At a time when craft beer drinkers are seeking out beers low in ABV but big in taste, and brewers are obliging, a new Chicago craft brewery is unapologetically brewing high alcohol content beers with no plans to do otherwise.
Say hello to Ten Ninety Brewing.
We met one of the owners of Ten Ninety, Brian Schafer, at Beer Under Glass and were blown away by both his beer — the Imperial Porter in particular — and his passion to push the ABV envelope. Naturally, we wanted to follow-up with him to find out more about Ten Ninety and his plans moving forward.
Guys Drinking Beer: It’s always interesting to hear the story or reasoning behind a brewery’s name — so — why Ten Ninety?
Brian Schafer: Ten Ninety is a reference to the starting gravity of our first four beers. This is a measure of the fermentable sugars in the wort before yeast converts it into alcohol. A starting gravity of Ten Ninety produces beers in excess of 10% abv.
GDB: Who else, if anyone, is involved in Ten Ninety and how did the brewery come about?
Schafer: The other owners of Ten Ninety are Jamie Hoban and Andy Smith. Andy has been home brewing for 18 years. He introduced Jamie and I to home brewing eight years ago. Shortly there after I won two competitions that included professional brewers. That germinated the idea of the brewery.
GDB: Where are your beers being brewed now and what are your long-term brewing plans?
Schafer: We have brewed our first few batches with Church Street Brewing Co. in Itasca, IL. We will also begin brewing this summer with Big Chicago in Zion, IL. Our long-term plan is to open our own facility.
Schafer: “Dream neighborhood” and production brewery are fairly mutually exclusive. The economics and space requirements of brewing give you a limited number of alternatives.
GDB: Let’s talk about the beer. What styles are you starting with and can we expect to see any seasonals or one-offs down the road?
Schafer: Our initial lineup includes an Imperial Wit, Imperial Porter, Imperial IPA, and a Belgian Style Tripel. We will also be introducing seasonal offerings and limited release beers. For example we have oak aged versions of our Porter and Tripel.
GDB: We’ve noticed all the beers you’ve released so far are of the imperial variety. Why go big out of the gate? and are there any plans to produce beers lower in ABV?
Schafer: We wanted to do something that no one else has done before. Ten Ninety is the first all Imperial or High Gravity brewery.
GDB: The beer your brewing isn’t just big in ABV – it’s big on flavor too. Your Imperial Porter was a favorite of ours at Beer Under Glass because of its unique ingredients (cayenne and pomegranate). How did the recipe for this beer and your other offerings come about?
Schafer: We think about flavor profiles in food and design beers around those. The inspiration for the Porter was a Lindt chocolate bar made with dark chocolate, pomegranate, and cayenne pepper. The chocolate malt from the porter gives a great base to balance the heat of the cayenne and the tartness of the pomegranate compliments the heat and sweetness. The combination makes for a unique beer. Another example is our Jaggery Tripel. Traditional Belgian Tripels use candy sugar to increase the alcohol. We use an unrefined palm sugar called Jaggery. Jaggery is used in dishes throughout India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka and we love the molasses and earth tone flavors that it imparts in the beer.
GDB: How do you see Ten Ninety fitting into the craft beer landscape in Chicago now and moving forward?
Schafer: We see Ten Ninety as the craft beer that makes it the norm to see craft beer on the menu of white tablecloth restaurants. We will be the craft beer that can stand up to wine and finds its place on the dinner table paired with fine food.
GDB: Any plans beyond Chicago? Statewide? Midwest? East coast or West coast?
Schafer: It’s our intention to make Ten Ninety a national brand.
GDB: Let’s talk some logistics, Brian, who distributes your beer in Chicago and why go with that particular wholesaler?
Schafer: Louis Glunz is our distributor. We wanted a distributor that had a strong craft beer portfolio and a knowledgeable sales force. We are very excited about building our brand with Glunz!
GDB: Finally, if you could have a beer with one person who would it be? And what beer would you have?
Schafer: I’d love to share our Imperial IPA and conversation with Winston Churchill. He is definitely one of history’s most colorful characters. Moreover, I doubt I’d be limited to one beer with Churchill!
Ten Ninety Brewing
Facebook: Ten Ninety Brewing Co