Chris Tourre is the co-owner and head brewer of Arcade Brewery in Logan Square.
Our situation is an alternating proprietorship, so essentially what that means is we both share the same brewing space. Ale Syndicate owns the brew house, the mash tun, the kettle. We own our own fermenters, and when they're not brewing we rent some of their equipment and use it to brew our own batches of beer. Jesse and Sam are really big into outreach, and working with the brewing community as a whole, so it was an opportunity for them to continue their mission of improving the culture of craft beer in Chicago, adding to the craft beer culture in Chicago.
As a startup, given the amount of capital raise that we did, if we used that money to open up our own facility we probably would have been brewing on a two-barrel brewhouse, something really small. We wouldn't have been able to get the amount of volume that we wanted to get out initially, but now we're spending our money on larger tanks, allowing us to have a larger footprint into the market, jumping right in.
I was an artist in Chicago, and a lot of my work was community based. For my master's thesis in college, I raised chickens in Pilsen and delivered eggs door-to-door. I had a show at the Museum of Contemporary Art where I used wood from torn-down houses and turned it into a furniture studio. It was always about inviting community in, having some sort of collaborative process between the artist and the community.
So at the time I was doing all this work, I was homebrewing all the while and decided to create an art project that was based off of brewing and community. My partner now was my bandmate at the time, Lance Curran, he's one of the directors at Threadless. So I reached out to him, I said "I want to really push this notion of community, and I think this could even potentially work on a commercial scale." He was interested in partnering with me, and it took off from there.
We do a lot of collaborations with artists, we sometimes design beers just for the labels that they've designed for us first, so we have a little backwards design model. Festus Rotgut is out now, it's our first six-pack in market, and it's an original comic book across six beers.
It's written by Jason Aaron, who works for Marvel, and Tony Moore, who's the co-creator of the Walking Dead. It's a zombie-Western tale. We proposed the idea to them and said, "Hey, we need a six-panel, original comic, can you guys do this for us? It'll be on a beer label so when you buy the six-pack and you pull all six bottles out, line them up, it's an original story," and once we got the story and the artwork we designed a beer specifically for it.
There's a cowboy driving a herd across the West, he's overtaken by zombies, and all these cattle and himself turn into a zombie and then ride into a town and take over the townspeople. So for this dark tale, something dry and dusty on the plains, we have a black wheat ale, a dry beer with some really nice spicy hop character at the end.
Again, it's part of the creative process, it's setting up challenges, fun and creative ways to come up with beers. And we really think that our community is starting to see that as well. We're tying in with nostalgia and parody and popular culture elements, and pairing that with inventive beers is just a way to make a namesake for yourself.
You may come across some breweries where the main mission is "make great craft beer" and that's fantastic. But I also think that's the baseline for any brewery. What's new, what's inventive, where's the twist? How are you coming at things a little bit differently, so you can differentiate yourself within the market?
That's really what it comes down to, there's so many different elements now in the craft beer industry where art and creativity and design can be infused into the beer that's out there--- there's no reason to ignore that. I mean you walk into a bottle shop now, it's like an art gallery, and so you want to add to that conversation and not shy away from it, as far as I'm concerned.
I see like our packaging and our approach as a continuation of my art project and I want to have that continue to go as well, whether it's all of our tap handles sent out to street artists throughout Chicago, so each one's unique; to Public Brew, our label design challenge where we open it up to the community to submit label designs to us. We're really committed not only to the beer but to the art community as well, that's something we're not gonna waver on. We understand the value and importance of those people as well and we want to highlight them and give them a space on our beer bottles.
We picked Arcade because we're all a bunch of nerds at heart at the brewery, number one, and so we thought, "Where else is this sort of nerdy, communal space?" It harkened back to the 1980s, being in the arcade and playing around, you're there with your friends. You're there with people that you may or may not know, but you make friends at the arcade. There's this idea of an arcade as a forum, a space where community happens.
The romanticism that you can infuse into an art piece that's in a gallery is totally different because if you're in a private space, in a gallery space, you can get away with a lot of things. Whereas once you're a brewery you're out in the open, you're subject to regulations, taxes, all these things. It's finding a way to still have that creativity and artwork instilled into your beer, into your product, into your brand, and still be legal too.
That's definitely the challenge, and it can certainly slow things down for you. Like how fast you want to have a certain sort of label, something like that, there needs to be an approval process. It definitely isn't as romanticized as it once was when it was an art project, but at the same time you can pretty much do what you need to do to still be a really creative and innovative brand.
When I was doing more work for galleries, museums, art spaces, there was always an exhale moment: the show's up, here it is, all right, let's celebrate that. Running the brewery there's really never that exhale moment. There's always sort of, "Okay, what's the next thing coming up? Okay, this is done, but we still have to…" You're always two steps ahead and you're always planning because there's never a moment where it's just like, "Okay, we're done, let's all relax and chill."
Maybe I need to do a better job of allowing that for myself, but at the same time as a creative person wants to just keep driving that creative process, it never stops. So there's always the next thing coming up, there's always the next project, there's always the next beer, there's always the next event. So there's satisfaction, but it's definitely different and it comes in flashes, too.