Sopping wet, I walked into Matt Gebhardt’s office one rainy afternoon in February to learn about 4 Paws Brewing, his soon-to-be up and running brewery near Andersonville, Illinois. After a brief exchange of handshakes and introductions, we got straight to the topics at hand: beer, brewing, and the daunting task of opening up a brewery in the vibrant Chicago craft beer community.
4 Paws Brewing is a joint venture between Matt and his wife Meghan, who is just as passionate about brewing as Matt is. An additional partner in their business is Sadie, the dog Matt and Meghan adopted in 2010, who now acts as brewery mascot and constant source of inspiration. Many aspects of Matt and Meghan’s plans for the brewery revolve around Sadie’s direct influence, from the names of their beers to the location of the brewery, as well as their philosophy to give a portion of their profits to various animal charities.
The couple started homebrewing and experimenting with their own recipes keeping creativity always at the forefront. While wanting to respect each style they brew, they also want to push those styles to make something that will be conversation starters. Once they knew they had something special with their recipes, starting a microbrewery seemed like an obvious path for them, and it was something Matt had been thinking about for quite some time.
When I asked if he had any photos of the brewery’s location, I watched Matt scroll through screen upon screen of Excel sheets, PowerPoint decks, business plans, and beer recipes. It’s obvious that he and Meghan don’t take this task lightly and want to get it right from day one. But before the brewing could start, they needed a place bigger than their kitchen from which to brew. And so the hunt began.
More Than a Feeling
Matt and Meghan had a good idea of what they wanted in their brewery’s site and healthy set of parameters it needed to fall within. They wanted to be able to walk or bike to the brewery from home. They wanted somewhere they could bring Sadie with them every day. They wanted it located somewhere that patrons could easy walk and bike to it. And they wanted to be part of the greater Andersonville community.
What they found out was that this was no small order. Matt estimates that he scouted 40-50 different locations with their realtor, each one meeting some, but not all, of their criteria. They were either just out of range from home, or not dog friendly, or in a bad location for patrons to get to, or lacking some basic needs of a brewery like loading docks or easy access for deliveries. At some point, they all started to blur together.
Finally, they found the location they were searching for while checking out an old railroad coal warehouse. Its rustic look, the open space around it, and close vicinity to bike trails and public transportation made it a perfect fit.
“We walked in and it just felt like a brewery,” Matt said. I could see his excitement build as he pulled up the location, 5435 N Wolcott Avenue, on a map and flipped through photos of the building’s interior and exterior. There’s plenty of space inside and out for the Gebhardts’ immediate plans, which include production brewing and a merchandise shop for starters, with a tasting room remaining a possibility down the line. 6,000 square feet are divided between the ground and second floor. A 15-barrel brewing system, with an estimated yearly production around 1,000 barrels, is due to arrive on April 1st.
The location is ideal for Sadie as well. Every day, she’ll get to walk to work with her owners. Once there, she has a fenced-in half acre of ground to run around, play, and greet visitors, which should prove to be a much better option than staying home all day while Matt and Meghan are at work. While she’ll be having the time of her life, Matt will be hard at work inside getting everything set up and ready to brew.
Gearing Up for Chicago Craft Beer Week
Matt and Meghan hope to have their first commercial batch of beer in the tanks as soon as possible. After all, Chicago Craft Beer Week is right around the corner, running May 16 – 26. They would love to have a batch of their two flagship beers, Brindle Amber Ale and Fawn Blonde Ale, ready to present at Beer Under Glass, one of the events sponsored by the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild. Matt knows he will have to push things in order to get the beer flowing by then, but seems undaunted by the pressure and ready to contribute to the festivities.
Brindle Amber Ale is described on the label as “smooth and sessionable,” while the Fawn Blonde Ale aims to be refreshing but complex. Additional releases planned include Pupkin Ale, Kilted Pup, Blueberry Lou, and Brown Dog Stout, of which Matt graciously gave me a sample bottle from a recent test batch.
A Sign of Beers to Come
I took my bottle of Brown Dog home to share with my wife, who’s an even bigger fan of stouts than I am. We cracked it open after dinner one night and were greeted by a warm, toasty coffee aroma. It poured nice and dark with a creamy head. A hint of vanilla is present, but it doesn’t overpower at all, instead balancing out the charred flavors and aftertaste one might expect from a typical stout. It’s so subtle that I might not have noticed it if Matt hadn’t mentioned it to me. If this is an indication of how 4 Paws Brewing approaches their beer, it’s safe to say we’re all in for a treat once the brewery begins production this spring.
ICBG would like to welcome 4 Paws Brewing to the Chicago craft beer community, as well as the Guild. Watch for future updates from Matt, Meghan, and Sadie’s brewery once they are up and running.bbb