the consumers. People were outpacing us so far. We were catching so much flack and it was before a time people understood that if you’re young and you’re an early craft brewer, and they’re going to take you on, that you’re not going to be able to give them inventory at all times. It wasn’t that. If they had your handle on, you needed to get them beer. Now it's a lot more understood. In the land of rotating handles, that’s just the way things flow. It wasn’t like that back then. So we were trying to hold up our end of the bargain. So, we moved away from lager beer.

Shortly after, I started slinging lager bottles around town. Matt reached out to me and he was, and is, a metallurgical engineer, spending his days commuting to Gary, Indiana, or close to Gary, Indiana, working in a steel mill, doing research. He used to live out in Colorado around the same area that I did. We actually grew up right next to each other too. We moved here at the same time. But we didn’t know each other for any of it. We hit it off and he said, “I want to come do this.” I said, “You want to quit your job. Quit your job. We’ll do this.”

Did he have a specific role in mind? Did he want to brew, or was he just looking to get into a brewery?

Both. He just wanted this world and I think that’s what I wanted. I just wanted this world. In the early days, living out in Colorado, my first love was Avery Brewing Company. I was blowing glass in Colorado—originally I went to school for blowing glass. So I was doing off-hand traditional soft glass work in Colorado for years and Philadelphia before that. I used to go and trade shit with the Avery dudes. I’d show up to their brewery, and I was like, “Wow! All these guys hanging out together, making beer, skiing on the weekends, and this looks pretty terrific.” So it was the world, the culture, that attracted me. The beer was the byproduct of the culture. It was a culture that was really infectious. I think that’s what he wanted too. Long story short, that’s when we began looking for funding. That was pre financial-collapse. We bamboozled the bank into loaning us, at the time, what we felt was a astronomical sum of money—which it wasn’t).

Most people think about close to a million dollars for a start-up brewery these days. What did the bank start you with back then?

I think our initial loan was a few hundred grand. So, we got it. We got the loan. It was months later, so that was good. That’s when this place started. That really began a whole ‘nother tier of understanding and learning. That's when the meat and potatoes of all this began to hit home. Even working with Todd Krueger up in Sand Creek, that was essential. We really got to answer so many dumb questions for ourselves. Maybe now they’re dumb, but at that time there was a lot of little light bulbs firing off at all times. How many kegs fit on a pallet?  If you’re going to load pallets on a truck, are you going to go two high? One high? What kind of class load is that? Where are you getting your bottles? How is the hops scene? That was also in ’07 when the hops shortage was. The fire out in Yakima and all the crop damage. We got trounced right out of the gate with astronomical hop prices.

How did you work inside of that? So many of Half Acre’s beers are hop-forward.

We worked through Sand Creek, so we were lucky. We were under their umbrella. You know we were subbing some hops out and stuff like that but we bobbed and weaved through it. What was great about that time, which is so different from now, is that nobody cared. Seriously! Nobody gave a shit. It allowed us the time to evolve as business owners, as brewers, as human beings. I was 26, 27, when I started? Great times. They were great times.

So plenty of big issues to deal with out of the gate. Are there memories you have on the other side where it seemed like, “Wow, this is actually happening now?” Like where you got a sudden burst of momentum or something really broke in your favor?

Yeah. Scoring this building was a big moment because we shouldn’t have been able to afford this. But, because of a sweetheart lease deal, we were. That was instrumental. Scoring the brewhouse and all the gear from Ska Brewing Company. We bought their whole old brewery. So if you’ve been to Ska in Durango, the brewery that they’re in now was not the brewery that they used to be in. As they were building that, they basically put all their old gear up for sale. We found our way to striking a deal with those dudes. We flew out there and we loaded four tractor trailers full of shit. Stuff we wanted. Stuff we didn’t want. We had to take it all. And we did. Going out there, breaking it all down, bringing it all here, loading it into this building, putting it all back together. You don’t get better experience — and it was certainly a jolt, having to think on your feet and become aware very quickly. So, those two things were real big.


I would imagine going through so many major revolutions in your business like that would get pretty exhausting. Especially in the early days. You must have been wracking your brain and pushing your body for so long.

It wasn’t exhausting yet. Maybe two years later. 2010 was a real asskicker for myself and Matt. We worked a lot. It all depends on the dynamics of your business. As barrelage increases, there’s times when the margins will allow you to hire a guy, but then maybe get thin again. Then, you have to put out more beer with less hands. So 2010, for us, was when we were enjoying some success. People wanted our beer, but we were getting pounded having to live up to those demands. Just long hours. Doing everything. Working in the brewery. Having to do the books. Having to do the events. You’re everything to everyone. While that was exhausting, I think that’s also where you earn your keep and prove to yourself, and others, that you have the salt.

What were some of the things that helped you get out of that sort of uncanny valley there? What got you over the hump?

Scale. Scale and time. In the early days, money, also. I shouldn’t forget about that. So, in the very early days, money was always real tight for us.

You had the loan but you also brought on investors.

Originally, when there was absolutely no Half Acre beer anywhere and then went to lager bottles, we had an office at Damen and Carroll in that incubator building there, the ICNC building. It’s this great two-floor loft scene. In addition to my main working partner, Matt Gallagher, two buddies had invested some money with me: Maurizio Fiori and Brian Black. Two people who are still very much a part of this business. Maurizio works here now, for the first time. He started about a year ago. He’s worked here for the first time since Half Acre has been in existence. My very close friends, above all.

What was the number, the barrelage, that gave you some breathing room?

For us, the first real time was probably around 5,000 barrels. But we were growing quickly. We raced past that. I think around 8,000 it got a little rough again. But after that, we haven’t been back to the dark days. The dark and wonderful days. I don’t want to knock them because I really feel like it's what allowed us to be comfortable in our own skin in this process.

Now you’re about to build out an entirely new production space. A huge space by any relevant measure. How do those dark and wonderful days in the past affect your approach to the new expansion? Do you feel differently about that than you would have otherwise? Are there lessons that make it easier now?

No. You approach it the same. We have a big outdoor space out there. The previous owners had left the gates open and somebody went in there and dumped a ton of shit. So, we got dumpsters and me and two other guys, over the course of a week, loaded all those dumpsters. I think the biggest part of that is I like to get dirty. I want to be involved in part of really building the new brewery. Have skin in it like I did here. Maybe it’s not necessary in the same way. I guess it’s just ownership. Having real sincere ownership over the results. That’s really important to me. I think if anything, that helps to shape how it takes place up there. What I’m thinking about up there is similar to what happened here.

It seems like you could go one of two ways, or maybe it’s both, but you could either be more calm, doing a big expansion like this because you’ve learned so much or you’ve learned so much that you know what you need to be afraid of now.

Both. Yeah. Both of those things for sure. It’s kind of neck and neck. I’m kind of more calm. I’m not as worried—the pitfalls are different. I’d say it’s a different type of risk. My heart palpitations don’t increase in the same way they would have back then. In some ways there’s a lot more to screw up now. Half Acre is pretty great right now. We are a healthy organization that I feel really good about. We’ve got a great crew. Everything feels really good to be a part of this. I think any change, any messing with that is, while I’m not worried about going out of business, I am worried about the cultural implications and what it means to come here everyday. Not just for me but for all those guys out there.

What do you do to either protect your culture, or make that better? Are there tactical things in your mind as a business owner that you try and do to make that a good situation for everyone?

I think number one is staying engaged. If it feels bad to me, it’s going to feel bad to them. I think it’s easier as time goes on to slowly remove yourself. I don’t want to do that.

Why do you think some people do that? Pull away, I mean?

Because they went through years like I did in 2010. It’s hard to think about something, so much, for so long. Even if you love it. When your brain is so directly tied to one thing, it’s exhausting. So, I think separation becomes something you want. To a point, you need and can benefit from the separation. But, I think this commitment to building again has to be a commitment to stay dug-in and to make sure that it keeps feeling the right way. Whatever that feeling is here, I believe wholeheartedly, that it radiates out. We need to be what we are today.

How do you think that affects your crew, to have you so dug-in? Not everyone would want the owner so involved all the time.

I’m dug in in such a different way now. That’s something that I’m personally learning and finding my own path through. I don’t do any shifts in the cellar anymore. I’m not dug in to any one particular item in the same way. You can’t be part of the machine and run the machine. That’s newer, learning that. Trying to become an active member in their process more than just my own individual process here. I have my own shit, you know, like I have to meet an architect today. Nobody else does that. Well, Matt will go with me and he has his end of that. Largely just caring. Asking Justin, our cellarman, how he’s doing. Did he do the pits yet? You talk to them. What’s going on? Just stay engaged through them.

Some people need to be removed because when they stay engaged they micro-manage too much, or they’re in people’s way, or they get in to the business too much. How do you avoid becoming that?

Basically all of 2013, we didn’t grow. We can’t fit anything. There’s not another conical fermenter going in this building. So we didn’t grow from a volume perspective, but we wrenched everything down. It was the first opportunity we had where we stopped and took a look around. What isn’t working as well as it should? How can we improve it? All last year was sort of that process of trying to make Half Acre the best Half Acre it could be. During that process we put people in leadership positions we hadn’t had before. Matt’s our head brewer. But now we have Matt Young, who’s our lead brewer and we have Dan, who’s our director of operations. Those two positions are new. With those positions, they’re not just titles—you have the power to create change here. It has to be that way. You can’t step back, in a way, from that specific activity and not give the person that is there the ability to have input, create change, and put their stamp on it.

What’s an example of something that was changed for the better as a result of that process?

A lot of boring things that are wonderful. Safety program. Efficiency programs. We’re trying to use less water. It’s a big thing for us. Trying to get our barrels-consumed to barrels-produced ratio down. Even small things like recycling. Everyone is now trained. Dan became a forklift-certified trainer and now everyone is technically trained, from an OSHA perspective, on the forklift. A lot of things like that. Just trying to be grown ups about this and put a little bit of the structure behind the things we’ve been doing without doing those sort of things for a long time.

In the beginning there really wasn’t anybody else doing what you were doing in Chicago. Who did you learn from?

Three Floyds. Good friends of ours and people that I respect a lot. I think we looked to a lot of other businesses, that weren’t even necessarily brewing, for cultural guides. This has always been a culture. I think it’s our biggest hope that this place developed a culture in and of itself. That used to be a very tight-nit thing. Me, Matt, Tommy Nicely, and Phil Wymore, who’s now at Perennial. Michael Carol who came from Alinea and was trying to get his own gig going. So our culture is a living, breathing thing.

Are there other breweries you look to now, in that way?

A lot, now. We do a lot of collaboration beers. We have a lot of relationships out there now. We’re doing maybe three or four collaborations in the next month. That’s not because it’s a great marketing thing. We do that because this is a closed-door place and we are victims of our own walls. Or, you can be, if you don’t take it upon yourself to get out of those walls. Either bring new minds in or tap in to new feeds of information. Good things. Bad things. To be able to look at other people’s process relevant to your own. I still think of Avery as being this awesome mess of a place. I know them differently now. Or I know their brewery differently now than I did when I was living in Colorado. I didn’t know what was going on. I was just in a great place with great dudes having fun.

Now, going back, fairly regularly since then, I see it through a new light. Oddly enough, I think I emotionally gravitate towards breweries that are terrible places to work or they’re the exact opposite of how people would have shaped things if they had control over it, but it’s a lot of these forced scenarios that bloom these really kick-ass, weird results. Those are the things that I think about when I think about this place. Our problems have been probably some of our best opportunities to be different and come up with interesting solutions. Like this building. Where it is. What happens here. We bitch about it plenty, but it’s also at the crux of who we are.

If you were to start today, what are some of the ways in which it would be different? Either operationally or creatively?

We would have designed it so you didn’t have to drive a forklift through the center of the building. And that’s it. That is it. We’ve thought a lot about that question, if we were to do it differently. I would take all of the problems except we would have redesigned it so that you drove behind the right side. We call it the canyon of heroes that you go through here because it’s a big whopping pain in the ass because you’re going through with a pallet of cans or you have to get through with a dumpster or the forklift. Inevitably you have soft hoses crossing from the cellar to the bright tanks. So you’re lifting and lifting all the time to get through—it’s a pain for everyone.

What about overall approach? Like you said in the beginning, people didn’t know anything about beer, most of them didn’t give a shit, so you could kind of make a lot of mistakes or learn on the fly. Do you think you would still do the contract? Because some people are still doing that today.

Today I wouldn’t do it. I’m very happy with that choice then, today. I did a talk with [Solemn Oath Brewery's] John Barley at DePaul University last week, and there was this dude there, he had a bar up in Wisconsin somewhere and they wanted to make it a brewpub, and he wanted to serve his own beer there and he said, “I think I’m going start contract brewing.” I was like, “I don’t think you should do that.” And I wouldn’t do it today.

The stakes are so much higher now. There's a critical edge out there that just didn’t exist then. Whereas just having a beer that you could call your own then was, “Wow! Good for you! That’s awesome!” Now, they want to see your brewery, they want to invest in who you are, what your building looks like, what your process is, how big are you, how small are you. People are thinking about this more deeply in a way that it just didn’t exist then. Coming to the table with beer, you better have this whole package that is very authentic and, in some way, captivating for people. There’s just way too many people doing great cool things out there. There’s a whole ‘nother tier below them doing totally average things that are still cooler than contract bottles. So you better do something thats cooler than that.

Do you think ultimately that’s good for beer? That it’s that critical?

I think it’s new for beer. I think it’ll be challenging for beer. You can take it to a point of natural selection. It’ll push those that are really good at this, really creative, really interesting people, to new heights. I think it will push the others down. It runs the risk of tainting the consumer base out there that care or don’t care. Right now there are a lot of people that care. That’s a touchy thing. It can go up, I guess, maybe for a while longer but eventually I can’t imagine people caring more. They’ll start caring less.

Why would people start caring less? What will that be like?

Like anything else. I don’t want to say it’s a fad. That’s a pretty negative word, and I would feel bad if I was part of a fad. It’s everywhere. It’s hard to get away from craft beer right now. I think for people that don’t work in it, that aren’t totally invested as an uber geek out there, eventually it’s, “Ehhh, I’ll think about something else.”

What do you think the challenge is for a brewery like yourselves? Because you guys appeal to the people who care more. You are so considered. You have that holistic picture. You didn’t when you started but you are that way now. What happens if people start caring less?

Great question. I think we do have a piece in the minds that are really thinking about beer a lot and I’m happy for that. I think we also have a place in overall mindshare of Chicagoans. People that are on that next tier, that like drinking beer, like having a good time, but have never been to BeerAdvocate. They think about beer as an extension of a Saturday or a night out. It’s not a critical passion for them. We have a good place in the minds of those people, and I’m really glad for that. That’s a healthy place to be for a brewery of our scale. Certainly as we do a bit more growing. I’d say our challenges are just as great if not greater than a guy that’s just starting out now or has only been in the game for a couple years and is at a few thousand barrels. It’s just different. We’re talking about different things. We’re both traversing different paths in our growth cycles.

Yeah, it seems like with a lot of breweries now there is sort of a race towards high-flavor, low-ABV, sessionable beers for that extended Saturday night occasion. How critical is that to your growth plan right now, getting into that type of a beer buying occasion?

It’s critical to us as humans ourselves. Luckily that translates out. I’ve been thinking a lot about that, and Matt and I have been talking to our staff: “Why do we make the beers that we make?” We make a ton of Daisy Cutter because it’s needed out there and it has a place out there. If we don’t, people get pissed off because we have all these relationships. Why do we make the beer that we make? Should we be making totally different beers? For the first time we will have a capacity that nobody is calling for. The demand doesn’t exist yet. There’s no responsibility. It can be anything that we want. What do we do with it?

Right now, beer has changed so much in the world of Lactobacillus, and Brettanomyces has become the Wonder Bread of yeast strains. Are we interested in that world, and if we are, why? A lot of people are cranking out these beers that are little orchestral nuances of flavor. For us, we’re still, as people as brewers, looking to put Van Halen in the glass. That’s what makes sense to us. That these beers leave here and if people want to review them online and do that, that’s great. We appreciate their time sitting down thinking critically about the beer that we’re producing. But we want to see these beers at parties. It’s about letting go for us. An opportunity to, I don’t want to say think less, but have it be a window in to release as opposed to an opportunity to take on a new responsibility of, “What is this?” Let it go. Just let it go.

That’s just who we are as people, still. We’re still young. Half Acre may be vintage, which is crazy to think about, or have a quasi vibe to it because we’ve been around for a while relative to a lot of others. You walk through our brewery, you see all these people here. We’re all young people. We want to let go just like everybody else. We stay pretty true to ourselves when we make beer. A lot of IPAs, Pale Ales, beers you can drink five of. That’s who we are as people and that’s what we'll put in the glass for a long time to come. As we mature, we’ll have some wild stuff happening in barrels, for sure. We have space. We could never do it here. But it’s not the meat of who we are.

It sounds like, also, as you’re giving more and more responsibility and autonomy to folks, that somebody is going to want to do something that takes it in a different direction.

Oh, yeah. It’s there. Matt Young, our lead brewer, you met him—he came here out of a PHD program at Northwestern studying yeast. So, yeah, his brain is falling out of his ears. He will. He loves the beers we brew. It’s not Matt and I being like, “All right, what’s the next beer we’re going to brew?” It’s a conversation between everybody. But he understands things. He is a microbiologist. He does want that, and we want to give that to him.

You mentioned as you grow that you’re interested in paying attention to culture here and not wanting the growth to sort of pull things or stretch things apart. You want to stay involved, you want everybody to stay involved. As you grow from this tiny little brewery to a much bigger brewery, how does somebody like yourself stay small in consumer’s minds? Because that seems so important to people when they’re picking up a craft beer. That’s something I’m curious about, not only on your scale but for something like, Lagunitas, right? What happens when you’re suddenly 1.2 million barrels?

Lagunitas is good at it. I marvel. They are a calculated behemoth, at this point, that is approaching beer production on a national scale, and they still have a vibe like it’s a bunch of dudes smoking pot in a basement. Hats off to them. I think there’s some legitimacy there in terms of the culture that they do promote. Tony has got a bunch of MBA minions that are thinking about how to do that well. Or maybe not? I don’t know. For us, how do we do that?

I guess not necessarily how you do it, but what are you thinking about as you grow that way? Do you think there is a danger in not being this tiny little thing in North Center any more?

Yeah. I think there’s danger with every choice we make here. We were thinking about where to build a second brewery. This wasn’t a foregone conclusion for us, how we were going to do this. It was a long process of thinking hard about that. First thing is that it’s right there. So these two buildings working off of one another, I told you, I’m a ping pong ball. It’s so fast. We’ll go up there. You can hop in my truck and we’re there. It was going to be far away from here or it was going to be close. That allows our staff to stay connected. You can brew at both places. You will brew at both places. Keeping impact from everyone at both places. One thing that we were most scared about was Stephen saying, “Eh, I don’t really go to Lincoln that much anymore. It's just a weird vibe there. I do my thing up there and I go home.” We do not want that.

I used to work in the store. People that came here, they knew us. We like to think we bring people aboard that are just decent people, treat people with sincerity, and try not to be dicks. We’re going to try not to be dicks more than we are now—that’s a big thing. The rate at which we grow will have to be considerate. What’s the impact you’re having on the market? We have a sales team now. Not because we need a team to sell our beer, but we felt like it was the responsible thing to do. Have presence in all the accounts. Have somebody come in and ask, “How’s it going? We appreciate you selling the beer.” Have a presence.

But if you grow fast you’re going to have to go in there and be like, “Hey, there’s a need. I need you to carry our beer.” We don’t want that. We don’t want you to feel like we need you to be okay. We don’t want to need you to be okay. We don’t want to need permeating the market. What we want to do first and foremost, and we don’t know how long this will take, but for the first time find this natural equilibrium between what we can make and what Chicagoland can consume. We’re not going to go out there and pound the pavement. We’re just going to say "yes" for the first time in a long time.

We’re working with Windy City in the ‘burbs now. So we’ll be able to go to all eight counties. We’ve never done that. We’ve sold beer in the city, not even the entire city. North and Northwest. So all of West and all of South. We’ve never sold beer, which is nuts to think about, but we’ve never sold beer in those places. So we’ll open them up. Hopefully let it evolve in a way that is graceful. I think not selling beer in 26 states in two years is probably a big part of that too. We have no plans to do that.

That’s the impressive part of Lagunitas for me—you see Lagunitas IPA everywhere and you’re still pretty cool with seeing it everywhere. But somebody else does it and you’re just kind of like, “Eh. I see that everywhere now.”

That’s true. I can’t answer that. Maybe just a positive impression of Lagunitas. Like, “Ah, sweet. Good for those guys.” That’s mostly like these guys are just looking to build a dynasty. Why are they doing it? I can’t answer that. I don’t know. Yeah, I’m not really sure. Some guys you just feel it’s like, “You want to get rich.” And some guys want to grow the culture. I think what’s great, and this is me with a corollary benefit, these guys are pumping IPA into some roadhouse in the middle of nowhere.

And we’re the next ones going. But somebody has got to do it. Somebody has to fill that role and dip their toes in that water. I’m glad it’s them. If it wasn’t going to be them, it was going to be somebody else. There’s 18 brewers above 200,000 barrels now. I think a little more than 30 over 100,000 barrels. When we started, there was nothing like that. And the people that were brewing north of 50,000, it was like, “Damn! These guys are making a lot of beer.” It’s not like that now. We’re gifted to live in Chicago or make beer in Chicago and have people give a shit about it because there’s so many people here. We feel really lucky to have infected people’s brains early on and to have a spot in the fabric of this town.

Q's + photos, Michael Kiser