Having just soared past their one-year anniversary on April 1st, Finch’s Beer Co. of Chicago, IL, founded by Ben Finch, is already brewing at capacity and distributing to 6 states. Though, even in their young age, they’re only the second craft brewery to distribute beyond Illinois’ borders!
Spread Your Wings:
Finch’s Beer Co. started with three 30-barrel fermenters and one 30-barrel bright tank, all filled by a 15-barrel brew house that they brew double batches in. After 15 months, they’ve grown 250% and filled the entirety of their usable space, maxing out at 15 30-barrel fermenters. Head brewer and partial owner Richard Grant came from Rock Bottom and Flossmoor Station so, “[he’s] accustom to working on a smaller system and maximizing it.”
It hasn’t been a cake-walk though, says Ryan Murphy, the regional brand and outreach coordinator, “Canning machines are really tricky. Every brewery that cans goes through a phase where the seals are shitty or [the beer is] not carbonated properly. You lose so much more beer than you do with bottling. It’s a weird process but if you’re dedicated to canning, then you can figure it out.”
“When we first started we had no idea what was going on. We had leaky cans getting into market; it was just a nightmare at first. Luckily, we’ve learned from the mistakes and gotten a lot of things in place to improve the overall quality of the beer and packaging. We’ve gotten over a lot of setbacks we had initially.”
As well as hiring a mechanical engineer come in once a week to check and adjust the sealer, Finch’s Beer Co. also has employees quality control the product at multiple points; making sure the seal is solid, rinsing off residual beer, and double-checking the seals again in two days before shipments go out.
Canning makes sense on quite a few levels; They’re impervious to sunlight and oxygen, both damaging elements to beer, and they’re much lighter and more recyclable than glass bottles, saving cost on shipping and being more environmentally friendly. Cans are also produced with a liner so that the beer isn’t coming in contact with the metal.
“There’s already enough of a negative stigma about cans that you don’t want oxygen in your beer; it tastes all metallic and everyone will assume it’s the can.” It’s why, Murphy explains, “[the cans] get purged with C02 right before the cap gets put on so if you’ve got any head space, it’s not filled with oxygen.” It’s just another step Finch’s Beer Co. takes to insure quality product goes out the door.
At the back of the brewery, a small pilot system is set up and dripping with water, having just been used by packaging manager Andy Hille for a Scotch Ale homebrew recipe. “Everybody’s passion starts in homebrewing for the most part. Or starts as a sever alcoholic,” laughs Murphy, who continues, “luckily we were all homebrewers.”
As we walked through the line of fermenters, I noticed names on them. Murphy explains, “All the fermenters are named after Futurama characters.” Save for one named “Bernie” which got it’s name following an unfortunate incident where someone running a cleaning cycle uncoupled the wrong hose and was drenched with 180° water with mild caustic. Thankfully, they all learn from their mistakes and laugh about it now!
Finch’s Beer Co. currently produces three year-round beers, Golden Wing, an American Blonde Ale, Cut Throat, an American Pale ale, and Threadless, an American IPA. They don’t limit themselves to these three staples, though. Every six weeks or so, Finch’s Beer Co. produces one of their specialty beers, “It’s really important for us as a new brewery because it keeps it fun and you possibly find the next style that becomes part of you’re stable” said Murphy.
Instead of making seasonal beers, their specialty beers are limited-release and come and go with no tentative plans to bring them into scheduled rotation. Toasted Summer is the most recent, a Kölsch-style beer that’s made with apple wood and Cascade hops toasted by a local chef. In addition to a currently fermenting “imperial” red ale titled Fascist Pig, they’ve also got Secret Stache Stout, a chocolate vanilla cream stout which will be the first to make a comeback, some time around winter.
Puttin’ In O.T.:
Brewing specialty batches on their system has proved to be no biggie (save for a big barleywine), but when you’ve got to bulk-order cans in 20-pallet quantities (roughly 96,000 cans), it makes packaging limited release beers difficult. “Our specialty beers are all bottled, by hand, [Blichmann Beer Gun] in 22 oz bottles and hand labeled. It’s a 14 hour packaging day”, Murphy said.
With three brewers, a few full-time and part-time employees, and an intern, Finch’s Beer Co. gets it done, though. They rotate interns, many who are Seibel students, for two months and they work around 10 hours a day. “At the end of two months, you know all kinds of shit about working in a brewery”, Murphy proclaims with a chuckle.
Mix It Up:
Golden Wing and Cut Throat have the same can design produced by their marketing company but Threadless stands out for a good reason; “You know the t-shirt company, Threadless? We used to make this beer for them specifically but we wanted to release it so we agree to do a co-branding venture. Their artist community submitted 170 designs and this [current can design] just happened to win by their voting.”
Finch’s also likes to source local, so a variety of their specialty beer label designs are done by different Chicago-area graphic designers.
On The Horizon:
Aside from producing their specialty beers in rotation, Finch’s is also starting to play around with barrel aging. They currently have 8 barrels in the brewery, six holding Fascist Pig in Koval dark oak whiskey barrels and two holding Secret Stache Stout which will emerge shortly after a 10 month stint.
Though it seems every brewery is barrel aging their beer expansion of this program might not boom Murphy, enlightens us; “The barrels are stupid expensive, though! All these scotch makers in Scotland and Ireland buy American Bourbon barrels to age their scotch in. That’s why it costs so much!”
“We’ve got a really good beer community in Chicago that’s been growing like crazy and I really don’t see it stopping. Everybody is acquiring this taste for craft beer and local products.”