Outside the Tap Lines: Solemn Oath Brewery

Photo: Michael Kiser, goodbeerhunting.com

Jen reporting from the “desk” of all our lovely customers (the bar at the taproom). A couple days ago, I had the pleasure of chatting with John Barley of Solemn Oath Brewery about his foray into the brewing world, a journey that seems to begin in August 2010, but really dates back to his college days. With parents from Belgium and having grown up in Wisconsin, it’s no wonder John has long held a passion for beer–throughout college, he’d spend 4 months each year in Belgium. But it wasn’t until a visit to his brother Joe in California that the brewery idea started to come to fruition. Let’s break it down, timeline style:

August 2010
John visits his brother Joe in California, and the two make their way to many breweries. On the plane ride home, John starts outlining a business plan for opening a brewery of his own. (Ed’s note: John claims he’s not a plane drinker.) The next step: establishing relationships and connections in the beverage industry.

January 2011
Funds now in place for the venture, it’s time to start the search for a brewer.

June 2011
John hires Tim Marshall as head brewer. Tim’s background includes brewing for Rock Bottom in Colorado, Indiana and Illinois for 12+ years.

August 2011
The brewery officially has two full time employees, John and Tim, though no space and no equipment.

December 2011
A space! The fellas take over an old body shop in Naperville, IL. Build out takes five months.

April 2012
Solemn Oath’s very first brew takes place on April 21.

May 2012
The Solemn Oath taproom opens on May 19 with the same 6 employees they have now–John oversees distributor relationships, brewing and branding; Joe handles field operations; Tim is focused 100% on brewing; Paul is part-brewer, part-marketer; and Erin and Bree both work in the taproom.

The Naperville taproom and brewery is operating under an interesting concept–in 11 weeks, they’ve brewed 20 different beers, only one of which has been around since the beginning–Oubliette, a Belgian Pale Ale (named for a dungeon where the only opening is a hole in the top). This year, they plan to brew 45-50 different beers and over the next 2-3 years, let the customers and accounts have a say in which beers they want to see year round.

Right now, you can find Solemn Oath beer all over Chicago. You might even see a Solemn Oath growler or two pop up on any given visit to Greenbush. We’re tight like that. So tight, in fact, that we’re planning a collaboration brew for this winter. Plus, we recently sold them a couple of our original 7 barrel fermenters. They’ll serve an intriguing purpose as part of their current 15 barrel brew system–spicing vessels. Currently, the crew makes variations on their brews one keg at a time; with fermenters this size, they can move up to spinning-off complete recipes up to 14 kegs at a time.

What else does the future hold for Solemn Oath? John says there’s no overarching “grand master plan” (my words, not his) besides to simply grow. That growth includes more collaborations: with Cleetus Friedman of City Provisions and Colorado’s Oskar Blues brewery. John says they also plan to dip their toes into the Wisconsin market (Madison and Milwaukee) in the near future, as well as begin bottling sometime in 2013.

For now and always, Solemn Oath will be about much more than just brewing beer. For these guys, it’s a mix of experimentation, embracing the craft brewing community and focusing on progress that makes the magic happen.

Photo: Michael Kiser, goodbeerhunting.com

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