“When someone in Chicago grabs a six-pack of beer at the store and takes it to a barbecue or their friend’s house…I want it to be mine,” said Rich Szydlo, the man behind newcomer Big Shoulders Beer Company. I sat down recently with Szydlo to get a taste of his first commercially brewed beer and learn more about how he got started and where he hopes to take his new company.
Born and raised on the south side of Chicago, Szydlo has been bartending around town for the past fifteen years and has developed a real feel for the pulse of the city’s beer market. He has done his homework on other breweries that have opened up and the steps they’ve taken to be successful — most notably those who have contract brewed before opening their own breweries.
After homebrewing for a few years and getting rave reviews for his wheat beer brewed for a friend’s engagement party, Szydlo started making the moves to get some of his recipes into the hands (and mouths) of local beer drinkers. A city man through and through, he named his company Big Shoulders based on a line from Carl Sandburg’s poem “Chicago.” He then hooked up with Big Chicago Brewing, a 15-bbl facility in Zion, Illinois, that only does contract brewing. While they’re getting their bottling operation up and running, Szydlo had his Hopapalooza IPA brewed in time for the summer at Church Street Brewing, a 30-bbl facility in Itasca, Illinois. His plan is to contract brew his beers for a year or so, gauge the market and transition during the second year toward a Chicago-based operation of his own.
Szydlo’s goal is make all of his beers sessionable − no matter the style. Hopapalooza (6% ABV, 76 IBU) is an American IPA brewed with Galena, Summit, Glacier and Cascade hops, and dry-hopped with Mt. Hood for a fantastic aroma. It’s balanced remarkably well with 2-Row, Maris Otter and Crystal malts. Introduced on June 6 at Beer Bistro, it is currently available at Clark Street Ale House, Howells & Hood, Lillie’s Q and Kasey’s Tavern.
In the next month or so, he will be brewing his Crosstown Wheat, which he says is more like a “halfweizen” with coriander and lemongrass for a crisp, citrus taste. He hopes to begin bottling around the same time and work with his distributor to get his beers on retail shelves around the Chicagoland area.
You can also check out Big Shoulders at the 6th Annual Oak Park Micro Brew Review on August 17.