The creation of Windy City by Jim and Jason Ebel of Two Brothers and their father in 1999 pioneered the distribution of craft beer throughout the Chicago area. When they began, it was just Two Brothers and Goose Island brewing locally and they couldn't persuade a major distributor to bring Two Brothers Brewing Co. into their portfolio. Unlike today, where the major distributors fight to get as many up-and-coming suppliers as possible into their network, nobody wanted to touch smaller brands. Windy City began as a way for Jim and Jason to sell their beer, and quickly became the go-to wholesaler in Chicago for small breweries across the country. Since then the dynamic has flipped, and the business that Jim and Jason Ebel created out of necessity, has helped pave the way for renaissance in Chicagoland beer that you are witnessing today.
When John and I were planning the brewery, we built the concept on the idea that we were going to self-distribute our own beer. A few months before we came to market we decided to shop around a bit so that we understood what we we were saying no to. In the end we decided that the folks at Windy City, a company now owned by Reyes Beverage Group, was going to be far better at selling our beer than we would. For a growing small business, this was an important decision and one of the best ones that we made.
Solemn Oath became part of the WCD family in April, 2012, before they were even able to taste any of the beer that you get to enjoy today. This is not common. In fact, it almost never happens, but they believed in us. Of course there were skeptics, such as Matt Modica, one of our reps who is never afraid to speak his mind, who said, "When the Solemn Oath boys walked through the door at Windy City, I thought, 'You've gotta be out of your fucking mind.' No beer to taste, hands in their pockets, and just a promise that they wouldn't be shipping us any shit beer. After having that first beer, and grabbing a growler to bring home, I have been eating my words ever since. They delivered." Like I said, skeptics.
Now executed through the vision of Bob Collins, Ray Guerin, Wes Phillips, James Miller, Travis Briggs, a slew of talented reps, an on-point office and logistical staff, drivers that just get shit done, and a well-equipped warehouse crew we are looking at a craft-focused distributer primed for the 21st Century. And we are proud to be a part of it.
About a month ago, Windy (thats what I am going to call them now, so keep up) had their Windy City Trade Expo, where every brand they represent is invited to pour beers of their choosing to not only the reps from Windy, but the bar owners, beer buyers and other industry folk from the Chicagoland area, all who have helped put Chicago on the map and truly made it a killer beer town. This was our second time pouring at the event, and as far as beer events go, this is a kick-ass time. We brought out a few of the usual suspects in Snaggletooth Bandana and Butterfly Flashmob, as well as some of my favorites in Wreckagemaster and Scareball. It seemed like a good time to share a newbie, Hexafoos, and a rising phoenix in None More Black.
The best part about this expo to me is the fact that people are there to meet the people behind the beer they sell everyday. From our side of things, we get to see industry friends that we're not in front of everyday, and see how much the city is blossoming with each introduction to a fresh-faced buyer from a new craft-focused account. This event is a great time to reflect and think of all those new people and places involved in bringing great beer to our city. It's amazing to think that even within one year so much is changing on the craft front here in Chicago. For us, we've packed two stages of expansion in that time, so it's especially nice to be able to tell people who are excited about SOB that we can actually get beer to them right now.
As the night progressed, I was told many times how people remembered us from last year, and how excited they were to try our beers again. I was also able to sneak away from our booth for a little while to drink some awesome beers from some of my favorite breweries and catch up with friends that were in town representing their brands for the night. It was great to see lots of key people from other breweries come into town for the event. The fact that so many breweries bother to station reps here full-time or send them in for the expo really shows that the Chicago market is becoming a hotbed for the craft beer world, and Windy has helped pioneer the way.
At the end of the night, the taps were shut off, bottles were put away, we were all tired and another successful expo had come to an end. As we loaded everything up, I was thinking to myself how far our brewery has come along over the past year. We started as a small group of four here at Solemn Oath and have grown into a crew of SOB's. We began with just a handful of accounts, and now we are pushing 200, with more on the horizon. It is a good feeling.
I wanted to close with a big thank you to all the Windy crew. For their hard work, the friendships created, and for their belief not only in SOB, but in the craft beer movement in Chicago. I have made some great friends (yes even you, Matt Modica, are my friend, whether you like it or not) over the past year and I am proud to say many of them are from Windy. It makes me excited to think how cool it will be as we all grow together in the future, not only as SOBs but as a family.
For beer to go from grain to glass it often takes manufacturers, distributors, retailers, bar staff, and more. These are those people. These are their stories.