Josh Gilbert

Temperance Beer Company

08/21/2015

Josh Gilbert is an architect and the founder of Temperance Beer Company in Evanston.

When I arrive at the brewery there is a truck parked in the driveway. Josh asks if I can help him and the driver move a dumpster away from the dock; the delivery is a surprise, it was supposed to arrive early next week.

After he takes everything off the truck with a forklift he shakes his head.

We have yoga class tomorrow, the third Saturday of each month in the back. There’s a lot of bare feet there so we rent a floor cleaner on Fridays beforehand. We’re not supposed to have any shipments today. I was about halfway done cleaning the floor and I had to drive back over it. It’s amazing how much those tires mark up the floor. But we don’t want people walking out with dirty feet. You don’t want to feel filthy when you walk out of yoga. [laughs]

How does running a brewery compare to working in architecture?

It’s funny, all the similarities I see between the two. They’re both creative work backed by science and rigor, the attention to details. You also deal with similar kinds of people in both. For an architecture project you have the client, the contractor, the governmental body for the building permit, and suppliers. It’s very similar here. The clients are the people who drink the beer, and you also have the retail establishments, your distributor, and every layer of government that could possibly regulate anything. They all regulate alcohol here: the city, the county, the state, the feds.

Another thing that may be a clearer line from architecture to beer: I’ve always gravitated towards things that improved people’s lives, or made them feel better about their daily existence. Right out of college I worked at the office of tourism in Chicago, helping visitors enjoy the city more. I worked at a bar for a little bit, helping people enjoy their evenings more. Then I went to architecture school, and after a few years with other firms I started Gilbert Kaeding Architecture with my partner, Peter Kaeding.

We did about ten years of smaller projects. A lot of homes and additions. The Whistler is one of the few public places that we did ourselves. It was always great to see people’s reactions: it could be a redone breakfast room, or a little two-story addition with a mud room and master bedroom. “With all the space and light we’re so much happier now.” But architecture became challenging, especially after the financial crisis. Even in the good times it was hard to convince people that it was worth the expense. “We can hire a builder with a cookie-cutter design, I don’t see why I need an architect. You guys are expensive.”

I had a lot more time to think about what I wanted to spend my days doing. I was a homebrewer, I saw the parallels there. I’m definitely having more fun doing this. I’m reaching more people this way, and our brewery and taproom is the big public space that I finally got to design. Convincing people to try a beer is so much easier than convincing them to hire an architect. [laughs]

What motivated you to start homebrewing?

When I was a junior in college I had some friends who were homebrewers. This was the mid 90s, I was on the East Coast, everyone was drinking Catamount. Frankly, I was not impressed with most microbrews that I had. I don’t know if it was my palate or what, but I felt like there was too much banging you over the head: “We are so different from what you drink.” I didn’t like it, I drank more imports.

I finally got to it in the 2000s when I had a little more time. I was working as an architect from a little office in my house, I set my own schedule. I always liked cooking and mixing cocktails--- actually the other day I made a new cocktail at home*. I like playing with flavors. With homebrewing, I liked the challenge of trying to come up with a recipe so I pushed myself. I did two or three kit recipes, an all-grain recipe, and then my first original recipe. I had a book by Ray Daniels, Designing Great Beers. I went on the web and googled whatever style I wanted to try, to see what other people did. What were the similarities, and where were people playing around?

A lot of people I’ve talked to will stay with kits for years. There is a joy and pride in making the beer you drink, but there’s also that desire to do more than follow directions. To have some creative input. Restless Years was my first homebrew recipe, it was beyond exciting when we canned it last week.

How do you build your beer program?

We go for balance with every beer we make. We’ll get comments about Gatecrasher like, “I don’t like IPAs but I like this.” It’s because we go for more of the symphony than the soloist. It’s never “Whoa, that’s hoppy” and that’s all you get. It’s an English IPA so it’s maltier and sweeter, with bittering hops to balance the sweetness of the malt and some aroma hops.

Two of the three fruit beers we have on the tap room menu are homebrew recipes of mine. I was never a fruit beer guy, so the challenge to myself was make one that I would enjoy. I dialed back on the fruit. There’s no extract or anything, only actual fruit in them. But they still taste like beer. With Greenwood Beach, you get the nose of pineapple, and the tanginess at the end, but in the middle it’s all beer. You don’t get any added sweetness.

Overall we want to have a wide and eclectic portfolio of beers. We got a silver medal in the GABF last year for Gatecrasher. That was the first competition we’d ever entered. Six weeks later we got a bronze at the FoBAB for our Boulevardier Barrel-Aged Might Meets Right. Two very different styles, and both were recognized by our peers. That’s what we’re going for, something that people can get excited about--- and hopefully they can get excited about lots of different things we’re doing.

Practically speaking, what are you producing here at the brewery?

We have a twenty-barrel brew house, six forty-barrel fermenters, and two forty-barrel brite tanks. We want to increase that capacity, we got one more brite tank and two more fermenters in the last few weeks and we want to place an order for some sixty-barrel tanks soon. We found recently that we’re running out of beer for accounts before we can make the next batch. It’s a good problem to have, but it’s still a problem. You don’t want to piss off your strongest supporters.

We have four year-round beers: Gatecrasher, Escapist, Restless Years and Smittytown. And a few seasonals. For the fall we have Root Down, which is our porter. We also have Smittytown Tart, which is Smittytown with tart cherries in it though it’s not a sour. That one’s one of my favorites. Then we mix it up with occasional beers that we feel like brewing. Like Quotidienne, our Belgian dubbel: we call that a seasonal but it was more like, “Let’s do it now, we can fit it into the schedule.”

Now, we can do basically eighty-barrels a week, and after the next expansion it’ll be 120-barrels a week. We have our own canning line, and a good amount of storage space. We waited for the Restless Years can launch until we had the new tanks online. The next beer we’re going to can is Escapist, our American IPA and our top seller in the taproom. We probably won’t can it until next year because we don’t have the capacity now. Outside of the taproom Gatecrasher is our top seller.

At this point, we’re not looking to expand beyond our home market. We want to make sure that the people who want us can get us in Chicago. We can still sell more beer here, and everything’s easier if you only have to deal with one distributor, one market.

Has the business-side growth of the brewery been challenging?

At the beginning I was spending a lot more time in the brewery. As things ramped up it was a process of discovery. When we opened, there was a lot of stuff I didn’t know. [laughs] Now I’m spending a lot more time in the office, and in the taproom, outside the brewery. Plus, something’s always going to break, or there will be some emergency. You don’t know what or when. The delivery we got today is a perfect example.

The good thing is I’ve found that I don’t get too stressed out about stuff. “Whatever, this isn’t the end of the world.” If we had to turn away the truck today, it would’ve come on Monday, we would’ve figured it out. I’m a pretty optimistic person. “Okay, what are our options?”

Early on, how did you develop your signature style and methods?

I always thought about trying to scale up to a commercial level, being cognizant of cost and hop availability. I tried to use hops that were less popular. So no Citra, Simcoe, or Amarillo. But hops can gain in popularity very quickly. In Restless Years for instance, originally I used Galaxy and Green Bullet, but all of a sudden Galaxy skyrocketed in popularity. We still use Green Bullet, which gives Restless Years it’s signature hop aroma. That and Chinook. I was also inspired by other beers: what about this beer do I like? What don’t I like, but would like to play around with?

In general, you’re not opposed to tweaking even longstanding recipes.

We’ve tweaked a lot of them. Greenwood Beach is a good example, that’s the blonde with pineapple. For the homebrew, I would get two pineapples, let them ripen, chop them up, puree them, pasteurize them, then put them in the carboy. Pretty easy. When we scaled up last year we were able to get 55-gallon drums of frozen pureed pineapple from Chiquita.

This year I found out they were no longer making that product. We got boxes of aseptic pineapple chunks from Dole instead. I don’t know if it was because of the ascorbic acid or citric acid in the packaging to make it shelf-stable, but we got to the point when we were a few days away from canning it and our head brewster Claudia Jendron says, “I don’t think there’s enough pineapple in this.” So we had to tweak it and figure out a solution, for next year too. I don’t know if it tastes exactly the same as last year’s, or exactly the same as my homebrew, but it’s still recognizably the same beer.

Beer is an agricultural product. Like wine, where a lot of it has to do with the grapes that year, each year’s harvest of the same hop and malt varietals may be a little bit different. It adds to the joy of making this stuff. We could be blending batches of beer to make them more uniform. Bigger brewers will do that. But we embrace the batch-by-batch--- recognizable as the same beer you had, but each batch will have its own unique personality to a certain extent.

Do you participate in any festivals?

We were just at Great Taste of the Midwest. We have a lean staff, so we don’t have a ton of people we can send out to events. We’re trying to be pickier about which events we do. We want to be able to interact with people that haven’t tried us and will remember their experience. Festivals where it’s not a shit show. “What’s your strongest beer, I’ll take that.” We want to make sure we’re attending high-quality events. We took a sixtle of our Manhattan barrel-aged Might Meets Right to Great Taste because it’s such a fantastic event, one of the first of its kind. We wanted to offer something special.

How did you decide on the name Temperance?

People who are from Evanston know right away. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union is still based in Evanston. This city was dry until 1972. A lot of people blame Frances Willard, who was the WCTU’s most influential leader, and they assume that by calling it Temperance Beer Company we’re thumbing our noses at the legacy, but we’re not. We’re celebrating what I would call Evanston’s tortured history with alcohol. [laughs]

Some folks in the community are wringing their hands whenever a new place opens with alcohol. But on the whole, I think Evanston’s approach to alcohol is starting to reflect the wishes and desires of the people who live in the community now. And Frances Willard did some amazing stuff. She didn’t want men to spend their paychecks on Friday getting drunk. And she fought for women’s right to vote, child labor laws, immigrant rights, housing reform, all that stuff. In essence, what she was trying to do was make people’s lives better. And so are we, but we’re doing it with a pint of beer. It’s more of an alignment… it’s not a thumbing. [laughs]

And the graphic identity?

This is our third logo, we couldn’t quite get it until this one. We wanted something that was bold and elegant. Classic and timeless without feeling like it was of one particular era. White handles and cans that stand out a little bit, and create some space on the shelf or on a line of taps. The artwork and identity is done by the same guy, Nicholas Gomez, of Arcade Box Creative.

With the can or bottle design of a lot of craft beer, the labeling will include so much information: what kind of hops and malts were used, what temperature to serve it, what kind of glass to pour it in, what foods to pair it with… if you feel uninitiated it’s a barrier to entry. “I don’t have that glass, I guess I’m not gonna buy that beer.” Instead of focusing on the perfect glass, food, or temperature to serve the beer, we focus on a moment, experience, or story that goes with or inspired the beer. Something to get excited about. The can copy mentions aspects of the beer but in more general terms that everyone can appreciate.

Why did you open in Evanston?

When I started digging into opening a brewery I saw some advantages to Evanston. One, easy commute for me. [laughs] Two, it’s tough to get a share of people’s minds, so if we became the first brewery in Evanston that would resonate more with the people buying our beer. Little details. Plus, as somebody who grew up here and came back to raise kids about nine years ago, I thought it would be cool to add to the community. I don’t think there are many spaces like this in Evanston, where it’s casual and you can come as you are. No reservations, just relax and have fun and enjoy the vibe. Beer is the most casual of beverages.

One of the limiting factors of Evanston is that there isn’t a lot of industrial infrastructure available. We really lucked out with the location and the configuration of the space. Some people complain that it’s hard to find but once you do it’s like you’re part of the club. [laughs]

What are your thoughts on the growth of Evanston’s food and drink community?

It’s amazing. When I was growing up here everything was closing because we weren’t Old Orchard. There was nothing Evanston was known for in terms of restaurants, that I can recall. I lived in Chicago for over a decade and neighborhoods would change, often quickly depending on the area. And I kept thinking, “That’s so weird, Evanston never changes.” But now, things are changing. In the neighborhood where I live, houses are being improved, whereas growing up it felt like everything was stuck in time.

The core group of restaurants that opened in the last five years or so have made Evanston more of a dining destination. There’s great collaboration and support of each other. For example, Hewn makes buns for the brats at Homestead, which they make with our beer. Even if I had nothing to do with Temperance, I’d be excited to go to Homestead and see those brats. “Wow, this is local beer and local bread with the local beer brat.”

People ask, since we opened first and but now three more breweries have arrived: “How do you feel about that?” I believe the more reasons people have to come to Evanston to drink beer, the more likely they are to visit us too. It’s the same thing with restaurants. It adds a vitality, especially in the evenings, that Evanston was lacking for a long time. If we continue to have the support of the surrounding community, continue to do things that we find exciting and challenging and fun--- and we don’t fall into the trap of “what’s everybody else doing?”--- I think we’re going to be fine.

Some people get bent out of shape by so many breweries, but those breweries are so small that it’s really just a neighborhood thing. I love this idea: because beer doesn’t travel as well as spirits or wine you have to come here to have ours. People want local and unique. It makes your experience at that place a little more special. We’re never going to be in all fifty states. We don’t want you to be able to have Temperance everywhere. You have to come here.

* After our interview, Josh emailed me with the drink recipe he created:

Midnight Paddle

1 ½ oz of your favorite gin

½ oz of Aperol

2 oz of watermelon juice

½ oz of lime juice

Serve in a coupe glass with a sprig of mint. Maintain your balance while sipping. And paddling.

Temperance Beer Company

Temperance Beer Company

temperancebeer.com

2000 Dempster Street
Evanston, Illinois 60202

847.864.1000

info@temperancebeer.com


Interviewed by Vincent Labriola

Photos by Kyle Probst

Colored by Vincent Labriola