Friday, September 14, 2012

An interview with Lynn and Clint of Lake Effect Brewing Company, part 2

Lake Effect Brewing Company Q and A (part 2)

This week - the conclusion of my interview with Lynn and Clint of Lake Effect Brewing Co. In this part of the interview we talk about the origin of their brewery name, a bit more about their flagship beers to be, and other plans for their debut in the Chicago beer market.

Midwest Beer and Brewing - How did the name ‘Lake Effect’ come to be? Was that the first thing that came to your mind and it just glowed so brightly in your brain that you were like ‘Aha!’?
Clint - We were actually looking at a lot of different names. In my previous career as an urban planner, I did a master plan for the entire Great Lakes Basin which had a major impact on how I view our region and how lucky we are to have all of this relatively pristine water here- so I already wanted to have a name that resonates with basin dwellers such as ourselves. Connected with that was a friend of mine whose last name is “Lake.”She competed in chili cook off team that had the name ‘Lake Effect’ in it. I told her ‘that’s a good name for a brewing company’. That was kind of how it came about. We really like the name. In addition, as much as we can, all of the ingredients will come from the  Great Lakes region. Many of our hops will come from Michigan and Wisconsin. We are using mostly Briess malt which comes from Wisconsin and of course Lake Michigan water.

MBB - Earlier you talked about flagship beers. Would you mind saying a little bit more about how many you are thinking you’ll lead with, and what styles they are?
C - We have six planned flagship beers. The one we’ll probably lead with is a wit style beer. I’ve been working on it for many years and I think we’ve really nailed it. The beer you (Ethan) are drinking right now is a test batch flagship for our pale ale. We are going to do a common lager, which is an amber lager, somewhat aggressively hopped. Almost like a Marzen but with a bit more hop bite/finish. We will also brew a robust porter - strong and roasty. Our final flagship planned is an ESB.  It has grain bill typical of an English Bitter, but we are Belgian-ifying it with a little bit of spice and candy. We’re using a really nice English yeast that gives off a lot of really nice esters and clarifies well to produce a really bright beer. It has fruity notes but has the earthiness of a bitter that you’d expect. So to summarize, Pale ale, Wit, an ESB, Robust Porter, Commmon Lager , and the 6th one is an IPA. The IPA will be a more full bodied beer than the pale ale. We are going to aggressively hop it with copious amonts of local hops and then dry hop it. We are also planning a number of specialty beers, for instance we are planning imperials of some of our flagships. We’ll do an imperial wit. We’ll also do an imperial IPA and an Imperial stout which will age in those barrels (points behind the fermenters) right there. There are also a few seasonal beers we plan to release. We have a nice Kolsch-style beer that we look forward to sharing among many others.

Clint and Lynn

MBB - When you get up and running, are you planning on being a draft only? Bombers? Is it too early to talk about that kind of thing? What are you thinking for when you have product to get out into the market?
Lynn - Our business model is going to be primarily kegs and bombers. We are considering 6 packs of 12 oz somewhere down the line. Maybe sooner rather than later. We don’t know. And then, ultimately in year two, maybe next year we’ll have the tap room so folks could come by and enjoy a pint and then take some growlers to go. The timing of all of those different types of retail, we’re still figuring out. We’re hoping that the city paperwork will go smoothly. We’ve heard mixed feedback about how easily or how hard it is to get a packaged goods license and on top of that a taverns license. That could be challenging.

MBB - Patience is the name of the game.
C - Yes. We want to be the local brewery. We are right between four neighborhoods. I think technically we are in Irving Park. Portage Park is south of Montrose but on the other side of Cicero. Jefferson park is katty corner to us. Across the street, across Montrose, is Mayfair. They all seem to be very excited that we are coming in. They want to do things with us, and be a part of their events. So, we are very locally focused. It makes sense - local distribution - because we can only drive so far. It is easier to do local deliveries close by then, say, drive downtown to a restaurant. We will have some accounts in other neighborhoods like Lincoln Park where I live. We will drive a ways but generally we are very local focused for a number of reasons.

Barrel program-to-be

MBB - It is nice to hear that you are looking to stay neighborhood focused. Much like a few other breweries that have openly said so. There is a bit of a romanticism to that it’s almost a throwback to the way things were before prohibition. You know what I mean? Every neighborhood had its own brewery that did its own thing. Looking around your place, I see a few fermenters, a few barrels. When can you expect to receive the other equipment? You mentioned a stand for your kettles, and your walk in fridge.
C - The burners and that installation, I think that is probably going to happen in a couple of weeks. Lynn and I are going to drive up to Michigan, we’ll pick them up, we’ll bring them here, and we’re going to hook everything up to the water. There’s going to be some plumbing, electrical work, some ventilation. It will take a little while to get everything fine tuned but we’ll have a brew house where we can actually start doing the bigger batches with. The walk in cooler will also be sorted out in the next couple of weeks. We found a special cooler so that these things (the fermenters) can roll into. Once we have those two things we’ll just need some hosing and a pump and then we should be good to go for the bigger batches.

MBB - So if you had to guesstimate when folks will be able to see your product in some of the local bars here, are you at a place where you can guesstimate or is that tbd?
L - We actually are. As of this past Monday we are officially submitted to the Illinois Liquor commission for our state paperwork. So, our application is in. So, we estimate another two weeks to be able to do tastings and samples offsite and onsite. The clock is ticking for our 45 day waiting period online. So, depending on how long the state takes to process the paperwork once that’s process is over, we feel that we are a little bit ahead of schedule. We were estimating a soft opening, grand opening, in October. Now we are shooting for mid-September, late September at this point. We gotta ramp up production and actually start to get it out to locations shortly thereafter.
C - Samples are going to come really soon. It could be days. Once we get the go ahead for that we can stockpile all of our different beers. The licensing seems to go relatively quickly. We thought we would have all of our equipment and everything before the licensing was done but it is starting to reverse.
L - Everything is coming together for us.

MBB - With the possibility of you being able to offer tastings in a few days as you said, is there a chance that we could see you at the Oak Park Microbrew festival?
C - That was one of our targets. It’s possible, but unlikely.

MBB - It sounds like a lot of it is out of your hands.
L - We were told our inspection would possibly be this week or early next week. So as soon as that goes through it’s pretty much in the state’s hands.
C - There is the Chicago Beer Festival, that one at Union Station. They’re doing it in the fall. I’m sure we’d be ready for that. We’re also looking at the local farmer’s market right over here in Jefferson Park and the Copernicus Center. We would do samples out there. I envision it as our first gig, it might not be. There’s been a lot of interest in us doing that. We’d like to get some imperial stout into these barrels for FoBAB. That’s in the winter time. I would love to be at that one for sure. The Oak Park one might be too soon.

MBB - Maybe next year.
C - Absolutely next year.

Hops growing outside of Lake Effect Brewing Co.

MBB - When Clint was showing me around, he mentioned that you (Lynn) were the one that found this place. How long did it take you to find this place? Were you always looking in this area or did your search take you all over the place?
L - Our search was a challenge. We were looking at different aspects of the business model that we wanted to implement. We wanted to be able, obviously, manufacture beer, but we also were interested in having a tap room as an option. We focused our search, early on, on Elston, Ravenswood corridor. We looked at some places closer to downtown. The southside a little bit. Actually, we stumbled on this location in this little industrial corridor along the freeway, and the owner has been fabulous. We obviously felt the location was second to none. We have the ability to have Metra customers stop by, we have the blue line, we’ve also got a fairly large bus hub just north on Milwaukee. Just across the street from the Gale Street Inn. Of course, we have the freeway here which actually works twofold - people can stop off and visit us, but at the same time we can jump on the freeway to deliver our product. We’re really happy when we found it. It took a while because a few people were on vacation, but it really worked out well.
C - There are a lot of alcohol sales moratorium zones in the city. There are package moratoria and there are tavern moratoria. This particular location is in neither one, which is rare in the city. Then we needed 1500 square feet. Some realtors would come forward to help but when they realized we only needed 1500 square feet and it was not the next Rock Bottom brew pub, they kind of lost interest.  We had to find it ourselves. It was a long search, but we are happy with the result.
L - As we inquired about various, different properties they would say ‘Hey, how about this place? That place? That place?’ Before we even go out and look we need to go on the city site for moratoria. Like you (Clint) said, we had to make sure we were clear of tavern and packaged goods. Then we also had to make sure that we were not close to a church or another tavern. One single website you can narrow it down to 10% of your options.
C - On top of that, having an Alderman that is pro-business and pro beer we met Alderman Arena, at Fischman’s and he was drinking an Oak Aged Yeti so that was an immediate good sign.
L - He saved the theatre.
C - He saved the theatre, he’s fighting for the food trucks. His ward office is just a few doors down from Fischman’s. He’s obviously a big supporter of their expansion. They’re going have a rooftop and a restaurant. The time is right in this area.
L - The time is right in a bigger sense to. With a lot of laws changing, being able to self-distribute this year. It feels like Chicago beer history is coming full circle again. It is nice to see a revitalization of the beer industry here in Chicago.

MBB - With you two having the homebrew basis, do you have any advice for any home brewers that may read this and have the same aspirations that you have and that you embraced to open your own brewery?
L - I would say follow your passion. It does not matter if it is the beer industry or any other industry. I come from an entrepreneurial background. My father’s family business and other extended family, they followed their dreams. They do the small business thing. They get entrepreneurial. I would encourage anyone and everyone to be passionate about something. To channel it. Go with what you want - whether it be the craft beer industry, which is amazing. It is expanding double digit growth in the last couple of years. If you looked at the Colorado market, for example, versus the Illinois market - the rank versus per capita ratios and all of that, it certainly points to the fact that craft beer in Chicago has plenty of room to grow. Especially for other homebrewers in the Chicago area. There’s no reason we can’t have more.. there are a dozen, 15 or so that are up and coming right now. If you have the background, and the passion to do it, why not?

MBB - Anything to add Clint?
C - What I love about this experience is that we are learning so much. All kinds of new skills. Brewing set aside, just setting up the business and knowing where to locate where you’re going to go, what kind of building permits you’re going to need, all these kinds of things. There’s a lot more to it than making good beer, but making good beer and having passion is where you start and is your core activity.
L - It comes down to, as you said, being realistic. You gotta know what you are getting into. No question about that. It’s a big task. We’ve been at it for a number of months, and I don’t think there’s any given day where we don’t have 100 or so balls in the air that we are trying to juggle at once. It is very challenging. There’s no question about it, but these little victories that we have that energize us to keep going. Recipes coming out fantastic. Getting a trademark. It’s little things that are gratifying.
C - And to have patience to. Just to find a place. To find the right spot. The licensing - even though that went faster than expected, we submitted our TTB application in May.

MBB - I apologize for not mentioning it earlier, but how long were you two working on your business plan before you started taking the tangible steps of getting the tanks, the equipment? Or is that an ongoing thing?
L - I don’t think the business plan ever stops being worked on, in a sense. We’ve been working on it continually for many months. As of last week we’re officially starting our fundraising campaign. Looking for investors and then starting a kickstarter campaign very quickly as well.
C - We started off with that book right there - ‘Starting your own brewery’ by Ray Daniels. Fantastic book. What else, we read the Dogfish head book about how Sam Calagione he got started. We also read the Brooklyn book, can’t rememeber the name but also very interesting and inspiring. Two completely different ways of starting a brewery. Once we felt educated enough we began to draft the plan.  
L - We got the location, we were getting tangible things, but we are still wrapping up the plan. Because the business model is still in flux.

MBB - It seems like one of those things that is always organic. Things are just going to jump up that you were not expecting. You were but to a different degree.
L - I think it’s really neat to see the business plan that we settled on and the business model that it contains is actually being realized by other brewing companies here in town. Revolution just setup a production brewery with a tap room right there. Then you’ve got Half Acre opening their tap room/pub this summer. I think it’s a proven business model that we are diving into. It’s exciting.

If you'd like to keep up-to-date on what's going on at Lake Effect, follow them on facebook and twitter.
Many thanks to Lynn and Clint for their time and for talking to me about their brewing company!

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