A few months ago we broke the news that Schlafly CEO Dan Kopman was visiting Chicago to tour potential sites in the North Center neighborhood for a proposed tap room in Chicago. Kopman talked openly about expanding to Chicago in December of 2012 but this was the first we heard of boots on the ground in the city to look at locations.
We followed up with Kopman via email to see how his visits to the city have been going, if he’s close to pinning down a location for the tap room and why Schlafly is available everywhere else in Illinois except Chicago.
Guys Drinking Beer: Schlafly’s beers are available throughout most of Illinois, all the way up to
I-80 Rockford and northwest Illinois and northwest Indiana — but not in Chicago. Why?
Dan Kopman: Capacity. We do not want to enter a market and then find that we can’t sufficiently supply the markets we are in.
GDB: You mentioned, in a live-chat in 2012, that a Chicago brewpub was on the radar. What’s appealing about the Chicago market and why look now as opposed to a few years ago?
Kopman: It is on the agenda. The timing is based on our ability to take on the project and not on any change in the market. Chicago is an exciting craft beer market.
GDB: What Chicago neighborhoods have you visited in the last year and what were your impressions of them?
Kopman: We have looked at potential properties in the North side neighborhoods and in the West Loop and we continue to investigate both.
GDB: What are some of your top priorities to finding a possible brewpub location in Chicago in terms of location, space and so on?
Kopman: The right size – approximately 7,000 to 9,000 sq ft, in a location that meets our marketing and financial goals for a small pilot brewery location, an on-site Tap Room and a retail shop.
GDB: If you were to expand distribution to Chicago as opposed to opening a new location in the city, what kind of impact would that have on the production in St. Louis and what kind of investments would need to be made — if any — to meet the need of a market this size?
Kopman: We do not have the capacity in St. Louis to make any significant distribution effort in Chicago. Our two breweries in St. Louis, Schlafly Bottleworks and The Schlafly Tap Room are very close to their maximum capacity of about 50,000 bbl combined. The Schlafly Tap Room – Chicago would take on some beer from the breweries in St. Louis, in addition to the on-site production in Chicago, but we believe that we can meet that demand.
We are currently looking for 40 acres of land in urban parts of St. Louis to build a larger production brewery and farm. It would be this capacity that would allow for distribution expansion to Chicago and elsewhere.
GDB: Are there distribution challenges specific to Chicago that have kept Schlafly out of this market?
Kopman: Not really. It is more the size and the commitment of resources that we feel would be required. Our growth in St. Louis has kept us very busy for many years.
GDB: Looking at what is brewed in Chicago presently, what did you drink when you were up here on your most recent visit and were there any particular beers or breweries that stood out to you?
Kopman: I had a Jolly Pumpkin Sour Biere de Garde at the Publican. There is a lot of youth and enthusiasm in this market right now. So many great, new breweries. I have attended a couple of the Guild meetings and as someone who has worked in the brewing industry since 1983, I get renewed energy around these brewers.
GDB: Back to Missouri; we’re curious as to your thoughts on the recent Boulevard sale to Duvel Moortgat?
Kopman: Succession planning is a challenge for many brewers right now. John McDonald clearly explored many options and decided that this one was best for him, his employees and the future of the Boulevard brand. I think everyone approaches this with slightly different goals and there can be many good outcomes.
Our goal was continued local ownership in St. Louis and an ownership stake for our employees without taking on any new debt. I am very happy that we were able to accomplish our goals.
GDB: And, finally, is your pumpkin stout as good as my friends in St. Louis make it out to be when they send me photos from the Tap Room?
Kopman: I guess I have to say yes. In addition to our Special Release Pumpkin Ale in six packs and draft, we hope to package a small amount of the Pumpkin Stout in 750ml bottles and draft this fall. We shall see.
So, to recap:
- Schlafly is maxed out on production capacity and doesn’t have the means to enter the Chicago market now.
- Entering the market is contingent on either (a) opening the “Schlafly Tap Room – Chicago,” (b) building a new production facility in St. Louis or (c) all of the above.
- Kopman sees Chicago’s new batch of brewers as young and enthusiastic.
- For those of you who can get Schlafly beer now, perhaps you’ll see their Pumpkin Stout on store shelves and on draft this fall.
It appears, for the time being, downstate beer runs and treks east to Indiana or west beyond the suburbs will have to suffice in order to get our hands on Schlafly’s offerings.