Beguiled by Begyle
From a little neighbourhood party to a real festival
Saturday 31 July 2021
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Begyle founder Kevin Cary got into craft beer in his early 20s, as many do, through homebrewing at college. After graduating though, the cruel realities of the job market took him in a radically different direction, into an accountant with PepsiCo. Not very craft, but even during these dark days Kevin would return home, shrug off his suit and dive straight back into his homebrew, all the while wondering if this could be more than just a momentary escape.
“It was a good job in many ways. I went to work, came home and lived my life. But I always had like an entrepreneurial itch, I guess; I wanted to do something on my own, something that was mine,” he says.
Kevin grew up in Michigan, but moved to Chicago around 14 years ago, at a time when there were only a handful of breweries in the city, among roughly 2000 in the US as a whole. While Kevin was convinced there was a real opportunity to meet pent up demand across the Midwest, there weren’t many obvious opportunities for a homebrewing accountant to get a foothold in the nascent industry.
“Not really knowing the industry, it was really hard to find a job simply because there weren't a lot of places to work,” says Kevin. “So in lieu of trying to break into the industry by getting a job somewhere or going to brewing school, I convinced two friends to just try and figure it out with me. That was in April 2011, then by the end of the year we had signed a lease and started brewing in 2012.
We wanted it to be right smack dab in the middle of a neighbourhood
As simple as Kevin makes it sound, he obviously went out with a clear vision. For example, he was adamant that Begyle shouldn’t be based in “some edge-of-town industrial park,” despite the additional challenges that this threw up.
“We wanted it to be right smack dab in the middle of a neighbourhood. Ordinarily, particularly in newer communities, you don't have a mix of industrial and residential buildings, which is why most breweries end up in the hinterlands. In Chicago though, you sometimes get these old industrial corridors that stretch like two or three miles, and on either side is residential. So we were able to find this old brick and timber building, right on the edge of a neighbourhood.
“That’s not only been good for business, but also really informed this philosophy of serving our local community. Around 90% of the beer we brew is sold in Chicago, we have a nice little tap room that people can visit and, because of COVID we were able to open a beer garden for the first time, which people have loved.”
Where there was initially some scepticism around having a brewery tap on the edge of a residential neighbourhood, Begyle and the other businesses it’s helped attract have become a real boon to the neighbourhood; so much so that the local chamber of commercial has dubbed its stretch of the industrial corridor ‘Malt Row’, reflecting the six breweries and one distillery that now call it home.
Kevin says: “Pre COVID, we had a neighbourhood festival where all the breweries participated. Then we host an anniversary party twice a year, once for us in the fall and once for our neighbours, Dovetail Brewery, in the spring. called dovetail rivalry. And what started as a little neighbourhood block party has escalated into a real festival. And I think we're getting close to having donated over $100,000 to community charities like food banks from those.
What started as a little neighbourhood block party has escalated into a real festival
“That was one thing that wasn't necessarily planned, but I think grew out of having the community so closely tied into our brand. When you're building a brand from scratch, there's so many different ways to do it; you can go the marketing route and have a really flashy product, but we went the other way of just wanting to be authentic and approachable.”
This ethos is also reflected in Begyle’s beers, which are always accessible, while also seeking to give drinkers plenty of flavour, and hopefully the chance to try something new. Coming from a homebrew background, Kevin’s approach to recipe creation largely started out with attempts to re-interpret beers that he admired, and brew styles that interested him for a technical standpoint. Many of these brews have carried all the way through to its current line-up.
“Our flagship beer, our highest volume beer, is an American blonde ale that was originally a homebrew recipe that converted into a production recipe. And it's super light, refreshing, easy drinking with some malt flavour and slightly bitter. For us, it's the beer that wins new customers, or get people more interested in craft beer when they’re perhaps more used to industrial light lagers. Then we have a really nice American Pale Ale, Freebird, that’s going into the Beer52 box. It’s citrusy, sessionable, 5.5%,” says Kevin.
“In our taproom we, we started to notice that most people see 5.5% as the sweet spot, so we’re always under 6%. So we do a lot of like American styles, like old school American IPAs that are bright with a really nice balanced character. But we’ve also ventured out and done more new school beers, so we do make some hazy IPAs; we have a 4.5% hazy on right now that’s just completely crushing it the summer. And then we also experiment with kettle sours with different adjuncts. And we have a barrel ageing programme. So yeah, everything is very approachable, but that never, ever means boring!”
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