We had the opportunity to sit down with Pete Crowley, owner of Haymarket and President of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild and Gary Cuneen, Founding Executive Director of Seven Generations Ahead who co-produce the highly anticipated 5th Annual Oak Park Microbrew Review (The Midwest’s Largest Zero Waste Craft Beer Festival) on August 18, 2012.
ICBG: So we’re coming up on the 5th Annual Oak Park Micro Brew Review in August. Congrats! Can you give me a little background on what this festival is all about?
Gary: The festival really celebrates craft beer in IL and increasingly across the Midwest, as well as all of the brewers making delicious beer using local ingredients when they can get them. But it’s also supporting and celebrating environmental sustainability. The event itself is a zero waste festival – so at the end of the day we’ll have maybe 4% material that is going to landfill, which is quite extraordinary considering that most events have the majority of waste going to landfill. So we promote sustainability through local farm food that the vendors use to make their dishes with. It also raises money for Seven Generations Ahead, which is a 10 year old sustainable communities nonprofit that works on planning, implementation and education in school based programs in Chicago and throughout the Midwest.
Pete: It’s the largest outdoor beer festival in IL and the only summer beer festival sponsored and brought on by ILCBG. Its really cool to partner with a nonprofit. The only festivals I’ll give beer to are ones that are 100% for charity. To me it’s about community, gathering together with your fellow brewers to get all of the awesome quality beer get out in the hands of the consumer and helping a nonprofit like Gary’s raise some money.
ICBG: Gary, how did you get started with Seven Generations Ahead? What was your previous background, and what lead you to the nonprofit world of business?
Gary: Well I’ve done a variety of things – I was a high school teacher and basketball coach and I started my own business as an organization development consultant and leadership trainer. As I was doing that job I started hearing all of these reports about environmental disasters happening across the world and something struck me at a moment when my oldest son who was then 4 – that if he were to ask the hypothetical question “Dad, did you see any of this coming and what did you choose do about it” that if I somehow didn’t have an answer to that question, it would be an issue for me. So then and there I decided to form an organization that would deal with environmental issues on a local level and that was 19 years ago. It took me a handful of years to create the concept, raise the money and build a board. But we did and now we’re now going on 11th year as an organization.
ICBG: Pete, how did you and Gary cross paths?
Pete: Gary used to come into Rock Bottom when I was a brewer there. He bought a ticket to a Brewers Dinner (monthly beer pairing dinner they do) and had approached me with the idea of doing a beer festival in Oak Park. I get asked to do a lot of festivals, so I have to be selective. My wife’s family lives in Oak Park so I thought it would actually be cool to do a festival there. I fell in love with the zero waste side and what the organization was doing. We created this idea of doing a fundraiser that was different from what they had been doing and now its turned into their biggest fundraiser. We’d love it to someday be their only festival. So between meeting and the festival we became friends, that’s how it all started.
ICBG: What makes Oak Park/Pleasant District an ideal location for OPMBR?
Pete: The location is money. Both CTA and Metra train stops are at the festival so you can literally walk off the train and be there. And Downtown Oak Park is gorgeous – brick streets, beautiful location.
Gary: We were actually the first major festival to happen on Oak Park’s new streetscape. So from that standpoint it was a great convergence of supporting craft beer, promoting sustainability and showcasing one of the premiere communities in the Chicago Metro area.
ICBG: So after 4 years of the OPMBR, what did you learn each year, from the previous year?
Gary: There are always small logistical things, many moving parts and there are always things to learn. Julie Ledogar is our Director of Events who now takes care of the production of it, in collaboration with Pete and Justin Maynard. But from a top level perspective our ongoing desire is to have it be a beer festival that while it grows in numbers, always feels intimate and part of a community. We want it to be a unique, signature event. Pete not only organizes the brewers from IL but more recently from across the country. There are a lot of really great elements of the festivals (like Replicale) that make it high quality and fun.
ICBG: Can you tell me more about the “Replicale” project? What inspired it?
Pete: It’s something that we’ve been doing in IL for a long time. We used to showcase it at a few other events but it made sense to showcase it at OPMBR since we have such a great, captive audience of beer lovers. It gives us an extra little something to push the event over the top.
Any professional, licensed brewer can do it, we usually get about 15 IL breweries. They make the same exact recipe – same yeast, same malt, same hops – but they make it at their brewery. The difference is the brewer (and their nuances), the water and their equipment. So it really shows how hard it is to make something the same. It’s striking to see 15 beers that are all the same color but none of them taste the same. It’s fun.
ICBG: So what’s the recipe this year?
Pete: I think its a Belgian Single Pale Ale. We try switch it up.
ICBG: What specifically is involved in creating an ecologically sustainable event? What are some of the challenges?
Pete: Making sure that all of the participants don’t bring in waste.
Gary: Yeah that’s sort of the upstream side of zero waste. Not only the participants, but also with the vendors we give them very clear guidelines to what then can and can’t bring in. We also supply them with compostable flatware and service ware so that everything is recyclable and compostable. On the downstream side there are receptacles where you can separate food, liquid, recycling and non-recycling. We have extra signage this year – we want to educate people to know that there are options. We’ll have volunteers at all of the waste stations so that they can interact and educate.
The other thing that we do – the vendors that we select have to use local, sustainable and organic food. Not 100% but it has to be included in their food offering.
And in addition as Pete mentioned we have the Metra (UP-West) and CTA Green Line right there so we encourage people to take public transportation, ride their bike, walk rather than drive. So we’re promoting transportation, zero waste and local food/beverage – three core sustainability elements.
ICBG: In addition to the sampling the Midwest’s best craft beer and locally grown food – are there any messages or missions statements you hope people will leave with from an environmental sustainability standpoint?
Pete: Stop putting everything in a landfill!
Gary: That’s a great question – there are a number of messages. An overarching message we’re trying to get across is that sustainability doesn’t have to be an austerity program. You can have a high quality of life and still be sustainable and responsible. Those things can go hand in hand. There is nothing better than fresh, locally brewed beer.
ICBG: What should the public expect from year 5? What’s new? What are you are excited about this year?
Pete: More breweries, more beer, more food. An expanded festival ground.
Gary: I want to pick up on the expanded grounds. The event has been on N. Marion street for the past 4 years but this year we’re going to be in Pleasant District which is across the tracks in a newly streetscaped area. So in many ways its unifying two business districts that are operating jointly. So that’s a neat thing – involving different restaurants and vendors.
ICBG: Any new participants this year that you’re particularly excited about?
Pete: Solemn Oath is brand new, they just opened. 5 Rabbit. There are so many breweries. Begyle. Hopothosis. Some out of state brewers we didn’t have last year like Uinta. Uncommon Brewers are new. I think we’re at 47 now. Three new cider breweries, which is a cool thing.
ICBG: Are any of the breweries bringing something special or unique just for the festival?
Pete: A lot of them do. We don’t ask them to because it’s hard for them to know what they’re bringing ahead of time. Many of them will bring their flagship brand to get them out there but they’ll always bring something special too. Its cool too because it’s one of the few events where all of the brewers are actually there, working their booths so you get to meet the brewers themselves.
Gary: That’s a great thing to promote – the brewers are rock stars in their own rite. Craft beer has exploded and people love to have face time with the brewers. It’s exciting that we can provide that opportunity.
Pete: The way we have it set up there are never really a lot of lines. So you’re not waiting a long time and you’re able to chat with the brewers. Its a very casual, personable event.
ICBG: What’s the deal with the “Master’s Choice VIP ticket”?
Pete: It’s almost sold out already! But its starts off with specialty food & beer pairings, they get VIP beers that won’t be available on the festival grounds, early entry where they get first crack all of the Replicale beers as well as the 4 hours of craft beer tasting open to everyone.
ICBG: How many people are you expecting to attend this year? What’s the capacity?
Pete: 3,500 I think. Maybe 4,000.
Gary: The event has grown each year by 75%. Every year I worry about whether everyone is going show up. This year the number 5000 has come up, but we’ll see.
Pete: Eventually you have to stop selling tickets because you know how much beer you have, you know how many glasses you have. At this day in age, to walk up to a beer festival and get in probably isn’t going to happen. You really need a month out to know who’s coming and it’s a difficult thing about organizing and managing a festival. You put so much money into it that you could lose based on weather and walkups. You really have to focus on pre-sales and know who’s coming so you can plan accordingly. Craft beer is so hot right now.
ICBG: Pete can you explain the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild involvement in this festival?
Pete: The festival is about promoting IL beer (and some of our Midwest neighbors), so the Guild is involved in getting the breweries organized. We will benefit depending on ticket sales and the ILCBG will make some money because we are also nonprofit. We like to be there to help educate people on beer styles, so it’s nice to have all of the brewers there. And it’s one of the few events we do as a Guild, so it’s nice to get everyone together and have a fun afternoon.
Gary: Can I say something about the Guild? It’s really been a fascinating experience for me. Industries are different and you get all different nonprofits and sectors within those, associations within the private sectors, etc. One of the things that I’ve learned from the ILCBG is that they all pull for each other. And really what they’re all promoting beyond their individual breweries is high quality craft beer – made locally, consumed locally. So there’s a real comradery that I’ve had the privilege of experiencing through this festival. As the president Pete sets the tone, but practically every brewery I’ve met through the IL Craft Brewers Guild has had a graciousness about them. They’re one of the most enjoyable groups to be around, in part because of the beer, [chuckles] but also because there are a lot great people connected with the Guild. That adds a special quality to any of the events that the Guild puts one. As an environmental nonprofit that collaboration is something we really value – helping each other out.
Pete: It’s the only industry I know of that all of the competitors work together and help each other out.
Gary: It’s really refreshing.
Date: Saturday, August 18, 2012
Time: 3pm – 7pm
Location: Marion Street in Oak Park, IL between Lake Street and Pleasant Street
Transportation: Public transportation to this event is not only encouraged, but conveniently located. Try the Harlem/Lake stop on the CTA Green Line (use the east exit when you arrive) or the Metra Oak Park stop and you’ll arrive/depart right from the middle of the event!
For more information visit: http://www.sevengenerationsahead.org/index.php/events/oak_park_micro_brew_review/