On the surface, brewery tours are kinda all the same. You’ve seen one room full of fermentation tanks, you’ve seen them all, right?
But scratch a little deeper, and you’ll find that brewery visits — when done right — can help illuminate not just how brewers craft their product, but why.
We spent an evening at the 4 Paws facility in Andersonville — drinking, talking shop, sharing stories, shooting the shit — and over the course of an evening felt like we got a better handle on what makes Brindle and Fawn what it is, the benefits of tank beer, and why 4 Paws ain’t interested in making you an IPA, bub.
Among other things.
We first met Matt Gebhart and his wife Meghan in a beer exchange — he was interested in having us give homebrews like his Atlas Bone — now known as Brindle — a try since he was in the process of starting up a brewery. After that, we’d cross paths at events like the first South of 80 or Beer Under Glass, and check in on his progress.
So it kind of came as a bit of a surprise (or we were just bad at keeping up on it) when all of a sudden beers like his Fawn Blonde and Brindle Amber showed up on draft lines around the city. Less of a surprise was that they were good.
In case you haven’t had them yet, each is a very quaff-able example of its style. The blonde is sweet, bright, a little hazy and complex — straight off the bright tank (the only way we’ll drink beer from here on out) it’s a little reminiscent of 5 Rabbit’s 5 Lizard, a little tart and fruity. The amber is warm, rich and nutty. Most importantly — they’re fresh.
Freshness is of paramount importance to the Gebhardt’s. Maintaining proper freshness of their beer brings things into considerations like keeping a close eye on the places they’re selling their beer (another benefit of self-distribution) to the manner of packaging.
All their beer is bottled in six-packs, not the 22 oz bottles that many breweries start sending to market first. Why is that? “That’s how this beer is supposed to be drank,” explains Matt. A blonde and an amber doesn’t need to be poured 22 oz at a time; it’s best enjoyed leisurely a regular bottle at a time, and preferably a few at a sitting.
That idea, of making and packaging beer how they like to drink it, applies to their recipes as well. You hear it a lot: “We brew the beer we like to drink,” which is (we assume) always an accurate statement. However, the converse is rarely considered: We don’t brew the beer we don’t like to drink.
Surely every brewery is pressured to brew an IPA, and we’ve seen breweries state that they’re not interested in making IPA’s because “everyone else is doing it” but I haven’t seen anyone state that they’re not making one just because they aren’t really fans of the style.
“It’s the Chardonnay of beer at this point,” Meghan explained to us. “Remember in the mid-90’s when everyone was drinking nothing but Chardonnay? And everyone was talking about oakiness and stuff like that? Then everyone got tired of it.” It’s a fair point. Blondes and ambers certainly haven’t been the cool things to brew for some time — even IPA’s are edging out of that zone as new trends like sours and gose come into play — but brew them they do, and they don’t lack for people who want to drink them.
It’s also fun to see brewers being able to — well — have fun. Take a close look at these photos and you’ll see a picture of Dr. Phil taped to their bottling machine. Matt did so because the machine, “thinks it knows everything,” hence the nickname. And many of you can rest easy knowing Indiana Jones is overseeing each brew day.
Look for 4 Paws beers on tap in the Andersonville area and at select bottle shops around Chicago. And if you want to check out the brewery for yourself they’re doing tours
every Saturday select Saturdays at 2pm (check website for details): no reservations so just show up, soak it in and enjoy.