4/18/2013 11:30:00 AM

10 Questions for Solemn Oath Brewery’s President John Barley

Photo by Michael Kiser of Good Beer Hunting
Two brothers, one brewer and a warehouse in Naperville. When we first met the Solemn Oath guys a year ago, they had ambitious plans for a brewery in the suburbs that specialized in Belgian and American beers. At that time in Chicago, it seemed like so did everyone else who had ever homebrewed in his or her kitchen.

As it turns out, John and Joe Barley along with brewer Tim Mashall did know what they were doing. The Solemn Oath brewery and taproom brews a rotating selection of beers that can be found on tap around Chicago. They also have worked on several collaboration beers with chefs Cleetus Friedman, Terra Spice Company and more.

Now, as the brewery continues to expand, they are eyeing a new taproom in Chicago proper as well as a bottling line. We had ten questions for president John Barley about the little brewery that could.

Zagat: Why is it the right time for you to expand to the city?
Barley: We are early on in this project, but constantly looking for different avenues in which to expand our business. This is the right time, because this is the right time. We're in no rush to identify and jump into a space, but able to move on it as needed. Beer is best served fresh, and we look forward to joining our friends in other breweries in providing a growing craft culture with yet another option for fresh beer in the city.

Zagat: When you opened the brewery in Naperville was there the intention that it would expand beyond the suburbs?
Barley: We love the support and following that we have in Naperville, but above all we consider ourselves a Chicagoland brewery. A concept like this has always been a part of our long-term plan, and what we're pumped about is another point of contact with our customers. We have a rad culture in our taproom, and while we'll bring some elements of that culture to the city we're still going to let it be its own entity. We really don't know what it will become, and we like that.

Zagat: Where are you scouting spaces and what is important for the space and location to offer?
Barley: Our areas of focus are West Town, Uptown and a few other more untapped areas. We think the culture of our brewery, albeit young, brings a lot to the table. We see a lot of opportunity in joining some existing business in areas in need of revitalization and being a part of its development.

Zagat: What are you looking for in a space?
Barley: Walls. Preferably a roof. Really we're looking for a space that makes sense right out of the gate. Somewhere with a supportive landlord and community, structurally intact, financial viability and an ability to grow. As for the physicality of the space itself, that's pretty variable. We plan on making some changes to our concept and layout based on the space.

Zagat: What will the new taproom look like and will furniture designer Greta de Parry be involved again?
Barley: This will really be defined by the space itself but we'll approach the aesthetics as we do with everything, and keep things as simple and clean as possible. Everything we do in the space will revolve around how we can best answer two questions: How can we best create an atmosphere to highlight the work of our head brewer Tim Marshall and our brewery ops team? And how do we create a space built around the community of craft beer? We have already begun working with Greta de Parry on the project and are concepting a number of things. Like a select number of people we work with often, Greta is a part of this brewery. Our growth is her growth. And we wouldn't want it any other way. 

Zagat: How will it be similar to and different than the Naperville Taproom?
Barley: It's important to us to not in any way come off like we're mirroring or franchising the taproom we have currently, it will take on a life of it's own and we welcome that. We're still working out the details but there will be some new elements to the space.

Zagat: Would you ever expand outside of the Chicagoland area?
Barley: Certainly, like most businesses we hope to keep growing and already have relationships and strategies in place for when we are ready to make the jump and send beer outside the Chicagoland area. We're in no rush, but very excited at the prospect.

Zagat: Do you have any plans for bottling/canning?
Barley: We will be bottling in calendar 2013. Probably very soon, we're already starting to receive equipment for it.

Zagat: At this time last year, you were announcing the brewery at Chicago Craft Beer Week. How will this year’s craft beer week be different for Solemn Oath compared to last year’s?
Barley: This year for CCBW we've focused a lot of efforts on creating unique experiences. Anniversary parties at Bavarian Lodge in Lisle, Bangers & Lace, and an Oath Day here at our brewery. A beer dinner with Don & Wendy Feinberg of Vanburg & DeWulf at Publican Quality Meats that will have less than 35 seats and focus on a storytelling element. We're still a young brewery and for us this CCBW is built around the idea of letting people learn directly from us what Solemn Oath is really about. It's less about overall exposure, and more continuing to build our culture.

Zagat: What events are you most looking forward to?
Barley: Our events at Publican with Vanberg & DeWulf, DMK for the launch of our collaboration beer with Port/Lost Abbey called Famine, SmallBar with Greenbush, and many more. We've put a lot effort into making sure each event we're involved is both creative and unique, I can honestly say I'm pretty pumped about all of them.

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