Three local brewers have formed Argyle Brewing and hope to start offering a wide variety of high-quality craft beers from a new brewery at 1800 W. Cuyler Ave. this May. The neighborhood’s fourth brewery, Argyle plans to be the first brewery in the nation to use a CSA model typically used by small organic farmers.
Founded by Kevin Cary, 27, Matt Ritchey, 27, and Brendan Blume, 24, the team is optimistic about their business plan and have a solid sense of how to divvy up responsibilities.
“When it comes to business, we’re very organized,” says Blume.
“[Brendan’s] got all the business done, filling out the paperwork, getting it notarized,” says Cary. Not an small task, since before they open, the brewery needs to get a federal tax license, a state brewer’s notice, a state retail liquor license and a Chicago liquor license. Not to mention, insurance, health inspections and the final build out of their facility.
If everything snaps into place, Argyle hopes to be open and brewing in May 2012.
Cary is the operations and marketing guy, with plans to make sure the beer goes out the door and to build an audience. “I enjoy getting the word out, spreading the word,” Cary says.
Ritchey is the brewing expert. They entered one contest last spring, but mostly they test by, ”getting the beer out there and making sure a lot of people have tried it,” he says. But Ritchey’s, “final product is usually pretty spot on,” says Cary. “He’s pretty critical of himself too. He’ll think it’s not right but someone else will try it and have a different say.”
Ritchey and Cary, friends since elementary school in Michigan, met Blume when Cary took a part-time job driving pedicabs for Blume Brothers Pedicab, Brendan Blume’s family business.
Not your stereotypical brewer, during the day Richie and Cary are derivatives analysts, while Brendan helps run the family company.
Before they got started, the Argyle team surveyed different brewery models around the country, but could not find a system they liked. Brendan had experience working on a Community Supported Agriculture farm (CSA), where consumers purchase a share of the year’s crop before the harvest begins, and the idea of building a business around direct consumer demand was attractive to them.
The Argyle guys thought the CSA system had two benefits, they get to foster close relationships with their customers and they defer some of the capital costs, since customers would purchase beer before it was even brewed. Coincidentally, the CSA model Argyle is using lowers their start up costs and ensures people will drink their beer, even if they make one or two unpopular brews.
“We’re going to have members come, whether it’s once a week, once a month, twice a month, come pick up their share of beer,” says Brendan.
Larger shares will be cheaper by volume, and they’ll pass whatever savings on to the consumer. Mostly they’ll start with growlers and kegs and then move into bottles over time as they work out packaging regulations. And if customers make longer-term commitments to the brewery, say for a year, they’ll give their customers a price break.
Through the CSA model, Argyle will be able to source better ingredients for more interesting brews. “If we get a lot of the money upfront, we can try different styles that we wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.”
They’ll also be looking for lots of local consumer input. If share members are looking for a particular type of brew, Argyle will make it. “Hopefully most of our customers will come from the area,” says Cary.
So far as they can tell, the Argyle team is the first to do a real CSA brewery in the nation. House of Brews in Madison, Wisconsin, has promised to provide a CSA, but for now it is only delivering beer directly to bars in the Madison area.
Argyle plans to do the opposite of House of Brews: CSA first, then get their customers to push them into local bars.
Now the fourth brewery in the area, after Metropolitan, Half Acre and nano-brewery Spiteful. Argyle choose to locate in Ravenswood because the space was relatively cheap and the area is a “pretty unique,” mix of industrial and creative businesses. But the Argyle team was also drawn to the area because of the high density of beer aficionados. Beer bars Bad Apple, Fountainhead, Hopleaf, and The Grafton all have extensive beer selections and have helped to foster first beer appreciation and now craft brewing.
For now, none of the team will work full-time on the business, but, “We’re anticipating long hours,” says Ritchie.
As they’re getting started, the team is full of ideas. They want to sub-divide part of their space for artist studios. They plan to set up as a farm CSA drop off. They’ve created dog treats made from their spent grains.
What’s the first brew? “We don’t know yet. Haven’t gotten to that one,” they say.