A former Wicked Weed brewer is taking a group project from his time in the Siebel Institute Master Brewer Program and turning it into an actual business. Reeve Joseph—along with partner Tim Coe—will spend 2018 preparing Odious Cellars to launch next year in Chicago. The business will focus on wild and sour beers through aging and blending, using the next year to fill a variety of barrels in anticipation of initially serving hoppy Brett beers, Saisons, and Meerts—a low-ABV, “fresh” version of Lambic—to the public by mid-2019.
Joseph, who has previously worked in various packaging and production roles at Finch Beer Co., Lagunitas, and Wicked Weed, said inspiration for the project came during a group assignment while studying at Siebel. He and classmates considered cost effective ways of opening a business, and in lieu of a full brewhouse, going the barrel-aging and blending route would allow for producing beer while fulfilling a love of wild styles.
“I've become infatuated with the process that melds an Old World, romantic process of making beer with a more analytical side that allows me to think more about biotransformation processes,” said Joseph, a Chicago native. “I still feel like it's the Wild West for these beers because there are so many ways to approach them that have only scratched the surface in the U.S.”
Joseph and Coe plan to use the next 12-18 months to source and fill a collection of barrels. The pair are currently seeking a 7,500-10,000 square feet space between the Logan Square and Ravenswood neighborhoods in Chicago that will act as their aging facility and taproom. In the meantime, Odious will make wort and base beers for their barrels, as well as utilize space for barrel aging, at a local Chicago brewery.
By opening day, they hope to have 500-1,000 barrels purchased through California’s Moe’s Barrels, Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Barrel Co., and other brokers. They plan to sell around 400 barrels of draft and limited packaged beer the first year of operation. Plans call for a taproom with as many as 20 draftlines, which Joseph expects to fill exclusively with Odious beers for the eventual grand opening.
Citing his two years at Wicked Weed, where he worked as a brewer, Joseph said the North Carolina brewery's sour-focused Funkatorium taproom was an inspiration for his own project, both in atmosphere and style of beer. He went to work at Wicked Weed with the intent of better understanding sour and wild fermentation to put to work at his own business.
“I can’t imagine being a brewery opening right now and making IPA, because that seems like a dead market to explore as a new brewery,” Joseph tells GBH. “Our goal is to come with a sour program with a wide portfolio in order to bring something new to Chicago.”
Coe, who has spent most of his career working outside the beer industry in various financial services positions, met Joseph during a two-year stint at Finch, where he oversaw human resources and various office operations. He noted that the goal of Odious is to create a small, intimate feeling common for many of today’s new breweries, focusing on own-premise sales and direct interactions with customers via its taproom.
“A good way to run a business today is to get everyone to feel like they have ownership in it, from us to people who buy our beer,” Coe says. He’ll oversee accounting, human resources, and other logistics for Odious. “When Reeve and I sat down to put this together, that was one of the first things we talked about.”
Given that purpose of community feeling, Joseph and Coe laughed at the irony of their business’ name. “Odious” means "unpleasant" and "repulsive,” but their usage is a play on words, given their intention to go beyond traditional clean-fermenting yeasts to make their beer.
Many batches will include some kind of fruit or other adjunct, Joseph says, naming flavor combinations of cherry, vanilla and bourbon, lime and botanicals, and wine barrels with wine grapes. Variants may also play an important part of their intended lineup of beers, serving original blends alongside fruited versions.
“There’s a lot of perception around sour beer that’s focused on fruit,” Joseph says, “but I love the pure expression of the fermentation process itself, and pure culture.”